Superheroes as guerrilla theater 


The next powerful political movement at the University of Connecticut is not the left, nor the right, but people dressed as superheroes. This is because they use performance art to deal with the real problems we deal with in a way traditional politics has failed to. I first realized this on “Sin Awareness Day,” when fundamentalist Christians attempted to warn students away from what they viewed as sin. The UConn Joker believes that “Unfortunately there is no clean or ethical way to eliminate bad speech, so what we need to do is simply counter it and defend against it with good speech, with acceptance, with positivity.” By demonstrating this philosophy in an entertaining way, he and the other superheroes drew more positive attention to libertarian principles in a day than the traditional libertarian movement, which I was part of, did in years. 

The movement is also helping with people’s mental health. UConn Spider-Gwen told me about how putting on the suit helped her with social anxiety by providing anonymity, and also positive interactions. This is also a growing movement, as UConn Batman said he’s making more costumes for people. It also taps into a long history of street performance such as that by the Youth International Party, also known as Yippies. For instance, Abbie Hoffman held a mock exorcism at the Pentagon and pretended to try to levitate it, while the “exorcists” wore costumes and witch hats and used noisemakers. The tactics even remind me of guerilla theater like the San Francisco Mime Troupe performed, only impromptu and the other side didn’t know they were playing a role. 

The most recent influence I see, however, is online trolling, specifically trolling that is found on the UConn Reddit page. A troll known as BaristaMan88 started a campaign about urinating in barrels that started three years ago and concluded a month ago. The posts themselves are funny, but what makes the bit really work are the reactions. The exchange with notUCPD, an account parodying the campus police, is where the trolls on r/UConn started to interact with each other and it got interesting. 

All this has been done before, but what really makes the UConn superheroes unique is their use of pop culture characters to subvert expectations. It reminds me of what Adbusters did with subverting advertisements and is an effective way to reach a generation raised on the Marvel and DC franchises. The performances break through the psyches of the type of people parodied in the “consoom product” meme, but in a positive way by showing the product can have other uses than consumerism. The mythos of the Marvel and DC universes can even be experienced rather than merely watched, even if without the fantasy elements, and we go from watching superheroes to becoming them. 

This movement of positivity isn’t even confined to the students. Arguably the most well-known character at UConn is Luis Diaz, also known as Soop Doop. While he may not dress in a weird costume or do wild performances, his shout of Soop Doop makes people happy. It also ties in well to the more theatrical guerrilla art at UConn by making a feeling that one is free to do what they want positively.  

This culture of free art is why I like UConn, and it should be promoted more to prospective students alongside the more formal aspects of student life, that way UConn can become an even better college for the alternative art scene. Paul Graham wrote an article about why nerds are unpopular in high school, but the things he said resonate with me now more in college than they did in the free-thinking charter school I graduated from. The pressures on the modern college to graduate students, along with the increased scrutiny by parents due to students not being able to afford the grossly overpriced tuitions, led to colleges becoming subject to the same dynamics as high schools in Graham’s era. Already, parents are tracking their adult offspring using location apps, as decried by a former university dean of students. Along with the peer bullying that occurs in fraternities and sororities, as most are aware, but also in the heavily linked gossip networks that form based on clubs and in dorms, and are accelerated and made all-encompassing by the internet and group chats. By creating a spectacle, one creates a brief escape from this social panopticon and by promoting this to prospective students, one creates a critical mass that is looking for the experience of freedom rather than petty drama.  

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