Thursday, December 15, 2011

Culture Shock 12.15.11: Superheroes are real, and they look like us

Phoenix Jones is a superhero, or a reasonable facsimile.

For the past year, he has patrolled the neighborhoods of Seattle, stopping fights, changing tires and staring down drug dealers.

Despite incidents that have landed him in the emergency room, he has, amazingly, avoided a trip to the morgue.

Even more amazing, Phoenix Jones isn't alone.

According to journalist Jon Ronson, Phoenix Jones is one of about 200 self-styled, costumed superheroes operating from the Pacific Northwest to Florida.

None, however, embraces the calling as thoroughly as Phoenix Jones.

Ronson explores their comic-book-come-to-life world in his new e-book, "The Amazing Adventures of Phoenix Jones: And the Less Amazing Adventures of Some Other Real-Life Superheroes."

Phoenix Jones doesn't have any super powers. He hasn't been bitten by a radioactive spider or survived a gamma-bomb explosion.

He isn't a billionaire with a cave full of high-tech equipment, which makes you wonder why billionaire do-gooders such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are such slackers. He isn't even a strange visitor from another planet, although that seems almost plausible compared to the truth.

Phoenix Jones does, however, have an origin story of sorts.

After someone broke into his car and his stepson cut his knee on the shattered glass, the man who would become Phoenix Jones took the mask the robber left behind and made it part of a costume.

"They use the mask to conceal their identity," Phoenix Jones tells Ronson. "I use the mask to become an identity."

That's how superheroes talk.

Ronson is no stranger to true stories that are nearly impossible to believe. He also is the author of "The Men Who Stare at Goats," the true story of the U.S. military's forays into spending your tax dollars on paranormal research. (That book was turned into a disappointing movie starring George Clooney and Ewan McGregor.)

As advertised, Phoenix Jones' adventures are amazing — and baffling.

In his spare time, he is a mixed martial arts fighter, and until recently his civilian alter ego worked at a home for autistic children. But he lost that job after he was arrested for using pepper spray to break up a fight.

He was never charged, but now the world knows his secret identity: Benjamin Fodor.

Most of the time, Fodor seems to be acting purely to help others. Then he does something that makes you wonder, such as stopping to have his photograph taken with a fan while letting a suspect get away.

You wonder if maybe being a masked "superhero" isn't a kind of narcissism for the terminally shy.

"When I wear this I don't have to react to you in any way," says another costumed vigilante, Urban Avenger. "Nobody knows what I'm thinking for feeling. ... Sometimes I wish I never had to take the mask off."

In New York, Ronson encounters a group of "heroes" who seem anything but.

"These men just seemed menacing," he writes, "with no fun to them. I don't want my superheroes to be bullies."

Whatever his faults, Phoenix Jones is no bully, but he is imposing.

After watching Phoenix Jones intimidate — by sheer willpower — armed drug dealers into leaving a neighborhood, Ronson becomes a fan.

Whether he is really a superhero or just an arrested adolescent who has let his love of comic books go too far, it's hard not to be a fan of Phoenix Jones.

No comments:

Post a Comment