Luckily, the adult that’s mostly taken over my body over the past fifteen years certainly
recognizes has been well-trained for when the appropriate time to stifle this excitement is. The reality has long set in that thousands — millions, maybe — of other children that grew up the same time as I “was” Jason the red Power Ranger, or “was” Wolverine, or “was” Wedge Antilles when they played whatever… Even so, I must admit that remain steadfast in my secret devotions to my childhood heroes and just like to think that everyone else is just as weird, maybe just in other ways. I don’t tend to take myself too seriously, and I enjoy others that lean that way as well.
The best part is that children are able to connect with certain aspects of characters like this. Especially from such a rich and broad assortment of television shows, books, movies, graphic novels, comics and more. If there’s one thing that those writing and developing in any medium have seemingly always understood it is that showing a variety of personalities in their characters not only made them more memorable and relatable but also allows them — especially from the golden days when I was a kid and before — to create an endless assortment of merchandise to cater to these things. Because let’s be real; the reason any of this even existed in the first place was for the merchandise.
But to a kid who can’t even grasp these concepts, these things only exist for them to love and enjoy. We didn’t care that Optimus Prime and the Transformers were created to sell toys. That Power Rangers was just cut up footage from a Japanese show with American 20-somethings spliced in to play teenagers. We fell right for the archetypes based on who we felt we were as humans.
It’s something that happens naturally as a kid and you learn a lot from who you relate to. Your friends and siblings will even recognize that you “are” a certain character when you’d play. They won’t question why you have three butter knives (or sticks, or pencils, or…) between your fingers on each hand, trying hard to be the best Wolverine possible. As far as they are concerned you are Wolverine. Logistics don’t really matter when you’re a kid.
All of this is really one of the best parts of being a kid. Imagination runs rampant.
They’re onto us
Hollywood and people everywhere are now able to embrace their love of fictional characters and nostalgia openly (mostly), re-inventing and in many cases re-invigorating older franchises to fit modern day standards.
The re-emergence of things once held dear can be unsettling really. We’ve all seen something get utterly destroyed in front of our eyes… Where the classical phenomenon known as ‘head canon’ is the only thing able to keep you sane. Where one would be quoted saying “Actually, I don’t consider that as canon [to the whatever universe],” where something is so completely terrible, you can’t even accept it’s based on the same material as your beloved tales.
“There’s a certain level of not-giving-a-damn you must reach when you love anything really. Not everyone will understand, and that’s part of what makes it fun.”
But this is bound to happen when anything gets picked up by those with the power to control the material. Look at the infamous Holiday Special following the tremendous and unexpected success of Star Wars, where it was literally thrown together by studio execs looking to cash in on the hit and milk every dollar from Christmas merchandise sales.
Attendees and cosplayers of the now massive celebrations of culture like Comic-Con are no longer viewed as complete and totally losers, but instead, individuals collectively grouping up to embrace their inner nerd. In fact, most would [and should] be jealous of those attending events like this. Where else can you dress up like pimp Darth Vader and Boba Fett and expect to be taken seriously?
Geeks are cool now it seems? At least cool enough for the news media to consider hip. Or perhaps —more likely— just very profitable.
Being a nerd myself for as long as I’ve been alive, I’m not sure what outsiders even think? Do they think we’re weird but have to “act” like it’s all so cool? Are they jealous that a grown man would choose to dress up like “slave Leia” in public? Or are we just a bunch of f*cking idiots? Maybe we’re all of those things, and that’s okay with me. There’s a certain level of not-giving-a-damn you must reach when you love anything really. Not everyone will understand, and that’s part of what makes it fun.
There’s more to it
These sorts of connections continue on into adulthood. You come to realize that we are all just children in fully grown bodies running around, making stuff up as we go. We will always relate to fictional characters for traits we find appealing, but it gets ever more complicated when factoring in things like politics, intolerance, greed, inequality, hate or any of the other complications of everyday life into the equation. All these things that come with becoming a “grown up”. You realize the world can be shit sometimes.
The things above are just some of what the most successful and coveted of the re-invented franchises have taken advantage of to guarantee success. They realize those who loved Batman aren’t just stuck in a fictional Gotham, where villains dressed up as whatever terrorize the city with their unique twist on evil. Writers have, instead, made Batman’s arch rivals realistic people with complicated motivations for their “evil” or questionable methods. Of course sprinkling in that, a man wears clown makeup to fuck with everyone and you get it, but that’s beside the point.
The point is that if you can believe in a gritty reality where a billionaire would dress up in a bat suit at night to fight for street justice, writers and producers have you right where they want you. The same place they had you as a kid. You leave the theater wanting to fight for justice too, and perhaps even wanting to buy a Batmobile replica for your desk at work. Or Joker makeup for Halloween.
You’ll recall for an extended period of time how this film made you feel about yourself and will attach this to who you are as a person. What your limits are. Who you could be given the right set of circumstances. Right?
Writers and producers are intelligent and we all will forever be entertained by thoughts of who we could be. The whole point of fiction is to take a break from reality, and oftentimes shine some light on just how screwed up our world is by setting their fictitious realities in places that are so absurd they make a statement about who we are; where we are going; what we are doing. (Yeah I just quoted Yoda, so what. Wanna fight about it?)
…we all will forever be entertained by thoughts of who we could be.
In no actual reality could I ever cheer for, or be so fascinated with the likes of serial killer or meth cook, but in the fictional world, his lack of connection to the world around him spoke to my social anxiety in ways that I had never really encountered — and this was when I was already an adult. I have no Dark Passenger, but I this is what I mean.
You pick up pieces of who you are from all of the things you connect to. It may not be visible on the surface or may just be a thought that lingers in your head for all of the time, but it is there. I like that. None of us are completely unique in this regard, yet none of us are the same. While these things may not profoundly affect who we are on a day-to-day basis, all that matters is that a little piece of us remembers what it feels like to look up to someone. To strive to be better, or faster, or stronger, or even to have some extreme super power to help serve justice. We’ll always have heroes, whether it’s a conscious observation or not. We all need someone to look up to.