Superman: the perfect ideal. Flawless. All the men want to be him. All the women know he’s too good to be true. What the man needs is a little cellulite.
Okay, maybe that’s more of a woman flaw. But let’s face it, perfect heroes are unrealistic. The average person doesn’t relate to them.
This is why every great writer knows that the best protagonists have a flaw -or twenty. It’s not called an Achilles Heel for nothing. When the only thing that can defeat a guy is a piece of rock from an extinct planet in a different universe, there’s not much tension in the story.
Why so Perfect?
(And yes, I hear the Joker saying this just like he does the iconic line “Why so serious?”)
According to the director of the newest Wonder Woman film (coming in June 2017), there’s a reason Superman has over-inflated muscles and perfect hair. Apparently, this image is how men want to see themselves. “That makes them feel like the hero they want to be” says Jenkins.
Ugh. And I thought women were the only one with messed-up body image issues.
I do NOT think a man with pecs and biceps bigger than his thighs is the ideal image of a hero. And certainly not a REAL man.
Do we really need a perfect ideal?
If the answer is yes, let me direct you to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Within those pages, you will meet the flawless, ideal man. He was perfect in every way.
And guess what, he didn’t have sculpted abs or a poster-boy face. In fact, he was pretty ordinary. Records from history and the Bible (which is an accurate historical accounting but since it’s considered a religious book some people equate it to a fairy tale), Jesus Christ was so average-looking that he wouldn’t garner a second look.
It wasn’t his physical appearance that made him incredible. Nor was it his ability to heal every disease and raise people from the dead (although those are God-like qualities for sure).
He opened his mouth and spoke with authority. Wisdom dripped from his lips. Furthermore, he walked His talk.
So, if you’re looking for a perfect hero – there you go.
Why flaws Make it better
Most of us prefer to see a little bit of ourselves in the guy we root for in a story. You know, someone who messes up. Says the wrong thing. Trips over untied shoelaces. Burns the biscuits.
These slights and failures give us hope. Hope that maybe we will be better tomorrow.
We need reassurance that our major mess-up today didn’t end every future opportunity.
Have you ever walked out of an interview thinking, “I nailed that” only to get the call (or worse yet a form email) stating they’d hired someone else? That’s disappointing, sure. But we don’t condemn ourselves as a failure in those cases.
We notice we have mustard in that spot just below our throat that we can only see in the mirror. Our tongue tripped over the answer to the technical questions. Nothing but a blank slate came to mind when the interviewer asked, “Why should I hire you?”
After that interview? We know it’s our fault they offered the job to someone else. They’d have to be idiots to hire someone who couldn’t even answer a few questions with panache.
When our heroes slip and get mud on their faces, we feel for them. We’ve been there. We know the agony.
If they get up and save the world afterward, it makes up willing to hold up our chin and try again at whatever defeated us today. Sure, it might be fiction, but when it pulls us in, it becomes as true to us as the sunrise.
We need to believe that no person is beyond redemption. Every mistake must have a counterpoint, a way to make things right.
It shouldn’t be easy. The bigger the mess up, the longer and harder the climb to success should be.
We’re more likely to relate to Batman because we understand his demons. We can feel the pain with the Arrow because we’ve experienced life-crushing losses too.
Superman? There’s no Kryptonite in our world, so his perfection holds us at arm’s length.
What sort of “cellulite” would you give Superman to make him more relatable? What character flaws pull you closest to the heroes in a story?