The Importance of Self-Identification in Hero Media

By: Nick Azzarelli, MHC

First off, I’ll give credit where credit’s due; I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts on my drives recently, particularly Brené Brown’s: Unlocking Us.  I stumbled upon the episode in which she speaks with Gabby Rivera, the very first Latina writer for Marvel Comics.  You’ll learn shortly that I’m a comic fan. I see superhero media and I consume it immediately. 

Though Gabby did not actually create the original idea for the hero America Chavez, she wrote her story and therefore is intrinsically woven into America’s existence.  If you haven’t seen the new Doctor Strange movie, America Chavez made her live action debut there and is described by her writer as a “portal-punching, queer, Latina superhero”.  She has super strength and can form portals into different universes by punching thin air.  A far cry from a man dressed as a bat!  (Bruce Wayne, if you’re reading this, I still love you).

Self-Identifying With a Hero

In the podcast, Brené and Gabby talk about the importance of being able to identify with the hero or the protagonist of a story.  We’ve had A LOT of straight white dudes in superhero stories of the past; it was my whole life growing up.  I think we’re doing much better in terms of diversity in hero media these days, though we still have a way to go. 

What Brené and Gabby said is true. I immediately connected with Spider-Man and Captain America who, before their powers, were scrawny little white guys from Queens and Brooklyn who wanted to help people.  Their powers only changed them physically while their personalities remained the same, but they were actually able to DO something to help now.  This was important to me growing up because I was 1) used to being a black sheep amongst my family and friends and 2) I needed to believe I was not powerless to help people in the face of the cruel realities of life! 

Getting to relate to a hero that I could fantasize about one day growing up to be like got me through some tough times. When I hear that LGBTQ and Latinx folks get the opportunity to have a role model like that for themselves I get pretty excited.  People need an ideal to believe in and to guide them through life, even if it’s not a real, tangible person.  It’s the morals that these characters stand for that are most important.  Giving more people the opportunity to have heroes to guide them can only be a good thing, especially in recent years when stuff in the world has been not so great, as I’m sure you all are feeling.

How to Use Media to Create, Define or Find Meaning & Purpose in Your Life

Whether you’re a client in therapy or not, I implore you to take a step back after reading this and think about your ideals. 

  1. Make A List Friends and clients of mine in the past have found success in creating a written list of their ideals and the morals that they feel most align with their life.  Grab a pen and paper and consider every book, song, movie, video game, show, etc. that you’ve experienced in your life and consider which ones had the biggest impacts on you.  Write down what you learned and what you believe was most important.
  2. Identify Your Person/People Think about a person (fictional or not) that acts as your symbol of hope or your reason to keep moving forward.  I immediately cling to superheroes, but you may look up to a singer/songwriter, your parents, the main character of your favorite novel, etc. For example, maybe you value family and friendship above else and are therefore drawn to Captain America, who leads the Avengers and finds his strength in his team/friendships.  Or perhaps you place great value in exercise and your physical health and resonate with the Flash, who is always running and pushing to exceed his limits. If you stand for supporting folks locally, you may be a fan of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
  3. Decorate Your Space – I’ve found I’ve had the most success when I keep media that constantly helps me self-identify close at hand.  I set myself up for it by decorating my desk with pictures, posters, trinkets, etc. that remind me of the important people in my life as well as the fictional heroes I look up to.  I invite you to also consider implementing my “4-wall technique” in which I ensure there isn’t a corner or wall in my room/office that doesn’t have some form of motivational object/decoration to remind me of where I came from and where I’m going.  
  4. Identify a Quote or MantraThis goes hand-in-hand with step 3.  Sometimes a mantra or quote could prove to be helpful.  Maybe it’s a phrase a superhero said on the big screen, a line from your favorite book or movie, or even a song lyric.  When you find your quote, keep it close at hand.  Make it your phone background, write it on a post-it note, get a poster for your room.  I think very often about a quote from Stan Lee that inspired me to start up in this line of work.  It’s quick and easy to remember or slap onto your LinkedIn or Instagram bios if you want to feel like spreading the cause to help folks even in the smallest, simplest ways. 

Looping this all back to mental health, there are many benefits to identifying with and looking up to a hero.  They’re role models to follow and beacons of hope in a world that can be less than thrilling at times.  Admiring those in our lives who stand for something greater in a world that can seem less and less fair at times can only be a healthy coping mechanism.  It’s my hope that you, reader, can be a hero for someone else one day too.

As the great Stan Lee once said, “That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero”.

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