Superheroes, Secret Identities, & the State

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Many Superheroes have secret identities “to protect their loved ones.” Some have gone public and answer more or less responsibly to the State, like Iron Man. However, how can a State ask any responsibility to someone who is wearing a mask? While Iron Man went all public, other Superheroes like Batman keep themselves in the shadows. So, is it moral for a Superhero to decide on his own to protect the public in a Democracy?

Superheroes aren’t just celebrities. They go out there and try to protect the people. In many instances, we’ve seen them smash buildings that will cost money to people. To this, we have to add collateral damage. How many have died because of the Avengers? Who is accountable for all of that?

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Who gave Superheroes the right to become public servants? Do they have accountability? If they go rogue, who stops them? Before we can answer that, we have to think for a moment about the State. Who decided that the State uses coercion to keep us in line in the first place?

Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher who followed the Social Contract theory. In his book Leviathan, he argues that before there were any States, humans lived in Mad Max (minus the technology). According to him, we’re savages without any heart, and we would spend all our time in wars and mayhem. The state of Nature is only a state of pain, disorder, war, and despair. Even if we think that it could give us all the freedoms in the world, the paradox is that such a state would give us none at all!

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Without any rules, we all go Hulk on each other. The Social Contract theory is about how society originated under the legitimacy and authority of the State. According to this, individuals consented in exchanging some of their freedoms in exchange for protection of the State. In doing so, humans have more freedom than if they were living in a Mad Max society. So, without State, there would be no morality.

Now, according to this, our ancestors agreed to that social contract. But we haven’t. We’ve just found it already here when we were born. However, we all agree that this is way better than being warring monkeys in the jungle. So, we’re happy that we have a State because there are means to avoid certain situations.

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In a Democracy, when someone abuses their power, people can remove them peacefully. So, while the State has the monopoly of coercive power, it has also accountability if it does something wrong. And this means that the State has to be transparent. The public needs to know what’s going on if things are going smoothly. If someone abuses power, thanks to transparency, accountability, and responsibilities come into play.

Despite this, we all know that in Democracy there are some hidden agendas. Politicians cannot act in full transparency at certain times. So, after the deed, there are mechanisms in play to see if what they did was according to Law. Now, where does this leave Superheroes?

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If Batman makes a mistake, what happens next? Is he accountable? Who is going to put him in jail? Can anyone? If Daredevil messes things up, who is going to ask him responsibilities? The State has no idea who are these masked Superheroes. There is no transparency whatsoever here, and if they go mad, they can abuse their power easily. What happens if Superman goes rogue? Or if he ends up with dementia and decides that humans are evil? (I know, those are extreme cases… but just think about it.)

There’s no social contract with Superheroes. We could argue that there might be one with Odin and Co., however, in general terms, what’s the deal with Batman? Or Superman? Daredevil? There’s no concent, nor fiction of a consent. They decided to become civil servants without any qualifications but their power.

So, what do you think? Are Superheroes acting morally correct when hiding under a mask?


Copyright: Top image on this post made with a (C) Lego Batman image / Memes & Gifs (C) by their owners.

About pepi

A Geek Girl interested in Geek Anthropology, comic books, books, Superheroes and discovering all about pop culture.

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