The internet is an absolute breeding ground for new and unusual movements, groups and ideas. This is a place where anyone can speak freely without fear of criticism or repercussion. It’s one giant forum that allows people to meet each other across the world who otherwise might not ever have had the opportunity, and that allows you to stay anonymous and to have heated debates with someone you can’t see. It’s no surprise then that so many strange ideas have been born here, and one of the strangest of all is the ‘Real Life Superhero’ movement. So what’s it all about?
What Is the Real Life Superhero Movement?
While it might sound strange and unlikely and something that could ‘only happen on the internet’ at the same time it’s almost surprising in some ways that it never happened sooner. If you’ve ever watched one of the ‘realistic’ superhero films such as ‘Watchmen’ or ‘Kick Ass’ and thought – that could actually happen, then you might be already thinking along the same lines as these guys. As Batman illustrates you don’t theoretically need to have ‘super powers’ in order to fight crime (though it’s important to recognize that Batman is helped somewhat by the fact that he’s not actually real… ), and so the ‘RLSH’ as they call themselves have decided to take to the streets in their own home-crafted costumes and start fighting crime. No really.
The idea then is that these people go out onto the streets wearing their costumes which serve a dual purpose – making a statement while at the same time concealing their identities. Their MO’s meanwhile, and how seriously they take the matter range greatly from ‘Dark Guardian’ who runs the main websites and organizes much of the movement, to ‘Captain Ozone’ whose main focus is spreading knowledge about global warming and other aspects of environmental change. Others simply hand out food for the homeless, while others actually will engage criminals.
The community is actually quite thriving believe it or not and there are a large number of real life superheroes out there already ‘active’ on the streets (estimates are at around 200-300), and particularly in big cities. The large community online also has a forum, registries and a big presence on social networking sites which the superheroes can use to promote themselves. A visit to one of the forums reveals that many of the characters are familiar with each other, and that they spend a lot of time discussing their hobby online.
They have recently come under a lot of attention from the media and have been featured everywhere from magazines to newspapers to news programs.
Some Notable Examples
Super Barrio: Super Barrio wears red and a wrestling mask and operates in Mexico. He appeared on CNN where he stated his mission status was to organize labor rallies, protests and petitions.
Dark Guardian: Dark Guardian doesn’t wear a mask but rather a body suit. He tackles crime such as drug dealers in New York and also looks after several RLSH-themed websites.
Direction Man: Directs traffic in New York wearing a hi-vis jacket and goggles.
Citizen Prime: Works alongside the ‘Guardian Angles’ in Utah – an example of a superhero team.
The Midnight Sponge: Cleaned up spilled fluids such as orange juice at the Evergreen State College in Washington in the 1970s – an example of an RLSH before the internet.
While the RLSH movement was started with good intentions, something like this was always going to attract controversy. While people like Super Barrio or Captain Ozone who aim to draw attention to a cause are not likely to offend too many people, those who take it further and create weapons and tools to actively fight criminals that they seek out sometimes go too far and break laws. In one recent case real life superheroes used ‘damsels in distress’ as bait for muggers and would then jump out on skateboards to intervene – an act that could be seen as entrapment and which is of course dangerous for those involved.
At the same time there is controversy surrounding the groups which are somewhat cliquey and have been accused of being nerdy or delusional. Of course how you feel on the matter will depend on your subjective perception, and you might think there is no reason not to imitate your favorite heroes and try to do something good. Like any movement there are good examples and bad, and your perception will likely depend largely on which individuals you encounter. The best real life superheroes are the ones who identify a problem, create a colorful costume, and enter into the whole thing in the spirit of fun.