Hello, friends. It’s a question we’ve all been asked, at one time or another, or pondered in our quiet moments, staring off into the distance. Fictional Superpowers are the third most popular subject of day-dreaming in the United States, behind the ever-popular Sexual Acts That We’d Never Admit Being Into (possibly involving Celebrities We Will Never Meet In Person) and of course, Things We’d Do If We Won The Lottery. But what does your choice of hypothetical superhuman ability mean, and what does it tell the world about you?
Forgive me the binary nature of the question: some might say that as long as we’re defying the laws of both Einstein’s Physical Universe and Particle Physics, why then must we accept that two of the infinite number of enhanced senses, reflexes, and neurological phenomena are mutually exclusive? Why not flight and invisibility?
To that I say only this: “Go and play Devil’s Advocate somewhere else, ruffian. The constraints of any logical being’s wish-fufillment is such that flight and invisibility are the natural yin and yang, the angel and devil upon our shoulders (for reasons we will reach soon). You’re probably also the type to answer the fictional C. The Superpower To Obtain More Superpowers to this question, a response that deserves neither consideration nor time. Enjoy the next Vin Diesel movie!”
Now, in the interest of making this choice a philisophical one, I think we can safely assume that pragmatic concerns need not factor into our decision. Flying, for example, would come to you as effortlessly as walking, and require no otherworldly physical exertion to accomplish- perhaps your innate supernatural abilities can compensate for the excess air resistance and cooler temperatures at high altitudes, as well as reduced oxygen intake. Invisibility, on the other hand, can easily extend to the clothes you are wearing, requiring no genital-endangering winter excursions in the nude, and would be acheived perfectly and completely- not to the blurred, semi-translucent extent of the regrettable 1992 Chevy Chase Vehicle Memoirs Of An Invisible Man. So make your choice on the upside of these powers, not any perceived downside.
I, for one, get severe motion sickness on roller coasters and am mildly uncomfortable on aeroplanes. But I won’t let that color my imagination.
So. To fly. Humankind has always been moored to the soil, and even as we bend the fabric of the earth to our will, creating machines capable of reaching the troposphere and mammoth cityscapes that tower over any product of Nature, we’re reminded only of how far we’ve provided ourselves the opportunity to fall. From the fanciful yet improbably practical sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci to the colorful counternances of hot air balloons, we’ve reached endlessly for the clouds in our short time on this planet.
For some, like the architects of the 1893 World’s Fair, or Val Kilmer’s character Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky in the movie Top Gun, the skies are clearly a way to feel superior to those down below. But one would hope the appeal of flight, on the whole, is the feel of the wind, the grand vista of a receding horizon, and the chance to leave behind the slow moments, the chance to bypass putting one tired foot in front of the other, and soar.
Flying, incidentally, would seem like the option more geared toward fighting crime and performing the occasional act of heroism, but vigilantism isn’t the first place most people’s minds go, even when feeling hypothetical. It is of course a staple ability of countless comic book superheroes, not least the iconic Superman and Captain Marvel of DC.
The only superheroes of note with the power of invisibility are both in fact superheroines, the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four, and Violet from Pixar’s The Incredibles, and both characters need to augment this power with some sort of mental force field projection to be effective combatants.
The power to be unseen then is obviously most appealing for subterfuge- but do many of us harbor the secret ambition to be private investigators? No, we don’t. Our minds turn to darker thoughts- what do people say behind our backs? What petty jealousies do people harbor, and what perversions do they indulge in when nobody is watching them?
And invisibility itself represents the removal of consequences, the absence of tomorrow. If you can’t be seen, you can’t be reprimanded. Shoplifting or sneaking into films would serve as a precursor for nearly any depraved activity you can imagine, many perhaps involving daydream subject #1 as outlined above.
In short, do you want to be more visible, or less? Do you want to announce to the world that you can fly beyond imagination, or observe them like a ghost?
Personally, I couldn’t say. We all have moments of triumph, moments when we wish we had a crowd to ooh and aah as we execute our personal equivalents of barrel rolls at an old-timey airshow. But we live in an age in which anonymity is a prized commodity, especially on the internet, where vitriol has reached an art form never thought possible.
We all may be tempted to say flight in conversation. But maybe we’d choose invisibility in a blog post. As a sometime performer and general people person, I’d love the attention of flight, the majesty of it. And I’d like to think I’d zoom straight out to catch someone falling out of a window, or trapped in a burning building. But as a full-time procrastinator and general avoider of conflict, I daily find myself wishing I could fade from view, from the responsibilities of the real world.
In a terribly maudlin, metaphorical way, we all possess these powers: both of them, at all times. We just find the time to fly and the time to fade are always met by an increased ability to do the opposite.
By: Dantalion Jones
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Flightinvisibility.com allows a public forum for anyone to vote. As of this writing, the tally stood at an improbably close 499 votes for flight, 508 for invisibility. John Hodgman filed a report on NPR’s This American Life about This Very Question! It explores many of the same ideas, but with light jazz. Posted by A. Duncan Carson a-treatise.blogspot.com