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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #57, 12/30/2006

When Do Superheroes Do Their Laundry?

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

Being a superhero isn't as glamourous as it sounds. There are too many people who need to be saved and never enough time to do it. First, a dam is about to burst in the foothills, then a train is about to run off the tracks fifty miles away. Meanwhile, little Johnny is going to be run over by a truck if you aren't there to divert it. Heaven forbid you should fail to rescue Johnny, because then you'll have everyone wailing, "Where was Superman?" No matter how many times you save the day, people only remember the times when you didn't.

There's never any rest for a superhero. Even closing your eyes at night is a guilt trip. As you sleep, the world goes unguarded while tragedies haunt your dreams.

"What sort of monster are you that you could let my child die?"

A super power may sound alluring at first, but once you have it, it can be a curse. The expectations are huge, and even with your special capabilities, there's always a limit to what you can do. You can see now why so many superheroes prefer to go incognito, masquerading as mild mannered reporters or playboy industrialists while saving the world as quietly as possible.

Some of them, in fact, don't even wear a mask or costume. They pretend to be caseworkers, foster parents and mild-mannered attorneys. When they save somebody, they don't necessarily want the world to know about it, because once word of their generosity gets out, then everyone is going to want a piece of it.

Support services for superheroes are woefully lacking. All of them could probably use some counseling, someone to talk to once in a while. Saving the world can be traumatic and lonely. There are many times when you swoop down with good intentions and end up just making matters worse. It turns out that some people in distress don't really want to be saved, and if you try, you risk being sucked into their whole dysfunctional system.

Your super powers, no matter how great, never seem to be a match for all the evil of the world. Others may think you are powerful because you can bend steel in your bare hands, but only you know how little can really be accomplished by this. Bending steel isn't a panacea for anything; it's just another tool that presents another set of dilemmas.

Every intervention has hidden costs. If you save one kid from a runaway truck, then soon every parent expects their child to be saved, and people may stop teaching their children about prudent traffic safety. Sometimes, for the good of everybody, you just got to step back and let it happen. It's a terrible tragedy, but you're not God. You can't protect everybody from everything.

It takes a while to figure all this out. It's not like you get your super powers one day and know how to use them the next. It can take years to grasp the subtleties of your craft. How to use the powers themselves is not really the issue. The main question is when you should use them and when you should not.

Your intervention should be a last resort, and you want to avoid letting people become dependent on you. Ideally, you want people to save themselves. You may not like the way that people regulate their lives—with their crazy beliefs and their wasteful human sacrifices—but you have to turn a blind eye to most of it, because you can't afford to be saving everybody.

You have your own self-regulation to worry about. You have to do your laundry and take a shower from time to time, because no one wants to be saved by a stinky superhero. You have to take time to clip your fingernails, meditate and clean up that pigsty of a cave you live in. If people have to die while you perform these mundane maintenance tasks, so be it.

If you have a gift, then you need to protect it. No one is going to benefit from your super powers if you are burned out. You need to find some "me" time, not necessarily to do something frivolous, but just to oil the machine. Only by keeping the machine in good working order are you capable of saving anyone at all.


10/11/07: Also see my book-in-progress: The Superhero Handbook.

Reader Comments

“sucks.” —laflah 6/9/07 (rating=1)

“i use my powers every day and no one ever says anything bad they are always thanking me. i may let people down every now and then but they always thank me” —superman the 2nd 6/15/07 (rating=0)

“laundry? what is?” —zombiemonkey 7/2/07

“i read the lot......i was researching, for my animation when i bumped into this. made me side-tracked.” —who am i? just a guy 10/10/07 (rating=3)

“you write alot, have u got a book i can look into? please contact:” —i am the same guy that made the coment above this one.. 10/10/07 (rating=3)

“An interesting concept for thought, a bit like the idea of rights coming with responsibilities. For every good thing we have, some kind of duty is attached.” —A teacher 11/4/07 (rating=3)

“could dae better” — 3/25/08 (rating=0)

“I just stumbled upon this randomly but it perked me up. Anyone working in community health should appreciate this sentiment!” —some speechie 4/1/08 (rating=3)

“I liked it. Well written and really brings forth the personal dilemmas for superheroes. Food for thought.” —LeaT 4/16/08 (rating=4)

“I believe that people's dependancy on a superhero can be avoided if the superhero lays down the rules and conditions (This essay would do just fine in this case) from day 1. Maybe through an interview on the news or something...” —Captain Observant 7/1/08 (rating=4)

“Interesting” —Neil Shooter 9/5/08 (rating=3)

“i think this was a good thing to write, and a good example to "helpless" people” —not here 9/19/08 (rating=4)

“well done essay to all superheroes ever created, they all face the same person and you did a nice compilations of problems the face every day of the year” —Terence 10/5/08 (rating=3)

“"they all face the same problem" i ment to say that, btw, one fictional person did say it in one sentence in a comic what you just wrote here, "with great power. comes great responsibility"” —Terence 10/5/08 (rating=3)

“get better pictures” — 10/21/08 (rating=3)

“Absolutely! Many "superheroes" super mom's/dad's/workers give too much while others take too much. Giving and recieving is a beautiful cycle. But some "superheroes" fail to realise that at times they are the ones in need and that it is not wrong to give to themselves the rest and time out they need to rejuvinate themselves so they cna help more people. Many people aso do not realise real life "superheroes"don't fly around in spandex with their underpants on the outside. Real heroes often do not wish or need the fame - they do what they do because they love it - not for attention and gloy. Being a true hero is "a work of heart" - and many herous are unsung and many choose to do these anonymous acts of kindness - and if more pepole realised that and did more good work themselves - they will be less people in the world needing ot be rescued - as they would know how to rescue themselves and help others. Good Work!” —Elysia 11/11/08 (rating=5)

“This is an entertaining, well written and intelligent piece of work. There are interesting and plausible points raised here. It's certainly a refreshingly practical look at the life of a superhero.” —Ellie 2/27/09 (rating=5)

“I love it and will read it alot of times.” —Me 6/18/09 (rating=5)

“Not all social workers are heros, and there are a lot of just everyday heros out there, many of them working parents doing the best they can everday..and THAT, my friends,is often the most thankless task..IMHO” —not a hero 8/30/09 (rating=2)

“itt wass good” —shonna manrow 11/9/09 (rating=2)

“nott thatt good” —sarah ward 11/9/09 (rating=1)

“I think it is a very good creative essay and people who like superheros can understand the point. thank you.” —mother of a superhero afficionato 12/9/09 (rating=4)

“you forgot about duplicatng powers & time travel;they are a way round you not beng abale to save everyone @ once!” —some guy 1/23/10 (rating=0)

“USA” —xxlqfwdpe 9/11/10 (rating=imS10VNr)

“spandex doesn't need washing, you know.” —spandexdood 11/30/10 (rating=0)

Ratings so far: 3 3 1 0 1 5 3 3 3 0 3 4 0 4 3 4 3 3 3 3 5 4 5 3 5 2 3 2 1 2 4 0 4 5 4 imS10VNr 5 0 3 (Average=2.7)

Family Court Philosopher:
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