What do Sports, Superheroes and Lost Have in Common

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I'm not into team sports - playing or watching. I've gotten into superhero comics in the last few years in a big way. There aren't action shows on TV like there were when I was a kid, but I'd say Lost counts as a modern equivalent, and I was right on board that train. Anyway, all three of these forms of entertainment hit a person right at the level that corresponds to the mythic/membership stage of development. 

The Mythic/Membership stage is on the developmental scale (for individuals and cultures) right after Magic (my ego is everything, I control the universe!) and right before Rational (if there's no verifiable evidence, it doesn't exist!). The Mythic/Membership mentality values power. It's patriarchal. Hierarchical. There's a belief in an omnipotent deity (orthe very muscular Shaquille O'Neilldeities) who favours one group, namely, mine. And this breeds an "Us & Them" sense. Me and my people are going to heaven. Those guys over there, they're all going to hell. (watch for an upcoming article by Br. Bergen on the developing understanding of these stages within the Integral community)


Team sports have an emphasis on masculine power. Athletes are valued for their muscles and competitive drive (brains, teamwork and ability to implement strategies are valuable too, but without the muscles and competitive drive to back them up, forget it). Fans love a tough guy, if he's on our side. Even if he isn't, he's still something to behold. All basketball fans marvelled at the great Shaq. Hockey fans admired Bob Probert. Football's mighty Jim Brown was so unprecedentedly powerful, he become a movie star. Male superheroes are all muscled up, even if their powers have nothing todo with strength. In fact, Superman gets his super-strength from the sun, not because he works out a lot. So why draw him all beefed up? Because huge muscles = manliness! Power! Kick ass, Superman! A skinny or pear-shaped Superman wouldn't seem anywhere near as heroic, even if he could do all the same things. The men on Lost are presented as an average sampling of people who happened to be on aSawyer from Lost, shirtless and lookin' goodplane that crashed. Yet they've all got pecs, and abs and look great without a shirt on (the exception being one really fat guy). Jack proves his worth as a leader when he beats the mysterious and cruel Ethan into submission with his fists. Ben Linus, one of the major villains, seems to be a weaseley bespectacled nebbish. But in one episode we see Sawyer, the roguish con man, flash back to his time in prison, boxing there and beating a big black opponent. In the present day story, Ben lays Sawyer on his ass in less than five seconds. Ben's a badass!






cheerleaders, cheering





There's a corresponding emphasis on what David Deida refers to as "Level 1 Femininity." Women are lesser than men. And don't seem to mind. Or even notice. In popular team sports, women are cheerleaders, wearing very little, and providing

female superhero "power girl"support for the brave warrior men. Women's team sports have yet to find anything approaching the popularity of men's (the reasons for this are disputed, but the fact is undeniable). Similarly there are far fewer female superheroes than male. Their costumes are almost always skimpy, sometimes ridiculously so. The natural heft of their porn-star breasts is completely improbable. And their costumes often get torn in the course of their adventuring. Lost had a somewhat greater variety of female characters, but in the pilot episode you got to see lovely Kate standing in the surf in her bra and cheesecake shot of Kate from Lostpanties for no apparent reason, and every season featured some more scenes of her in states of partial undress, sometimes in the rain.
























There's belief in a higher power. Athletes famously thank Jesus for their victories. Teams, coaches and fans pray to God to help them win. It's believed there's a curse preventing the Chicago Cubs from winning the World Series, and WP Kinsella wrote a story in which the team's manager receives a revelation that if they do win the series, Armageddon will ensue. Certain superheroes actually are gods. Thor has been a major Marvel character since the 60s, and various other Norse gods feature in his adventures. Wonder Womanis a demigod. Within these fictional universes, supernatural deities literally exist. And have powers. And care about the doings of the people of Earth. The Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom even go to hell at one point. The actual, literal, fiery hell! So does the Swamp Thing. Lost 's final season centres on the conflict between two supernatural men who never age, one of whom can transform himself into a roaring column of black smoke that kills people. This is a world where miraculous suspensions of the laws of physics happen just like they do in the Old Testament. One of the supernatural men even has the Old Testament name of Jacob.




Hockey Fight, featuring Bob ProbertThere's the Us & Them mentality. We're the good guys, they're the bad guys. The bad guys aren't even really human. Team sports is all about trouncing the other guys. No matter how gentlemanly the players are, the object is still to defeat your opponents. Baseball or basketball players who brawl with opponents receive stiff fines and much negative media attention, but hockey features fistfights regularly. And the fans love it. The refs never break a fight up rightDr. Doomaway. Let those boys pound! The penalties for fighting are relatively short. Superheroes are very clearly divided along lines of good and bad. The bad guys have bad guy names: Doctor Doom, Venom, the Vulture. Their teams sound nefarious, too: the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the Sinister Six, the Wrecking Crew. There's the occasional morally questionable hero, like the Punisher, but by and large it's instantly apparent which side of the good vs. evil divide a character falls on. Lost's first few seasons centred 
on the conflict between the plane crash survivors and "the Others" - the mysterious and sadistic inhabitants of the island who at one point kidnap a pregnant woman andJacob and the Man in Black, from Lost leave her companion hanging by his neck from a tree. The show presented a different conflict in later seasons, introducing an English businessman who wanted to harness the island's power and use it for his own nefarious ends. And then came the conflict between the aforementioned ageless supernatural men. The black smoke one, by the way, always dressed in black, and seethed with aggression and bitterness. The other one (Jacob) spoke softly, had a kindly manner, gentle eyes, blonde hair, and wore a puffy white shirt. The black smoke guy's character name is the appropriately villainous "Man in Black."


And there's the drive for victory. In team sports, there's a very clear winner. As NFL coach Vince Lombardi famously said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."world cup held up in victorySuperheroes are always engaged in a battle of good vs. evil, often with the fate of the planet, or even the universe at stake (multiple universes, in some cases). And the good guys always win. And we know they've won because the bad guys have been arrested, knocked unconscious, stripped of their powers, imprisoned or banished to another dimension. The best a villain can hope for is to slink off into the night, defeated, but uncaught, vowing revenge. Lost had its main characters' trying to get off the island for the first three seasons. In a deft move that surprised the fans, they succeeded. But they were drawn back and became embroiled in further conflicts between people on the island, involving machine guns and mysticism, and the definite sense that there would be a winning side and a losing side.


Lost does have postmodern elements - something I wrote about elsewhere on this site. There were non-white characters, and an unconventional storytelling structure, with episodes focusing on different characters and giving their point of view. Comics often have Magic elements, with a hero's powers coming from his own will and nothing else. marvel's Civil WarThere are seemingly Rational stage heroes, like Iron Man, who are just really smart guys who've invented technology that gives them the ability to hold their own amongst gods and aliens. Spiderman's powers derive from an accident in a science lab - an origin also seen with The Flash, Captain America, the Hulk and others. In a move toward Postmodernism, Marvel put out the series Civil War (which crossed over into virtually all of its titles for six months) in which their major heroes took sides on a moral debate centred on unquestioned allegiance to the government, and fought each other instead of villains. Neither side was presented as "right" and the good vs. evil conflict became beautifully blurred (villains were even drafted into both sides of the conflict). If I knew more about team sports, I could probably give some examples of that world stretching into other stages as well. (Check out Br. Dierkes' article on Magic elements in Sports (curses, superstitions and such), and Br. Juma's on the Rational approach (over-reliance on statistics).) I suppose there's a fair bit of Rational stage awareness in terms of coaching, conditioning and designing and using equipment. I've got an article elsewhere on the postmodern sport of Indoor Climbing. Another bit of postmodernism lies in the racial equality that has reigned in team sports since the 70s. Performance matters, not having the same skin colour akin as the fans, or a name they can easily pronounce.


Jesus vs the DevilI also don't mean to suggest that anything at the Mythic/Membership stage is to be looked down upon. It's hugely enjoyable to have something evoke the part of me that existed at that stage, and still lives in there somewhere. Life was a lot simpler when I had the sense that my being a Catholic guaranteed me a place in heaven, and that all evil-doers would be punished eventually. Stories that weren't bogged down by the moral and situational ambiguity of, say, The Wire, or Breaking Bad, or Catch 22, or All Quiet on the Western Front gave me a charge of adrenaline that was thrilling and guilt-free. I don't live in that world anymore, and I don't wish to. Black and white morality seems inadequate to me now. But the old world where the villains could be killed with impunity, when you knew who was who and could trust that the a benevolent omnipotent force would ensure that everything would turn out okay for everyone - that's still a fun place to visit.


And of course that last point applies to the mythic realm as described in works of boston red sox winning the world seriesfiction. In the real life mythos of sports (and, I suppose, warfare), there's no guarantee whatsoever that "good" will prevail. Where the sports fan finds the gumption to keep supporting his chosen heroes one disappointing season after another is a question I'm in no way qualified to answer. Perhaps it's that strain of hope deep in the human soul that some day, the championship will finally be attained, and like the Hebrews escaping slavery in Egypt, the benevolent forces from above will reveal that they were just testing the long suffering chosen people all along, tempering them and building their appetite for their final and just reward.

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