Real-Life Superheroes? Really?

November 6, 2011

Political Theory

Crossing through the Diag around midnight I noticed a group of masked individuals in what looked like a meeting. At the time I didn’t think much of it considering this wasn’t the first weird thing to happen in the Diag, but afterwards I read that this group was part of the real-life superhero movement.

The real-life superhero movement is essentially the popularization of vigilante crime fighting. Individuals dress up in “uniforms,” they take on an alter ego and roam the streets looking to prevent crime. These super-heroes rarely carry weapons other than the occasional pepper spray and usually do not wear any protective gear. This movement has gained popularity with Michael Barnett’s documentary “Superheros” and with the late movie “Kick-Ass.”

Phoenix Jones collaborating with law enforcement

The debate sparks when law enforcement gets involved. Police believe that these vigilantes “run the risk of hurting innocent members of the public or being shot, stabbed or beaten themselves.” In the case of Phoenix Jones, a super-hero hailing out of Seattle, he actually commits to physical altercations, but only carries pepper spray. Police have warned him that eventually he will run into the wrong crowd and greater violence will be the outcome. Phoenix Jones was also recently arrested for attacking an innocent group with pepper spray. The group was leaving a club and was playing around, getting physical. Phoenix assumed a fight wasgoing on and pepper sprayed the entire group. A Seattle police spokesman explains “when you insert yourself into these situations without knowing the facts, it’s just not a smart thing to do” (Mark Jamieson). The police believe that if a situation is worthy of needing a crime fighter, call 911 and let the trained professionals handle it.

Another case of “super-heroes” getting themselves into dangerous situations: A New York City hero, Dark Guardian, roams the streets preventing drug dealers from selling. In the HBO movie, “Super-Heroes,” Dark Guardian confronts a drug dealer and shouts at him telling him that he has to leave or else… The dealer explains that if he ever sees Dark Guardian again there will be serious consequences, alluding to violence. So now Dark Guardian has that going for him, a New York drug dealer that wants him hurt.

Dark Guardian

This raises the question of:

Should these “super-heroes” be allowed to fight crime in the streets?

The vigilantes argue that their intentions are good, and that dressing up and fighting crime is a form of expression. They are a symbol of safety and trust. But when does the potential violence outweigh the need for a symbolic “hero.” Would Mills believe that this form of expression should, like all others, be permitted? Even though the harm that could ensue is great. Would he allot this expressive symbolism in the same form of expression as speech, literature? Or would he view this as superficial and causing too much harm to allow?

I believe that these vigilantes can walk around in capes and express themselves in any manner they want, but when you are an untrained, ill-informed citizen, you have no business inserting yourself into violent situations. We pay police officers to fight crime for us, let them do their job. They are equipped and able to handle crime. A masked vigilante has no idea whether or not the perpetrator has a deadly weapon, or if he/she is willing to use this weapon. There are too many violent consequences that come from vigilantism. Let the police do what they’re trained to do.

Of course there are many spectrums of how involved these vigilantes get with the actual crime, and many search for crime and call the police immediately.

Do Super Heroes symbolize peace and security? Does this outweigh the consequences? Should they be banned?



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14 Comments on “Real-Life Superheroes? Really?”

  1. sydstacker Says:

    Interesting post! After reading it, I don’t think these vigilantes should necessarily be completely banned. I do, however, see two sides of this matter. On the one hand, I think it’s really cool how certain citizens are stepping up in a sense against crime and wanting to help and protect the public on a first-hand basis. I think it’s brave and courageous and I’m certain they have the best intentions. On the other hand, I do see how it could become severely dangerous for them, considering they typically don’t carry weapons or anything to truly protect them in the event that things get potentially life-threatening. It is true that we pay our police officers to fight crime for us and that these vigilantes are putting themselves at a high risk. However, given the fact that these vigilantes are doing this on their own terms and by their own will, I don’t think they should be necessarily banned from doing what they think is right, or from doing what they CHOOSE to do. I think they are responsible and assume the degree of risk they face and if they still choose to put themselves in that situation, sobeit. I also feel that since it could become very dangerous for them and maybe they underestimate the possibilities, I think the concept is still worthy. They can dress up and roam the streets and look out for crime and maybe instead of directly getting involved, they can be the ones to call the police BEFORE something happens, rather than the police being called after the event has already taken place. We could use a few tips here and there these days. Nevertheless, I commend these ‘so-called superheroes’ for their intentions and bravery. I just hope no one gets hurt in trying to protect the rest of us. Thanks for sharing!

  2. zschmitt17 Says:

    I do not understand why regular people, with no training would put themselves at such a high risk. They could easily get shot, stabbed, or held hostage. Saying all that, I would never be a masked vigilante, but have no problem with other people doing it. If they understand that they could die, but are still willing to fight crime then there is no reason that they shouldn’t be allowed to. In many cases cops arrive to late to help anyone, so if a real-life superhero can save just one life that a police officer wouldn’t have then it would be bad for the community to outlaw it.

    The one thing that needs to be clear about the vigilantes is that they need to be held to the same laws as the rest of society. They can not be given special treatment just because they were trying to do the right thing. If they assult someone or pepper spray them then they can get into trouble. The hero should try to understand the situation first before running in, in most cases he/she should inform the police, who are trained to handle it, instead of putting themselves in danger.

    If there gets to a point that every person and their brother is walking around late at night being a vigilante then our tax dollars would be wasted. Police officers are paid to handle it and unless you are a multi millionaire, I assume you make a living somehow and should be more focused on that, not on fighting crime.

  3. godzillagti Says:

    There is no reason for these heroes to stop what they’re doing. These heroes are the exact same as any other citizen on the street. They are walking around unarmed except with the occasional non harmful pepper spray, same as most women, they are just dressed up. The worst harm they could do is actually pepper spraying someone who is innocent which isn’t that bad. I feel that their benefits greatly outweigh the risk of having them. Often, a crime occurs and police officers aren’t around to help until after the crime has already been committed, these few are there to do what any citizen should do. I say should because if anyone ever sees another in serious harm it should be their duty to try and help out, whether thats calling the police or helping fight a criminal away. These heroes are helping fight off crime, they create hope for those who don’t feel that there isn’t enough being done to restrict crime, and they are making a difference. Mills would agree that this is certainly in their right to freedom of expression. They are simply exemplary citizens in outfits. I don’t think that they should be banned, I think they should be encouraged.

  4. Brandon Kassimir Says:

    This article brings up a very interesting point. Personally, I believe that these “real-life superheroes,” should be allowed to practice what they believe as long as they are willing to accept the possible repercussions that come along with it. These people really are heroes. How often do you hear a story where a policeman was too late and the victim was seriously hurt? As a University of Michigan student, I know that Ann Arbor isn’t the safest place. I have gotten numerous police alerts saying that a group of four men robbed an innocent kid. These “real-life superheroes” are merely looking out for our wellbeing. I feel a lot safer walking home alone knowing that there are more people out there attempting to stop crime.
    While I obviously believe these “real-life superheroes” should be allowed to roam the streets, I also firmly believe that they need to be responsible for their actions and live with the consequences that come along with such a dangerous profession. These people need to realize that they are not real superheroes. They are not invincible, nor are others truly frightened by them. If one decently strong man attempts to stop a group of four people who are up to no good, this “superhero” is in serious trouble because he is severely outnumbered. So as long as these “real-life superheroes” truly know what they are getting into, they should go right ahead and keep on protecting our society.
    One more point that I want to bring up is that they still are normal citizens. Cops have certain rights that allow them to act when suspicious activity is present. However, “real-life superheroes” are just regular citizens and should not have any special privileges. Phoenix Jones, a “real-life superhero,” got into this exact situation. He suspected suspicious activity and acted upon it. He pepper sprayed all the members of this fight. However, what he did know is that they were merely horsing around. Jones was arrested for obvious reasons. One may argue that he was just trying to protect the individuals, but since he is not a registered police officer, he must be held under the same laws as every other average citizen.
    In conclusion, these people are heroes and should definitely be allowed to do what they love. As long as they know the potential dangers and realize that they are not held to the same standards as policemen, I am perfectly fine with them protecting our society. These people are heroes.

  5. sgbraid Says:

    I agree with Zschmitt17 in that fighting crime can be dangerous for these “superheroes” if they don’t realize the magnitude of the situation. Unable to carry a gun around or any other type of serious weapon, these vigilantes won’t be able to protect themselves if they get into serious trouble — and i don’t think they should be permitted to carry harmful weapons. Trained or untrained, it’s dangerous for people to fight crime without the proper equipment and support (i.e. backup or help) they would need to do so effectively.

    I also agree with zschmitt17’s beliefs about upholding laws. These vigilantes need to be held to the same laws as regular citizens. If they physically assault a harmless citizen, then action needs to be taken on the vigilante to make sure that he doesn’t repeat his actions.

    However, I do disagree with zschmitt17’s reason for prohibiting crime-fighting vigilantes. He states that “our tax dollars would be wasted” if we allowed vigilantes to fight crime instead of the police, but prohibiting vigilantes has nothing to do with money or tax-dollars. It has to do with the overall safety of the community. Allowing unsupervised vigilantes to roam streets at night is detrimental to society because he or she could hurt the wrong people.

  6. kaitlinlapka Says:

    I agree. These superheroes should be allowed to walk around in their costumes and promote the idea of good superhero citizens. However, it seems harmful for them to interact in situations where they are not completely clear what is going on. This presents a problem though. If they do good deeds they are welcomed; if they attack innocent people they are disliked and unappreciated. I think in the best sense it is best to just let trained paid law enforcement do their job. However, if the superheroes help, thats great. If they do not help, but instead hurt, then they should be punished like all other criminals. Interesting to note there is a group here at Michigan!
    One other note I thought of: could this turn into a batman scenario? If the superheroes become a big enough deal and the law enforcement starts to depend on them, what would we say then?

  7. isobelkraft Says:

    I think that this “superhero” situation is very similar to some other types of citizen action that we maybe more familiar with: neighborhood night watch. In essence, a group of adults form together to protect their neighborhood. Meaning they patrol the streets and report any suspicious behavior, etc. The difference between these superhero’s and the night watchers may be their intentions. The intention of the night watchers is to be aware and report crime to keep their neighbor’s safe. However, it seems like some of these superheros have the intention to actually “fight” the crime. Like with the case of Phoenix Jones, it seems like this vigilante was looking for crime and was proactive (and wrong) instead of just calling the police. Even if these superhero’s aren’t armed, the intent to fight criminals and possibly induce harm onto themselves makes this a tricky situation.

    I think that if these masked vigilantes work to notify police about possible crime and be the eyes and ears on the streets, then they should be allowed to continue. However, if the intention of the “heros” is to fight criminals and involve themselves in very dangerous situations, then I do not think they are doing us or themselves any favors.

  8. wjpetok24 Says:

    I could not agree with Beau any more in his argument about the role these so called ‘superheroes’ should have in our society. While they should have the opportunity to express themselves however they please, interfering and putting themselves and others in danger is inexcusable and reckless. They are not trained properly for handling any type of criminal behavior, and therefore could only be more of a nuisance than a help. It is very important that the police officers and trained personnel responsible for protecting our citizens don’t have to worry about some guy in a mask and skin-tight suit running in and disregarding all facets of the law in order to make a name for themselves. They are highly respected members of our society, and frankly, I believe many of the instances of ‘superheroes’ to be disgraceful to their own honor.

    I am not saying entirely that these ‘superheroes’ are a bad thing, because they are not. They provide anyone with an opportunity to gain a release from their real life, expressing their imagination and at-times providing life-changing opportunities for those feeling out-of-place or lost in society. However my biggest fear is that when these ‘superheroes’ project themselves out there in society, they could only end up making things worse for the entire situation. There is a reason why necessary training and equipment is provided to officers of the law, and someone who is in no way qualified or puts an entire operation in risk should be allowed to do so freely. If the people simply want to enjoy their superhero costume from the confines of their own home, I would be much more comfortable then knowing they were out in the streets.

  9. maxmoray Says:

    This is an extremely interesting and compelling post. Before this, I only really thought of Batman, Superman, etc, as superheroes in today’s society. However digging deeper, I do remember the numerous stories I have heard of the neighborhood watch teams and other citizens who attempt to guard the community. For me, it is all about knowing when and when not to get involved. I don’t feel any “superhero,” unless they have their own cartoon and movie about them, should be allowed to carry a gun or any other sort of weapon. I instead feel as though they should act as a middle man and report to police if they see any sort of crime.
    As Iwjpetok24 mentioned in the comment above, their is in fact reasons why officers go through months and months of training before they are allowed to take their talents to the streets. If “superheroes” were permitted, then where would the line be crossed for civilians to cross the lawful norm? It is the right and duty for citizens to protect others and fight against violence, however it is the police and governments job to be the ultimate leaders in stopping the bad guy. Skilled hit man or other criminals are attempting to find any opportunity to attack civilians, and if “superheroes” came into the social norm, then their would only be a list of more crimes that could occur.

  10. dannilevin9492 Says:

    One of the greatest things about super-heroes is that they are, and will always be, nothing but a result of creativity and imagination. Nothing lies behind them aside from a fantasy-like essence that reflects someone’s alter ego. No one can ever actually possess super powers, so it is just absurd that someone would pretend to be a superhero on any ordinary day outside of Halloween. I do strongly feel that people should be able to express themselves freely, and if these “super heroes” want to dress up like The Hulk or Captain Underpants, so be it. But, I don’t think these “super heroes” have the right to intrude in people’s business in order to “complete the outfit”. If these people are so passionate about fighting crime like the super heroes, they should look into doing so in ways that are acceptable to the rest of society. Running around in a cape holding pepper spray is not the way to beat out the bad guys. Going to police school and learning how to successfully fight crime is the only way these super heroes dreams can come close to coming true.

    Dressing up as a super hero is both a creative way to have fun and a great opportunity to express a hidden identity. But, pretending to be someone you are not is always a recipe for disaster. It’s all fun and games until some one gets hurt, cliche but true. The risk of an actual attack is high for those who flaunt themselves in freak outfits and attempt to break apart anything that appears to be a “crime”. If violence can take place so easily, as seen with Phoenix Jones, then these make-believe super heroes should take more precautions when dealing with this lifestyle choice as not to harm others as well as themselves.

  11. hannahlevitt Says:

    The issue of superheroes brings up one of the main points we have been discussing in class: “dirty hands.” Let’s take Batman for example; he fights crime in order to protect society, but his means often hurt members of society. If he is engaged in a high-speed chase, many innocent bystanders are injured by the unruly maneuvering of the Batmobile; however, when Batman catches the villain at the end, he saves society and the good of the end result outweighs the bad of the means. In the example given above, Phoenix Jones attacks a group of people with pepper spray when he spots a fight breaking out. Ignoring the fact that those involved were friends and claim to be joking around, Jones spotted a disruption of peace and used his own means to restore order to the situation.

    Superheroes are timeless symbols of peace, but they sometimes go off track (anyone familiar with The Incredibles?). Therefore, although the intentions of these individuals are good, their actions do not always outweigh the consequences. Law enforcement should be left to those who are hired to do so.

  12. roshray Says:

    I definitely see this issue of the human superheroes as pertinent to Hobbes’s social contract. In entering society under the Hobbesian contract, a person gives up all of their liberty in order to receive protection from the government. In America, we can account for the rights that we do possess as a paying back of rights by a liberal democratic system that has developed, but in terms of protection, we still have deferred our right to do things like become vigilantes, especially as long as the authorities are acting in a way that would benefit society. I do not think that, under Hobbesian theory, the vigilantes should be allowed to continue their activities. While in this nation we have the right to protect ourselves, we have deferred the right to protect society to the police forces and to the military. While in this case, the superheroes seem harmless, there is an ambiguity associated with the intentions of their actions. These people are not perfect, and they can do bad things with the power that they have simply assumed. Worse yet, society has not agreed to these superheroes, and therefore the government has the right to take the superheroes out of society, both for the protection of regular citizens, police officers (and their operations), and the superheroes themselves. The individual does not possess the right to protect society, and although it may be an act of good faith, under a Hobbesian system, it can be removed by the government if it so sees fit.

  13. rachdavidson Says:

    I remember when I was younger, I used to want to be Nancy Drew. I mimicked her mystery solving techniques. At first, I started by investigating footprints, concluding which animals had been snooping around my backyard. Eventually, though, I got bored of this. The issue started when I ran out of mysteries and had to start creating them myself.

    So what started off as good fun, did not stay this way. I got so involved, and so consumed in the character, that I felt I needed to create the mysteries. This is what I worry about. Superheroes are fantasy for a reason. No one has a bat-mobile, a cape (with which they can actually fly), x-ray vision, and if someone does, please point me in their direction because I would really like to meet them.

    In the end, no one is infallible, and this is where my concern begins. I fear these superheroes will have my “Nancy Drew Complex.” That these people will become too consumed by their superhero identity, and begin to create the crime for themselves; potentially see crime where it does not actually exist, thus hurting innocents. They will forget their infallibility, and that’s when consequences like described above will occur. Because no one can jump from a rooftop and fly; they will just end up splattered on the sidewalk.


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