The RLSH Movement Hits Pittsburgh

           The Real-Life Superhero movement has been around for a few years now, spawning a host of colorfully costumed political activist, caped crime fighters, and superhero social workers, although the city of Pittsburgh, for whatever reason, seems to have shown little interest in the phenomenon; at least, until just recently. Superhero training in and around the city seems to be booming, with centers for training sprouting up all across the greater Pittsburgh area, in Hazelwood, Garfield, and especially out in Oakdale, where a reformed Supervillain named Simon Zealot's Superhero Training Academy has recently exploded to almost 100 students, with waiting lists for new classes filling up faster than they can find instructors to teach them.

          But what does it mean to be a “Superhero?” Obviously the movement embraces quite a bit of diversity in this regard: While some Real-Life Superheroes are activists focused on using the garish costumes to garner additional public attention and support for a broad range of social issues, others, who are often counted among the less stable, and perhaps even dangerous, members of this bizarre new trend appear to be driven more by a need to physically pit themselves against sources of violence and oppression of which they refuse to live in fear. Regardless of their exact motivations, the common root for all these costumed avengers is the very simple and straight forward desire to make some sort of dramatic difference in the world, taking matters into one’s own hands in a uniquely empowering, although rarely used, manner; by becoming a symbol.

          Some might argue that symbol creation is at an all time high, since we are all inundated each day with new corporate logos and commercial jingles attempting to represent things we might want to own, but there’s a vast difference between a commercial brand and a heroic symbol. The first intends merely to inspire consumption, often by preying on our insecurity, our shortcomings, or our appetitive weaknesses, while a heroic symbol is meant to inspire hope and perhaps even emulation.

          If anything, commercialism has ruined our trust of symbols, as we are now inclined to automatically assume that all symbols are created only to sell us something, or in more cynical terms, to steal from us. This new breed of costumed crusader haven’t become symbols in response to any sort of consumer need, but rather to see people raised up above the petty banality and greed of a meaningless, and often cruel, bourgeois reality. Comics provided us all with such symbols when we were children, but now that we’re adults, Real-Life Superheroes are attempting to return the favor, exporting these same kinds of symbols out into the real world.

          While this basic desire seems understandable enough, the most difficult thing for most “normal” people to get over appears to be the costume itself. The power of self-expression afforded to each of us through our individual choice of attire is far greater than most people realize, and that’s precisely what makes a Superhero’s choice of costume such a bold and potent move, one which allows them to separate themselves from the banal expectations and disempowering limitations we all must contend with in the course of our normal, day to day, lives. While the cosplay that has become typical of the movement may be a rather extreme use of this principle, more subtle applications of the psychological power of symbols and our personal presentation should not be over looked by those who are currently too meek or self-conscious to run right out and don a mask and cape.

          Historically however, costuming has proven to be a tremendously potent tool, utilized for countless centuries by everyone from shamans, to soldiers, to any of a hundred other specialists seeking to identify themselves with some sort of transcendent and life-changing power. Whether that higher power is something spiritual, political, or professional, costumes serve as essential tools that lock each user into communion with a force far greater than him or her self; the fact that these “Supersuits” are also designed to be increasingly more bulletproof is something that probably shouldn’t be overlooked either.

          Yet the full extent of the eccentricities to be found within the Superhero movement goes far beyond their fanciful fashion choices. Although the most common variety of street vigilante seems content to focus entirely on their physical abilities, attempting to push these to the max through reflex training, cross-training, weightlifting, Parkour and a variety of other Martial Arts, there’s far more human potential to be explored and enhanced by Real-Life Superheroes than through mere brutality alone. Although rarely pursued, mental and social abilities can also be augmented, with some heroes going so far as to seek out training in speed reading, social engineering, haptic communication, paralanguage, speed hypnosis, chronemics, mnemonics, neuro-linguistic programming, cognitive bias modification, and the use of a wide range of transhumanist technologies, ranging from nootropics such as Piracetam, Choline and Hydergine and increasingly creative smart phone apps, to other even more unique and ambitious uses of personal technology.

          As far as technology goes, there are various standard protective gadgets which are often employed by Real-Life Superheroes, such as Kevlar vests, pepper spray, high decibel whistles, stunguns and tasers, while actual firearms appear to be as yet unheard of within the movement, at least in America. Given the less than warm reception some of the more vigilante-styled Heroes have received from law enforcement professionals as it is, continuing such a policy within the movement is probably an absolute necessity. Most heroes who patrol the street are informed by the local police that they should not intercede in the event that they actually happen upon an actual crime, and that they should simply call 911; however, even many of those who do intercede are quick to point out that vigilante-like violence is rarely ever necessary. After all, the sudden and unexpected presence of a few people dressed in masks and capes is often more than enough to restore sanity to even the most heated of street disputes.

          I hope this has been an informative introduction to this exciting new subculture, and that from here you will be able to find whatever it is that you’re looking for in order to save your city, or even just yourself, from danger. Good luck and Namaste.