The Superhero Genre : Violence and Morality

Superhero movies have become the best selling genre of movies in the box office. The buzz over the new “Avengers: End Game” has drawn thousands of people to crowd the box office to head to opening weekend. So, why do we find superhero films so appealing? As a genre that paints the world black and white, and lets us decide the forces of good and evil it peaks our simple fancies. What happens to the narrative once violence seems to overshadow the good? If the hero turns into the anti-hero; do younger audiences get the chance to critically analyze and notice the effect on their own judgment in the long run?

A new study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition hopes to break down these very real worries. The institute conducted a study on superhero films from 2015-2016 totalling ten movies in all. They found the protagonist on average was depicted in more acts of violence than their antagonist. They noticed 22.7 violent acts per hour, but the antagonists only had 17.5 per hour in comparison. Fighting, being the most common act of violence, with use of a lethal weapon coming in second. Males were depicted with 33.6 acts per hour and women barely hit 6.5 on average within that hour. My question is exploring how can children start to decipher who the bad guy and good guy is after seeing them commit acts associated more commonly with immoral behavior.

One argument is children and adults alike get the sense that aggression can be justified if it’s being done by a good person. While we have a fascination with the bad guy as their moral depravity interests us from an outside perspective, are we getting that same fascination with vigilante and anti-hero narratives? The line become blurred as we get more crude, dark, or wise-cracking heros like Deadpool, Mad Max, and Hellboy. Humans tend to learn moral lessons from our media intake and in the movies we often feel pain or delight in getting to condemn or praise the hero or villain on screen. Those same principles have been around since early vaudeville as the villain was much easier to spot with little quirks like an evil cackle, maniacal laughter, twirling their mustache, and cheeky grins. The audience is encourage to participate by picking sides; in those cases audiences would “boo” the villain. We don’t do that anymore, but we still get to make a choice for who to root for.

In comics, heroes establish an unspoken rule to make sure they never actually murdered their enemies and took responsibility for their actions. For example, Batman always catches the Joker in the end, but never actually kills him as his own moral code will not let his anger get the best of him. In contemporary times, starting with the new surgence of anti-hero, we see more implications of death. In Deadpool comics and even the movies he has no such restriction to value the lives of the “bad guys”. They are much more complex than the average Superman, but they are showcased as a more flawed meta-human/ human who usually acts for more selfish reasons.

In my personal opinion, I believe superhero movies can be good fun for younger audiences, but violence just like sexuality or other adult themes should be talked about to children. They should be encouraged to critically view these films and talk about what they have just seen instead of letting little Jimmy pretend he killed the whole family with his toy gun. I believe it could be constructive and pick apart what the real message in these moral stories are. I think this should be a more prevalent issue as we continue to question other social problems, but America’s constant thirst for violence seems to never be put up for debate as much as I would see other hot topics such as LGBTQ representation, the war on drugs, racism, or feminism.

Rosenberg, Robin S. Our Superheroes, Ourselves. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Going the Distance

Going The Distance
One of my favorite movies when I was a child was Hercules. He embodied what I wanted to be: strong, courageous, and a hero that saved others. Back in the day when video cassette was still a thing, it was Hercules or Cinderella, so I’d rewatch Hercules over and over again. “I can go the distance” is something that has stuck with me since. This phrase, to me, meant being determined and tough, no matter the circumstances. It’s a phrase that translates well to my own idea of being a man and overcoming obstacles that life throws at us. After learning about gender stereotypes and the idea of toxic masculinity, I was surprised to see how much media and animation has had an effect me and my own ideas of what it means to be a man. Using Hercules and my own experiences as a “man”, I attempt to define what it takes to be a man in today’s culture and address the outcome of this view.

As a child, I looked at and held onto the stereotypical traits that Hercules exemplified. His physical strength and bravery, and his willingness to go the distance were values that I looked up to during my time as a wrestler and cross country runner. The movie starts off with baby Hercules being drugged into being a mortal by Hades, however unbeknownst to Hades, the drug wasn’t utilized fully and Hercules still has his overpowered physical strength. Hercules is exiled by this strength in the mortal realm and his uniqueness outcasts him from society other than his mortal parents. After he basically destroys a market due to his superhuman strength, he realizes that he is indeed different. This sparks his journey of self-discovery where he learns that he is actually son of Zeus and in order to become a god again he must become a “true” hero. This is when, “Go the Distance”, is brought in. He avows to overcome any obstacle in order to become this “true” hero and go back home to his real parents and become a god. This first part of the movie sets up the journey in which he finds out what being a “true” hero really takes. He’s different from everyone else and we the viewers know he is actually a demigod who was taken actually taken away from his home. After he realizes this, we root for him to get his rightful place back. This leads into the second part of the movie, in which I derived most of what I think it takes to be a man from.

After he swears to do whatever it takes to get back to his real father, Zeus, he goes to the satyr Philoctetes to learn what it takes to be a “true hero”. This is the training arc of the movie where he is taught to hone his physical strength and become even stronger. He also becomes a hero to the people and defeats many evil beasts. Throughout this training arc his physical appearance changes to something akin to a professional bodybuilder. This is the part that I latched onto as a child. I saw this change and wanted to replicate it. This change from scrawny to brawny is what I believe is the first step into being a man in today’s culture: physical strength. A lot of you may not know this but I typically spend six to seven days a week at the gym and train for average three to four hours each time I’m there. Physical strength is important to me. While we are leaning away from these stereotypes, it’s been grounded into me that physical strength is easily the most identifiable feature of being a man. Being scrawny or fat was a fast way to alienate yourself from other boys growing up. Because of this reinforcement by my peers growing up, the training arc has stuck with me till this day. The idea that you must be physically strong and fit to be a man is something I believe to be prevalent in today’s culture. This can lead to more violent/aggressive tendency and also contributes to this idea of being a manly man. All in all, this was where I found most of my ideas of what being a man are and what I believe culture sees it as. The defining characteristics being that men must be physically and mentally strong, courageous and determined, and ultimately unburdened by things that cause vulnerability such as emotions.

The final part of the movie is where Disney perhaps tried to take Hercules and use him as somewhat a unconventional hero. The younger version of me did not interpret this, however today I can see this as an attempt to alleviate some of the male stereotypes. After defeating all the bad guys, he sacrifices his life to save the one he loves, Megara. This act is what is deemed by Zeus to be hero worthy and he gets his godhood revoked. However, it’s his final act that goes against the typical male stereotypes that were portrayed through the other parts of the movie. He finally gets his goal of becoming a god and going back home but he gives it up for love. An emotion that leaves us vulnerable and usually gets us hurt. This sacrifice of immortality and power shows that he was different. The typical male protagonist at the time would have gotten the power, fame, and the women. But in this instance, he had a choice between power and his love, and he chose love. This final part of the movie didn’t fully register to me at the time but seemed like an attempt to show that masculinity is not all about physical and mental fortitude.

All in all, from the Disney movie Hercules, I grew up wanting to become a manly man. Someone who was strong, reliable, courageous, and invulnerable. However, as I get older I start to see that there is much more to being a “man” than these things. Such as being able to accept one’s own weaknesses, failures, sacrificing and allowing oneself to be emotional. I’ll admit that I’m still a believer in many of the things I believed in as a child. I still believe in strength and emotional invulnerability as strong indicators of what it takes to be a man. Be that as it may, as I learn more from my own experiences searching for a job and facing hardship, sometimes the phrase “going the distance” means something far more complex.



Primo, Cassandra. “Balancing Gender And Power: How Disney’s Hercules Fails To Go The Distance”. Social Sciences, vol 7, no. 11, 2018, p. 240. MDPI AG, doi:10.3390/socsci7110240.

Romance With Purpose: Yuasa and The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl

Mention the words “romantic comedy” among a group of people and there tend to be two general reactions. On one side there are the supporters, who might find Heath Ledger’s long hair in 10 Things I Hate About You extremely charming, and on the other side stand those of us who couldn’t care less about this genre of film. I myself tend to hold the opinion of the latter group–I mean, if I am going to watch a chick flick, I’d prefer to have some more substance than purely romantic drama. So then, you can imagine my surprise when I exited the theater after seeing Masaaki Yuasa’s The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (2017) completely by chance. The film debuted in select American theaters a few weekends in late August 2018. Unlike other films of the genre, The Night Is Short challenges the traditional definitions of romantic comedy films in order to create a story that better connects with its audience. In doing so, the film brings a wonderful new twist to the romantic comedy genre–one that both supporters and skeptics can enjoy alike.

The Night Is Short revolves around two main characters: Otome (the Girl with Black Hair), a young woman determined to experience “adult life” through a night of drinking, and Senpai, an out of luck college student who is convinced that the night’s events will determine his romantic status. Throughout the film, Otome and Senpai travel throughout the city of Kyoto, encountering a variety of eccentric characters and events along the way. At its heart, The Night Is Short is a romantic comedy: Senpai’s driving purpose throughout the film is to spark a romantic connection with Otome, yet a series of blunders plague his efforts. However, instead of stopping there, the film expands to encompass themes of maturity, purpose, and perspective. It is with this distinction, that Yuasa redefines how The Night Is Short approaches the genre of romantic comedy.

Considering my aforementioned position as someone who does not typically enjoy romantic comedy films, I decided to consider why I have a problem with films of this genre. I am not against romantic plotlines in movies, but I do have a problem when these plotlines exist without purpose. That being said, I think that one of Hollywood’s biggest pitfalls is writing romantic stories that feel genuine. So how do directors avoid this? From Don Underwear and “Apple Girl” to Todo San and his collection of art, many of the characters in The Night Is Short are involved in romantic dilemmas of some sort. However, Yuasa designates both narrative and visual screen time to each of these characters, allowing the audience to understand their stories and desires before rushing into a romantic situation. As an audience, we see the group of older drinkers struggle with finding entertainment in their remaining time, the heartbroken Kozaka mourn the marriage of his crush, and Rihaku struggle with the hollowness of life. Each of Yuasa’s characters holds a purpose, both emotionally and narratively, which make the central story between Otome and Senpai feel all the more real.

Finally, Yuasa uses the visual style of The Night Is Short to highlight the absurdity of human emotions, especially love. Each and every emotion throughout the film is accompanied by a dynamic visual representation. This makes the character’s come to life even further, as it is crystal clear how each character feels during their screen time. By choosing to draw emotions in this way, Yuasa inadvertently demonstrates how quickly human emotions appear and change. Characters go from balling their eyes out to dancing wildly or even fall in love within a matter of seconds. Their stories feel genuine because they are rooted themselves in reality. The characters in The Night Is Short remind us as an audience how simultaneously true and absurd the ideas of true love, talent, and inevitability are.

Regardless of your stance on romantic comedies, The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl offers a narratively and visually unique experience for its audiences. With this film, Yuasa has redefined how romantic comedy films write romance and love for their characters. Further, Yuasa challenges each of us, both as audience members and creators, to expect more from our characters and ensure that each of our stories has a purpose–even if it is about something as overwritten as love.

That being said, GO WATCH THIS FILM! You can find the link to the trailer below.


What does it mean to be PG? 

The first time I pondered the idea of “kid-content” for entertainment was sitting on the blacktop with my guy-buddies in the first grade. Our raging debate revolved around what exactly the label PG meant. The conclusion: movies for babies (which we clearly were not.) PG-13 was what big-kids like us were going to watch. Then there were the spooky, off-limits rated R movies. What, wandered us kiddos, could possibly be so scary and so bad that we six-year-olds weren’t even allowed to look at. 

            But what actually is “kids’ content” in entertainment and media? Particularly within the world of animation, a form of visual media that is generally and platonically labeled as merely kids’ stuff? The cut and dry film rating system as stated by the Motion Picture Association of America defines content as such:

Rated G – General Audiences

All ages admitted. Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children.

Rated PG – Parental Guidance Suggested

Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents urged to give “parental guidance”. May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.

Rated PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned

Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.

Rated R – Restricted

Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.

Specifically, the guidelines are designed to help parents decide what content is right for their kids. The MPAA rating helps parents choose what their child can and should view without actually having to prescreen it first.

But to understand why animation in America has come to be generally lumped into the “merely kids’ stuff” category, we need to look at the history of animation and how the industry came to be powered by targeting child audiences.

The rise of animation in the 1920s, like all forms of film during this decade, were both experimental and wide-ranging in content. Small studios were playing with the effects of animation in shorts, primarily cartoon-characters like Felix the Cat and Oswald Rabbit. It just so happened that not only did these early cartoons appeal to all audiences but primarily children. Particularly Walt Disney himself who as a young kid was inspired by the likes of Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur. Walt Disney would go on to become one of the most influential individuals in the animation industry as a forefather of the Walt Disney company empire that we see today. But it was this early period where the animators experimenting in 2D animation were not only testing the limits of the medium but were also creating content inspired by their own childhoods and reflecting that to child audiences. So, when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came out, Disney’s first musical animated feature was not only a financial success – but it had the largest impact on kids. So, arising naturally from the personal tendencies of the artists and spurred on by financial success, animation began to showcase the magical imaginative nostalgia of childish stories – for children. 

But with Snow White and all the animated features to follow, darker, scarier themes would emerge as main characters frequently faced internal and sometimes terrifying trials, or wildly inappropriate behavior.

            We understand now that Animation developed both as a vehicle for monetary gain and as an artform powered by creative and imaginative individuals. Kids’ content was the primary target and therefore arose the misconception that animation is only for kids. But is it really?

            This has been the debate for as long as entertainment has been around. What is really for kids? How do kids know what is really for them? How can we lump a large group of our population into one category? And how -as creators- do we understand what a kid can – and cannot handle?  Are we mistreating the power of storytelling? The industry now creates content in all facets of the MPAA rating, from G rated preschool series to R rated raunchy adult comedies. Animated content isn’t entirely dominated by merely kids’ content. And while a four-year-old shouldn’t necessarily watch an episode of Rick and Morty, nor would a 45-year-old adult want to watch an episode of Bubble Guppies. Content however, can migrate across these ratings when it comes to deeper themes and meanings creating saturation in different forms of entertainment, particularly animation. 

            For instance, two films that come to mind that do so are kids’ films, both rated PG, that include subliminal messages and deeper themes. The first is Shrek.

Shrek is a kids’ film but at the very same time it is not. It is disguised as a kids’ film. It’s about an ogre named Shrek who just wants to live in peace and quiet in his swamp but in order to do so must go on a silly quest to save a princess to get his swamp back.  But the film is really a comical trope for the animated fantastical universe. It flips stereotypes on their heads and cause its adult audience to laugh while underplaying adult themes of accepting one for who you are in light of a world that disgraces you for what you are. 

The second is The Good Dinosaur, a film about a sauropod named Arlo who has to return home to his farm and traverse the wildness alongside Spot, a human caveboy. The characters learn to face their fears in the light of friendship. This film, however, goes much deeper than that and explores the darker, more depressing arenas of loss, death and abandonment. While usually brief and lightly touched on for a character’s overall story arch the Good Dinosaur really fleshes out these moments to be both impactful and resonating with its audiences- an audience primarily composed of children.

            So what then about animated content that focuses on adults? What themes meant for children become saturated in adult content? Part of the reason why animated content for adults is even animated is that the content itself wouldn’t work as live action. But, also, it could be to bring back some of the nostalgia of what it was like to be a kid, be it the awkwardness of adolescence in Bigmouth.

Or perhaps the imagination and fun of Rick and Morty.

While obviously these shows and others like them go beyond these innocent themes, the stylization and creation of this content plays on the idea that, even a wise adult with the knowledge and understanding of what might really be going on with themes and meanings, it’s still fun to partake in a play of childhood innocence. In fact, that might be the most tangible and valuable part of adult themed animated content.

In conclusion, how then do we define what’s right for who? Age and maturity play a part in how one perceives content. But if kids can be reminded through relatable characters the deeper and more adult themes like loss of innocence, death, war, profanity that slips into kids’ content and vice versa of adult content playing homage to the imagination fun and carefree innocence of childhood. Then what really is animation labeling good for? Clearly animation isn’t just for kids – it’s for everyone, for all ages have a different perspective of entertainment content and how its perceived entirely depends on the viewer.