The Dichotomy of Man: Why Super Heroes and Alter Egos are Embedded into Popular Culture (Featuring Dexter Morgan and the Characters of LOST)

The man in the mirror has a dark side.

I am not a comic book nerd.  Instead, I am simply an American who is well aware of our nation’s love and fascination of super heroes.  So why are we so obsessed with men who fly around with their underwear outside their clothes, while pretending to be an insect or animal?  Why do their movies make hundreds of millions, thanks to both kids and adults alike? Because super heroes reflect us normal human beings: inside and out.

Here’s what you need to know (and probably already subconsciously know) about super heroes.

1- They save good people from bad people.

2- They have a mysterious and troubled past.

3- They have super powers, skills, abilities, or insight.

4- They sometimes struggle with discerning good from evil, as they realize they are in some ways evil themselves.

5- They have at least one major arch nemesis.

6- They wear some sort of costume.

7- They have an alter ego; or at least a side of them they hide from most people.

8- They find it difficult to have meaningful relationships and friendships with others.  (If nothing else, their schedule does not allow for it.)

9- They have a debilitating weakness.

10- They were created by Jewish writers.  (Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Iron Man, The Hulk, Wonder Woman, LOST, Dexter, and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… It’s pretty difficult to find an exception.)

Maybe it seems a bit of a stretch to consider the characters of LOST as super heroes, but several of them had mysterious powers (at least on the island), they helped each other survive, and they all had some kind of trouble in their past that not only defined them but also that continued to be a struggle.  And while that does make for good development on the show, it also is a concept that most of us can relate to.  It’s not just the obvious “are they are good guy or a bad guy?” characters like Ben Linus and Sayid Jarrah who struggled with their own consciouses and gray area moral dilemmas.  Even seemingly innocent characters like Sun Kwon had a hidden (but shady) alter ego.

This dichotomy of man, the “man has two sides” concept, is also very obvious in the Showtime series Dexter.  Yes, he is a serial killer.  But Dexter only tracks down and kills serial killers and rapists (though he eventually kills a few innocent victims by mistake).  Admittedly, I myself never killed anyone, yet I relate to the show deeply.  I’ve even read that males, in particular, live with a constant struggle of feeling inadequate- like an imposter who is about to be found out for who they really are. Aside from any basic religious aspects, at some point in life we end up asking and answering the question, “Am I ultimately a good person or a bad person?

Are we simply adding to the noise? And for those who do realize that they are ultimately more bad then they are good, are they willing to change, or will they simply accept whatever eternal fate that may befall them? The concept of good versus evil is one we are subconsciously obsessed with.  It’s true: We as humans are both good and bad. The same person who steals your credit card information today may thoughtlessly save life a stranger’s life tomorrow.  We are both saints and sinners; but it’s ultimately the identity which we allow to consume us that is our true identity.

So it makes sense that we relate the idea of having an alter ego.  We display a different version of ourselves at work for 8 hours or more each day.  We have to, in order to survive in that environment.  We all must have “tweakable” perspectives and personalities.  You can’t treat your child the same way your treat your boss.  You can’t reveal the same vulnerability to coworker as you must to your spouse.

We know we are supposed to just be ourselves and never really hide who we truly are.  But that’s simply not reality.  In a sense, the reality is that we are ultimately all super heroes with alter egos…  Unless you are one of the true villains of the world.

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