On Weston, Vigilantism, and Real Life Superheroes

An impressive amount of people read the last blog post on Dr. Lawson’s study on metaphysics. Literally thousands of you. This is most likely to do with the fact that the man himself made a tweet about it. Actually, I’m still a little flustered and embarrassed, but also strangely proud that he saw it. So, I’m blown away. And today I promised to tell you about Dr. Gavin Weston’s talk on Vigilantism.

Well, actually I promised a post yesterday. But shh.

Dr. Weston is a lecturer of Anthropology at Goldsmiths’ University in London. Last Sunday, he gave a talk entitled ‘Vigilante Archetypes and Real Life Superheroes’ at Newcastle University.

So, what is required to be a vigilante? Is it a disregard for the law and a high level of violence?

Not according to Dr. Abrahams. In 1998, Abrahams released a thesis which detailed the three key elements for a vigilante: a dissatisfaction with justice, awareness of other vigilantes, and a pre-existing social template for such behaviour. Weston argues that it is the media who birthed the concept of vigilantism, and he provided this example:

1915 saw the rebirth of the KKK, who had last been heard in the late 1800’s. At the time, a movie now heralded as a great piece of American cinema had just been released. It was called ‘Birth of a Nation‘, and it was seen by many as a carrion call to take justice back in to their own hands when the state had failed them. Also at the time was the national story of the murder of Mary Phagan, and the trial of Leo Frank. Rather than the usual execution, Frank was given a life sentence. It was a mob who dragged him from his prison cell and lynched him.

Two very different example of the media both glorified the message of justice by our own hands. It is a message which is still heard, even today. Dr. Weston spent much time in Guatemala, investigating a series of lynchings, one of much made global news when an innocent Japanese tourist was lynched.

Media is a villain we hear of often, and its ever-changing face means new forms of vigilantism are on the rise. Most recently with the Steubenville Rape Case is the rise of cyber-vigilantism. Anonymous, an online group which crusades in the name of justice, leaked evidence and threatened to release personal information when the case was being handled wrong in their eyes, and especially when the 16-year-old victim was told she was to blame for her own rape and for ruining the lives of her rapists. Though Anonymous stand by their claim they are doing good, they are still vigilantes through the Abrahams criteria.

In comic books, heroes like Batman and Spiderman are considered vigilantes. They are dissatisfied with the justice system of their worlds, which lets the people who murdered their family walk free. There is a pre-existing template, as DC and Marvel’s universes do extend to other superheroes having an awareness of each other. The archetype of the vigilante as a superhero is once more glorified in the media, but it is shown in a more morally complex light. Where would this Modern Age Batman be without his strict no killing code? It is these heroes that are emulated in this life.

One of the most famous examples is Phoenix Jones, a masked hero from the streets of Seattle who was the first to garner media attention. Phoenix Jones has actively impacted the crime rates of his city, and is considered a heroic vigilante. He not only fights crime, but actively partakes in charity work, all the while concealed by his costume. However Dr. Weston argues that these heroes aren’t vigilantes at all. They operate completely within the law, sometimes to ludicrous extents to ensure they are in the right. The police are always in control over what Phoenix Jones and his team do, and this is because as a society, we are reasonably satisfied with our justice system.

Superheroes are not solely an American invention. I’m British, and in Stockport we have the Night Warrior. Tokyo has the Good Deed Ranger (as the Power Rangers are their home-grown superheroes). Weston argues that these real life heroes aren’t vigilantes, and I’m inclined to agree with him.

What do you think? Are the real life heroes vigilantes? Does the media saturate the belief that justice is better in our own hands? Let me know in the comments.


About Stephanie Gallon

I'm 22 years old with first class honours in BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing. I'm currently studying MA English Studies. I'm an author, a blogger, and a zealot of all things written. I write on everything from comics, to feminism, to advice on university life.
This entry was posted in General, Lectures and Seminars and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to On Weston, Vigilantism, and Real Life Superheroes

  1. Josh Bury says:

    Something I see often in the media (here in Canada) is the criticism of plea bargains. I mean, a plea bargain has a lot of upsides for all parties involved, but as a citizen unconnected to the event, it is easy to believe that the accused “got off easy” or “with a slap on the wrist” when they get a reduced sentence. I think this does cause some outcry about justice not being done. Generally though, I agree that most wealthy societies are reasonably satisfied with justice.

    On the other hand, vigilantism does receive a fair bit of glorification, at least in North America. I’d argue that it is especially potent south of the border, due to their differing opinions on firearms.


    • In England, we have a similar media relationship when it comes to light sentences. It’s particularly apparent in cases of child abuse or neglect. As a whole though, the mob mentality of vigilante justice never comes to fruition. It’s most prevalent in cyber-vigilantism. Sites where one can check your neighbourhood for criminals, or list private information of members of questionable political parties. But in wealthy countries, we do have the right to a trial, and are held innocent until proven guilty.


  2. Pingback: What makes a vigilante? | DIY Superhero

  3. Pingback: Aspiration and Might: An Anniversary Special | Aspiration and Might

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s