Originally created 05/04/02

'Spider-Man' may give youth mixed message



The Amazing Spider-Man will match his web-slinging heroics against the Green Goblin in movie theaters this weekend.

Fans can be confident Spidey will vanquish his foe decisively, if not finally. In comic books, at least, villains tend to come back to fight another day. But can the superhero inspire moviegoers to still seek the high road after the popcorn's gone?

Perhaps and perhaps not.

In the 25 years since he read Spider-Man comic books, Hanson Carter remembers more about Peter Parker - Spider-Man's true identity - than the superhero, said the Rev. Carter, pastor of The Downtown Vineyard.

Parker, an orphaned teen-ager with an inept social life, "was kind of, in some ways, a nerd trying to be cool. I could kind of identify with that," he said. "There's a time when we go through that process where we feel unattractive, and you want to feel attractive and useful."

Parker goes through dramatic life changes after a radioactive spider bites him. The bite imparts uncanny spider-like abilities to him, which he uses to fight evil while tossing off one-liners.

Despite the lack of stability in Parker's life, "he managed to do OK," said the Rev. Carter. "It was a process with him."

But comic books today seem geared more to collectors and adult audiences than young people, he said. "Before, when I read Spider-Man it was Peter Parker. Now it is a little bit darker than it used to be."

Prospects of a screen version of Spider-Man excited younger rather than teen-age members at his church, said the Rev. John Bartlett, youth pastor at Miracle Baptist Church in Hephzibah.

"It is a classic good vs. evil story" where the hero beats up the bad guys and gets the pretty girl, he said. "It's an underdog story. (Young people) like that. It is entertaining, but also completely fictional and a fantasy."

Though he intends to see the movie, he thinks young people tend to base too much on fantasy, he said. "I want kids to make God their hero and Christian leaders their heroes and not so much these fantasy characters."

Youth is a time when people struggle with images of good vs. evil, the bullies of the world, said Roy McVeigh, youth pastor at Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church.

Stories that show the good guy always winning, such as in Spider-Man or the Lone Ranger, are fantasies that "may take (youth) out of the reality of what life is about," he said. "We don't always win."

As Christians, their faith should be in God - ultimately they do win - but in life, "you have to adjust as you go," something fantasies do not teach, he said.

In one way, Spider-Man's abilities were given as a gift and that is part of the imagery, he said. "There are gifts hidden within us. They blossom, and we can use them for good."

But when young people base self-esteem on fantasy - imagining themselves always hitting the winning home run - he would challenge them to develop their relationship with God and look for their hidden talents, he said.

Instead of an emotional charge, young people would get fulfillment "deep down," he said. "That is where the fads wear quickly. They are here today and gone the next."

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.