Secret Identities

Like millions of other people, Joe and I went to see Spider-Man 3 last weekend. Having seen a few bad reviews, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie, finding it engrossing despite its almost two and a half hour running time. Even the presence of an especially noisy and disruptive audience didn’t prevent me from enjoying the show (a very rare occurrence).

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but I think it’s safe to reveal that, as in the previous two installments, this third movie veers between quiet character-driven scenes and huge action sequences. It was obvious the filmmakers were trying to cover both stereotypical bases: a romantic storyline for female audience members, and plenty of testosterone-driven battle scenes for men. While I don’t want to buy into those limiting categories, I have to admit that I preferred the more introspective scenes to the intensely aggressive ones. There were moments when I was blown away by the CGI effects, but mostly I felt overwhelmed and over-stimulated by the mass of frenetic images.

At times the divide between these two types of scenes seemed so extreme that it was almost like watching two different movies. It was sometimes hard to reconcile the tender, kindhearted actions some of the characters displayed, with the flinty, purposeful maneuvers they made once they donned suit or mask. But that’s always been the point. Almost every superhero must have a secret identity—à la Peter Parker or Clark Kent—the face they show the world when they aren’t busy saving it.

That is the appeal of comic book heroes to so many; the seemingly ordinary person turns out to be extraordinary in some way. And I think it can be an especially potent fantasy for introverts: if only the world knew what I was really like, I might gain the respect and attention I think I deserve. While I definitely think it is important for introverts to get their due, this kind of thinking can be a trap. It assumes that heroism is limited to acts of direct (often violent) engagement with the external world. I think far greater acts of courage can occur solely in the mind or the imagination, and have longer lasting effects. The courage to think beyond what is acceptable or allowed has been the impetus for many important social movements, such as Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance actions in India, or the civil rights campaign in the U.S.

That being said, it is quite interesting to me to see how many popular superheroes have alter egos who display typical introvert qualities. Joe just put together a list of them for our Web site SenseList: Top 5 Superheroes Whose Secret Identities Are Introverts. This list raises the question for me of whether so many superheroes have introverted secret identities simply because they provide such good cover—who would ever suspect Clark Kent of feats of heroics—or because characters with these extremes of personality tap into the collective unconscious in some way. What do you think?

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One Response to “Secret Identities”

  1. Super Powers for the Introverted | Spectatrix said:

    […] night Joe and I watched the movie The Incredibles again, and it reminded me of an earlier post I wrote about superheroes who have introverted alter egos. Joe found it interesting that one of the […]