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Rooting for the underdog?

An acquaintance recently indulged me in one of my favourite pastimes — arguing over inconsequential matters using our respective employers email facilities. Nought out of the ordinary there you may say. And you’d be right, I imagine at least 60% of time spent on work email is not in the furtherance of an employer’s “global KPI indices” and “performance goals” ie making the suits richer. Rather it’s all very much about we the underpaid using our under-remunerated time for our own ends.

But I digress, the reason I care to mention this particular episode of nothingness is how it evolved — with the great help of an amazingly insightful lady friend — into an observation of mankind’s supposed sympathy with underdogs.

Some context — our Armageddon-averting chat was all about who between Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark (the alter egos of Batman and Iron Man for those who somewhere in the chase for promotions, suburban bliss and 2.4 kids misplaced their inner child) was the more obnoxious spoilt brat. Or simply, who’s the bigger twat?

We gave our reasons for why the one evil was lesser than the other and argued pretty much for an entire morning about it. For the record, I think Bruce Wayne is the bigger “naai” to quote a pet name bestowed upon my know-it-all drunken alter ego by a Cape coloured friend of mine who may (not) be called Stevland. Why, I hear you (so not) asking? Well, when Tony Stark feels like being brilliant he goes into his basement and creates awesomeness that can be used to save the world and amuse the geek inside him. Witness that awe-inspiring missile he creates in the first Iron Man movie and indeed his Iron Man alter ego. Bruce (the Oz reference name in itself is off-putting enough) Wayne on the other hand goes and steals the entire female cast of a major theatrical revue and plonks them on a booze-fuelled cruise in the middle of nowhere. Brilliant? Yes. Obnoxiously selfish? Absolutely. Plus, if Christian Bale and Robert Downey Jr threw concurrent bashes at opposite ends of town, you KNOW where I’d be.

How this led to a discussion on how society really views underdogs though is when I, in a desperate attempt to steer the conversation from a direction that led only to a humbling defeat for me, introduced Superman into the debate (yes this was not necessarily the most mature discourse for young, professional Black Diamonds/Start-me ups whatever clever marketing types are calling us today, to be indulging in, but hey I like my comics me).

See Superman is an enigma. One, he is (physically at least) invincible. The man is like JZ in (or even out of) court, he can’t be beat. Two, he is morally upright to the point of ridiculousness. Three, he isn’t even human, so throwing him into the debate about the moral weaknesses of humans is always just not fair. And that’s why his franchise has always suffered amongst true comic-book fundis, he is just unreal and you cannot relate to him.

Among true comic-book fanboys, the Batmans and Spidermans etc all get the plaudits and the love because they are humans like us who put themselves out there every day defending us from assorted evils while still trying to live a semblance of a normal life with love, drama, joy, hope and satisfaction. Superman — the little dalliance with Lois Lane aside — is detached from all this and derided as a true hero because he has an unfair advantage. He was born awesome, therefore he has achieved nothing.

Yet if you had to ask people to choose a hero to save them, everyone would go for Superman nine times out of ten, at least. Why? Is our affection for the underdog really that superficial? Is it just a detached superficial fondness no different to that of watching a pigeon repeatedly bang itself against a glass window? Like you admire the spirit and fight but you aren’t about to nail their flag to your mast?

For all our supposed love of the underdog look no further than any chapter in history for how mankind stands by and watches while they get crushed by a greater force. Don’t get me wrong, I am not criticising. I totally understand, at the end of the day the big boys represent a far better chance of progress for mankind than the underdogs. Hell, that’s why they grow to be big dogs, it is all for the greater good like that.

Underdog stories sell, but big dog victories keep the human race going forward. It’s how nature works. That’s why we like to keep them at a minimum. A dominant Barcelona/ManUre makes more money for the suits than a succession of plucky Hull Citys upsetting the apple-cart every year. Having global superpowers can be a curse (hey Dubya!) but nobody wants a world without a major deterrent for the forces of chaos. And often we’ll overlook double standards from our leaders if it keeps everything churning along normally. Look at how the whole First World conspired to unnecessarily kick a defeated Germany in the nuts post WWI, then when Hitler used the underdog analogy to galvanise Germany to a force to be reckoned with, did the Allies do the right thing and stop him in his tracks? No, Chamberlain et al went the appeasement route despite increasing evidence that stronger action was needed. Hitler knocked over Austria and they kept mum, he made Jews wear the Star of David and hardly any major voice spoke out. It’s only when he started posing an immediate danger to the status quo that the world took action against him.

Or even in contemporary terms, nobody would claim to support the (alleged) use of sweatshops and displacement of marginalised societies, but how often do we take care to verify where our sneakers, footballs, chocolates, fuel and clothing come from? Hell, when busty blonde Svetlana is making your head spin at your chosen flesh-ogling spot, the very Balkan troubles that contributed to her providing your evening’s entertainment bother you not a jot. For the record, I imagine I’d be similarly unmoved by Putin’s imperialist ambitions too if I had mammaries in my face, and YES, I am volunteering for such an experiment.

Despite this though, didn’t we all feel just a little bit sorry for Georgia when they realised they’d picked the wrong fight last year? Yet not sorry enough and not just because they’d started it. Why? Because deep down we all know that the underdog represents the exception to the norm, the norm being the facilitator of the greater good, the averaging out of our common interest, with the big dogs getting a larger slice of the pie — as nature would have it. And that is a truth we should all come to terms with.

Batman may well be a more interesting hero than Superman, but we all know who we’d want our lives to be dependent on, and he doesn’t model himself after obscure cave-dwelling mammals.

ps. If you missed it earlier, Bruce Wayne is a twunt. Tony for Pres!