Henderson professor to talk heroes, superheroes at ASMSA lecture

3 years ago

Henderson State University psychology professor Dr. Travis Langley believes comic book superheroes have the ability to teach us about heroes in real life.

Langley will share some of his knowledge about the subject at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts Science and Café Lecture on Thursday. He is the featured speaker at the event, which will be held at 7 p.m. at Kollective Coffee and Tea, 110 Central Ave. He will speak on “Psychology and Superheroes,” including how superheroes are good stand-ins for the study of what makes real-life heroes.

His lecture will focus on several particular superheroes such as Iron Man, Captain America and Batman. He called them some of the most down-to-earth superheroes because they don’t have superpowers. They have very human qualities that make them more relatable to real-life individuals, he said.

While I use these fictional characters to talk about real life, sometimes it will offend people,” he said. “They’ll say why don’t we talk about real heroes. Well real-life heroes, while we need to look at them, we don’t know what goes on inside their heads. It might not be fair to speculate what disorder might that hero have. We’re talking about a living human being, or even if they’re not still living, they have other people that are in their lives.

“With a fictional character, we can speculate on these things that isn’t fair to speculate on with a real person. We know things about (superheroes’) lives that we don’t know (about real people). When I’m teaching or talking in public, I’m talking to audience members who know these fictional characters and already know things about them they wouldn’t about real-life individuals or, even if they don’t know them well, they’re open to the thought of using those as ways of talking about real heroism.”

He used Batman’s origin story as an example. In the real world, we know that there are children who have witnessed their parents’ deaths, Langley said. That’s an unpleasant topic to speak about, he said. However, with Batman, who witnesses his parents shot to death in an alley, students and audiences can pull from what they know about real-life experiences to talk about Batman.

“That filter of fiction helps make it OK to think about and talk about and even have some fun instead of being so uncomfortable that they miss the point of what I’m talking about,” he said.

Langley has written and edited several books on superheroes, comic books and other topics. His first book, “Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight,” focused on the character created in 1939 by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Since then, he has edited books about the psychology of “The Walking Dead” and “Star Wars.” Three more books he has edited or co-written about superheroes are slated for publication in 2016, including one on “Game of Thrones” and “Star Trek.” The third is “Captain America vs. Iron Man: Freedom, Security, Psychology” and will feature a foreword by Stan Lee, the characters’ creator.

Batman is Langley’s favorite subject to examine, he said. The Dark Knight offers many obvious topics that can be studied. That is part of what has made Batman a popular figure for so many years, Langley said.

“There are reasons why that character has been so popular, stayed popular since 1939,” Langley said. “Within that first year or so they captured the things that have made this character last for 76 years. There was a depth there very quickly. He was immediately distinguished from other characters.

“Batman is a superhero because of his psychology. Spider-Man and Superman — they’re heroes because of their psychology but they’re super for other reasons. If you create a new villain to fight them, you have to start with what challenges their powers.

“With Batman, he is a superhero because of his psychology,” Langley said. “He decided, ‘I shall become a bat. I shall become an urban legend.’ And since he is a superhero because of his psychology, his enemies are defined by their psychology as well. So he gets this really rich rogues gallery that I can talk about.

“And they are a well-known rogues gallery, so I don’t have to explain like I would if I were talking about the many enemies of Daredevil. Because of a movie and TV show, people know Kingpin and Bullseye, but after that, the public doesn’t know Daredevil’s enemies. With Batman, you don’t have to be a comic book fan to know who the Joker is.”

Langley has been a professor at Henderson since 1994. It wasn’t until 2007, however, that he decided to begin using Batman and other superheroes as topics for studying psychology. While teaching a psychology in literature class, he used Batman as an example for a character study he wanted his students to do for a paper.

“I was using Batman to show them how to do these assignments to talk about real psychology. At the time, I read a book by Danny Fingeroth, ‘Superman on the Couch,’ talking about how we feel about culture and what superheroes had to say about real life,” he said.

It was also the year he went to the San Diego Comic-Con for the first time where he saw similar discussions being held, both by fans in the main conference and scholarly presentations in the Comic Arts Conference, a mini-conference of the main Comic-Con.

“I saw all these people looking happy and energized by this environment that celebrated these interests that might make them feel ostracized somewhere else. I knew I needed to be part of this. I needed to write a journal article about Batman,” he said. He had so many thoughts about Batman, however, that he decided instead to publish a book, which became his first book.

Langley’s Science and Café Lecture event is free and open to the public.

To learn more about Langley, visit http://www.travislangley.info/. For more information about ASMSA’s Science and Arts Café Lecture series, visit http://asmsa.org/outreach/science-and-arts-café.

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