Who wants to be a Superhero? I do…


Shakti Jhala
Senior Strategist and Training Coordinator at Schoogle (A TGES initiative), Mumbai

Teens and adults alike, love to imitate their favourite superhero, aspire to be like them, dream about meeting them and follow them on social media. The Superhero movies have united the world in ways most things have not. So, what impact do Superhero movies have on our children and how can these movies be used to promote positive values and ideas

When Iron Man and Chota Bheem start becoming regulars at birthday parties replacing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, we know that the world has changed. It is not that the Superhero genre is something new. Christopher Reeve was flying the friendly skies aas Superman since 1978. In India we, too, had our own Superman in Puneet Issar (Duryodhana from B.R.Chopra’s Mahabharat), the little known 3D movie Shiva ka Insaaf (1985) and the more recent Krrish 2 (2006) and Krrish 3 (2013). The point being, superheroes have been around, in mythology, pop-culture and very much on our TV screens. So what’s changed that suddenly children, teens and adults are drawn to the theatres to see these movies making them billion dollar block-busters? And why parents taking their children to watch these violent and action-packed movies with innuendos and jokes not shared in our drawing rooms in front of the children?

Well the answer is simple enough, the children want to be like them. They wear their T-shirts, flaunt watches, and carry bagpacks or any other accessory that they can get their hands on. Teens and adults alike, love to imitate their favourite superhero, aspire to be like them, dream about meeting them and follow them on social media. The Superhero movies have united the world in ways most things have not.

Now to the most important question for a teacher and a parent, who some cases would be the same person – What impact do Superhero movies have on our children and how can these movies be used to promote positive values and ideas?

Since I am a Superhero geek and a Captain America fan, I propose we discuss impact taking the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU as it is called), as an example and what children can learn from it.

Anyone can be a Superhero

Captain America was a scrawny little kid from Brooklyn who wanted to do his part in the war and stand up against the bullies. Thor Odison earned back the right to his hammer, Mjölnir, through sacrifice himself and saving the lives of others. Ant-man, Scott Lang, was a convict turned Superhero by using a high-tech suit, all the while still being a human being.

Marvel heroes are not just people who get at their superpowers through laboratory accidents or super-serums. There are those with an element of science and intellect. Many characters work very hard to keep their superhero powers intact. Case to point – Hawk-eye, Falcon and Ironman. Many superheroes come from humble backgrounds or tough childhoods. Star Lord, Racoon, Glamora and the Black Widow are all examples of heroes born from adversity.

Children can learn that to be a superhero is to do what others would not because it is hard and takes a lot of effort. A teenager who goes to school in the morning, studies under the street light all night and helps his father at work is a superhero. A little girl who takes care of her ailing mother and still finds time to read her lessons is a superhero. The difference between a superhero and a normal human being is an excuse.

Being a superhero is a responsibility not a privilege

In the climax of Captain America – The Winter Soldier, Captain America delivers an inspiring speech, “I know I’m asking a lot. But the price of freedom is high. It always has been. And it’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it. But I’m willing to bet I’m not.” Here MCU shows that even a superhero needs help from others. But he or she does not stop doing what is necessary because of the lack of it. Uncle Ben from Spiderman said, “With great power comes great responsibility” – a line that is true for each and every superhero.

Children can be made to understand their roles and responsibilities as peers and as students. A correlation of ‘what would Chota Bheem do in this cases?’ or ‘What would the Black Widow do in this situation?’ are good examples on how to get them invested in the conversation.

Even children can be Superheroes

Charles Xavier’s(Professor X) School for the Gifted helped children with special needs to be what they are in a safe environment. They were taught to use their powers to help others and be integrated with the society. A perfect example for Children with Special Needs if there ever was one. The X-Men comics show that how those who are different can be outcaste, even if they have fantastic abilities. It stresses on acceptance without fear and integration of those who are different from us into our lives, and as a part of our community.

Empathy, tolerance, diversity and inclusion can be discussed in the class using the example of Marvel’s X-men. And of course, I would be committing comic-fan blasphemy if I do not mention the friendly neighbourhood Spiderman who, for all purposes, is just a kid, a little guy trying to make a difference.

Superheroes have weaknesses too, but they chose to do the right thing

Each and every superhero has some weakness which can be exploited, and in most cases is, by the evil archenemy. However, despite their weaknesses and short-comings they still do the right thing. Captain America stands against his friend Bucky (Winter Soldier) and later Ironman, for what he believed is the right thing. Hulk cannot control his anger but he is able to channelize it to save people. Marvel, through its flawed set of superheroes like Glamora, Racoon, Thor and the Scarlet Witch has given us something more believable and thus relatable. These are characters with human flaws of pride, jealously, vengeance, greed and anger. Yet, they rise about it.

Children could be, in higher grades, provided the timeline of the Superhero to understand and discuss the circumstances under which they become a superhero. This will allow them to see that it is the choices made by individuals that made them a superhero.

Superheroes can be defeated and they die too

Marvel through Avengers: Infinity War I has shocked the fans by the sheer number of Superhero deaths on one film. An important lesson on how mortal and how human these powerful beings are. They can be defeated and they too can die. With one film, Marvel brought everyone together to mourn their favourite Superhero death and in the expectation of their return in the second Avengers: Infinity War II movie.

Children, here, can be reminded that no matter how confident one is, caution and care are also virtues to be had. One can never be certain and hence one must be prepared for all eventualities. Such situations also provided a great opportunity for ‘What if’ scenarios. Avid comic book readers know how the story goes, however since Marvel takes creative, albeit sometimes absurd, liberties to change the storyline, we can definitely be certain of various possibilities.

Marvel movies present us with an opportunity to view a world beyond our own lens — A fantastic world, a world with infinite choices and countless possible outcomes;a world very different from ours, but yet similar in many ways;a Universe which teaches us the value of team-work, the need for compassion, the beauty of imagination, the courage to stand up for what is right, the pain of loss and the joy of victory.

In the end, as Superman says, “There is a superhero in all of us. We just need the courage to put on the Cape.” So now, who wants to be a Superhero?

Shakti Jhala is Senior Strategist and Training Coordinator at Schoogle (A TGES initiative). He has also worked with CurrEQlum as Head – Training and Delivery – Life Skills (K-12) Curriculum and Training and Curriculum Developer at Kangaroo Kids Education Ltd. He has also worked with Podar Educatiion Network Creative as Curriculum Developer and PPMS India Insurance.