The Problem With Self Defense: Superheroes Part 1

Originally posted:
By: Peter Lampasona     Date: 18 August 2011
Last week, HBO aired a documentary called Superheroes following members of the recent phenomenon of private citizens dressing in costumes to engage in everything from from charity work to vigilante justice. Among the groups featured in the documentary is a make-shift team of Avengers who operate out of the New York boroughs known as the NY Initiative.
Since the release of the documentary, the Real Life Superhero movement has become a hot topic for conversation among both the New York and martial arts communities. So much so that, when asked for a statement by US Combat Sports, a representative of the NY Initiative said that they were currently engaged in a “media blackout” because too many stories are about them and not the issues that they wish to bring to light.
In previous installments of the Problem with Self Defense editorial series, I’ve gone so far as to call everyone who trains in martial arts specifically for the purposes of the increasingly nebulous term “self defense” to be engaging in some degree of delusion. Whether that delusion is harmful or not tends to vary on the situation.
In the context of negatively evaluating delusions of seemingly average people, taking on those who dress up in full costume complete with alternate identity in order to participate in their neighborhood watch seems like dynamite fishing in the local pond.
But, perhaps to the surprise of long time readers, the actions of Real Life Superheroes are not all dangerous or pure fantasy. Those things that are bad ideas are monumentally bad for everyone involved and the natural conclusion of all the silliness attached to “self defense.” For once, though, I’d like to start with the positive.
In this two part article series I will be evaluating both the charitable and crime fighting efforts of Real Life Superheroes, as they seem to be separate and distinct pursuits. For part one, I will look at the charitable.
From what I’ve been able to glean, the majority of Real Life Superheroes spend their time in costume doing humanitarian efforts. This includes charity work, distributing supplies to the homeless, or even acting as a social link for drug addicts through simple conversation. Every example of purely humanitarian efforts, that is those not directly interacting with violent crime, both showcased in the documentary and what I’ve been able to find going on locally, are good things that help the community.
A common response to those positives Real Life Superheroes can have is to point out that none of these good deeds require a costume. But, for some people, they do.
New York City, as evidenced by the fact that 1/3 of all American films are set there, is an important place that sets the tone for the culture of the surrounding area. It’s also got so much going on that paying attention to any of the people or information outside of an individual’s immediate cone of concern can be very overwhelming. As a result, most New Yorkers in the southern part of the state are trained to focus on what’s in front of them and let the rest of the world just walk on by.
Playing long-distance psychological examiner to people you barely know is not as exact a science as most sports writers make it out to be. But, if someone needs to wear costume and become a different person in order to put in the effort to help his community as best as a private citizen can, at least someone’s putting in that effort.
The unfortunate side of Real Life Superheroes is the part that everyone thinks of first when they picture masked vigilantes. The physical act of crime fighting is where the whole practice starts to get insane. It also represents the terminal stop in the logic of the self defense crowd. More on that tomorrow in part two.