Ideally, everyone wants to be the superhero, Wiseman said. But superheroes and leaders have to “open their mouth and confront people,” which the majority of young people don’t want to do, Wiseman said.
So instead, the hero rises up and takes the head of the social structure, leaving sidekicks to follow. Young people will stay loyal to their leader, and will even take the blame for something the leader committed as a sign of loyalty, Wiseman said.
“The difference is that superheroes are supposed to be championing the underdog, people who can’t speak for themselves, who can’t use their power to degrade other people which is very different from a person on a social structure who are looking to humiliate people for fun,” Wiseman said.
Burrill said that becoming that sidekick, or even favoring a sidekick instead of a hero, won’t necessarily have bad effects. He said the quality of life of someone who believes himself or herself to be similar to a sidekick all depends on which sidekick or superhero they choose to believe in.
“It’s what kind of sidekick they’re willing to be,” he said, “or what kind of vice president or what kind of assistant professor.”
Believing in the side
So how do young people decide on a role model?
The Barna Group, which provides research for church, nonprofit organizations and businesses, released a study that showed that for 26 percent of those ages 13 to 18, a strong role model cared for others, acted polite and courageous, and was fun to be around. For 22 percent of teens, a good role model is someone who they can emulate, the study said. About 13 percent of teenagers wanted someone that showed they could carry out their own goals, and 9 percent of teenagers wanted someone that overcame adversity.
“Young people, like most other Americans, choose their role models because those people are achievers and because they help teenagers feel better about themselves,” the study said.
And it's sidekicks, Rhoden said, that fit that mold the best.
“In general, the sidekick is the younger audience member's POV, and they must learn the lessons that young people must learn: Look before you leap — stop, look and listen — that kind of thing,” he said.
Rhoden said following in the footsteps of a sidekick is a better and more realistic step to take in life.
“We all can't be born Superman or the Fonz or Sherlock Holmes,” he said. “But we all can be Jimmy Olsen, Richie Cunningham or Dr. Watson.”
Many young people will fall for the hero and try to become the main character, but when they grow up, they accept being more like a sidekick, Burrill said.
“The superhero really represents the desire, our desires, to be larger than we are,” Burrill said. “While you may not be able to be a superhero,” he said, “what’s important is that you’re consistent and you’re reliable and you’re steadfast.”
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