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Superhero movies: cinema saviors or greedy, corporate villains?

By Sally Itawi
On August 29, 2012

It was quite a difficult summer for the super villains among us. Everywhere they turned, The Avengers jumped out of advertisements, or the Amazing Spider-man hung on store windows watching their every move. When they thought they had a break, Batman flew onto the scene, smashing both the box offices and their dreams of world domination. Any diabolical plans for next year have already been sabotaged by announcements of upcoming superhero movies, including Superman, Wolverine, Thor and Iron Man.

As of late, the American summer has become less about barbeques and poolside afternoons, and more about the release of the next great blockbuster. Especially this summer, the public has been enticed in record-breaking crowds to sit for two hours and surrender their imaginations to the will of Hollywood. And Hollywood delivers exactly what sells. Who can blame them?

The allure of superhero movies is obvious — they cater to a persistent hunger for large-scale, simplistic narratives of good and evil. They also appeal to deeply rooted patriotic themes, including the “Western hero” who is the savior of a world he’s separate from (think Thor and Superman), and “American exceptionality” — that this country is different from, if not nobler than, others because of its mission to make the world safe for democracy and spread liberty. (This one just screams Iron Man and Batman.)

The superhero boom is nothing new — capes and superpowers have been selling for years in comics, games and movies. Its ongoing success relies partially on its appeal to a variety of audiences. Children go to see their favorite hero kicking butt and saving the day, and their parents happily come along to relive their childhoods. Canny corporate marketing draws in everyone in between.

In addition to the consumers’ feel-good appetite is the corporate appetite for bigger returns. Superhero movies sell more than just theater tickets, stemming out to pay-per-view, toys, video games and international revenue. In turn, these become additional advertisements that the public pays for and spreads. People everywhere were excited to see “The Avengers,” but how could they not have been? They were bombarded with the advertisements for years in advance which increased both in number and intensity as the opening night approached.

As a Marvel executive told Forbes, “Every Marvel movie since 2008 was created with the full intention of this super franchise.” That’s four years of back-to-back advertisements and hype to create a maximized target audience that ensured a successful summer for our masked crusaders, and a successful profit for the companies that brought them to life.

I’ll admit, I went and saw “The Avengers,” “The Amazing Spider-man” and “The Dark Knight Rises” each a healthy four times in theaters and even purchased some merchandise. I drooled over Andrew Garfield’s Spider-man, cheered for the misunderstood Loki, and spoke in Batman’s ridiculous husky voice for a good two hours.

I know that I probably would not have gone to see these movies as often as I did had I never seen an advertisement for them. That’s actually why I didn’t see “The Incredible Hulk” or “Captain America: The First Avenger” (the least advertised individual Avengers films) in theaters. I am fully aware that I hitched a ride on the superhero bandwagon and sold my soul for Marvel and DC’s propaganda.

So what does this say about me? What does this say about the general moviegoing public? Should we feel tricked or angry? Should we feel guilty for paying into the schemes of entertainment giants while many independent films never see the light of day? Or should we feel justified because, in the end, we paid for a product and were generally satisfied with what we received? Our answers are to each our own.

Dearest supervillains, it is not the Avengers, Spider-man or Batman you should be worried about this summer or the next. Sure, they won the love and attention of millions of fans, but the real winners this summer were their parent corporations. The superheroes are going nowhere and neither is the public hype for them. This is partially thanks to their inherent appeal, but mostly thanks to the marketing geniuses that have revived them and elevated them to their god-like statuses. Bow down mere mortals, because I’ve seen the future and it wears colorful tights.

Sally Itawi is a junior majoring in biology and pre-med with a minor in chemistry. Her favorite superhero is Spider-man because, c’mon, it’s Spider-man.

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