I’ve seen this image or variations of it a few times, and I felt it was high time somebody addressed this inexcusable blasphemy once and for all. I’m sick and tired of these high-minded “rationalists” and their disdain for anything and everything sacred. Here is where I draw the line. I can excuse a lot of things: ignorance, arrogance, insensitivity, but the shameless assertion, thinly-veiled as an attack on religion, that Spider-Man does not exist—in the famous words of the American west, “Them’s fightin’ words, mister.”
Because, really, if Spider-Man does not exist, what does? How can he not exist when we all know the details of his story? When we all have arguments over how accurately certain movies represented him both in character and history? (Maybe you don’t argue with your friends about Spider-Man; if so, I wonder what kind of meaningless life you must live). How can he be unreal when we all know that he invented the devices that shoot webbing from his wrists and did not, as some have so erroneously portrayed him, grow biological equipment to do so?
If not from the real, where do these details come from? Surely there is not (as Plato proposed) some world of ideals in which Spider-Man actually resides, making his manifestations in this world a type of projection that can never perfectly correspond to the true Spider-Man.
I guess I must make some concession and acknowledge that Spider-Man never physically existed: he never had a corporeal body and never, in actuality, fought the forces of evil. But this is a far cry from never existing at all. Gravity has never physically existed in a corporeal body—merely as a force between corporeal bodies. The same goes for love and hate and music and Schrodinger’s cat. There are lots of things that exist without being physically present to our senses. Who says people have to be left out of this type of existence?
And if bodiless people do not exist, how can we account for the impact they have had? How many of us have been inspired, saddened, or enthusiastic about people like Spider-Man. How many of us know a little bit about love because of Romeo or Juliet? How many people every year fall in love with the carefully-managed, artificial personae of celebrities? How many people voted last year for a man they have never in physical actuality seen or heard? As a reader, it’s easy for me to be self-aware that many of my values and role-models are wrapped up in people who never physically existed. Many life lessons were taught to me by phantoms.
I’m not merely quibbling over the definition of exist. I am, in fact, defending the integrity of the word: because words (like Spider-Man) are symbols that we use to interpret and discuss reality. If we throw symbols out the window as categorically non-existing. What have we left? How have you read a whole post about him, knowing what I was talking about, apprehending the references, agreeing or disagreeing? There has to be something there to disagree with.
Let us, for the sake of comparison put Spider-Man up against a specific, historical individual. Say, Winston Churchill. Now, Churchill obviously had a much greater impact upon the course of history, turning the tide of World War II and shaping the world in the aftermath. But Spider-Man has had, perhaps, just as much of a cultural and emotional impact in recent years. How many young men have been inspired to heroism, or how many young men have clarified their concepts of justice and bravery from watching and reading about Spider-Man? How many of us now realize that “with great power comes great responsibility”?
There is a certain danger in a culture that is willing to destroy all of its myths for the sake of historical accuracy.
If we claim the non-existence of social constructs or mythologies, we make ourselves blind and deaf to the nature of humanity who has, from the beginning, communicated truth, value, and morality through storytelling. It’s why the movie industry is so recession-proof. (It’s also why Peter Jackson will stand on the day of judgment without excuse for his storicide).
So, of course Spider-Man exists—as a myth, as a story, as a symbol of Spider-Man-ness (heroism and virtue and geeky problem solving). If you cannot acknowledge the existential validity of a symbol then you are beyond hope. Go back to your hollow empiricism and follow it over the edge of Nihilism. Smash atoms like a child smashes blocks. Swim in your sea of mathematical constants, universal laws, astronomical wonders, biological miracles; and drown within sight of the holy. There is no hope for you.