Like millions of others worldwide, I am eagerly anticipating the new Batman v Superman film, which will unquestionably be one of this year's biggest blockbusters. Over the last decade, superhero movies have dominated the box office, so I began thinking, "Why are superhero films so popular?" Consider, in the past 12 years, superhero films (which include franchises such as Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, X-Men, Thor and The Avengers) have grossed just under eight billion dollars worldwide (Source: IMDB). The obvious answer to the popularity question would be because the casts include Hollywood's elite, the films have endless action, and their marketing campaigns are non-stop due to their nearly unlimited budgets. However, the analytical and academic sides of me felt there had to be something deeper to explain this phenomenon. Why, in a time when America is in the midst of a recession and people are cutting spending everywhere they can just to survive, are millions of Americans paying the hefty (and somewhat ridiculous) theater prices and, in most cases, more than once? As a society, are we so starved for role models and heroes that we will try to find them anywhere we can, even if they are fictional?
The world we live in can be very harsh; most people sacrifice and exploit others in order to better themselves, while superheroes tend to sacrifice and exploit themselves in order to better the lives of others (even Tony Stark, the vainest and most self-absorbed of all the Avengers, puts his ego aside to save innocent people). When we actually take a moment and look around at the world, it tends to be empty of real-life heroes and role models who provide examples for the rest of us to follow. There are so few people who are selfless and humble, and who lead more by example than by words, especially those who we can point out and proudly tell our children, "That's someone you want to be like when you grow up." So, who, then, in our over-stimulated and media-saturated society do our children have to imitate or idolize?
Of course, parents first come to mind and, why not? Parents do play a major part in the development of a child's life. But, the parents' reach tends to be limited to only their own children; for those of us who had great relationships with our parents, we still searched for and sought guidance from adults outside of our own families. I have amazing parents, who taught me valuable life lessons but, like many of us, my appreciation for my parents grew with time. Now, consider the fact that, in the present-day, most parents are not as directly involved in their children's lives; sometimes this is by choice and other times it is by circumstance. In most households, both parents work in order to provide for their entire family. So, when parents are not involved in a child's life as much as they would like to be, who will then be the example for children? Many would say firemen, police officers, soldiers and other military figures, because all are truly selfless public servants, and definitely fit the description of a "hero." However, like parents, their reach is limited and they do not receive the same media attention as people in other professions.
This brings us to celebrities. Celebrities undoubtedly reach the largest number of children via Facebook, Twitter, TV, radio and news. Celebrities and the famous (there is really not much of a difference anymore) dominate nearly every form of social media. Consider that both Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga have over 8 million more Twitter followers than President Obama, and Kim Kardashian has nearly three times as many followers as the Dalai Lama. These statistics are not only shocking, but absolutely disturbing. Most celebrities know, as Oscar Wilde once said, "The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about." Celebrities tend to get rewarded for bad behavior, which goes against the reality in which many of us live. As an educator, the toughest lessons I attempt to press upon my students are to do the right thing and to be kind. Yet, the entertainment industry reveals the complete opposite: By doing the wrong thing and being selfish, you can possibly become rich and famous. While celebrities can behave as they wish and repeatedly be convicted of crimes, it only makes their "celebrity" increase and, in turn, it brings them much more work.
Charles Barkley famously said "I am not a role model," which reveals that, underneath all that size and athletic ability, Charles Barkley is actually a coward. Being in the position to "be" a role model (which most athletes are whether they choose to be or not) is a blessing, not a choice. When athletes claim that they are not role models, it only reveals that they do not have the character or integrity, nor do they want the responsibility, to be examples for the American youth, who do not have strong parental environments and turn to our athletes for inspiration. The fact that there are so few athletes who accept the responsibility of being role models and who know the responsibility that comes with being in the spotlight and idolized by so many, is unsettling since athletes are celebrities regardless of whether they choose to be or not. But, most could care less and they continue to act however they like, without any concern of the social perception or even the legal ramifications. Athletes and celebrities have the same luxuries; they can act irresponsibly, be arrested and even be convicted of serious crimes, yet they have no problems finding another job or team who will overlook their character flaws because of their "talent" and claim they deserve a second chance. The reality is that teachers, and even an employee at McDonald's, would never receive the same second chance and forgiveness that athletes and celebrities receive over and over again.
Maybe we should follow, imitate and celebrate our politicians? With the exception of President Obama and a select few of his constituents, politicians tend to be in the same category as athletes and entertainers: those who behave in any matter they like without a single concern of penalty or perception. I often joke with my students that, if I were to run my classroom like a politician by telling them exactly what they want to hear (such as telling them they are all getting "A's," only to find out when they receive their report cards they are all failing), I would be fired in a week. But, we have come to a point where we almost expect politicians to lie to us and, when they do the opposite of the very things they promised during their election, we just shrug and accept it. If anything, I use politicians as an example for my students of how not to act. Like many, I dream of the day when we will actually hold politicians accountable for what they say, but I fear that day is not in the near or distant future.
This brings me to the most ridiculed, criticized and attacked profession: teaching. Now I am not being biased in any way, but am merely stating the facts that are commonly stated and known. One of the biggest ironies is that an actor who "plays" a teacher in a film is paid far more and receives far more attention than the actual teacher does. Within my first year as an educator, I learned that school boards only care about budgets; administrators only care about test scores; parents only care about their own children, while only the teachers care about every child. I work with so many amazing educators who go above and beyond for their students, and accept and embrace their roles because they are well aware that most children desperately need examples to follow. Like many of my colleagues, I am well aware that my behavior both inside and outside of the classroom is watched closely, not only by society but by my students. This is a role that we embrace and don't attempt to disregard by saying "We are not role models." We know that some of our students are seeking examples, especially adults, to take them under their wings and nurture their strengths and esteem. This is not because we are trying to replace parents, but because we know that we have to fill the void if a child doesn't have a loving parent in their life. Teachers do not have the luxury of acting inappropriately in any way; we have to hold ourselves to a higher example than celebrities, athletes and politicians, because, for the most part, we are fighting an uphill battle against so many variables that are presented and promoted in the media. Teachers are teachers 24 hours a day and 365 days a year; we don't have time off, nor can we say that our private lives shouldn't matter as most others do. Year after year, I have given away thousands of dollars, which I could have desperately used, to help both past and present students to pay for college, supplies, food and even gym memberships, and I am by no means the exception. Many of my colleagues don't hesitate to share their salaries with their students because they know that, in most cases, our students are in dire need and face unbelievable financial hardships. Only in America would politicians shout that teachers are overpaid when, statistically, six out of every 10 teachers work second jobs in order to live, and nine out of 10 teachers have given money to students on one or more occasions.
This is not an attempt to gain sympathy, nor is it an attempt to demean other professions in our society. It is merely a realistic and accurate observation of which I myself wasn't truly aware of until I left a successful and lucrative career in the entertainment industry to become an educator. Our youth needs heroes and guidance, and it has become appallingly obvious that the examples and role models they see the most are not the ones who are presenting the best displays of behavior and character. In my completely unbiased opinion: Teachers are the last bastion of hope for most children in America; they have such a profound impact on the future of the world, and are in a position to influence many children. Of course there are individuals who do not belong in education and misbehave, but I am certain that these individuals are the exception and not the norm. I often wonder how great our nation would be if Americans and the media gave the same admiration to teachers that they give our celebrities, athletes and politicians. Though teachers do not have superpowers, we do have more in common with a superhero like Spider-Man than one would previously think: We both are selfless in our behavior; we both have committed our lives to help others though it would much be easier to quit; we both are often demonized and vilified by the media, and most importantly; we both understand that the children of America desperately need us.