David Baddiel On Superheroes, Suicide And Being A Man

On the way back from Local Comic Shop Day in London today, I popped with the kids to the South Bank, our favourite stomping ground in London. Great playgrounds, superb street food and the Thames views. There's also the South Bank Centre, which we popped in when it was just a little too cold, and to use the facilities.

While there, I discovered they were hosting the "Being A Man Festival" or "BAM". Illustrated with this fetching Lichtenstein-lookalike image.

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And the panel I briefly stood listening too included comedian and writer David Baddiel, talking about depression and the worryingly high levels of suicide in men. And asking whether the image of the "hero" in modern culture was a contributing factor. He listed the superhero movies, Supderman, Batman, Spider-Man, all men, pointing out that in the Avengers, the Black Widow was the only female character and he wasn't even sure what if any, her powers were. That culture and pop culture puts an awful lot of pressure on a man to be a hero figure and when that's not possible to achieve, it makes a man feel worthless.

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This isn't a new thing though, this kind of attitude was pushed heavily in Victorian times, but while a British hero is typically incredibly flawed, if not downright villainous most times, the American versions of the hero, even of the Marvel "flawed" versions are still for many impossible ideals.

Suicide is the UK's single biggest cause of death among men under the age of 45, even as the number of women taking their lives has fallen significantly. The USA sees a similar gap, three times as many men taking their own lives as women.

I suffered a serious "wobble" myself about seven years ago, and was thankfully able to get help, both prescribed medication and talking therapy that stopped me from doing something very silly. The therapist in question picked up on my comic book history and talked about the heroic image in fiction, both its problematic issue but also as a route out. I was recommended Iron John: A Book About Men and it's something I still refer to occasionally.

Superheroic fiction has been used to address so many aspects of modern cultural life, but suicide from depression rather than some heroic sacrifice is rare. Here is an example of an attempted suicide from Red Hood & The Outlaws by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort. It scratched the surface, with an easy resolution. There's lot's more to talk about…

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.