Being Human

Strange Psychology: Profiling the MCU’s Newest Hero

Dr. Craig Pohlman

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has added another superhero- Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme.  Somehow this movie comes off entertaining and fresh despite retreading elements such as the Himalayan trek origin story of Batman Begins, the reality-warping sequences of Inception, and the smug protagonist of Ironman.  Which brings me to Stephen Strange.  He goes through the typical arc from A. (arrogant) everyman, to B. reluctant hero, to C. determined champion.  But what is unique here is that for much of the movie he is in stage B, and only transitions to stage C near the very end- and that will affect his HQ.

Strange

In a previous post I defined my Heroism Quotient (HQ) and Villainy Quotient (VQ).  I rate pop culture heroes along five factors (0-20), yielding a Heroism Quotient (HQ) with a maximum score of 100.  The higher the HQ, the more heroic the hero.  The factors are inspired by the thinking of Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who has explored heroism following his ground-breaking work on the roots of evil with the Stanford prison experiment.  Here’s how I rate Dr. Strange on the HQ factors:

  1. Acting in service to others in need, or in defense of an ideal:  Before becoming a sorcerer, Dr. Strange was a neurosurgeon, and a very successful one at that.  But while he saved many lives during his medical career, ego was a driving force.  And when circumstances push him away from medicine, he seeks and finds the mystic arts not to become a superhero, but to serve his own ends.  So he only gets a 10 out of 20 for becoming selfless rather late in the game.
  1. Serving voluntarily:  Dr. Strange calls most of his own shots, so he earns a fairly high 16.  But I shaved a few points because when the villains start to pose a serious threat, Dr. Strange initially acts because he is caught in the crossfire, and then for self-preservation.
  1. Recognizing possible risks/costs:  Suffice to say, using the mystic arts to save the planet is a complicated endeavor.  So it’s understandable that Dr. Strange, new to the whole sorcery thing, would not have full grasp of the risks of his actions.  Sure, he saves the world (oops . . . spoiler!), but he has to violate laws of nature to do so.  In the inevitable sequel we’ll probably find out what the consequences are.  He only gets a 12.
  1. Accepting anticipated sacrifice:  When the chips are down and the fate of the planet is in the balance, Dr. Strange saves the day by accepting extreme and extended suffering, possibly for all of eternity.  Hence, he maxes out at 20.
  1. Anticipating no external gain:  I have him a strong 18 here because once he does get to Stage C of his arc (determined champion), he seems to have let go of professional and personal ambitions.  But his new powers will be very tempting to use towards selfish goals.

Total these 5 factor scores and Strange’s HQ is 76.  That’s a high score, in the range of Fin Shepard’s 72 from (Sharknado 3:  Oh Hell No!), Olivia Pope’s 74 (from Scandal), and Marge Gunderson’s 70 (from Fargo).

Coming soon . . . my list of 2016’s 10 most heroic heroes and 10 most villainous villains, from across pop culture.

About the author

Dr. Craig Pohlman

Dr. Craig Pohlman

Craig Pohlman is a neurodevelopmental psychologist who has written several books about helping struggling learners achieve success. That’s cool and all, but what he really wants to do with his life is be a game show host. Or starship captain. Or Jedi Master. Or some combination of all three.

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