The Cultural Gutter

going through pop culture's trash since 2003

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

David Banner will never have a
normal life

alex macfadyen
Posted February 6, 2014

Transforming into the Hulk

Whenever I find myself edging towards misery or self-pity, I start humming the ending theme from The 1970’s tv version of The Incredible Hulk. I think to myself, “David Banner will never have a normal life.” It’s a technique I owe to Carol Borden, who has a lot of interesting things to say about The Hulk.

Having inevitably hulked out wherever he’s just been, David Banner is forced to move on down the road at the end of each episode with nothing but a duffle bag and his own radioactive blood for company. When I imagine that the outcome of whatever predicament I’m in will be that I will never have a normal life, the sheer melodrama helps put it in perspective. Also, I find it almost impossible to take my problems too seriously with the “Lonely Man” theme as the soundtrack.

David banner hitchhikingLately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have a normal life. It’s so easy to feel like my problems are a sign that I’m doing something wrong, but the more I hear about other people’s lives the more I realize that even people who appear to have it all together usually don’t. We’re pretty much all struggling, and while I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, I admit that I find it reassuring. I’m not about to stop trying to fix what isn’t working – everyone wants to drag themselves as far and fast as possible from the things that are causing them pain – but it reminds me that I don’t have to feel like a freak or a failure while I’m doing it.

But superheroes really never will have normal lives. So much of the superhero archetype is based in that longing for the thing they can never have back once they’ve been transformed by circumstances. For Batman it’s the loss of his parents and the sense of safety that comes from believing you’re protected. For Superman it’s the loss of a world full of people like himself which would allow him to ever be anything other than super. For Spider-Man it’s the loss of innocence when the price tag on a selfish decision is his uncle’s life. And for David Banner, it’s a series of compound losses. It begins with his childhood, then the death of his wife and with it his image of himself as the kind of man who could have saved her, and ends in the loss of dominion over his own consciousness.

Hulking outThe existence of the Hulk makes is impossible for David to make genuine connections. He’s unable to experience strong emotions without losing control of his body and mind, wreaking havoc without any memory of what he’s done. He copes by roaming around, isolating himself from social attachments, searching for a way to re-integrate himself. He will never have a normal life. The central nature of the Hulk, and the dilemma for David Banner, is that he has no control over when he’s being a freak. It’s a metaphor for the dangers of being out of touch with your emotions, but it also works as an analogy for our inability to define who we are to other people.

For me, the experience of being ostracized became tolerable when I stood out by choice rather than because I was failing to fit in. I was both transgendered (although I hadn’t figured that out yet) and hopelessly earnest in a way that precluded being cool. As long as I was trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be, they were only too happy to make it clear to me that I was, in actuality, a freak. It made me miserable and I tied myself in knots trying to identify and fix whatever it was that was wrong with me, but I think the hardest part was that I couldn’t control it. When I eventually gave up and accepted that I was never going to fit in, I found that the act of simply choosing gave me a sense of agency, even if I hadn’t exactly been given a choice.

None of us really have control over how other people see and define us, but the Hulk literally embodies the experience. David Banner keeps trying to find ways to fit in, but he can’t help behaving in ways that make him an outcast. Everywhere he goes, it eventually becomes painfully obvious to everyone around him that he’s different. And, ironically, he was actually trying to be different, just not like that. He irradiated himself because he wanted to be able to perform superhuman feats of strength, but in his heart what he wanted was to be able to turn back time and use that strength to save his wife, which is something he could never make happen even with all the gamma rays in the world.

hulkThe Hulk’s origin story is almost more like a supervillain’s – intentionally transforming himself in a quest for power and having it twist him into something destructive – but his motivation and how hard he tries to handle the outcome responsibly are what make him a hero instead. Ultimately, all the superheroes choose to be heroes. At the heart of their stories is a common human struggle between the desire to be exceptional and the desire to be accepted, to stand apart or be a part of the group. If the price of being uniquely gifted is that you will never have a normal life, do you accept that gift? Most superheroes aren’t given the choice, the way most people don’t get to choose their own circumstances. The only choice we get is what to do with it.

And maybe never having a normal life isn’t a bad thing. I suspect that there may be no such thing as a normal life, and if there was it would be boring. It’s probably easier on some level if you can blame freaking out in line at the grocery store on gamma radiation, and I’m not convinced it’s more painful to accept that your relationship failed because you kept running off to save the world than because you stayed late at work too often. At least if you’re not a superhero, having your loved ones regularly dangled off the edges of buildings is one problem you don’t have.


alex MacFadyen encourages you to try saying it out loud:
“(your name) will never have a normal life.”


6 Responses to “David Banner will never have a
normal life”

  1. Less Lee Moore
    February 6th, 2014 @ 12:46 pm

    This is a great piece. Not that my problems with office jobs are in any way as life-changing as grappling with self-acceptance as a transgendered person, but I relate to a lot of what you said. I was always made to feel like something was wrong with me because I couldn’t be a “team player” and whatever other rubbish catchphrases get shoved down your throat at your typical McJob. It took a a couple of decades and a nervous breakdown to realize that I am not cut out for those jobs and never will be.

  2. Carol Borden
    February 6th, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

    Amazing piece, alex.

    Thanks for articulating this so well:”For me, the experience of being ostracized became tolerable when I stood out by choice rather than because I was failing to fit in.”

    (And thanks for the shout-out)

  3. J.M. Perkins
    February 6th, 2014 @ 8:42 pm

    Lovely. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Chris S.
    February 7th, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

    As a kid, TV’s “Hulk” was one of the first times I truly understood the price of some kinds of heroism. I’d read stories with the same heroic archetype, but something about watching Banner walk away with, yes, that music in the background, made it graphically viscerally real.

    Hm. Maybe not the price, but the cost.

  5. Carol Borden
    February 10th, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

    Nice distinction between “price” and “cost,” Chris.

  6. Anne
    March 4th, 2014 @ 8:48 am

    Anne will never have a normal life. That feels both good and right. Thanks alex.

    And thanks Chris re price and cost.

    This got me thinking about Banner in The Avengers – his sad and rueful acceptance of “I am always angry”.

Leave a Reply

  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    At Bleeding Cool, Cap Blackard writes about the contested homeworld of Howard the Duck. “If you’ve seen the much maligned Howard the Duck film or read any Howard the Duck stories published since 1979, you’re probably familiar with the concept of Duckworld. You know, an alternate Earth where everyone is ducks and everything is duck-themed: Ducktor Strange, Bloomingducks, etc, etc. Sounds like a recipe for a finite barrel of bad jokes, right? It is, and it’s also not Howard’s real point of origin. During his landmark initial run, Howard’s creator Steve Gerber had the down-and-out duck hailing from a world of talking animals, but all that changed when Gerber was kicked off the book and Disney flashed a lawsuit. Now, after decades of backstory fumbling, Mark Waid has reinstated Howard’s point of origin in a one-shot issue of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (Thanks, Mark!)


    At The Village Voice, Jackson Connor writes about the making of The Warriors. Amid the refurbished boardwalk and laughter of children, it’s easy to forget that Coney Island was once a place where tourists did not venture. For much of the latter half of the twentieth century, street gangs dominated this neighborhood. They ran rampant through the area’s neglected housing projects, tearing along Surf and Neptune avenues toward West 8th Street. Those gangs, or gangs like them, and that incarnation of Coney Island would form the backbone of author Sol Yurick’s 1965 debut novel, The Warriors, about the young members of a street gang. More than a decade after the novel’s publication it would be optioned and, eventually, turned into a major motion picture of the same name.” (via @pulpcurry)


    Edith Garrud taught Suffragettes jiu-jitsu and formed Emmeline Pankhurst’s Bodyguard. “The first connection between the suffragettes and jiu-jitsu was made at a WSPU meeting. Garrud and her husband William, who ran a martial arts school in London’s Golden Square together, had been booked to attend. But William was ill, so she went alone. ‘Edith normally did the demonstrating, while William did the speaking,’ says Tony Wolf, writer of Suffrajitsu, a trilogy of graphic novels about this aspect of the suffragette movement. ‘But the story goes that the WSPU’s leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, encouraged Edith to do the talking for once, which she did.'”


    At Playboy, Jake Rossen writes about the story behind the filming and the restoration of Manos: The Hands of Fate. “For a long time no one wanted to see it unless it was accompanied by MST3K’s taunts. Then, in 2011, a collector of film prints uncovered the original negative of Manos and embarked on an inexplicable project to restore the film with all the white-glove attention archivists give to Hollywood classics. His efforts would incur the wrath of a mysterious man with a fake New Zealand accent named Rupert, as well as Joe Warren, Hal Warren’s embittered son, who intends to preserve the Manos legacy at all costs.” (Thanks, Ed!)


    At Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill!, Todd reviews the two part Ghanian director Ninja’s film, 2016. “2016 is a movie that I am obligated to review by virtue of my having long ago joined the internet chorus of people trumpeting on about its insane trailer—and this despite the fact that all of you with any interest in seeing it have most likely tracked it down already. In that case, you already know that it is essentially a no-budget remake of Independence Day set in the suburbs of Ghana. And if that sounds like a massive over-reach to you, you obviously know very little about Ghanaian action cinema, and even less about the films of maverick multi-hyphenate Ninja.”

    Read about part one, here, and part two, here.


    Look, it’s the trailer for “The Abominable Snowman” a new episode of classic Thunderbirds. Huffington Post UK has more: “It’s exactly half a century since we heard the ominous tones of voice actor Peter Dyneley bringing us the Thunderbirds intro ‘5 -4 – 3 – 2 -1 Thunderbirds are go’, and to celebrate, the team are producing three brand new original episodes, based on audio-only recordings made in 1966, which means fans will get to enjoy the original voices, with some 21st century gadgetry thrown in on screen.” (Thanks, Todd!)


  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.


  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: