Archives July 2007

Geek Squads

Kristen Mueller Utne Reader
In Jackson, Michigan, police are turning to a surprising ally in the fight against crime: a trio of spandex-clad crusaders armed with Mace and known as the Crimefighter Corps. The group’s de facto leader goes by the name Captain Jackson and keeps his true identity a closely guarded secret. He prefers to call his getup a uniform–picture Batman in yellow gloves and a purple cape–and explains that he’s been prowling the streets with his 17-year-old daughter, Crimefighter Girl, since 1999, when he noticed that ‘there were no beat cops around.’ They were soon joined by Queen of Hearts, an anti-domestic violence activist, and the threesome became regulars at community events, feted by local law enforcement. ‘By definition, we’re superheroes,’ says the Captain.
Nationwide, Captain Jackson and his crew have plenty of company. ‘An entire community of real-life superheroes patrols the streets from Los Angeles to Boise, Chicago to Phoenix,’ reports Punk Planet (March/April 2007). They gather on MySpace and WorldSuperheroRegistry .com to discuss morals (‘Is it ever OK for a superhero to kill?’), gadgets (Jackalope asks for advice on building spring-loaded boots), and defense gear (like arm guards forged from PVC piping). Some attempt to take law enforcement into their own gloved hands, but most just try to make the world worth living in and inspire hope in the rest of us. ‘It’s all about standing up for what’s right,’ New York City’s Dark Guardian told Punk Planet. ‘It’s about not throwing garbage on the floor. It’s about not walking by homeless people and totally ignoring them.’
These real-life superheroes pursue missions as diverse as the logos flaunted on their chests: In Seattle, reports Rivet (#16), Transit Man rides buses and encourages commuters to ditch their cars. England’s Angle-grinder Man made international headlines back in 2003 for helping drivers dismantle wheel clamps on their illegally parked vehicles. And in St. Louis, the 26-year-old art student Glitterous battles the mundane, sticking sparkly magnets onto street signs in an attempt to beautify the city, according to an April Riverfront Times article.
Mediamakers have also latched onto the phenomenon: Last year’s The Superman Handbook (Quirk) and Does This Cape Make Me Look Fat? (Chronicle) offer advice on leaping between tall buildings and overcoming your personal kryptonite; the Sci Fi channel’s reality show Who Wants to Be a Superhero? enters its second season this summer; and four new superhero-themed blockbusters (one spoofing the genre) will be released next year.
During the Cold War, Americans sought solace in Westerns, in which the cowboys always whupped the ‘red’ Indians. Today, with diabolical masterminds plotting terrorist attacks from caves and underground bunkers (while weenie politicians wring their hands), the appeal of superpowerful and superethical saviors is strong. Take 22-year-old Tothian, who launched the online Heroes Network and scours the New York/New Jersey area in combat boots, a homemade supershirt, and sometimes a cape (he ditched his mask because it posed ‘tactical disadvantages’) searching for thieves, rapists, and muggers. Tothian graduated from military school at 16 and now serves in the Marine Corps. He says being a superhero is not much different: ‘I’m pretty much fighting the bad guys, saving the world, that kind of stuff.’
When it comes to actually fighting crime, however, most real-life superheroes are more pfftzzz than kraack. Captain Jackson has brandished the Mace tucked into his utility belt only twice, both times against dogs. He and his fearsome trio typically make sure business doors are locked after hours and alert cops to teen vandals. ‘In reality, what we are is pretty much neighborhood watch,’ says Jackson. Still, police in the town rely on the Corps for backup when they’re short-staffed, Jackson says, and he’s a
regular at local chamber of commerce meetings. Even after Jackson was nailed in 2005 by a real-life cop for drunken driving, he only hung up his cape for 12 days before ‘bigwig officials’ begged him not to quit, he says.
Thirty-nine-year-old Kevlex, named for the supermaterials Kevlar and spandex, runs the online World Superhero Registry from his home in Arizona, and he occasionally patrols Flagstaff. He has yet to foil a felon, though he once attempted to nab a shoplifter who was chucking groceries into a bush. ‘Any one cop is probably a hundred times more effective than anyone in our group,’ he says. ‘Real-life superheroes are law enforcement hobbyists, at best.’
Instead, the superhero community, which is dominated by white males in their teens and 20s–nerdy sci-fi fans and former military types–see themselves as symbols of hope in a world where terrorists hijack planes and genocide is overlooked. They’re trying to prove that anyone can provoke change, as Kevlex puts it, by ‘taking a stand for your version of the world, and doing it in a very public way.’
But that’s not to underestimate the sheer glee of prancing down the sidewalk in a mask and a leotard. ‘Walking around in a cape with the wind blowing through it is just really cool,’ Kevlex says. ‘It’s kind of an ego boost.’ Pilgrims travel thousands of miles to shake hands with the Crimefighter Corps in Michigan. ‘People all over the globe utterly go nuts over the opportunity to meet us,’ the trio’s Queen of Hearts says. ‘It’s a positive endorphin high. Not even sex can touch the high you get off this.’

The World Needs Heroes

By Citizen Prime
From Ration Reality
Today, the world needs heroes more than ever. In 1945, being a good man meant standing up for your neighbor as well as your country. It meant doing the right thing, and everyone knew what the right thing was. World War II was, arguably, our hour of greatest need and it bred men of amazing conviction and character as they fought against Hitler and what was called the Axis Powers. Today we are being attacked by a modern day axis of evil that threatens all freedom loving people.
The axis of disillusionment, fear and greed. These three powers have taken our culture by storm, infiltrating into every TV, radio and internet browser. And on the other side of this war lie the people of heroic character. They still exist. Yet, when heroes are mentioned, people are as likely to laugh as be combative. The tales of heroes, like our current war heroes, seem an exaggerated mythos to those who cannot conceive of the conviction it takes to do the right thing. And it is conviction at the heart of the matter. Yet, heroes do exist today and they exist all around us. Need proof? Zach Petkewicz’s quick thinking during the Virginia Tech shooting spree saved lives. Debra Boyd saved two people — a mother and her daughter — when a tornado hit the school where she worked. A store clerk talks with CNN’s John Roberts uncovers a plot to attack Fort Dix. See for more about this brave souls. And these people are the merest tip of the iceberg. The honest truth is the hero is you, if given the right opportunity and you make the right choices.
So, how do you react when faced with those choices? Do you risk and possibly sacrifice your own well being to help someone in greater need? Imagine what it would be like if we all felt such kinship. Even today’s career criminals are not entirely immune to this concept of camaraderie. The genesis of gangs was an effort to protect and serve one’s own. That noble origin might be a far cry from gang activity today. As disillusionment in society, fear of harm or death and greed to get whatever one could sets in, the concept is entirely lost to decadence. But ironically, their roots were about family. What if we could all broaden that sense of protection for what we perceive as “our own” until we literally had no outsiders left?
What if we could learn the values of tolerance, understanding and treat everyone as we do our inner circle? Imagine the future we could offer our children. And I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want a better life for their children.When Sen. Barack Obama asked his daughter what we are here on earth for, she replied, “To help each other get through this.” As children, we have that natural sense of community. Somewhere along the way, we get disillusioned about that communal instinct. Convinced that we can’t flourish with such “naive” standards as universal acceptance and brotherhood. So, we come to the adult stance of “might makes right” and “if they want something, they take it.” Whether verbal, social or physical, it all amounts to the same – bullying. In a way, that’s okay.
We have to find the bullies. We can’t discuss the issue unless we know who to discuss it with. Only then can we have a meaningful dialogue with them about what it really means to protect themselves and protect their families. We could start with a question: When did you lose that natural sense of brotherhood and sisterhood? What straw broke your back? Was it the constant fear of growing up in a bad neighborhood? Was it the disillusionment of friendship lost due to hard choices growing up? Was it a friend who turned his back to us for a payday? Whatever it was, it was not any one thing or person. It was those negative values we live with in this era of free thinking. Fear, greed and disillusionment. The current Axis of Evil.And the one thing that has been around, since World War II – since forever – is the inspiration of heroes that are larger than life to illuminate values we want to emulate in our lives. Whether it was Zeus, Superman, or Captain America, its easy to see why we find the myths compelling. They live above the moral spaghetti bowl we deal with and cut wide swaths through their problems with unbridled powers and clear conscience decisions.
And the question of the day, of our day, is do we want to focus on the fear, greed and disillusionment that surrounds us? Do we want to add to it by attacking and belittling each other? Or, possibly, do we want to emulate those traits of heroes past and present, real and fictional, that stand up for what is right? Do we want to have the moral fiber to stand against a bullying onslaught and respond with rational kindness and strength of character? The answer is in our actions and it is those actions that define us as hero or not. Regardless of your choice, throughout human history, one thing has remained constant. We all absolutely need to have heroes. Today, the world is in short supply. One exists inside everyone. Bring it out. Be the hero in your own life and I assure you, you’ll soon find you are a hero to many.