Guys, super-heroes, and semi-gods

Last night I did something I had not done for a long-time: go to the cinema with a bunch of guys to watch a super-hero movie. Iron Man 3 was colorful, manly and supercharged. The bad guy was really bad, the good guy was funny, and both were very, very powerful. The force they exuded through their bio-Iron_Man_3engineering or robot machines was world-shaping, and I drove back home with a temptation to speed the car and smash people with my own force too.

I could not help thinking about the audience too, though. A generation of teenagers and young guys is feeding from movies like this. Throw some car-chase movies, kill-the-terrorist movies, horror movies, and then some shot-the-zombie and steal-the-car video games, and then some sexually-charged song clips at MTV, and then some subjugate-the-girl porn, and that’s a lot of visual power. It is a generation of men fascinated with power, domination, supremacy. “In other words: egomania and erotomania,” in the chilling words of Malcolm Muggeridge, “the two ills of our time – the raised fist, and the raised phallus.” [1] Like a prophetic fulfillment of Friedrich Nietzsche vision of the Über-mensch, who left weakness and limitations far in the past: a world of heroes, warriors, and semi-gods.

Except that, well, ours is a generation so fragile and tender. I wonder if we’re  so enamored with being powerful because  we actually feel so powerless and impotent. I mean, we’re guys who have seen modern certainties erode and who live in a landscape devoid of social meaning. Guys who feel impotent before the challenges of growing up and who wonder if we can’t remain big teenagers for life.  Guys having a hard time expressing ourselves, doing dumb jobs, unable to connect with the girl, living with mom and pa. And so we dream of super-hero powers, trying to hush away our sense of weakness and impotence.

How good would be, tough, if we could start to reimage manhood in more humane and realistic brushes?  I mean, exalt models of guys who take care of each other, who show up when it matters, who embrace responsibility, who can talk meaningfully about their weaknesses and thus display a larger strength? Guys who fantasize not about subjugating women but about finding a positive self-esteemgirl we can cherish, lift up, sacrifice for, grow old with? Guys dreaming of empowering others, paying attention to the weak, growing more loving and affectionate?

It is a challenge for our generation, how to re-imagine masculinity (and femininity) in the 21st century. How can men be men after the demise of the patriarchal society? What is the model for guys who want to let go of traditional prerogatives and champion the equal value of women at home, in the workplace and society?

I don’t have definitive answers but I think I have a good point to start: the model of a guy so strong yet so humble, a guy who was serene,  compassionate, bold, loving. A guy who used his powers – and he did have some super powers! – not for personal supremacy but to open eyes and amend bodies. A guy who laid down his life for us, and thus showed us a splendor far beyond that of a semi-god: the splendor of a majestic King, of a gracious Savior, of a God made incarnate.

René Breuel

[1] See Malcolm Muggeridge’s essay at


6 responses to “Guys, super-heroes, and semi-gods

  1. Maybe we haven’t seen everything this genre can do. Sci-fi was the tool Lewis used to combat the atheistic view of the cosmos in the science fiction of his day. Maybe the superhero genre itself will be the tool to present the alternate vision of strength you’re looking for…

  2. Beautifully written and so important, Rene! I’m creating and teaching a course this fall at the Univ. of Victoria called “Masculinity and Gender in North America.” A couple lectures will address the ‘cult of hyper-masculinity,’ like you have here. For an interesting manifesto on being ‘better men,’ you might want to read ‘Chivalry Now.’ Thanks for this great post.

    • Great to hear from you Steve! You course sounds so interesting! I’m sure you’d analyze this so much better. Hey, would you be up to trying to express some of the material in a WF article? About 500-600 words. Let me know if you’d be up to it!

      • Rene–Sure! I’ll be creating the course this summer. Could you remind me in July/August and let me know what you’re looking for? Salutami l’Italia, specialmente i romani!

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