The Problem with Definitions

Phoenix Jones patrols the streets of Seattle

The problem I face with crafting a workable definition of a real life superhero is that in order for the definition to be successful it must clearly identify and explain a very complex  movement of people in the most simplest of terms possible. This difficultly is only compounded by the fact that the movement’s own members still debate the nature of the movement.

Sure, the majority of the time identifying a real life superhero is very easy. If you see someone dressed as superhero while doing a good deed chances are they’re a real life superhero (RLSH). Take media darling, Phoenix Jones for example. This self-proclaimed RLSH patrols the streets of Seattle breaking up fights, harassing drug dealers, and stopping robberies all while dressed in a suit made from bulletproof material and stab plates. He is, without a doubt, a RLSH.

The problem with my definition becomes evident when examining individuals who don’t self-identify as a RLSH but otherwise fall within the definition’s parameters. Just look at Fray Tormenta, or “Friar Storm.” Fray Tormenta is a Mexican priest who supported an orphanage by being a luchador. Years of wrestling have taken a physical toll on the sixty something year old, who is now semi-retired from the sport. He did not wrestle for personal gain or notoriety but to support thousands of orphans. That’s right, thousands. Fray Tormenta claims to have had over two thousand children walk through doors of his orphanage.

Fray Tormenta: superhero, social wrestler, or just some guy in a costume?

His actions and sacrifices would be inspiring to any superhero, be they real or imagined. Not to mention that Fray Tormenta does wear a spandex suit that stands for something greater than himself (one of his children has even taken up the mantle as Fray Tormenta Jr.) but can we classify him as a RLSH?

This is where the definition begins to deteriorate. At first glance it looks like an open and shut case. However, Fray Tormenta isn’t emulating the superhero genre, but rather lucha libre. Plus, we must consider Fray Tormenta’s own words: “I don’t believe in Super Heroes. I believe in social responsibility. I’m no hero, I only do what God put me here to do.” If he doesn’t identify as a RLSH would it be appropriate to label him as such? Or maybe we should simply dismiss his words as modesty?

Fray Tormenta is just one of many costumed do-gooders my definition fails to address. Ultimately, I stand by my definition and dismiss outliers as an error in the model. I would prefer to address cases like Fray Tormenta as they come rather then to mire down my definition with an endless number of footnotes and qualifiers. To do so would essentially render it useless.

As for Fray Tormenta, I still consider him to be part of the RLSH movement. I just also consider him to be part of the movement of social wrestlers: a movement that I will discuss next time. But for now I want to hear what you think. Do you think that my definition should be allotted as much flexibility as I’ve allowed, or has my definition failed to adequately define the movement?

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2 Responses to “The Problem with Definitions”


  1. 1 nojobyesmoney September 6, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    The problem is a bit contrived. A traditional super hero may do good deeds, but anyone can do so. Those who fight crime anonymously, without spotlight or praise, and do so without profit motive and at risk to their own life and limb are the masked vigilantes that are at the heart of this movement. Indeed, whether placing yourself on the line to prevent crime through deterrence, through intervention, or by solving criminal cases in front of a “Bat Computer”, you are engaged in bettering society.

    All the costumed donor marathons, masked can food drives, caped hospital visits, and other charity works in the world are great gifts of one’s time and efforts that can be done in masked or out. The masked crime fighter adheres to a code of conduct intended to protect society from its worst elements at potential cost of his or her own life. Willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice without personal gain. Willingness to lay down one’s own life so that another mother comes home to her child, another boy to his dog, another sister to her siblings. What more definition do you need?

    • 2 Daniel Amrhein September 12, 2011 at 7:12 pm

      I don’t disagree with you that this can be a very noble thing to do. Furthermore, I do not seek to take anything away from these individuals by defining them. However, this is an academic discussion of the movement and I can’t discus something if I can’t adequately define it.


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