Kick-Ass: A Response to the Bystander Effect

Originally posted: http://cchronicle.com/2010/04/kick-ass-a-response-to-the-bystander-effect/
By Cilien Hanna
Kick-Ass, a movie currently in theaters directed by Matthew Vaughn, speaks of teenager David Lizewski, played by Aaron Johnson, who becomes weary of the passive response to the crimes he sees around him.  His reaction is to order a green, skin-tight leotard, complete with mask, and become a crime-fighting superhero.  In the ensuing adventures, which are clearly over his head, he makes some friends, saves some people, and even develops an arch enemy, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse.  David wonders in the film why, with all the comic books out there, no one has tried this before? But he’s wrong, there is actually a multitude of people, sans super powers, who have donned masks and capes, and stood guard over their respective cities.  In fact, there is even a superhero registry, if you can believe it.  There are some that work solo, and some that are part of larger guilds or societies, like the Black Monday Society who patrol the streets of Salt Lake City, Utah in groups, as reported by the Real Life Superhero Project.  But they are not just crime fighters.  There are some, like Terrifica, whose purpose is to watch over bars and clubs in New York City to ensure that women walking home under the influence are not taken advantage of.  According to the New York Post, some, as an added bonus to their crime fighting, even clean up graffiti, pick up trash, and hand out food to the homeless. Though all of these superheroes have costumes, not all include masks to hide their faces, and some proclaim their real names unconcernedly.  Except for a couple, most, unlike their comic book counterparts, do not have any stated arch enemies.
The film is not all adolescent fantasy angst, and does have a more grisly story line, provided mostly by the father daughter team of Damon and Mindy Macready, played by Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz.  This duo go on a gruesome vengeful killing spree that uses some more technologically advanced gadgets; more in line with what Batman would use.  This does contribute a more interesting twist to what would be, otherwise, a trite story line; but it isn’t enough to elevate the film above okay status.  Overall, it’s moderately entertaining, and deals with the superhero idea in a facetious manner that is more intelligent than most other movies.
It becomes clear in the film that there are a profusion of people who need help, more than one teenager can handle, especially if he has any sort of life.  But really, is this necessary?  Do we need masked strangers jumping from the shadows to taser hooligans and bullies?  It seems necessary because there is a rabid passiveness that has developed, especially in urban areas, that has allowed people to simply walk by as crimes are committed and conclude that it is none of their business; not even bothering to call 911.  This is usually referred to as the bystander effect, and there are several notorious examples of the phenomenon, like the rape of a high school girl last year which was marked by several onlookers who not only did not do anything, but actually filmed, some laughed, and others even participated, according to an article by ABC News.  In a crowded subway in Philadelphia one rider attacked a sleeping passenger with a hammer another.  Even when there is no immediate danger, people do not feel compelled to act.  An Associated Press article expounds how a homeless man was stabbed as he tried to help a woman being assaulted, and ended up dying on the sidewalk as people walked by and even took pictures.
The bystander theory states that the amount of help expect from a bystander is inversely proportional to the number of people there.  Meaning, the more onlookers there are, the less likely any of them will help.  There can be two reasons for this, as explained in a paper by Peter Prevos.  One is called diffusion of responsibility, and basically proposes that the more bystanders there are, the less responsible any one of them feels to help.  Bystanders believe that someone else will take care of it.  The other theory is explained by social norms.  When there is a group of people, their behavior is guided by the behavior of those around them.  So, in a crowd, everyone looks to everyone else as to what is the acceptable behavior standard . . . if no one else is helping, they’re not going to help.  The fact that good Samaritans can be sued after performing a good deed, as happened in California, doesn’t help excite the feelings of compassion in passersby.  Still, the responsibility of protecting neighborhoods shouldn’t rest solely on the shoulders of a few masked crusaders.  There should be an intrinsic level of responsibility to, at least, report crimes in progress, if they are afraid to act.  Some websites claim that just knowing about the bystander effect will make you less helpless to its effects.  Others, like Imagine Today, proclaim that, to break a crowds passiveness, you should shout out specific tasks to specific members.  People are more apt to respond to directions given directly to them.  You have now been armed with knowledge that should help you make your city safer.  And if that doesn’t work, you could always look-up your local superhero for assistance.
 

Tagged with: Aaron Johnson, Chloë Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, KICK-ASS, Matthew Vaughn, New York Post, Nicolas Cage, Real Life Superheroes, reallifesuperheroes.org, rlsh, Salt Lake City, terrifica, world superhero registry