A Schism Over Brand Management in the Real-Life Superhero Community

It turns out there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about being a real-life superhero (RLSH). First, you should have a fondness for justice. After all, it’s the cornerstone of any real superhero’s value system. For example, if you think justice is not a major concern when fighting crime, it might be time to hang up the tights you purchased during last week’s sale at Jo-Ann Fabrics, or turn in the overpriced polycarbonate cowl you spent three weekends molding into the shape of a tiger’s face. But if justice and an unyielding desire to take down evil doers defines your existence (or at least, this very moment in your life, while you have a surplus of free time and are currently single), the streets are calling.

One man who answered the call is Phoenix Jones, a real-life superhero from Seattle, Washington, who has garnered local and national media coverage for his exploits as a self-made crime fighter. Last week, Jones attempted to break up a skirmish between two armed men in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, but ended up having his nose broken. But he’s not always a failure. According to a report by Seattle TV station KIRO from earlier this month, Jones thwarted a carjacking by chasing off a thief in the city’s Lynwood neighborhood. He then allowed the KIRO camera crew to tag along while he went on patrol (but seemingly forgot to tell them to stop following him when he returned to his now not-so-secret hideout behind a bookshelf in a local comic book shop):

While the community (or at least the guy who didn’t get carjacked) has embraced Jones, not everyone is impressed by his meteoric rise. Namely, other real-life super heroes. “The main thing that disappoints me about [Phoenix Jones] getting all of this press is there are so many BETTER people to represent the RLSH,” writes Professor Midnight on The RLSH.net forum. Who might these “better people” be? Well, Professor Midnight for starters. The 41-year-old RLSH from Utah (according to his MySpace profile) believes his crime-fighting peers like Jones should show more humility in their work. And he’s not the only RLSH with opinions on the matter. New York’s Silver Sentinel recently weighed in on Jones’ media attention:

It is no secret that many in the superhero community are angry with Phoenix Jones for imaginary violations of unwritten rules of superheroism, or for his glorification by the press, and his accompaniment by a camera crew while on patrol. Well, tough. He has the press, he’s out there doing something to help his community, and whatever your personal feelings about the guy.. he’s inspiring people. I don’t like how he goes about it, but so what.. I have my way of doing things and he has his. That disagreement does not stand in the way of either of us doing our work and helping the people we serve. (via RealLifeSuperheroes.org)

The Silver Sentinel’s begrudging approval of Jones’ exploits speaks to his own ethos as an RLSH, a man whose blog carries the subtitle “Being a superhero isn’t about the wonderful things you can do. It’s about the people you do them for.” In yet another blog post regarding Jones, Captain Black echoes the Silver Sentinel’s statement, but with perhaps a more positive undercurrent:

Many of us have done this for years without fan fare. Some are rubbed the wrong way by his notoriety while others, myself included, are enjoying his experience from afar. Whenever you stretch reality the way we do, raw nerves are bound to be exposed.

Much has been made of the intervention where his nose was broken. It serves notice to supporter and skeptic alike that risk is part of the real life superhero experience. The same holds true for public safety professionals; private security security and anyone who has potentially combative encounters.

Though Captain Black ends on a note that, like much of the RLSH experience, makes little sense: “Also, it appears [Jones is] an African-American beneath his mask. The fact this hasn’t been emphasized implies more concern with what he does, as opposed to who he is.” Um, yes. The public is more enthralled by the notion that this man has spent untold hours crafting a superhero suit, building a secret lair located behind a shelf in a comic book store, and fighting crime with a taser baton than the fact that he is black. Thank you, Captain.

The most glaring fallacy in the RLSH’s comic-book-world-turned-reality is not its inability to craft a convincing/fear-inducing costume (or disarm a real criminal), but it’s addiction to blogging and brand management. With so much emphasis placed on defining what a real-life superhero should and shouldn’t be, the good work these people claim to do becomes an afterthought. In reality, Batman would rather put villains in prison than be exposed to the crimes of WordPress. Seems like these “heroes” need to focus, pop a Ritalin, and get back to work (at the local Best Buy). TC mark

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  • http://cloudonshore.tumblr.com Sam Walker

    I wish all news reports were written with this tone.

  • Sharif

    When are Phoenix Jones and Professor Midnight going to have a crossover to fight out their differences?

  • Larry

    Great analysis. Thanks, Matthew.

  • http://twitter.com/EliArtichoke Eli Artichoke

    “Thank you, Captain.” Awesome.

  • Zero

    I find it funny that people keep milking this “All RLSH must be ugly, single and have shitty jobs and lives” thing…

    It could never occur to them that some people actually… GASP… have some balls and might be doing something actually… DOUBLE GASP… HELP the world rather than sit on their ass and bitch when someone else tries to!

    Oh NOOOOOOOOOES!!

    Media is a tool, friend. Even you, with your sophomoric writing and your nihilistic undertones should be able to understand that.

  • Aprimo

    There is really a superhero, not by their power but their heart's desire to fight for the just.

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