a lightning-fast run down memory lane
The only TV series I’m trying hard to keep up with right now is “The Flash.” For every other show I watch, I can wait until I have enough time for a binge, but I want to watch “The Flash” as it airs on the CW. There’s just something about it. When I watch it, I feel like I’m watching a comic book that has come to life.
It’s a superhero story, and the premise matches what one expects from the genre. The main character, Barry Allen, faces childhood tragedy when his mother is killed, and his father, wrongly framed for the murder, is sent to jail. With his parents gone, Barry is taken in by Detective Joe West and his daughter Iris, who become his foster family. Many years later, Barry obtains the power of super speed after being injured in a city-wide disaster, the result of a major piece of technology at S.T.A.R. Labs malfunctioning. With help from his new friends at S.T.A.R. Labs, Caitlin and Cisco, and the support of Joe and Iris, Barry hones his new abilities and uses his powers to do good as the superhero The Flash.
It seems like typical superhero stuff, and to echo the opinion of several critics, the show does not shy away from its genre elements—it embraces them. It doesn’t try to ground its zany science-fiction elements in reality, and it doesn’t have the heavy psychological weight nor the gritty tone of recent pieces of superhero entertainment (some of which have been great, but some of which have been mediocre). The show is energetic, exciting, and happily over-the-top; illustrative examples include (spoiler alert) a huge telepathic gorilla being a supervillain and The Flash acquiring the ability to run so fast that he travels back in time.
When I watch the show, I feel like I’m watching a Saturday morning cartoon, the kind I used to watch when I was little. In fact, I loved everything superhero when I was younger. Maybe the show speaks to that part of me, the young Ameer who loved superheroes so much that he asked his mother to drive him 45 minutes just so he could get a copy of a Batman comic. Maybe the show speaks to the child who had such a wild imagination that he often pretended as if he had superpowers. I would often picture myself fighting bad guys in wild scenarios as the sidekick of a superhero I really liked. It was a nice way to step out of reality for a little while.
In some ways, my love of superheroes actually could’ve been a response to feelings of helplessness I had when I was little. I think many of us get our first lessons in powerlessness, in impossibility, when we are young. Something happens, and we realize that there is nothing we can do to change what has occurred. This could be the death of a loved one or a terrible accident—something that we wish we could do something about, but sadly cannot.
When we are little, we also first encounter forces that we can’t overcome because of how young we are. The people around us might push us to conform to certain ways of acting that go against who we are. Or adults in our lives might, instead of caring for us, take advantage of their power over us to hurt us. Growing up also introduces us to our own personal limitations, like struggles in academics or difficulties in physical activities.
As a child, I felt powerless for several reasons, some apparent at the time, some revealed thanks to the knowledge and awareness I possess in the present. Maybe the young Ameer imagined swinging between skyscrapers with Spider-Man as a way to cope with feeling helpless.
But unlike the limitations that all humans share, the other barriers we face when we are younger can be overcome; we just might not realize this at the time. We might confuse circumstances that we cannot alter with those that we’ll be able to actually change one day. When we’re little, it might be hard for us to imagine that we will grow older and get stronger, that we will be able to resist the people around us when they pressure us to act in ways that conflict with what we want to do. When we are very young, it might be hard to see that the adults in our lives will have less power to affect us in the future, and that we can overcome personal limitations through hard work
I think superhero fiction speaks to a yearning inside the child, a desire to stop feeling helpless and instead change the way things are. If Superman can stop a runaway train, then maybe you can stand up to the jerks in your life.
I wish a show like “The Flash” were around when I was younger. So many of its characters have faced great hardship and tragedies in their lives, but the good guys don’t let their pasts prevent them from doing what is right. Barry does not let his past stop him from being optimistic, hopeful, and in constant pursuit of his objectives: improving his abilities and being the best hero he can be for his city. The characters without powers also devote themselves to noble goals, such as striving for justice and developing helpful pieces of technology. Like Barry, the characters without powers are heroes.
Maybe, with “The Flash,” the young Ameer might’ve realized that he didn’t need powers to make a difference. Maybe I would’ve felt less helpless, maybe I would’ve had the same optimism, hope, and confidence in my own abilities then as I do now.
So I keep watching the series not just for nostalgia, not merely for the superheroics. I watch because of its portrayal of good people, who have suffered, who have felt pain, who nevertheless strive to do good.