With the Avengers age of Ultron, Ninja Turtles, Fantastic Four and other such movies catering to aliens and space, a new focus has been given to space exploration and a focus on intelligent life outside our own. Superheroes present a solution to problems which are outside of our control Yet, in our modernistic society with so many “solutions” to so many problems, Hollywood has created superficial problems for them to solve. But what does that have to do with space?
Space is real enough for us to see, but mysterious enough to be considered fantasy
From the beginning of time until the present, man has looked upon the stars as being something beyond the normal grasp of man. It is a mysterious void which contains limitless possibilities. And with NASA continuously posing new worlds and extending the bounds of the universe, our imaginations are free to visualize life somewhere up in the stars. As recently as August 15,2016 a new earth-like planet was discovered orbiting Proxima Centauri. In a report by Nature world news it was stated that the new planet could allow for liquid water on its surface and that “Never before have scientists discovered a second Earth that is so close by.” Notice the words used, second Earth.
Fantasy on the cinematic screen, primarily in the comic book movies which have saturated the screen in the past few years, plays to the realities of our world while at the same time introducing an element, generally in the form of 3D aliens, spacecraft, or portals, that keeps space more in the realm of Sci-Fi then in Science. Take for example the latest installment of Ninja Turtles. In the Out of the Shadows the main villain is from Outer Space. And because he is an alien, he is justified in his scheme for world domination. There is no questioning what needs to be done, there is no question as to the goo which makes Bee-Bop and Rocksteady. It is from space and so it is something which could happen in real life, so long as there is an intelligent life force behind it (which in this case is a giant brain-like creature housed in a robot).
Superheroes represent our concepts of gods and devils
If you really take a moment to think about space, superheroes, and supervillains, you will find that there is a fundamental tie to our beliefs about good vs. evil. Where we make superheroes flawed in cinematic film and in comic books to make them more personable, there is still an aspect of being a demi-god that is added. And how does this demi-god status tend to be obtained? By having the character appear from space. Let us look at some of the most iconic superheroes to see how they relate to the space/intelligence of life in space thought:
These are just a few of the characters which have made it to the big screen. And it is this popularity with the superheroes and their home planets which have yielded a new interest in space. It is not so much that we think that Cybertron exists or that Thor is really sitting in Cimmeria, but it is more the hope that there is something out there similar.
Are our skewed perceptions of space a bad thing?
With the increased popularity in space/superhero movies, it has become a bit easier for the government to fund space exploration. As of this year, the White House has budgeted a half a billion-dollar increase to NASA for space exploration. But that is not the only sector which is seeing increase in interest. As many of these films showcase augmented reality and 3d visual effects which push the limits, there has been an increase in the study of visual effects and in actual augmented reality devices. In terms of actually increasing an interest in individuals to explore space, I think that the data is sufficient to say that such is the case. According to NASA 18,300 applicants have applied this year. This is an impressive number, not just because of the thousands who applied, but to the fact that NASA officially stopped giving the roll call for applications in 2012. This means that people are being self-motivated to go and explore.
So is our sci-fi projections of space and our creation of aliens, superheroes, and planets far far away such a bad thing? If it sparks innovation, if it pushes us to excel, if it forces us to think beyond the confines of our own existence, and if it makes us yearn to explain the unexplainable, I would say not.