111. Why Kids Need Stories of Superheroes

Foundation for Economic Education’s director of content joins Connor and Brittany today to tell us what superheroes can teach us about liberty.


Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Brittany: Hi Connor.

Connor: Hey, Britt.

Brittany: So I’m very excited today we have someone I used to work with, Dan Sanchez, who is the director of Content at the Foundation of Economic Education, and he’s gonna talk to us about superheroes and why superheroes are so important to kids, which is a subject that is very close to his heart because he has a kid who is awesome. I have met her. So Dan, welcome to the show.

Dan Sanchez: Hi, Brittany. Hi Connor. Thank you for having me.

Connor: Thanks for being here.

Brittany: Of course. Yeah. So start off a little bit. So one of my favorite articles you ever wrote was about He-man, and that’s kind of an older cartoon. I know for the parents out there listening, they might remember that. But I really liked it cuz you talked about how He-man helped you kind of grow into your own heroes journey to kind of find yourself and, become a man so to speak. So I’d love for you to talk a little bit about that a and why superheroes are so important to you.

Dan Sanchez: Well, and for kids’ reference, there is a Shira show on Netflix now, that is, based on there, was a Shira cartoon, way back in the eighties that was, Sheira was the sister of He-man. And, so a lot of the same themes are in that are in the show. That originally was so, powerful to me. I just remember when I was five years old and I was watching, you know, after-school cartoons and this new show came on and, it was He-man and the Masters of the Universe, and I was like, wow, that’s pretty, that’s a pretty strong title to be a master of the universe. And, you know, that kind of thing can be really powerful for our kids because kids can feel, you know, pretty weak that we’re, not the masters of anything that, you know, adults call all the shots and, so to have a show that was called that, just that right away was like fascinating to me. but then all of a sudden there’s this wimp character, this prince Adam who had this really high voice and he didn’t look very tough. And I was like, what? This is the hero of the show. But then he tells me that he was introduced to the secrets of Castle Grace Skull. and he held up his magic sword and in a burst of lightning, he was transformed into He-man, who was this barbarian warrior. And that was really powerful to me, and I didn’t really understand why until later. And it was, it was as an adult when I started reading more about, hero stories in general and what they do for, people in general and, especially for kids. Then I realized that it was so that transformation was a metaphor for, a transformation that I wanted to undergo, that I wanted to transform from someone who was weak and ineffectual, who that, ineffective who wasn’t good at, doing things that people didn’t take seriously like Prince Adam into, um, someone who was really confident, someone who was really capable, strong, brave, I wanted to grow up basically. And that cartoon was like a metaphor for that.

Connor: Dan, let me jump in there on that. We’ve talked in a past episode about, kind of the hero’s journey and how there’s a lot of these stories. in fact, I’ve poked fun at Britney because she’s never seen Lord of the Ring. Here I am talking about Frodo and you know, Gandolph, and she’s like, who? And, but there’s all these movies that we talked about in a past episode about the Heroe’s journey. And in my mind, and tell me your thoughts here, cartoons offer kids kind of a mini version of that, that they see, in a lot. And, you know, not all cartoons are equal, right? Like there’s a lot of bad, boring, you know, ineffective, cartoons out there, but the ones that do it right seem to have that aspirational, hero that you’re talking about, someone that we can aspire to be like and model our lives after. It sounds like it was that way for you that you could kind of see yourself in the story or that it, was kind of inspiring to you to, kind of be like that. Is that what you’re getting at?

Dan Sanchez: Exactly. I really think that cartoons are, often little mini heroes’ journeys. and, the hero’s journey of, long stories like, the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, what you have is like, the Hobbit, sets off away from home for the first time. Like, in the Shire, everything is familiar, you know, all, of your family’s, there, all of your friends are there. It’s, just the world that you’re used to. but then you leave that and, that is the first stage of the hero’s journey called separation. and then you head down into a dark cave, like Bilbo, the Hobbit heads down into the cave of smog, the dragon, and you face monsters. and it’s really scary and dangerous, but then, you persevere, you win, you survive, even though it was hard and painful. you overcome the monster and, that is called initiation. and by overcoming the monster, you get a treasure of some kind. And so billboard got, I think it was called the a stone, and then eventually you come home with your treasure and that’s called the return. So, there’s the three stages, the separation, initiation and return. And that is very similar to what we have to go through whenever we learn something new as we’re growing up that we have to separate for, into some degree that, you know, it might be something that our parents used to do for us and that, that we’re used to them doing for us. But, then there’s something within you that wants to be independent. So even, like really little kids like toddlers, they have this, impulse to say, no, I wanna do it. I wanna do it by myself, don’t do it for me. That’s the separation. and then it’s not always easy because it’s new. You’re, trying something new for the first time, like walking even, like when you’re really little.

Brittany: So, Dan, I’m, curious, just to stop you real quick. Have you been able to kind of in, you know, input this in your own daughter’s life? Like, do you guys sit down and watch, you know, these superhero stories together and kind of talk about this? Has she picked up on it?

Dan Sanchez: we don’t really talk about it. I mean that’s the beautiful thing about these stories is that you don’t really need to talk about it. it’s kind of like affects them in a subconscious way so that they understand it as a metaphor and as something that just, you know, they see happen without really being able to say what is happening. And, yeah. And so that’s kind of what I’m, you know, hoping that, we’ll, that she’ll absorb.

Connor: Van let me ask you a question on that. I remember when I was younger, we’re talking about He-man, which is an older cartoon. I remember one of the cartoons I would watch when I was young was, Captain Planet. And, you know, talk about like parents not talking to their kids about the ideas and just the kids absorbing it on their own. I think you would agree that, you know, there’s a potential danger because whoever is kind of maybe producing the cartoon, you can have the aspirational hero story, but maybe there’s also messaging, you know, sometimes that isn’t the greatest. Captain America in particular was a very kind of, pro environmentalist, central planning, you know, you’re, bad if you produce any waste, type of messaging that kind of big government people take that approach versus a more free market approach to the environment. and so I didn’t have that conversation with my parents and Captain Planet kind of affected my way of thinking for a while. So how do you kind of respond to that, the cartoons, if we’re not talking to our kids about it, maybe these cartoons are delivering those different kinds of messages?

Dan Sanchez: Well, that’s a good point. and especially nowadays, they’re sort of, propaganda that, you, see in a lot of even kid’s shows. and when you see that, I, would definitely recommend countering that, although to some extent, I think, kids pick up on what rings true. So even if it was meant to have like values that, you know, don’t fit the real world, you know, kids, catch on to the things that ring true based on the experiences that they have. And so oftentimes even when, a wholesome message isn’t intended that kids can, either see through the message that doesn’t jive with real life, or they can see like, the hidden message within the story. so, I think it does need to be, a balance and it definitely needs to be a conversation, but also, a certain degree of trust that your child, as long as that they have a rich enough, array of experiences that they’ll be able to filter out the good from the bad on balance.

Brittany: So on that note, there was something else that I know you and I have talked a lot about is that, you know, we don’t just learn from the heroes, we learn from the villains too, and we kind of learn that, we can maybe all be villains, you know, insights. I’m curious, how can the villains teach us something almost as meaningful as the heroes?

Dan Sanchez: Right, Well, you know, the villains have, you know, do things that are not wise and, in a good story, they suffer for it, that they ultimately lose. and, you know, that goes back to like the, what Connor’s point about, it’s important to have, you know, storytellers with the right values because, you know, in a lot of cases they, you know, people who do bad things in the story that they end up, you know, winning in the end. And, you know, so, but, in the classic story, then the, you know, the villain loses to the hero. And that is a lesson for the child. Definitely.

Connor: Dan, I wonder about, well, maybe I need to pause and put in a plug here for the Tuttletwins cartoon we’re working on, because, you know, recognizing exactly what you’re saying it, it’s such a good way for kids to learn important values. I mean, I remember, in fact, just the other day, it was about two days ago I was on YouTube and I found these old, like Looney Tunes, you know, cartoons, like the old, old.

Brittany: No Loony Tunes are tiny tunes cuz this is important.

Connor: No. Yeah. Tiny Tunes came later, then Looney Tunes. But before then it was just all the.

Brittany: Bugs Bunny.

Connor: didn’t even call it Loony Tunes. Yeah. And I was watching these, it was so interesting cuz I remember during World War II, right, they used the kind of Looney Tunes characters and, Disney and others to produce cartoons to deliver propaganda about the war. And they would play some of these before people would watch movies and they’d have these little like advertisements, using cartoons. And so, you know, when we decided to work on the cartoon for Tuttletwins, it was, because we recognize that it’s a great way to teach kids, but also because there’s a lot of cartoons that, you know, they’re either fluff, they’re not really teaching anything of value, or maybe they have some ideas that aren’t as helpful. So for anyone interested in that, you go to Tuttletwinstv.com. Dan, I wanted to ask you, as we’re getting, close to wrapping up, what is the power of having a hero? I mean, you’ve written article, I remember one article you wrote a while back that like, we don’t even need a Columbus day, we need a a superman day. you know, and so Superman is this fictional, character. So it seems like you’re, not even so much focused on like real life heroes that have, you know, imperfections and, challenges like we all do that maybe as people learn about them, they don’t see them as a hero anymore. You’re kind of upholding this idea that we can, we can be inspired by even just fictional heroes. What is it about that situation that they’re fictional and that they’re, they kinda have these qualities that can inspire the kids listening to this podcast?

Dan Sanchez: Yeah, so we all have real world heroes. people in our lives, like our, parents or, people, maybe people that we see on, who are famous, great, business people can be, heroes. Steve Jobs is one of my heroes. but Steve Jobs could be kind of a jerk too. and so heroes have faults and, the great thing about fiction is that you can, you know, take a certain quality from Steve Jobs and, but you can take like the kindness of your dad and like you could merge them into one character. And when you see a story starring that character, it can feel just as real as seeing someone in real life. And then you can imagine yourself doing those kinds of things and being that kind of person. And, that can be more powerful than if you are just saying in words like, you know, it’s good to be honest and kind and you know, that means this and giving definitions and that can be important, but it’s not as real and as vivid and as clear as I seeing it in a story and, seeing it acted out, and then you could imagine yourself acting it out.

Brittany: It’s kind of like, lead by example, so to speak.

Dan Sanchez: Exactly.

Connor: Well, Dan, this has been so much fun. I always love talking to you about fiction and the hero’s journey. We used to go on tangents for hours in the office sometimes, so this is really fun for me. It was so good to have you on.

Dan Sanchez: Thank you. It was a blast.

Connor: Thanks, Dan.

Dan Sanchez: Thank you, Connor.

Connor: Well, Brittany, we’ve definitely talked in the past about the importance of heroes. We, I think our, a lot of our listeners know, we actually came out with, the new guidebooks for kind of pre-teens and teens. And one of the stories, or excuse me, one of the books is stories of Courageous Heroes. And I think Dan is right though. It’s interesting that, you know, for here’s this book and we’re talking about these real people that did, you know, heroic, inspiring things. But there is something about that kind of fictional side where you can build up this character that doesn’t have, you know, these horrible flaws. They have some flaws, they gotta seem real, you know, but, I don’t know that seemed like an interesting insight to me.

Brittany: I mean, I’ve always loved that we had a whole episode on how important fiction is. I mean, even as an adult, like I look to Harry Potter sometimes for more wisdom that I do in economics textbook. Don’t tell anybody I said that, but, So I think, fiction is, one of the most powerful things in the world. So I think Dan was spot on that.

Connor: Well, we will link to a few of these resources on, today’s show notes page. Dan has a couple of articles that we can share. we can also link to the TuttleTwins cartoon. if you want to grab that handy link from there. So head to Tuttletwins.com/podcast. You’ll be able to load up the show notes, page for this episode and grab those handy links. As always, thanks for listening. Thanks for being subscribed. And until next time, Brittany, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.


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