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Kings, mobsters, celebrities and superheroes
Kings, mobsters, celebrities and superheroes. What have all these got in common? Certainly, many of us will admire them, either openly or perhaps secretly. However, the critical commonality is unconstrained power, the ability to act outside rules that govern us, the wherewithal to choose without concern for consequence.
Kings have, through history, held absolute power. To become and stay king in troublesome times meant they had to use that power too, sometimes cruelly and supported by a sycophantic, corrupt elite. Mobsters are not far from this model, ascending by violence then ruling by fear and whim. It is the primitive force which creates hierarchies that both pollutes and holds societies together. It is only recently, historically speaking, that at least some of the world has found more sociable means of living together.
Celebrities are a modern phenomenon where fame and pseudo-royalty offers a showcase of fake perfection. Yet this illusion can again seem too real and the sense of invulnerability can lead them to suicidal disdain for their fans and forays beyond the law into financial arrogance and the spiral of narcotics.
A trap for the ultra-powerful is opulent elitism, where they create a cocoon of extreme luxury. This makes them soft and disliked and opens the way for invasion, coups or revolution as the tides of empires wax and wane. Even celebrities rise and fall in tabloid kingmaker games where they are pumped up and knocked down, perhaps reflecting our dual fascination and revulsion with high position and unbound autonomy. This vision of the mighty falling gives us pleasure, hope and teaches us lessons as our banana-skin schadenfreude joy reminds us that we are ultimately all alike and pride goes before the fall.
Superheroes may seem to be another class altogether, yet they, too, break laws, often violently. This group represents a human ideal, a cartoon abstraction of the all-powerful person whose morals are beyond reproach and whose transgression is purely for good. They are the vigilantes we secretly want to be, relentlessly bringing down those who would hurt us. Even more secretly, we know that if we had those super-human powers we would become corrupt kings and vain celebrities. Philosophical cartoon authors know this as they show the heroes' inner struggles and the fallen supervillains who balance super-powers in titanic battles.
Yet reality is not a comic, though fiction often reflects our constant tilting at wish-fulfilment. Each of us struggles with power, fighting it, gaining it and holding its exhilarating, terrifying reins. Few of us gain power over many, though we all have the potential for atrocities. For most of us our struggles are local and internal, though each choice we make is an act of power that together define our lives.
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