Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Look Up in the Sky: Latent Content Analysis of the Real Life Superhero Community

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Look Up in the Sky: Latent Content Analysis of the Real Life Superhero Community

Article excerpt

Society, as a whole, is not a homogenous body of people. Beyond the mainstream culture, there are also a variety of subculture and countercultures. The Real life Superhero Community (RLSH) is one such subculture. Individuals who identify as RLSH, or a derivative, have been reported across the world (HBO, 2011) with evidence of self-organization and large-scale community programs. Members of the RLSH community have a diverse range of activities and focuses. Some RLSH focus on community-level and grassroots style policing and service, some direct their attention towards crime prevention, going so far as to conduct "sting-like" operations (Laycock, 2012), others "costumed hero" publicity to promote societal changes (Mcinnes & Redrup, 2012) while even more focus on individual level community service (Venezia, 2011). The overarching identity of RLSH is still developing with heated internal debates about what membership means and what one needs to do to earn it. However, these debates point to definitive perceived demarcation between RLSH and non-RLSH members, a sense of and desire for a separate and distinct culture from the mainstream. For example, the (2013) website creed reads:

   We are Real Life Superheroes.
   We follow and uphold the law.
   We fight for what is right.
   We help those in need.
   We are role models.
   We will be positive and inspirational.
   We hold ourselves to a higher standard.
   Through our actions we will create a better brighter tomorrow.

And states that a RLSH member is "a person who selflessly serves a positive pro-social mission while in a heroic identity or motif inspired and influenced by comic book super heroes" (Unknown, 2012a). The World Registry of Superheroes states "A Real-Life Superhero is a person who does good deeds or fights crime while in costume" (Unknown, 2012b). Consequentially, it can be seen that, although individually varied, members of the RLSH have a strong shared identity. This identity is self-enforced, with RLSH members publically identify code breakers or individuals not fulfilling membership duties. In fact, some individuals act as watchmen to the rest of the community. Of particular note are those within the community who take up the moniker Real-life Supervillain. While many adopt this persona because of attraction to the Villain persona, or to simply harass other RLSH, many use it as a means to identify individuals whom they feel do not uphold the values/duties of the RLSH, or simply overstep the boundaries of what is acceptable (McMullen, 2010).

The strong superhero themed costumes or uniforms worn by many RLSHs are similar to Cos-play costumes (Figure 1) and similarities between the two subcultures has been noted by some observers (Ackerman, 2010; Alverson, 2011; Willis, 2011). The costumes and uniforms may potentially relate to Kleinknecht (2003) concept of artefacts or symbolic items with a special meaning to the wearer. For example, to be included on the World registry of Superheroes, a RLSH must have a costume or uniformed persona. Like RLSH, Cosplayers regularly use alternative personas (Gunnels, 2009; Lotecki, 2012; Taylor, 2009; Winge, 2006), however they are usually derived from anime, graphic novels or similar sources (Lotecki, 2012; Taylor, 2009; Winge, 2006). In comparison, RLSHs generally use personas of their own invention. Cos-play also has a strong emphasis on best-dressed, the subculture's social and cultural capital (Taylor, 2009), while RLSH social and cultural capital derives from an individual's activities and behaviour, with costumes varying from little to very detail dressing (Figure 1).


Cos-play is generally limited to specific settings, such as Cos-play conventions (Winge, 2006), while RLSHs are not. The limits on costume-wearing localities do vary across the world (Winge, 2006), and 40% North American Cosplayers say they go out in public in costume (Lotecki, 2012). …

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