Sometimes, the most unexpected things become a lifeline.
If you’re part of the film community, whether fan or professional, and have spent even five minutes on the internet lately, then you are aware that film critics and entertainment journalists have been under attack from a particular segment of fans hellbent on proving there’s some sort of deep-rooted conspiracy amongst critics to tank the box-office success of all comic book movies not directly a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s about ethics in comic book movie journalism. Apparently.
But amongst the tin foil hat parade, there is one refrain that keeps bubbling up and it’s that film critics and journalists aren’t real fans of the source material. I have found myself pondering the illogic of that sentiment often as of late: For starters, why would we willingly choose to remain in an industry that is now dominated by a genre we hate? Secondly, I’m not sure these fans understand that most of us grew up as the social outcasts, the smart kids, the nerds, the ones who were dreamers or a little bit weird. Hell, that’s why most of us escaped into things like movies and comic books, became writers in the first place, as Drew McWeeny so eloquently explained in his recent column.
I can’t speak for the rest of my colleagues – I’ll let them tell their own stories. But for me, my nerdiness started at a time before I even really knew what it was to be a nerd. I was a bookworm; the characters in the stories I read were more alive to me than anyone around me. I was the smart kid; while everyone else was struggling to finish their busy work, I had already completed it and had my nose stuck in another book. I was curious and a little shy, and more than a bit of a know-it-all, before I grew up and realized that “know-it-all” was pretty much synonymous with “insufferable asshole” and I didn’t want to be that person.
But of all the characters in my life that I have loved, there is one that stands above all. If you read my work with any regularity (or the title of this article), you already know who it is. Above Anne Shirley and the Pevensies, above Meg Murry and Charles Wallace, above Wonder Woman and Roland of Gilead, there is Spider-Man.
To understand why him, you have to understand this: Spider-Man probably, quite literally, saved my life.
It was strange, the first time I find myself in the middle of a depressive spell. In the winter of what was supposed to be my last year of college, I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I’d grown up exceptionally happy and well-adjusted, always the stable one who looked out for her friends. I had no real reason to be depressed; it wasn’t a scenario that had ever crossed my mind.
So when I found myself losing interest in the things I once loved, I thought maybe I was just growing up. When I found myself starting to skip class, I thought maybe I was just a little burned out. When I found my previously stellar grades starting to slip because of it, I thought maybe I was just lazy. When I found myself making excuses to my parents, I thought maybe I was just weak-willed. When I found myself in bed in the middle of the afternoon on day three of not leaving the house I shared with my sister and two other roommates, I realized I should probably, you know, start to care about it.
But it wasn’t until I found myself unable to even care about the fact I no longer cared that it occurred to me that maybe something quite serious was wrong. Still, I didn’t understand enough about mental illness at the time to put a name to it: depression. And as I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know where or how to start getting help. I couldn’t. I didn’t even realize help was available. I had always thought depression was being sad all the time, but I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t anything. I was numb.
Years later, I’d be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some dismiss it as being all in one’s head. Some call it the winter blues. But all anyone needs to know is that it’s currently classified as a subcategory for recurring major depressive disorder in the DSM-5 and it can wreck your life. It certainly did mine that year, and while I’ve learned coping mechanisms that have mitigated the effects, it’s still ever-present every winter. Now, I recognize it for what it is; I can counter it. But I had no understanding of what was happening to me, and no shields up that first year. I was vulnerable and raw, with no way of blocking the wave of…nothing that swept over me. I was slowly sinking, not waving, but drowning, and I couldn’t even find it in myself to care. And it damn near killed me.
I’m not sure how many months passed, but it was enough to make me wonder if I’d ever feel anything again, or if this is just what my life was now. Nothing but a long tunnel of gray. It was right around the time that I started to wonder if there were even any point to continuing on if it was just going to be like this, when thoughts of bottles of pills started casually flitting through my mind – and then a little less casually – that something saved me.
That something was Spider-Man.
A group of my friends and I went to see it, excited to watch our webhead in live action for the first time. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Forget X-Men. Forget Blade and Spawn. This was the movie that blew my mind, this was the story with which I fell in love, these were the characters I adored. I had always loved Spider-Man, had always identified with Peter Parker. But in Tobey Maguire’s portrayal, something finally clicked. As he swung around Manhattan as Spider-Man, I felt my heart lighten, just the tiniest bit. As he struggled to balance his unrequited love for Mary Jane with his feelings of duty and responsibility as Peter Parker, I related to him. I felt for him. I felt for him.
To someone who has never experienced depression, that seems such a small thing. But to a then-21-year-old girl who had been toying with the idea of ending it all as recently as that morning, feeling something, anything, even if it was for a fictional character, it was as if a bolt of lightning had come down from the heavens and moved mountains within my soul.
For the first time in over half a year, I started to feel like me again. I started to feel again, period. I started to think again. I found myself pondering the truth in Green Goblin’s words to Spider-Man when he says of the people of New York, “But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fail, fall, die trying. In spite of everything you’ve done for them, eventually they will hate you. Why bother?” And I found myself falling in love and identifying with Spider-Man all over again when he responded, “Because it’s right.”
In the end, it was that simplicity that saved me. Spider-Man has always had a complicated and tragic life, but at his core, he’s always been a very simple character: Do right. Own your responsibility. Be a hero. That’s it. No grand schemes, no layered machinations. Just…do good.
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Had the message been any more complicated, it would have been lost on me. It seems counterintuitive, considering my depression took the form of overwhelming apathy, but when carrying a thought for longer than a few minutes just seemed like too much work, the life line to which I clung had to be small and simple. It was all my tired mind could handle.
That was Spider-Man. Peter Parker, small and simple, just struggling to get by – like me. Spider-Man, small and simple, always trying to do what was right – like me. Small and simple was what I needed to hold onto, one step at a time, and small and simple saved me. And it was this small and simple first step I made as I watched Spider-Man for the first of many, many times that, eventually, allowed me to save myself.
Don’t ever tell me or my colleagues that we’re not fans, that we don’t understand. Our love of these properties, these stories, often runs far deeper than any reader could ever possibly know. Don’t ever tell me that we don’t care for these characters. And think twice before you dismiss critics as just not getting it. Because at a time when I couldn’t care about anything, least of all my own life, Spider-Man was the one thing to make me see the value in sticking around for maybe just one more day. And for that, I will forever be a fan.
Related Topics: Marvel