The Children’s Wish Foundation made a six-year-old Edmontonian girl’s wish come true by helping her transform into a superhero—SpiderMable. The phenomenon, which began on Sept. 28, 2015, took not only the city, but the world, by storm, and one researcher at the University of Alberta decided to figure out why.
For his Masters thesis in the U of A’s faculty of extension, Matty Flores used the story of SpiderMable, a.k.a. Mable Took, as a case study to explore what it is about superhero stories, particularly the evolution of the hero, that brings people to connect online and in real life. He looked at tweets that included the #SpiderMable hashtag over the 48 hours while her story unfolded and then analyzed them using the model of the Hero’s Journey put forth by Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature whose work focused on mythology. His Hero’s Journey is broken down into 12 stages, and Campbell argued it was applicable to all hero archetypes.
The amount of attention SpiderMable received was what made her story such a perfect case study for Flores.
“It was almost like the whole events of the day were captured in real time,” he says.
Through analyzing the tweets, Flores was able to track how SpiderMable transformed Edmonton and the rest of the world.
“From when Mable found out that she was going to fight crime as SpiderMable, to the end of the day … it was one of the most tweeted things around the world on Sept. 28, ,” he says.
Flores also found that SpiderMable’s story—as captured on Twitter—fit with Campbell’s model and says that so many people were able to identify with her story because they instantly, subconsciously recognized the hero’s journey.
Flores will soon be presenting his work to the public, and as a former journalist and communications student, he’s very excited to be giving the talk at McLuhan House.
“Getting to present at Marshall McLuhan’s house is kind of neat because [I studied] him for communications,” Flores says. “He’s the one who quoted ‘The medium is the message.’”
Flores was encouraged to follow his passions while choosing a thesis topic, and that was what landed him on the topic of the superhero narrative. He grew up in Prince George, B.C. and says he learned to read by reading comics.
“I thinks comics kind of help you learn storytelling; there’s no other, better medium because I can plot it frame by frame … and that led, I think, to influence me now—realizing the importance of storytelling and how it can make a difference in somebody’s life, because I think people don’t realize sometimes how powerful it can be,” Flores says. “If you tell a really meaningful story, and authentically … Because that was one of the things, it’s got to be authentic, I think, to live on.”
After three and a half years, Flores points out that SpiderMable’s story lives on (there’s also a local documentary in the works).
“These are the kinds of stories we need to tell more of I think, and for me when we talk about heroes in Edmonton, she’s one of my heroes, because she brought a whole [community together].”
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