... a superhero movie, by definition, you know, it’s comic book. It’s for kids. It’s adolescent in its core. That has always been its appeal, and I think people who are saying, you know, "Dark Knight Rises is, you know, supreme cinema art,” I don’t think they know what the fuck they’re talking about.
-- director David Cronenberg, on the limitations of superhero movies
Although he's focusing on whether superhero movies can be art, the part of that quote that most interests me is Cronenberg's assertion that the superhero genre is for kids and is "adolescent in its core."
My first reaction was that it's Cronenberg who doesn't know what he's talking about. The Comics Aren't Just for Kids Anymore meme has been going on so long that it's now accepted fact. We should be clear that when we say "comics aren't just for kids," what we really mean is that superhero comics aren't just for kids, but that's still a fact, too. If anything, the challenge is to find superhero comics that are appropriate for children. This is not a new observation.
But Cronenberg's statement made me stop and wonder for a bit. What if he's right and we've been deluding ourselves? What if superpowered people dressing up in colorful costumes to fight each other is an inherently silly and childish idea? What if it's meant for our children and we've just been too selfish to pass it down? What if our insistence on darker, more "mature" superhero stories is freaking ridiculous and everybody knows it but us? What if the reason that the Superheroes Are for Kids attitude won't die is because it's actually right?
Does that mean that adults shouldn't also enjoy them? Hell no. When Cronenberg says the superhero genre's childishness is its appeal, that resonates with me. It's great to enjoy childish things, both for nostalgic reasons and also because they help us bond with younger people. They keep us young at heart. But that's exactly why it feels increasingly foolish to insist that superheroes are an adult genre. Rather than arguing that they're not for kids, maybe we should proudly be embracing that they are.
(photo via Flickr)