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Could You Be Living Next Door to a Real Life Superhero?

26/05/2016 13:30 | Updated 26 May 2016

Superhero's are hugely popular with people of all ages. They play a big part in many people's lives by entertaining us on the big screen and in comics. Some people are taking their love of superhero's even further however, by bringing them to life.

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All over the world people are being inspired by the likes of the X-Men, Superman, and Captain America. They are bridging the gap between fantasy and reality and creating extraordinary alter egos for themselves. Many create homemade outfits and don colourful masks and capes, but they are not simply cosplaying their favoursite characters. They are inventing their own superhero personas and patrolling the streets, fighting crime and taking part in social activism. These costumed adventurers call themselves real-life superhero's (RLSH).

A recent paper published by Emerald Group Publishing called '"Masked crusader": a case study of "crime-fighting" activities by a "real-life superhero" - from the Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice , explores the RLSH community and researches the motives and experiences of a self-proclaimed RLSH. It contains extracts from an interview conducted with a member of the community who describes what it is like to be a "masked crusader". He has all of the typical elements that you would expect from any superhero, like a gloomy back story, a secret identity, and what appears to be a strong sense of morality. Perhaps most importantly, he has a motivation to do good and help others, "The more I thought about it [becoming a RLSH] the more I wondered if it could be done? If I got killed saving someone else's life, so what?".

The study also argues that it is important to the RLSH community that they are not seen as vigilantes. Many endeavour to work within the law and believe that RLSH's help contribute to social cohesion through other means than crime fighting, such as volunteering and outreach programs, "RLSH's are commonly portrayed by the media as vigilantes, however it can be argued that synonymising RLSH activity with vigilantism is inaccurate and misleading because RLSH activity is not exclusively concerned with criminal acts and catching an offender".

As well as fighting crime, many RLSH's also act as "silent" volunteers and peacemakers. Helping the needy is also an important part of being a RLSH. For example, the RLSH in the Emerald study shares his particular concern with protecting the homeless, "I decided to guard them while they slept, but could not do so in a mask without frightening them, so I borrowed a technique from my boyhood hero, The Lone Ranger... I began to disguise myself as a homeless person. I wear the mask rolled up like a hat".

The RLSH movement has an active online presence, with people from all over the world meeting in RLSH forums to discuss their masked crusades and share tips on crime fighting. The forum covers an array of RLSH concerns, such as tips for beginners, information on hand-to-hand combat, and help with fitness and nutrition. As of May 2016, the forum had 1063 registered members, demonstrating that the movement is growing in popularity (and that's just the RLSH'S who keep in touch with each other).

Some of the antics that RLSH's get up to divide opinions. Their practices often get mixed reviews from the police, with certain US police jurisdictions being less than lukewarm about their involvement with criminal matters. In 2012, masked crime fighter "Phoenix Jones" was arrested for using pepper spray on a group of people he believed were fighting one another.

Many RLSH's are average people and hold down normal day jobs a-la-Peter Parker. This means that RLSH's come in all shapes and sizes. They could be a colleague, your neighbour, or perhaps even yourself.

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