STUDY: These Aren’t Your Mama’s Nice Superheroes Anymore

STUDY: These Aren’t Your Mama’s Nice Superheroes Anymore

Deadpool had the jokes about the brooding nature of DC Comics — a serious tone, heroes with angst, limited areas of comic relief, and all that violence. More than just a big body of nerds were shocked when Superman snapped General Zod’s neck like a old, withered twig in Man of Steel. 

So when the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition featured a new clinical research study today’s superhero is more violent than today’s super villain that same gaggle of geeks were probably not too surprised.

“Children and adolescents see the superheroes as ‘good guys,’ and may be influenced by their portrayal of risk-taking behaviors and acts of violence,” said the study’s lead author, Robert Olympia, M.D., a professor in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine and an attending physician at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center/Penn State Children’s Hospital.

Let the numbers speak for themselves:

According to the study’s findings, the most common act of violence associated with protagonists (“the good guy”) in the films were the following:

  • Fighting (1,021 total acts)
  • Use of a lethal weapon (659)
  • Destruction of property (199)
  • Murder (168)
  • Bullying/intimidation/torture (144)

Let that sink in: Many comic-book loving kids are what? Bullied and that is on the good guy list.

For antagonists (“the bad guy”), violence was portrayed on screen with:

  • The use of a lethal weapon (604 total acts)
  • Fighting (599)
  • Bullying/intimidation/torture (237)
  • Destruction of property (191)
  • Murder (93)

The one runaway metric was superheroes average 23 violent acts per hour while their enemies have a softer approach with just 18 violent acts per hour. Our Avengers or Justice Leaguers have a worse mean streak than the malevolent foes they protect us against.


anti heroes

There may also be a conflict with our twisted celebration of the anti-hero — Deadpool, Wolverine, Venom. These are not the Keystone Cops of the Justice League in the Wonder Twins.

We celebrate them because they do to the protagonists we wish we could do on a nearly daily basis. And, they do it while maintaining a stellar public relations record. Of course, it’s nice to be in a feature film positioned against the forces of evil and have no reservations about a “kill or be killed” attitude but are our heroes really too violent or just returning fire with fire?

Instead of turning the other cheek as a holy man and son of a King once shared, these heroes teach our kids to smack the hell out of both cheeks — and usually, with a weapon of some sort.

Hey, at least the women of our CBMs maintain their feminine prowess. According to the study, male characters appear in “nearly five times as many violent acts (34 per hour, on average), than female characters, who were engaged in an average of 7 violent acts per hour.”

“Pediatric health care providers should educate families about the violence depicted in this genre of film and the potential dangers that may occur when children attempt to emulate these perceived heroes,” [Dr. Olympia] said.

I guess here’s to hoping Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel fighting evil with a stern talking-to. Because that’s what sells comic book movie tickets.


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I write for a living, among other things in the digital journalism and analytics universe. So I'm a little like a nerd unicorn. But no bronies. Move along.
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