Lessons on Geek Anthropology comes a little bit spicy today! Do our Gods wear spandex? If so, what does the spandex tell about us? In Ancient times, heroes like Hercules wore the fashion of the moment. Granted that there were statues of the mythical heroes displaying all their nude joys and glory, but what about our Superheroes today? What do these Gods of today tell about us? More importantly: what does the spandex tell about us? While Greek heroes of the past made their appearances in frescoes and statues, our Superheroes show their magnificence on paper and screens. The issue here is: what happened with nudity? Why did we exchange that for flashy colored spandex? Why do we swoon at the sight of Deadpool’s butt covered in red spandex? Is the spandex sound when it’s rubbed what turns us on? Does the thought of tearing that spandex apart what makes us hot? Or does the spandex set the differentiating wall between the mundane and the super?
Let’s start with the origin of Superheroes in Spandex first. Who came with that “bizarro” idea in the first place? Who had the wits of making Superheroes costumed perverts? Well, it might have well all begun with Eugen Sandow and Superman. Eugene was the father of bodybuilding, and it might have been the inspiration for writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster in creating the Superman. [Just take a look at Eugene’s outfit, and you’ll realize that the circus was where men wore their undies on top of their trousers!]
So the circus super muscled men were the inspiration for Superman. Think about trapezists and their flashy customs that perform what seem incredible achievements by the audience. Flashy costumes separated the mundane from the extraordinary in a time where the circus was one of the best entertainments available. Anything could happen on the stage!
In basing Superman in the circus tribe, his creators did something else: give him a spectacular physical appearance. Super muscled, Superman, is the ideal of what masculinity should look like. Even if we might think this is an exaggeration. The reality is that we’ve been doing that for centuries. (Just remember the hero Greek statues: they started humble, but at the peak of Greek classic art, heroes and Gods had impossible and unattainable features!)
So, Superman wore a type of uniform. Circus stuff would wear flashy uniforms so people would know that they were going to do great things for our entertainment. In that sense, the costume, even if tight, is but a sharp suit that brings with it a set of responsibilities attached.
But does spandex do something else? Superheroes wear spandex; the rest of us use jeans. Spandex tears us apart, very much like the circus, flashy uniforms split apart the performers and the audience.
But, can we find any other places in which spandex, or costumes similar to spandex enhance or make the physical more attractive? The Olympic Games are a fashion show for lycra. Lycra, like spandex, sticks on your skin in a sexy way. Athletes are left but almost naked in their sports uniforms ready for action. Athletic bodies run, jump and bring the human body to extremes during competition. Athletes wear lycra, the rest of us jeans. Again, the same differences appear: the extraordinary is left with something attached to their skin as if they were naked, and with flashy colors; and the rest of us are left hiding in our baggy clothes. So, Spandex and Lycra create the division between those who are super (or who behave as superhumans), and those who are common (but not necessarily boring).
Unlike the Greek heroes and Gods of the past, our Superheroes tend to hide under the spandex, like Deadpool. While Greek heroes and Gods could see their statues showing off their muscles and butts, our Superheroes are left to show off in tight spandex. Why? Their identities are at stake. Granted that Superheroes like Iron Man are out and about, but they do not show off their muscles but their intellects with their suits. The traditional Superheroes in spandex usually hide their identities so that they can continue their super agenda. Their spandex alter ego lets them show off, be super, sassier, and escape the criticism of being bizarre.
Spandex not only sets the division of what’s super and what’s mundane; it sets the scenario for having a double identity and the chance to be different without having to give many explanations. Very much like the Greeks in the past that looked up at their heroes as the ideals of what a Greek should be, we do too. We look up at our Superheroes dressed in spandex in hopes to find the ideals of what we should be.
[And yes, some stare at that butt in red spandex in the hopes we can tear it apart.]
Want to know more about spandex and Superhero fashion? Give The Psychology of Superheroes : An Unauthorized Exploration and The Superhero Costume : Identity and Disguise in Fact and Fiction a go!