Who are the good guys really? We all know that the audience is supposed to side with the Avengers in Infinity War but if we look at it from Thanos' point of view, isn't he just the ultimate eco-warrior doing what needs to be done to protect the future of the universe? And Syndrome from The Incredibles can just as easily be venerated as a human rights activist extending superpowers to all (and not just an elitist group of superheroes) as he can a maniac driven by a petty personal vendetta against Mr Incredible.
OK, so we probably shouldn't condone their actions but it turns out these so-called villains are, in fact, less violent than the heroes we are told to cheer on. That's according to a study due to be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2018 National Conference & Exhibition in Florida later today.
Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University came to this conclusion after analyzing 10 of the top grossing superhero films from 2015 and 2016, when movies like Suicide Squad, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Batman v. Superman topped the box office. Each major character was then categorized, either as a protagonist and so-called "good guy" or as an antagonist and so-called "bad guy".
The researchers found that while the antagonists averaged 18 violent acts every hour, the protagonists averaged 23 – showing a wanton disregard for the health and safety (not to mention lives) of the people unfortunate enough to get in their way. Heroes are more likely to be seen fighting (1,021 total acts versus 599 for villains), using a lethal weapon (659 versus 604), destroying property (199 versus 191), and committing murder (168 versus 93) than their opponents. The only act more likely to be perpetrated by a villain was bullying, intimidation, and torture (237 versus 144 for heroes). The moral of the story: it is OK to kill as long as you don't torture your victim first.
Conforming to stereotypes, the researchers also found that male characters were five times as violent as female characters, committing an average of 34 violent acts per hour compared to a woman's measly seven.
"Children and adolescents see the superheroes as 'good guys,' and may be influenced by their portrayal of risk-taking behaviors and acts of violence," Robert Olympia, lead author and a professor in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at Penn State, said in a statement.
"Pediatric health care providers should educate families about the violence depicted in this genre of film and the potential dangers that may occur when children attempt to emulate these perceived heroes."
He recommends parents negate the adverse influence of superhero films by watching them alongside their children and talking about what's being shown on screen. After all, one person's superhero could just be another's supervillain.