Superhero enthusiast and Professor of Psychology, Dr. Travis Langley is well known for his psychological profiles or superheroes and villains throughout the Marvel and DC Universes. In his latest book, Dr. Lanley as well as other psychologists share several essays regarding the ideals of Freedom vs. Security in Captain America vs. Iron Man: Freedom, Security, Psychology.
We conducted an e-mail interview Travis Langley, Mara Wood, Janina Scarlet, Patrick O’Connor, Billy San Juan; along with some thoughts from a contributor to other books in this series (Christopher Yogerst) and here are their answers:
1. Can there truly be a balance between freedom and security?
For ten seconds maybe. Even if you can somehow achieve a “balance” or even define what that means, your life circumstances and variables beyond numbering keep changing. The law must sometimes be rigid and sometimes be flexible, and there is no way to make it fit every situation for every point in time. A parent must sometimes be firm and sometimes be soft, but there’s no perfect way to balance that. When we’re toddlers, we want freedom to do things while we also want to feel safe. The balance of nature requires constant adjustment and change.
This is a widely debated question, but it’s clear that most superheroes believe this to be true. If they didn’t, superheroes would quickly become fascist dictators. Superheroes believe in the good of humanity and work to provide a platform for that to prevail. Captain American and Iron Man are fighting because they disagree on what defines the balance between freedom and security. Ideologically Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are still on the same team. They each want the world to live with the benefits of freedom with the safety that superhero-obtained security can afford. However, they see different paths to obtaining this balance.
Of course, we’re not just talking about Civil War in this book. Some chapters don’t address it at all. These two characters are iconic, very human, and more believable than most other superheroes. Unlike most, who tend to be born different or gain powers accidentally, these two characters make choices to become fantastic heroes. Steve volunteers for an experiment because he wants to be able to do more for others, whereas Tony builds a robot-suit to escape from terrorists, then chooses to keep wearing it in order to fight for others.
2. Dr. Mara Wood uses Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg’s study to explain the Moral decisions made by Captain America and Iron Man. Both have great influence over the Marvel Universe and both with an unwavering view of what is truly moral and what is truly justice. In the fifth stage of moral development, wrestling with the decision on what’s best for the individual and what would benefit the collective. Of the two ideologies, which would you consider more beneficial and why?
Stage 5 is interesting in that is requires members of a society to agree to the law assuming that the law would act out in favor of social utility. In my chapter, I point out how both Captain America and Iron Man embody stage 5 in their actions, Cap by valuing the lives of villains and Iron Man by working to readjust the law to benefit the greater good. I don’t know if there is a definite ideology that is more beneficial. Personally, I see Cap’s actions as centering on the individual and Iron Man’s centering on the collective. In a perfect world, these two would merge together and compromise so that the individual is protected within the collective and the collective benefits from a supportive individual (but that would make a terrible comic crossover). I would imagine the question of greater benefit lies in what the individual is willing to sacrifice for the collective.
3. Dr. Janina Scarlet and journalist Jenna Busch bring forth some insight about trauma that creates these beloved heroes. We often use terms and initialisms like Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to describe these horrific tragedies, but to paraphrase George Carlin, wouldn’t people take this horrific experience more seriously if it was still referred to as, “Shell Shock?”
It is possible. It is hard to tell whether it would be taken more seriously than the modern term, PTSD, but it is possible. One thing we know is that “shellshock” has a negative connotation since it used to be believed that “shellshock” is untreatable, whereas we now know that PTSD is treatable. Some Vietnam vets I’ve spoken to hate that term because that’s what they were told after the war and told that they are just going to have to get used to it. In addition, “shellshock” only describes war trauma, whereas PTSD is more inclusive. Some of the traumas might be caused by other events, such as traumatic losses.
4. Regarding PTSD, Dr. Scarlet (page 26, paragraph 2) mentions that 10% of women and 4% of men will develop this disorder, why is more prevalent in women than men?
That’s a great question. Personally, I think that the actual statistics are nearly equal but the reported statistics are such that women are more than twice as likely to develop it. I think it has to do with stigma from the common idea that developing mental health disorders, such as PTSD, is a sign of weakness—so men are more likely to not seek help or to self-medicate or abuse alcohol or otherwise avoid treatment than women. We do know that men are known to underreport their symptoms, and I am of the opinion that the actual stats are more or less equivalent for men and women.
5. Dr. Patrick O’Connor presents the ideas of societal pressures (page 41, paragraph 2) as being incredibly powerful, but that it is important to pull away from those pressures if it goes against your moral values. How can people in our society stand up for their values if they express an unpopular opinion (examples from GamerGate to Marriage Equality) and are being bombarded with dissidence throughout social media platforms?
I think if a person has an unpopular opinion, he or she should examine where this opinion comes from. If it seems many more people have an opposing opinion, why do you feel so differently? It’s not enough to simply focus on the feeling associated with the opinion; one must examine their rationale, as this is what is often debated (“I don’t understand why you think this,” “That doesn’t make sense to me.”). Examining your own understanding of your opinion could lead to strengthening that opinion, or challenge a misinformed, yet strongly felt, opinion. Also, think of what good could come of this. Sharing this opinion on social media could result in conflict with others, but it could also help others know that they are not alone in what they think.
6. As much as Civil War was an allegory for the Patriot Act, is it over simplifying the state of affairs, not only here but abroad? It is no longer the two-panel comic of Superman beating up Hitler and Stalin, but still a simply stated idea of, “I’m right, you’re wrong and I’m gonna fight you for it.”
I don’t believe Civil War oversimplifies this issue to a two-panel scuffle like those found featuring Superman and Captain America in the 1940s. The Marvel Universe has a serious debate regarding the implications of power and the designation of that strength. Tony Stark no longer trusts himself and other superheroes while Steve Rogers (as expected) still sees the best in everyone, especially his colleagues in arms. The advertising for the comics and the film oversimplify this issue (i.e. “choose a side.”), however, the material speaks for itself in terms of fostering a useful discussion about freedom and security. The superheroes lead by example, take their power seriously, weigh the impact of their presence, but get caught up in their own infighting showing that they are flawed just like any of us. This battle is the Marvel manifestation of friends losing their temper in a debate, however, leading up to the literal fighting there was a good amount of useful back and forth discussion. The clash of ideas is the heart of this story, the clash of fists is just part of the genre.
7. Dr. Billy San Juan and Alan Kistler address the issues of masculinity and the road to conflict. Are men still allowed to be men anymore? As they reference stereotypes of being prone to violence and emotionally distant, isn’t there still a need for some alpha male traits in a beta male run society?
There is an inherent logical misconception in the idea that men are no longer allowed to be “men.” The mistake occurs in the idea of “man” as a stagnant constant, the sun in a heliocentric universe. Men are absolutely allowed to be men, however the definition of “man” must adapt to an ever shifting identity of masculinity. Take this example: A few decades ago, it was a “man’s” job to go to work while his wife stayed home. A person’s masculine identity was challenged when he could not provide for his family. In modern times, both partners need to work to pay rent. Surely the economic landscape of 2016 does not reduce “man-ness.” The idea that “men can’t be men” is also often used to justify chauvinistic behavior towards women. My fellow men, we should be offended by this. Using “men can’t be men” to excuse things like catcalling is a dilution and perversion of the rich identity we hold. When I teach my son to be a man, I want him to hold the identity with honor.
I would argue that masculinity does not fall into the category of “alpha” and “beta.” Sure, those terms were used in the study they originated from, but they’ve morphed into a colloquialism which isn’t quite fair for the complexity of human life. For example, a “beta male” in the workplace might be a relentless “alpha male” competitor in an MMORPG. Instead of these dichotomous terms, which I might mention are scarcely used in research of masculinity, I encourage the discussion of traits and dimensions. These lie on a spectrum which determine the benefit or detriment of their actions.
In re-reading some of the chapters I’ve contributed to our PsychGeeks books, I noticed that I too often focus on negative aspects of traditional masculinity. In our upcoming book, Doctor Who Psychology: A Madman with a Box, Travis Langley and I discuss positive aspects to masculinity. Be sure to check it out.
This is where the battle between Captain American and Iron Man represent a common battle within any society. Generally speaking, ego and righteousness are staples of human character. Often we are drawn to righteous attitudes and repelled by egotistical ones. What makes Civil War unique is that we see these two mindsets clash in a forum that must be resolved. One cannot just walk away because they are on the same team – a team needed to keep the balance of freedom and security for others in place. What Civil War shows is that even if we believe in a balance of ego and righteousness, finding common ground will not be easy. We have had many comics and Avengers films that show these characters succeed together. However, bringing in many different views, talents, and motivations is bound to lead to disagreement eventually.
10. Out of the all the ideologies, psychological and sociological essays compiled in your book, what is the one main takeaway that you would like the general audience to pay close attention to?
You don’t have to choose sides. Neither is completely right. Don’t let someone else push you into taking an us-versus-them stance when everybody can benefit from taking some time to figure out a better way.
Dr. Langley will be hosting six panels at San Diego Comic Con, if you are attending the world’s largest comic fan gathering, his schedule is as follows:
Thursday – 10:30 – 11:30: The Joker: Serious Study of the Clown Prince (26AB)
Thursday – 8:00pm – 9:00pm: Psychology of Cult TV Shows (25ABC)
Friday – 11:00am – 12:00pm: Star Wars: The Science Awakens (7AB)
Saturday – 6:00pm – 7:00pm: The Geek Shall Inherit: The Evolution of Geek Culture (Pacific 24, north tower, Marriott Marquis)
Saturday – 8:30pm – 9:30pm: Captain America vs. Iron Man: Freedom, Security, Psychology (26AB)
Sunday – 12:00-1:00pm: The Caped Crusader on Campus: Batman Goes to College (26AB)
Captain America vs. Iron Man: Freedom, Security, Psychology can be purchased by clicking the highlighted link.