The Real Life Super Hero Project

In Culture on July 21, 2011 at 2:08 pm
The Urban Avenger

The Urban Avenger, photo by Peter Tangen

After reading Jon Ronson’s recent article on Real Life Superhero (or RLSH) Phoenix Jones, I followed up on references to Peter Tangen’s remarkable Real Life Super Hero Project. The site is about a year old, but there is new material added every month. And it’s all nothing short of remarkable, admirable, and, yes, a little sad.

Photographer Peter Tangen has done something amazing on this site, which is to take an overblown cosplay session from a fan convention and give it life. Tangen’s own “RL” job is to create movie posters for many of the biggest film studios: you’ve undoubtedly seen many of them walking down the street. So he was a natural fit for giving a little flash and polish to the (often cringe-inducingly bad) home-spun threads of these vigilantes. The results are impressive:

Geist poster, by Peter Tangen

I’m sure the reference to cosplay would disturb and upset the RLSHs, but it’s really the first thing that jumps to mind when you see these folks: despite their best intentions, in interviews, they still come across as naive, slightly-too-well-read geeks. These people aren’t invulnerable, so most of what RLSHs do is something a little more than community service. That in itself is admirable, but it begs the question: couldn’t they do community service out-of-character? Is the costume and the role a coping mechanism, or merely to gain attention?

Still, the collection of media on this site is really well presented. So if you’re looking for some innovative reasons for your girlfriend or boyfriend to dump you, and want to take up a life of crime-fighting, here’s some inspiration:

  1. ..These people are NOT just cosplaying nerds (as delightfully condescending as THAT sounds). I’m NOT one of them but someone who admires them. I’m in the U.S. Military and one of the reasons I joined in the first place was because I was sick of whining about things that were wrong in the world but not being able to directly impact it. Yeah, they dress in costumes to do community service but it goes deeper than that. They are doing what a lot of OTHER people aren’t brave enough to step up and do and MAYBE they dress in the masks because if they are interfering with drug dealers and the like, they don’t really want their faces known. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me thinking outside of the box…most of them have significant others, believe it or not. They’re just normal people trying to DIRECTLY make a difference in the world. They’re just doing it in an unusual way…but kudos to them for even trying.

    • I know that’s what the “line” is about what they’re doing, and they clearly believe they’re doing it. But is just “doing something” the best way to achieve their goals? There’s something admirable about the SH “choice,” certainly — but, as you say, you made that choice as well, through a venue that may actually accomplish something tangible.

      Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think these people are laughable or should be easily dismissed. But they clearly have a lot of energy and goodwill to give, and I wonder if it might be better spent elsewhere.

  2. geez, talk about a backhanded compliment.

    • I suppose it is, I don’t deny that. While I admire the courage and energy of RLSHs, I’m also sceptical of their motives and clear attention-seeking behaviour. Part of this is just prejudice on my part, I cannot deny that. But I’m willing to have my mind changed!

  3. Alex, you are correct. I feel that many RLSH choose this lifestyle for attention, however, so is the writting of this blog. The fact of the matter everything we do is for attention on some level, what I like about what these RLSH do is that it is accomplished behind a mask/custome/uniform…so the moniker gets the attention in most cases not the person. Great post by the way, I enjoy when some speaks their mind.

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