Misfits: Superheroes For The Slacker Generation
It’s a story as old as time — well, at least as old as the 1930s: boy (or girl, let’s be all-inclusive here) is an outcast among his/her classmates. Nerdy, unpopular, whatever. Boy/girl is involved in some remarkably implausible accident involving radiation, or chemicals, or something just scientific enough to be convincing without making someone curious enough to actually think about it. The chemicals/radiation mutate the boy/girl in some way, causing them to develop strange, supernatural powers, which are conveniently always useful in combat situations.
And voila, a superhero(ine) is born.
But what does a superhero do with those powers? The answer (at least prior to the advent of postmodernism, when everything got a bit murky) is fight evil. You know, bank robbers, rapists, Nazis. In other words, the kind of people who could be found wearing ski masks in the middle of a summer day in downtown Manhattan. With a preliminary “Swoosh” and a couple of “Whiz,” “Bang” “Pow”s, said superhero(ines) would keep the forces of evil at bay and fly off to the sounds of a cheering crowd.
And that’s all well and good. That is, assuming that fighting evil would really be a young twenty-something’s response to taking on some strange new powers. But (and here’s getting back to that whole postmodernism bit) is that what would really happen? I mean, really?
The answer, at least according to the show Misfits is an unequivocal “No.” In this program from across the pond, five young people doing community service are involved in a strange lightning storm (just scientific enough, eh?) and develop superpowers. Obviously. You have your run-of-the-mill variety: telepathy, immortality, invisibility, time-travel; and then your oddball: the power to become uncontrollably sexually attractive to anyone who touches you. Notice how there’s not a snappy, one-word name for that one. That’s because it hasn’t been done before.
But aside from clever new superpowers, the really fascinating thing about Misfitsis what the characters do with their new powers:
Pretty much what they were already doing without them.
That isn’t to say they don’t use them; they do. Mostly to kill their probation workers, a grisly necessity that becomes a running gag. But what is perhaps most notable is what they don’t do with their powers: fight evil.
The show even points to the fact over and over again. Early one or another of the characters bring up what they could be doing with the powers, like taking on the bad guys and stuff. But the suggestion is always half-hearted, and is quickly shot down as being ridiculous. Which, as the show points out, it really is.
There might be some 22-year-old out there right now who, if given a superpower, would jump out the nearest window and start pummeling some shady characters. But I, as a 22-year-old and therefore an expert on the subject, would not. And I would be willing to bet that most people my age (or any age for that matter) wouldn’t either.
What would we really do with them? Misfits’ answer is that we would just try to stay as normal as possible. The characters on the show never seek out conflict; it always comes to them. The pilot episode offers a good example. In it, another character has been affected adversely by aforementioned mysterious storm, and the Misfits have to use their powers to stop his violent rampage. But what is key is the different motivation. They don’t do it to fight the forces of darkness or to protect the innocent, they do it to protect their own asses. In almost every conflict with a “bad guy” the characters either run away or try to ignore the problem before they lift a finger to stop it.
And I totally get it.
I relate to the characters on Misfits more closely than I ever have to Clark Kent or Peter Parker. The do-gooder attitude of past generations’ superheroes has lost its sheen. Most young people today would rather run down pedestrians in GTA than fight crime, and Misfits captures that attitude through every one of its characters. They aren’t trying to save the world; they are just trying to keep everything as normal as it can be. Instead of seeking out justice, they are seeking out a point of stasis that always seems just beyond their reach. In this respect, their powers just seem to get in the way rather than do them any good.
The caped crusaders that leap across the pages of pulpy comics are objects of ridicule for the Misfits. The boyhood ideals of their fathers and grandfathers have lost their sheen, and they are left with the harsh reality of what it means to be different in an already confusing and alienating world. After all, who has time to save the planet when it’s difficult enough just to hold yourself together?