Friday, July 28, 2006

Who wants to watch people who want to be superheroes?

I do.

And I'm not alone.

I did not expect to like this show at all.

But I LOVED it.

This show was supposed to be a cornball, last ditch lame attempt by the geeks to sink their fake vampire teeth into the bloated corpse of reality television.

But, like so many things having to do with geek culture, this show - with much thanks to Stan "The Man" Lee - manages to elevate itself above the normal reality show trainwreck, rewarding noble character over petty, self-interested, competition-minded contestants.

In a time when the sneakiest snake wins the "survival of the fittest" in the selfish world of reality television, along comes WHO WANTS TO BE A SUPERHERO? and completely shames the entire genre.

If this show were just a bunch of grown adults wearing gaudy outfits, running around with pretend superpowers and shouting cheesy catchphrases, it would simply fade away as another sad cliche of geek culture.


From the get-go, nothing is as it seems.

The drama!

The pathos!


When these would-be Superheroes screw up, Stan Lee mercilessly shames them, providing insight into what it means to be a true hero.

The first "hero" to be kicked off the show is revealed to be nothing more than a money-hungry, fame-obsessed celebrity wannabe. And Stan Lee will have none of it, teaching him - and everyone - a terrific lesson in humility. He needs to make sure that these people are there for the right reasons. It's fascinating. Sure, on the surface they look like a bunch of freaks and geeks, but what Stan Lee is really trying to do is look beyond the garish get-ups and see what makes a hero tick. It's not about the cool gadgets or the goofy costumes; it's about what's on the inside that counts. It's about the VALUES of heroism.

When Lee sees them flitting about their house like they're on a vacation, he barks orders at them, telling them in no uncertain terms that this is not how superheroes act.

You gotta love the sense of theatrics and the slowly brewing melodramas -

Hello! Major Victory is a former exotic dancer who feels like he let his daughter down!

Yet, beneath the flashy, cheesy exterior of the show is a lesson in true heroism, where one's character is tested more than their skill, where it's not enough to talk like a hero; it's most important to ACT like a hero.

When "Fat Momma" stops in the middle of her mission to help a crying child, we know that beneath her copious bosom beats the heart of a true hero. We no longer see a large woman in a ridiculous outfit with doughnuts hanging from her belt ... well, okay, we do see that, but we also see a mother, a human being. Someone who truly believes in helping others, no matter the cost.

When Cellphone Girl and Major Victory veer off from their given task to help that child in need, you know that they value the ideals of heroism over competition. We feel a little tingle of excitement as a cry for help is answered. And even as Major Victory mugs to the camera, we know that his heart's in the right place. Sure his costume riffs heavily on The Greatest American Hero ... and that helps, too.

Many of these costumed characters fail their first real test and when Stan Lee solemnly chastises the so-called heroes for ignoring a crying girl - for not taking time out to do the most important thing a hero can do, help someone in need - they realize that there's a lot more to being a real superhero than beating your opponents in a competition. And an important lesson is taught to all. Dressing up in a silly costume isn't so silly when you actually live up to the superhero standard of helping those in need. But when you act selfishly, ignoring the cries of help around you, standing there in a superhero outfit must feel like the most humiliating experience in the world.

"Son, you have a lot of growing up to do."

Stan Lee uttering those words is the reality television equivalent of "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed."

In essence, this is an anti-reality show; instead of holding up a mirror to our culture and showing us how truly awful people are, WHO WANTS TO BE A SUPERHERO? encourages us to live up to an ideal, to be better than ordinary people, to be better human beings. Sure, it's filled with chessy maxims and over-the-top outrageous characters...but beneath the flash and pop is a show that rewards good behavior and a noble character.

Of course, Stan Lee sums up the show best when he explains that it's what's on the inside counts:




Honesty and integrity."

These are the qualities that Stan's searching for and in a time when the word "hero" is tossed around to describe anyone from someone who hits homeruns to fictional characters who favor violence over peace, leave it to Stan Lee to provide a shining beacon of hope in a dark world.

Everyone of us could be an everyday superhero. It's not about costumes or powers or cool gadgets. It's not about talking the talk or saying you love being hero. Actions speak louder than words and are more dramatic than any of the show's dreamt-up theatrics. It's about BEING a hero, in every sense of the word.


Who WOULDN'T want to be a superhero?!