It seems that superheroes will often say that their main goal is not to fight for justice themselves but rather to be an example of virtue and "inspire people" so that the job of the superhero becomes unnecessary. What exactly are they trying to inspire people to do? Go out and fight crime themselves? Make citizen's arrests? Even if you can inspire people to become better than they are, that is not going to somehow magically eradicate crime and injustice, much less stop a doomsday weapon or repel alien invaders. Civilians simply don't have the power to do these things themselves.

An interesting example of this is from the Superman: The Animated Series episode, Brave New Metropolis wherein a tyrannical parallel universe version of Superman reflects on why he seized control of Metropolis saying he thought "...that if I did enough good, people would follow my example." How can Superman expect people to do anything close to what he is capable of doing?

In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne says "a man is just flesh and blood and can be ignored or destroyed. But as a symbol… As a symbol, I can be incorruptible, everlasting." What is the symbol of Batman supposed to inspire people to do? In the narrow context of The Dark Knight Rises it does inspire people to participate in the overthrow of Bane's regime, which was good; but situations like that are few and far between. I would think superheroes would want to inspire people to do more than just participate in political violence. But what else are ordinary citizens capable of doing?


What would be the likely intentions of writers in this genre repeatedly bringing this trope back again and again over the decades? It seems quite prevalent.

closed as primarily opinion-based by CBredlow, Politank-Z, Valorum, Milo P, Petersaber Jul 6 '16 at 17:47

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • This sounds a bit like a question about how hope and inspiration work, making it seem like a better fit for philosophy.stackexchange in my eyes. – Thomas Jacobs Jul 6 '16 at 16:45
  • But it refers to a specific trope that is used over and over again in this particular genre. – Luca Jul 6 '16 at 16:46
  • The question does seem to be on the edge - as a question investigating the trope it works, but without a concrete setting or specifics it risks any number of close reasons (opinion or too broad both fit). I won't VTC yet, but you already have two - maybe you could narrow it down to save it. Different characters work in different ways after all, despite it being a common trope, that part will make it complicated. – Radhil Jul 6 '16 at 16:59
  • What is VTC? I'm not familiar with that term. – Luca Jul 6 '16 at 17:02
  • Sorry, vote to close. – Radhil Jul 6 '16 at 17:08

With many heroes, the inspiration is about the use of power.

Superman has great power. If he wanted to, and Batman wasn't lurking around with some Kryptonite stashes, he could probably conquer the world, make everyone kneel before him and worship him as a god. And what does he do with that power? He spends his time saving people, helping those without power, trying to make things better.

You and I, we don't have Superman's powers, or anywhere close. But we do have power of our own. We have the power to cause good or harm to the people in our lives in many different ways. We have the power to pursue selfish goals that may wind up, indirectly, hurting other people, and deciding not to care because, "I got mine, Jack,", or we could choose to do things that help those less fortunate. Most of us do a little of both, at times, but that doesn't mean figures like Superman can't inspire us to do better.


Personally, I would say it's because when Superheroes were initially created, they were aimed at children, not at nerds in their late 20s/early 30s.

The point was to inspire the children reading the comic books to be good citizens, aspire to be the greatest version of themselves that they could be, to uphold justice and honour, to have morals and know when to show mercy, etc.

Every time a Superhero says they're trying to inspire the "Citizens" or "The People", it's not the people within their universe that they are attempting to inspire, it is the people outside of their universe looking in.

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