The Costume: Symbolism

Posted by ben On March - 1 - 2010

This is part of an ongoing series where we explore the reasons behind the Superhero costume. In this segment, we explore the symbolic importance to a Real Life Superhero’s costume:

Symbolism

Symbolism may be the most important feature of a superhero's costume

Symbolism may be the most important feature of a superhero's costume

Perhaps the most universal reason that we wear the costume is for the symbolism. The costume allows us to be transformed into another person entirely – a superhero. By becoming this other identity, we can shed the weight of our past selves and start anew. In starting over, we are allowed to shape ourselves to represent a cause – and become a symbol for the world.

You’ll soon see that the effects of such a symbol are astounding. When handing out food to the homeless, or volunteering at a local shelter, you will find total strangers approaching you to ask what exactly it is that you are. People who would have otherwise gone on about their day without taking a moment to stop suddenly will engage in a conversation with a real life superhero!

“What do you mean, real life superhero?” they’ll ask. They’ll be giddy, want to know more, and, most importantly – they’ll want to know how they can help.

A Real Life Superhero stands out in a crowd of people like the Batmobile in a parking lot. People in society are so used to associating superheroes with the pages of comic books or the screens of movie theaters that when they see us walking among them, they react as though they have spotted the Loch Ness monster taking a stroll down the street. And this is ultimately where we draw some of our greatest power from as a superhero – the ability to draw attention to what it is we represent.

While no doubt a few will be incredulous and, perhaps, even hostile, far more often people will gasp in disbelief, choke back a torrent of hopeful tears, throw their arms around you and hug you tightly, repeating over and over again, “I knew superheroes were real!”

With this attention comes great responsibility. You should be prepared to not only inspire these people, but to also have outlets and materials that tell them how to get involved if they are interested.

But sometimes being that symbol also provides opportunities to help in addition to inspiring others. One particular story that comes to mind occurred during a road trip from New York to New Orleans for the second annual conference of Superheroes Anonymous.

On this trip, 10 superheroes piled into an R.V. and set off from New York, picking up superheroes all along the way to New Orleans. At every gas station and at every restaurant the superheroes would be dressed in full regalia, eliciting questions and stares in equal measure. However, while stopped in West Virginia to restock on snacks and to stretch our legs, we were flagged down by a woman across the streets who saw the banner on the R.V. which clearly read “SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS.” At seeing this banner and then seeing a bunch of costumed superheroes idling around, she started to wave at us yelling “Are you guys really superheroes?!”

We crossed the street to talk to her and see what’s up, telling her “We are indeed superheroes. Real Life Superheroes to be exact.”

“Oh thank God!” she exclaimed before going on to explain. “I just moved in to this house behind me and there’s a wild squirrel inside. I’ve called animal control and the police but nobody has come to help!”

Well, she was in luck because not only did we help her remove the squirrel but we were also able to help her fix a hole in her fence as well so her dogs couldn’t escape. When all was said and done she hugged the superheroes and gave a tearful “farewell” and wished us a safe journey to New Orleans. She has kept in touch with us to this day.

The point of this story is that without the superhero costume, she never would have known that she could turn to us for help. In that way, wearing your superhero costume can turn you into a pillar on which people in need will lean.

By Ben Goldman

Photo courtesy of martinboz

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3 Responses to “The Costume: Symbolism”

  1. Jonasette says:

    An amazing story….hopefully I will be able to do something like that!

  2. Laura says:

    I would love to be areal life superhero…
    Your so inspiring!
    The UK needs a new crime fighter and I could do it!

  3. The pedestrian says:

    I do my best to fight crime in New York city, but it is not enough. Petty thugs and drug dealers exist ad nauseum in this rat infested pile of human garbage that is the big apple, but they are merely a symptom of a much larger evil that threatens the very fabric of American society. An evil so powerful that its destruction represents a dauting task that I am truly not prepared to take on. As the pedestrian I walk the streets of NewYork with little hope of success yet I remain vigilant. After bearing witness to the events of 9/11 and the mass hypnosis of my fellow citizens that followed I have become obsessed with exposing the truth to any who will listen. It has reduced me to poverty. My most cherished relationships devoured by my unending desire for justice and retribution. I cannot afford a disguise much less my rent. So i have decided to step back from my mission until I can get my life in order. Until i do so i will remain the pedestrian. Hidden in plain site until such time i will have the resources to purchase my disguise and my armor. Your stories bring me new hope for success. I find a new sense of purpose just knowing their are others like me in this world. Thank you for your service and your inspiration.

    -The Pedestrian

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