After watching Guardians of the Galaxy it occurred to me that superhero movies are more than just something we go to see at the cinema, they are one of the most important forms of social capital in the 21st Century. I know what you’re thinking and, no, I did not have too much to drink at the Christmas party before writing this blog in a blur of alcoholic-fuelled mess! Let us leave the jokes aside and consider this seriously for a moment.
Social capital theory grew out of the works of, amongst others, sociologists such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Pierre Bourdieu and Robert Putnam. Social capital can be defined as the bonds and trust between agents that help secure trades and ease negotiations. Social capital can be created through networks or connections between individuals and groups. This form of capital is important in economics because it allows agents to make trades when trades would otherwise not go through and explains acts of altruism that neoclassical economics cannot explain.
Now, my argument is that society may be using superhero movies to bond together and feel safer, especially in times of terror and fear. Basically, when people feel scared they want to hope that someone will come to rescue them, and who better to rescue you than Batman, Captain America or, um, Spider-Ham?! If we turn to the realm of sociology we can see that there has been many dissertations by university students discussing the reasons and implications of the sudden rise in the number of superhero movies in the last 20 years.
– One student argues that:
“through the rhetorical usage of form these films have constructed symbols that respond to the trauma and fears audiences experience living in the context of a post 9/11 world.”
The government would normally be the body associated with cultivating social capital but in the case of superhero movies we would assume instead that movie studios are responsible. Although movie studios are out to make a profit and their goal is not primarily to create social capital, they would be encouraged to create social capital which leads to higher profits for themselves. The more convincing argument is that private agents created this form of social capital themselves through a circular feedback loop. Perhaps people began to watch more superhero movies in late 2001/early 2002 to gain a feeling of safety, resulting in higher profits for movie studios. Movie studios would then have responded with more (and better) superhero movies, leading to even more people watching these films and even higher profits for movie studios.
Let us end our blog post here and conclude that superhero movies could be acting as a vital source of social capital, but it could also be that more superhero movies are being made because they are just so kick-a$$ awesome and profitable! Either way, let’s enjoy the next few years and the release of Thor 3, Batman vs. Superman and Avengers: Age of Ultron.