On influence and responsibility

Let’s say that in our own little made up land of Hypotheticville, two new comics hit the shelves from a major publisher, both becoming hot sellers.  One is called Wonder Squad, in which brightly colored super-heroes band together to fight injustice and save life, liberty, and all that.  The other is called Demon Blayze in which a tortured soul is wrongly sent to hell, only to be given a second chance of life, only to find his family has been killed and thus he uses his new hell spawned abilities to punish wrongdoers in a horrible manner.  Heavy metal may be involved.

Some time after Wonder Squad and Demon Blayze become accepted norms on the comic scene of Hypoville, two separate incidents occur.  One happens in which a small hypothetical child does a string of good deeds and a feelgood story makes major media wires that the kid’s heroes are the Wonder Squad, and the kid was just doing his (or her) hypothetical best, just like his heroes.  The media hits it and all those hypothetical fans of the comic, as well as the entire medium, use the story as an example of the importance of their medium and how it has a good effect on its fanbase.

The second story is which a kid violently attacks someone else for something he believed they were doing wrong and the victim may or may not survive the attack.  When the story hits the same major media wires, the story tells that the kid idolized the main character of Demon Blayze, and the media notes that his acts mirrored those of the comic character and question whether such stories should be allowed.  This, in turn, outrages the hypothetical fans of the comic, as well as the entire medium, as the mean press is simply jumping to conclusions and vilifying the work which is just a story and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

You may notice that while both those stories’ details were hypothetical works of fiction, the reactions displayed certainly were not.

People like being in the right.  It’s one of the most basic enjoyments that human behavior gets.  People tend to expand that desire to be right into their interests, especially things they become fans of.  Fan, after all, is short for fanatic and people’s attitudes tend to reflect a fanaticism when coming to act on something they care deeply about.  When something good is said about something they like, people cheer.  When somebody says something bad about what they like, they boo.  Professional wrestling has made a multi-million dollar business on this simple reaction and it is demonstrated numerous times a week for millions of people.

But what annoys me is when people use an argument to support something in their favor, then dispute the exact same argument when it happens to work negatively against them.  And this happens all the time in any fanbase.  But this is a blog about comics, and thus here it’s about the comic fans.

Comic books are an interesting medium to look at, since they are mostly entrenched in the imagination.  They are brightly colored heroes punching no-goodniks and saving the day for the good, personality-less drones of the world.  They fly, and shoot lasers from their eyes, and wear some of the most ridiculously impractical outfits ever thought of outside of what actually is widely accepted high fashion.  To get into superhero comics is to separate yourself from everyday life and go into their world.

And while there, sometimes you pick up messages that can reflect your own life.  Was that the intention?  Were the mutants of Chris Claremont’s X-Men really a stand-in for every frowned upon minority?  Or were they a stand-in for those who got a rotten lot of luck in life and still did the best of it because good is what you do?  Or were they simply a bunch of people who dressed in spandex and punched other guys in spandex because a bald cripple told them to?

That’s what the reader decides themselves, and that’s what’s so fun about comic books.  But what happens when somebody gets the wrong message from it and acts on it?  Who’s to blame?  The comic that gave them the idea for it?  If you say no, then how can you stand by and take the praise when the other kid does good because his comic book heroes taught him that?

People are influenced by everything, and sadly (to me, at least) many get more influence from fictional characters than they do actual people doing actual things in life.  But we, as fans and therefore a part of this medium, cannot deny the responsibility of the influence when something bad happens just because it reflects badly on something we like.  It’s what keeps us from becoming completely lost in a fictional world and puts a foot in reality.  Bad people do bad things because of things we may consider good, and that sucks.

But the bigger, more worrying problem is that there is no real solution to it.  And that sucks even more.

Sorry to be such a downer – I’ll get back to the bwah-ha-ha shortly.



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