Modern gods

Horus was a superhero.

Zeus, Hermes, Perseus, Medusa… Mars, Venus, Pluto, Apollo… they’re an ancient movie franchise. Legendary figures caught in an eternal battle between good and evil, and our tastes haven’t changed in thousands of years. Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Benzaiten, Quetzalcoatl… every nation has its ancient superheroes.

Then The Dark Ages came along and made everything really boring for a time, but our gods persisted in the patron saints. Forget the Holy Trinity – St Michael slaying the Devil is where the fun’s at.

Thor, Loki, Odin and Sif even made it into the modern-day pantheon alongside Marvel’s gods of patriotism, invention, anger, archery and martial art. Our love of superhumans seems to be as old as culture itself. To dismiss superheroes as infantile cash cows is to dismiss a giant chunk of our cultural evolution.

The Guardians of the Galaxy are the guardians of our culture too. They’re avatars; eidolons. Idealised people who represent the major ideas of our time. Star Lord is the god of humour, adventure and cool. Drax; war and strength. Gamora is the modern goddess of death and assassins. Groot’s the phantom of our eco-guilt. Rocket’s the patron saint of invention, but also the sum of our concerns for genetic engineering.

We can study the gods of ancient cultures and instantly glimpse how that culture thought and lived. To study ancient superheroes is to study how ancient people raised their children, and what they taught them to believe. They’re our communal psyches made flesh, and they can have a very definite impact on how we act in the world and the course of human history. A single, entitled, all-powerful god can shape a united people, but with an entitled all-powerful mentality too. You only need to look at history to see that.

Shape the modern gods, and you help to shape modern thought. To write off superheroes as a childish indulgence is to write off the focal points of modern thought and culture. Over thousands of years humanity has manifested its values in the form of gods, superhumans and great tribes. Throw out superheroes and you’ll have to throw out Star Wars, House Stark, James Bond, Lara Croft, vampires, zombies and sex symbols.

Alternatively, we can begin to add in a new modern god or goddess: one of philosophy, to help us interpret what we think and have always thought. An antidote to the endless tide of advertising, terror, fear media and dissatisfaction we’re fed every day. Not the most exciting movie superhero at first glance, but look closer.

There’s always a Beast, an Odin and an Alfred the Butler. A voice of reason, wisdom and good. How could we shape our society if we gave just a little more screen time to think about these values? What if our movie philosophers were just as vocal and cutting as Deadpool?

And, crucially – what if we came to expect, demand and pay for just a few more minutes of philosophy in our entertainment, to help us make sense of the world?

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