The era of edge-appeal – The dismantlement of role models

Four men are pulling down a statue using ropes.

Written by Konstantinos Gazis, Law student

Translated by Areti Papanikolaou

In a social reality where everything seems hostile and uncertain, many of us feel the need to return to a safe and warm environment. So we evoke memories from more certain times, and we use childlike stimuli as armor so as to face our present and our future, – maybe it would be wise for us to examine the flawed nature of this psychological survival mechanism some other time in a different setting; we will leave that for another day. – So being a childlike insecure young person myself, I felt the need to find shelter in a world without restrictions, in a world where the good exists and lights the way, where the good always triumphs, in the world of Marvel and DC superheroes.

In short, I watched Superman’s last movie and, apart from the familiar plot and the protagonist’s familiar features, I came across a prevailing atmosphere and a strange character development. Clark Kent was a man combining divine and superior features so powerful that they rendered him invincible. This hero didn’t belong anywhere, not because he didn’t know who he was, like he used to, but because no one seemed to need him. Superman was still “super”, but not at all “hero”, at least not in the usual sense of the word. But how did Clark Kent end up like this? Why did he turn from just “the good guy” that feels that it’s his duty to lift the burden of humanity into a dark and toxic figure? And what does this transformation mean regarding the way heroes are depicted in our societies by pop culture?

Surely, this phenomenon isn’t just about Clark Kent. Everywhere around us “role models” become darker, more complex, smaller. Modern people take their role models off their pedestals, shave their legs, and set them by their side, but at a lower level than theirs. Why do we feel the need to look down on them? In my opinion, there might be two scenarios: Scenario number 1, we are the society of disenchantment; we see people for who they truly are, complicated and very often wounded, we need heroes that remind us of ourselves and the Aeschylean theory is not enough. We make our way towards the world of Euripides; we need demons and flaws as we no longer feel embarrassed about our weaknesses, and instead of looking down, we’re now looking ahead… Scenario number 2, we are the society of deconstruction, the society of edge-appeal; we’ve come face to face with decay and we feel drawn to it, we no longer feel its presence, and instead of just accepting our flaws, we focus on them, as we despise those times and those conjunctures that gave birth to the incarnations of perfection. The dark, once exonerated, fascinates us.

The structure of this text denotes that I adopt scenario number 2. I am not convinced by the scenario of the anthropocentric view of role models, because I don’t think that there is anything anthropocentric about this view. Our screens have turned into distorting mirrors; we see and praise the worst features of our nature so as to feel more comfortable with our personal inadequacy. We no longer forgive ourselves for our mistakes, we no longer learn to love people despite their flaws, but we learn to love them because of them and accept the errors and the insecurities. We no longer try our best and seek self-improvement, but we believe that we will keep on walking despite our flaws, as we’ve now become familiar with decay. The voices of self-improvement of the new era keep telling us that we must love ourselves as a whole and unconditionally, not because of our bright features, our personal history, or of what we’ve become, but because we “must” and we “deserve” it. Ourselves are no longer teammates in our struggle for self-improvement, but they’ve turned into insatiable babies that can’t stand to face harsh truths and deserve to devour unjustifiable love and self-esteem because they are entitled to them since the dawn of time. We learned to feel attracted to bad boys, to choose dark heroes so that their glow won’t uncover our insecurities, and we won’t feel embarrassed next to our role model that can’t no longer be reached, just because our moral muscles have turned weaker. Clark Kent is flawed, the smile of the lady next door hides something, the system is corrupted, and the wind blows us off our way, because -God forbids- how could we live in the shade of ourselves if the world wasn’t like this? But Clark Kent is just a good guy, the lady next door is just happy, the system is not more corrupted than it used to be, and the unfavorable wind is the scenery and the greatest supporter of human existence. People have the duty, allow me to reproduce the phrase of a folk short story from our school years, to keep on trying and looking ahead, and there is nothing anthropocentric about the fulfillment of this debt.

I am strongly convinced that somewhere during the last decades we misinterpreted some situations and we ended up here. I am afraid that, when we quite rightly started to eliminate the stereotype of the man who played the role of the bread-provider, the head of the family, we removed all those elements that reminded us of him. We ceased to appreciate responsibility, decency, integrity, and protectiveness that we tended to combine with this old stereotype of men. We no longer needed Superman. His role was outworn and insignificant, it couldn’t touch us, and we despised it. Thus, in combination with the demands of the unjustifiable, unconditional, superficial love that followed as a distortion of the scarce and struggling social liberation, we turned to all kinds of bad boys. We were only fascinated by decay, tension, something “new”. Straight men, in turn, bit by bit abandoned subtly their dead stereotype, as they could be either old-fashioned and ridiculous or obey the new social demands. Usually, humans’ greatest virtue is adaptability, but this time I think it betrayed us. The era of edge-appeal had come to an end, and under its captivating cover of darkness, Clark Kent, like many men before him, gave in the trauma of his own traditional manhood. You might say, we can live with that, but remember that Christians removed all idols for the sake of their love for Jesus Christ and their new righteous cause.

Those thoughts were running through my head after the movie’s credits, and I’m sure that I’ve figured a lot of things wrong. Maybe it’s all this sitting around and doing nothing or maybe it’s the Coca-Cola zero to blame, and it was my fault too. But it’s ok because next time I will drink less Coca-Cola and I’ll write something better; I promise myself I will. Just do me a favor, just keep this one thing about old Clark Kent, and throw the awful costume along with his heavy New York accent in the trash; Stretch out, sprawl out and become more whole. Don’t crawl into a tiny space of your soul, embrace it as a whole, make it even bigger until it covers the whole world. Stand tall like the man of steel who flew up to the sky because he was just a good guy. We owe it to the old heroes, the heroes we killed because they didn’t suit us anymore, and most importantly we owe it to ourselves and to whom we can become. The “new” is old.

This was Clark,

Be more like Clark

Stay safe and Merry Christmas