What’s YOUR Superpower?

A woman and girl dressed as Wonder Woman.

Mother and daughter sport Wonder Woman costumes.

We’re all Wonder Women (or Men) inside, each with our own superpower. But sometimes, we daydream about being more than just a super-dad, super-banjo-strummer, or super-feminist. We want to levitate! Get the bad guys! Or maybe just become invisible to spy on our exes.

In the spirit of Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (airing 4/15 on Independent Lens), we’ll share what the superpower of your fantasies could reveal about your personality.  Before you read further, envision the otherworldly ability you most crave: Reading minds, time traveling, flying, invisibility, or teleporting? Close your eyes and picture your fiercest self.

Okay, now let’s see how you stack up.

A 2011 Marist Poll of Americans showed how we cluster according to our fantasies: 28 percent would like to mind read, another 28 percent want to time travel, 16 percent want to fly, 11 percent crave teleportation, and 10 percent desired invisibility.

The remaining 8 percent just weren’t sure. Maybe their answer was like Bill Gates’s: “Extending one’s lifetime would be a reasonable thing,” he said in a Q&A with University of Nebraska students. “Being able to read superfast, yeah, that’d be nice.”

Here’s what your choice might say about you.

MIND READING
Pop Culture: Charles Xavier and Jean Grey of X-Men, Yoda and the Jedi in Star Wars

Mind reading is empathy to the extreme. Delusions of telepathy can be found in certain forms of psychosis, such as the symptom of “hearing voices” in schizophrenia, which might be where humans got the idea for this superpower. The X-Men series “ushered in the era of mind-reading superheroes,” according to The Psychology of Superheroes: An Unauthorized Exploration. Fictional heroes with this strength are often depicted as god-like, benevolent geniuses. They are, after all, omniscient.

TIME TRAVEL
Pop Culture: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, Star Trek, Dr. Emmett Brown of Back to the Future

Great Scott! This superpower is enough to tie your brain in knots. It is the fantasy of choice for the physics geeks who are willing to think through paradoxes to find their way home. Time travel also appeals to the eccentric brainiacs with the patience to fix a wonky flux capacitor.

FLYING
Pop Culture: Superman, Storm and Angel Salvadore from X-Men, Iron Man, Amelia Earhart, She-Ra: Princess of Power, The Flying Nun

The power of flight evokes the hero in us. Flying overheard for all to see, it also involves a good amount of pride and showmanship. It might even attract suitors. As one interviewee said in a This American Life episode about choosing between flight and invisibility: “I would imagine, if it got around that I had the power of flight, and it was a rare type of thing, I mean, there would definitely be flight groupies. I would imagine. So there’s going to be this like, ‘Oh yeah, I just slept with a flying dude.’”

TELEPORTATION
Pop Culture: Nightcrawler from X-Men, George Langelaan’s The Fly, I Dream of Jeannie

With a batt of your eyelashes, you could circumnavigate the earth. Teleportation attracts the globetrotters, the sci-fi aficionados, and those of us simply exasperated by gas prices. One of teleportation’s first appearances in fiction came from The Arabian Nights (One Thousand and One Nights) written in the Islamic Golden Age between the 8th and 13th centuries. In it, the story of Aladdin shows genies who can bring whole palaces from China to Morocco in a flash. Hence, the 1960s TV classic I Dream of Jeannie.

INVISIBILITY
Pop Culture: Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, Wonder Woman’s Invisible Plane, The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

The least popular of the bunch, invisibility attracts the mischievous spirits, the thieves, and (dare I say it?) the pervs. “Invisibility leads you, leads me, down a dark path,” said one respondent on This American Life. “No matter how many times you’ve seen a woman naked in a shower, you’re gonna wanna see it again, because there’s always a different woman.” To be fair, invisibility has also been used by heroes such as Harry Potter, who wears his invisibility cloak to hurl snowballs at Draco Malfoy.

Unlike the superheroes in our pop culture, we often seek out powers for selfish reasons. While polling people about their superpowers, reporter John Hodgman on This American Life noticed: “Here’s one thing that pretty much no one ever says: ‘I would use my power to fight crime.’ No one seems to care about crime.”

Forget your ex … here’s to using your unique powers to save the world!

Don’t miss Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, premiering Monday, April 15 at 10pm (check local listings)! Also, stay tuned for Wonder City, an interactive game that helps you find your inner powers and the small acts of everyday heroism that define who you are, coming in May!

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  • Nico Camargo

    This film made me realize a very crucial thing about my work.

    First, I really enjoyed the film and thought it was great. I’m a visual artist from Chicago, in the beginning stages of an emerging career. I also come from a family of feminists, educated women, and advocates; however, from Bogota, Colombia where I grew up 30 years ago. There, the gender struggles are a very different animal, they could be a dangerous one at times due to that country’s political idiosyncrasies — parochialism and patriarchy, in their full, most backwards incarnations. It would be criminal for me, here, with my relatively easy life, not to be inspired by my grandmother and aunt. One at 85 still helps write federal legislation on behalve of women’s groups, the other one a social worker (now a profesor in Argentina) who received life-threats while working for an organization that helped women refugees in the middle of gerilla/para-military infested country.

    Late last year, after tying the knot, I began developing a new concept for my artwork. I felt like I needed to confront my own shortcomings for fear to end up making the same mistakes the men in my family consecutively made. Fail marriages, love-children surprises, hot-headedness, etc., it runs in the family and I’m know for a fact that we are not alone. In this testosterone-driven, super-macho world we live in, I can’t now separate fundamental human characteristics, such as aggression and violence, with the most pressing issues civilization faces.

    So I began Next Human Project (nexthumanproject.com), part science fiction, part social manifesto. It is a utopian idea about how we will evolve, and at the same time underlining the fact that machismo and patriarchy are human beings’ deepest and most destructive flaws, and that equality and a sense of oneness will help our species progress and evolve.

    What I realized last night, was that I’m not really making a feminist stand (which somehow I thought I was) with my project, and I hope you get to read what it is all about. What I’m doing is adding from a different angle to feminisms’ cause by promoting a new kind of masculinity based on femininity and motherhood. Because I think that neither feminism nor the rest of the world can survive if us men (as well as some ruthless women) continue admiring and modeling themselves after brute, violent, macho icons.

    At the moment I’m currently working on producing a short film, titled The Next Him. It will be an introduction to a future species of human males — caring, nurturing, humane, graceful, sensible, selfless men. Please visit The Next Him’s page, it is a small project that I’m trying desperately trying to fund. http://www.usaprojects.org/project/the_next_him

    I hope to hear a response or questions from you. Thank you very much for your terrific piece.

  • Dillard

    “invisibility attracts the mischievous spirits, the thieves, and (dare I say it?) the pervs.”

    Now, suspend belief, imagine being persecuted/ridiculed/bullied/marginalized/enslaved, only because of your appearance. Invisibility for people in power may be for ‘pervs’ but for the outcasts…freedom.