Modern superheroes portrayed on silver screen preach violence and revenge as a way of life and thus prove to be bad role models for children, a group of U.S. psychologists have found.
Unlike the comic heroes of the past who often held ordinary day jobs and believed in social justice, the new breed of Hollywood superheroes are aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speak about the virtue of doing good for humanity.
The experts suggested that watching superheroes beat up villains may not be the best image for boys to see if society wants to promote kinder, less stereotypical male behaviours, according to British daily The Telegraph.
Modern depictions of superheroes like Iron Man are often playboy millionaires who are only ruled by selfish goals, said Sharon Lamb, of the University of Massachusetts.
“There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday,” Dr Lamb told the annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.
“Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity.
“When not in superhero costume, these men, like Iron man, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns.”
The comic book heroes of the past fought criminals, she said, “but these were heroes boys could look up to and learn from because outside of their costumes, they were real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities,” she said.
Lamb surveyed 674 boys age 4 to 18, walked through malls and talked to sales clerks to find out what boys were reading and watching on television and at the movies.
She and her co-authors found that marketing managers take advantage of boys’ need to forge their identity in adolescence and sell them a narrow version of masculinity.
They can either be a “player” or a “slacker” -- the guy who never even tries -- to save face.
“In today’s media, superheroes and slackers are the only two options boys have,” said Dr Lamb. “Boys are told, if you can’t be a superhero, you can always be a slacker.
“Slackers are funny, but slackers are not what boys should strive to be; slackers don’t like school and they shirk responsibility.
“We wonder if the messages boys get about saving face through glorified slacking could be affecting their performance in school.”
She said that original superheroes like Superman who was a reporter by day and the Green Lantern, who was a railroad engineer, were invented to fight for social justice and were a reaction to the rise of fascism. But the new breed of superheroes only thought about themselves.
They thwart dastardly supervillains and have saved the world countless times over but macho superheroes now face a determined new foe in the guise of a mild-mannered child psychologist.
Professor Sharon Lamb, from the University of Massachusetts in Boston, accuses the new generation of superheroes, exemplified by Robert Downey Junior's playboy millionnaire Iron Man, of being bad role models for young boys.
Unlike conventional superheroes such as Superman, who stood for justice, fairness and decency, the modern macho superheroes portray a negative masculinity, characterised by mindless aggression and rampant sexism. Lamb, who surveyed 674 boys aged four to 18, claimed these hardnosed heroes may be damaging the social skills of teenagers and even affecting their performance at school.
"There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday," she said.
"Today's superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he's aggressive, sarcastic, and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity," she said.
"These men, like Iron Man, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns."
In contrast, Lamb said the boys could look up to the old-style heroes such as Superman, "because outside of their costumes they were real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities".Lamb told the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in San Diego, California that adolescent boys were being sold a "narrow version of masculinity" just when they were most vulnerable and trying to forge an identity for themselves.