The word "hero" has been thrown around a lot since the COVID-19 outbreak started creating worries about the operation of our most basic services.
It's a word that's been used by political leaders, commentators and people on social media to describe workers such as paramedics, police, firefighters and grocery store employees who work for companies and entities deemed essential to maintaining life during a global pandemic.
It's well deserved. Anyone who finds a way to stretch out the usage time for a disposable mask to a week instead of the one day, as it was intended, and has the courage to stand less than 6 feet away from people who've contracted the virus should be called a hero.
The word "hero" is also an interesting indicator of just how much life has changed in the wake of the outbreak. Its most prominent use before times long, long ago referred to fictional characters in movies who have become the biggest moneymakers in modern cinema.
In fact, we called them more than just heroes. We call them "superheroes." They can do superhuman things like fly, shoot rockets out of their palms, control people's minds, regenerate severed limbs and talk to fish.
The weirdest part is this undeniable fact: They don't exist.
Now I don't want to go full Bill Maher and start ranting from my metaphorical "old man" porch about how people who read comic books are responsible for every problem in modern society from low math and reading scores to people who use the speaker on their phones in movie theaters. I'm ecstatic anyone's still reading anything in the age of Facebook and Snapchat.
The strange differences between people we call "heroes" and the fake people we call "superheroes" is a greater crime against the whole of humanity than someone who dares to read a comic book. It's how we treat both groups that's more infuriating and inconceivable, especially during these uncertain times.
For starters, we pay people way more money to pretend to be heroes than people who actually act like heroes. According to the Forbes Celebrity 100 earnings list for 2019, the top six stars of Avengers: Endgame, including Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., Bradley Cooper, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans and Paul Rudd, made a combined salary of approximately $430 million.
For one thing, how is Bradley Cooper third on that list? He provided a voice, which isn't to say that voice acting is easy or not worthy of a paycheck, but Johansson, Evans and Rudd also had to keep in shape and learn choreographed stage fighting in addition to act. If Cooper gets paid more than people who are physically in the movie, he should at least be forced to do Mark Wahlberg's workout schedule.
It's also bizarre that worse superhero movies pay their stars amounts nearly equal to the good ones. Ben Affleck made $43 million in 2016 for his portrayal of Bruce Wayne aka Batman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, according to Forbes. He at least owes some of us for ticket sales. I don't mean he owes ticket buyers a debt of gratitude, but an actual refund.
Police and firefighters get paid significantly less, and they face way more threats that aren't generated by a team of CGI effects programmers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for police personnel and detectives is around $31 an hour, while firefighters make around $24 an hour and registered nurses make an average of $35 an hour. All three are well above the federal poverty level that ranges from $12,760-$26,200 for households up with up to four family members, but it's not nearly as high as the cinematic hero playing level of someone who pretends to destroy an evil that threats the sanctity of human kind.
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It's also paltry compared to EMTs and paramedics, who only make an average of $17 an hour for a job that requires them to go into public while an infectious disease looms around every corner. Medical services are also one of the more infuriating sectors since we're in a part of the world where medicine is mostly privatized, making it much easier to cut the salaries of the people who work on the frontlines, according to some examples across the state provided in a report by The Daily Beast.
You don't need a federally funded report to know that people who make food deliveries and keep store shelves stocked with food and other products we've hoarded make less than Marvel Studios' biggest stars. Cashiers on average make a median salary $12 an hour, and that's if you round up, which would be a generous estimate.
This isn't meant to shame celebrities who make money off of their talents or shame anyone for these noticable differences (except for Ben Affleck). This speaks to something bigger: our behavior in times of crisis. It's about how we speak about each other in times of uncertainty and what we actually do to back up those words or, rather, the lack of things we do.
It's much cheaper to call someone a hero than to treat them like one.