HOW SUPER HEROES BUILT GREAT NATIONS.
I got the inspiration to write this article after watching the movie ‘Abraham Lincoln-Vampire Hunter’, a fictitious adventure movie based on the legendary Abraham Lincoln-America’s 16th president. The creators of this movie used real life events in the life of President Lincoln such as the emancipation of slaves and the American civil war; with that in mind, a new twist was added. Apparently, according to this movie, Abraham Lincoln was a vampire slayer, an action figure with super-human abilities-all these traits combined to help him defeat the 'Vampire powered' Southern confederates, winning the American civil war and freeing black slaves. At the end of this movie, I marveled at the unique ability of Americans and westerners at large to use their history, culture and creativity to make good money even as they continue to inspire their own people, especially the younger ones towards greatness.
One of the world’s most popular super heroes is of course the character known as Superman. Superman was created by American writers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938, just before World War II broke out. Most Children and adults from many generations and nations grew up idolizing Superman as an ideal symbol of strength, even Nigerians and Africans were not left out. I too grew up being infatuated about ‘Superman’; it took me many years to realize that the message behind Superman was not about some alien with special powers from planet krypton. The core message behind Superman was the portrayal of supremacy of both the United States of America and the American ‘white’ male.
In 1938’s America, such a message was definitely not out of place; the world at that time did not know America’s true strength; the Germans, British and Soviets seemed on top of the global-political food chain. Racial segregation was still a norm during that period of America’s history and with the threat of war constantly knocking on America’s doors; the nation needed several morale boosters, something to inspire her people to have courage, confidence and pride. Superman was one of such patriotic tools, with his uniform adorning red and blue colours of the America flag. After Superman, several other American Super heroes emerged with varied degrees of American national colours adorning their respective costumes, the likes of Spider-man, Wonder woman and Captain America to mention a few.
At the end of Second World War in 1945, the British were more or less a broken people. Yes, the allied forces had defeated Adolf Hitler but everyone knew that but for the participation of America and the Soviets, Germany would have literarily kicked Great Britain’s butt. So, the war was over, Americans and Soviets were now the dominant world powers. The British that relied heavily on past glory seemed to be fast losing grip. British colonies began to agitate for independence; India and many other colonies were on their way out of the common wealth. How would the British shore up her peoples' self esteem and patriotism? In 1953, a British writer called Ian Fleming threw up an ideal opportunity; he created a fiction character known as James Bond.
James Bond brought something different and ‘British’ to the table; he did not have special powers like the Americans, but he had Witt, charms and a fine dose of action. It is no coincidence that in many James Bond adventure novels, a lot of the Bond characters’ exploits took place in a Russia, Germany or Asia, basically regions that the British considered unfriendly during World War II. As it were, even though in real life, Winston Churchill’s Britain failed to curtail the Germans, Russians or Japanese-a fictitious James Bond always managed to single handedly penetrate a secret ‘Russian military base’ and destroys everything. Although he gets to keep his sexy female Russian spy.
Most great nations of the world have successfully used their history, arts, culture and creative fiction to psyche up their peoples and subtly instill a deep sense of national pride, purpose and patriotism. The Chinese and Indians for instance have used Martial arts and Bollywood respectively. The development of any society goes beyond building physical infrastructures; if a people are not mobilized to believe in themselves and aim for greatness, nothing can be achieved. There lies the story of Africa and Nigeria.
Many may want to say that the cultural history of Africa is too dark for any meaningful 'good' to be extracted and used to psyche her people up, but this is just not true. We have recently seen a British writer use the story of witchcraft and black magic to create a memorable ‘little boy’ heroic character that has enchanted the world-Harry Porter. Even the Americans constantly go deeper by using many diabolical themes to push forward several fictitious characters that a lot of us love to read about or watch in cinemas.
In Nigeria for example our creative writers have not been able to harness our rich cultural history and use it to inspire our people to greatness. What many Nigerian writers often succeed in doing is to use our history to depress the present generation further. If the Americans or British owned legendary historical characters Sango, Afonja, Oduduwa, King Jaja or Queen Amina, we can only imagine what they would have built around these iconic people.
Africans and Nigerians in particular need Super Heroes that they (or at least our children) can look up to. Since our contemporary political heroes have failed us and our spiritual heroes only interested in acquiring private jets, maybe we all need do is to go back in time and create our own fiction Super heroes. If this has worked for the Americans, Indians, Chinese and British, it should surely work for us.