Social Justice

Repair Interview: Unmasking a Real Superhero

Chaim Lazaros and Ben Goldman are really good guys. In fact they’re superheros. No, seriously.
via Repair The World Read More

By / October 26, 2010

This article originally appeared on Repair The World.

Superheroes Anonymous first began in 2007 when Ben Goldman saw a flyer in a comic book shop, which advertised a meeting for real-life superheroes. He and Chaim Lazaros, who were at the time, Columbia University film students, had been searching for a project and decided to do a documentary about average people who put on costumes and perform service around their respective communities — whether it is keeping the streets clean, patrolling to ensure safety or reaching out to homeless people. They found many of these real life “superheroes” on the Internet through their various social media profiles.

The pair convened the “superheroes” in New York’s Time Square in 2007, which also marked the founding of Goldman and Lazaros’ group, Superheroes Anonymous. And it was at this meeting that Lazaros, now 26 years old, first appeared as his superhero alter ego, “Life” though in his unmasked day-to-day activities, works at a nonprofit and lives in Harlem.

What made you decide to bring all the Superheroes together?

We started doing this documentary on them for real life superheroes but we didn’t have the resources…I got the idea of bringing all the superheroes together for a meeting. I figured that if I did that, I would could make this contribution to the real life superhero community and at the same time I could make a documentary in a day.

I wanted to have a conference because in the press these people have been thrown off, treated like they were crazy. I wanted to show people that it was a positive movement.

Why did you assume “Life” as your superhero name?  Can you talk about your costume

Life is the Hebrew translation of my name. [As for the costume] what I do is very organizational. I had to sit down with Times Square Alliance guys and government representatives. And I had to pull off this thing off and not have them laugh me out of the room. My costume is very classic superhero, like those first early superheroes. It’s not spandex and a cape. It’s not ridiculous, it’s not silly. If I go and sit down with lawyers, I can take off the mask and it’s almost like I’m wearing a business suit. I was looking for something very functional and utilitarian, something based on superhero iconography but not too flashy. I’m a jeans and t-shirt type guy.

You chose homeless outreach as your superhero mission, why?

That’s what I could be most effective at. There’s all this talk in the real life superhero community about going out on neighborhood watch type crime patrols. But New York is a very safe city but we do have a huge problem with — and it’s only gotten worse since the Great Recession hit — homelessness. People needed help.

I started going over to homeless people with grain bars. They would say, ‘Hey man, do you have a pair of socks? Or a shaving blade?’ I’d get them deodorant or soap. I eventually learned what homeless people needed the most because it’s not actually food. There are a lot of places where homeless people can get food. It’s actually a lot of these other things we take for granted, like toiletries.

On a given night, I go to Coalition for the Homeless drop off points where they give out food. Homeless people tend to congregate in very specific areas and at very specific times. I know these areas and I know these times and I’ll get there early when they’re waiting for the truck. And I will talk to them and give them whatever goodies I might have.

Do the costumes really help outreach efforts?

They definitely help. They draw attention to the cause. The reason why we use the iconography of the superhero-and I only realized this after doing it for many years — is because it is an immediately recognizable symbol of good. I can be dealing with these Mexican homeless dudes and if they ask, “Why are you helping us?” I just have to point to my mask and say, “Because I’m a superhero.” It’s immediately understood. Even the smallest child knows that a superhero does good. I’m not representing a government agency. I’m not trying to get them into a shelter. I don’t have quotas, I don’t have a boss. I’m just there to help them out and provide whatever I can. The iconography of superheroes allows me to do this.

How many people are involved and what kind of things does Superheroes Anonymous do as a group?

About 250, majority men. I’d say the ratio of men to women is 70/30. We’ve had crime patrols, toy drops at the children’s hospital. A concert to raise money for a shelter, food drives, self-defense classes. We just got back from Portland, where we gave blood, did a coat drive, worked in a soup kitchen and did a CPR certification with the Red Cross.

We’ve been having these monthly meetings — our costume creation workshops. They take place in Spacecraft Brooklyn, which is in Williamsburg. It’s a crafting place where they can make anything. Basically it’s this forum for people who are all levels of real life superhero-ness to get together.

It’s a really casual environment where you can sit down and ask a person — what do you want to accomplish? How do you want to represent yourself? They can totally come in with ideas for their uniform and start making stuff right there. At these meetings, I’ve given out homeless outreach supplies and spoken about safe and effective homeless outreach.

What are your future plans?

I have a lawyer — we’re assembling a board — founding legit 501c3 nonprofit so we can get monetary donations.

If you would like to get involved or learn more about Superheroes Anonymous, you can visit their website at superheroesanonymous.com. You can also email Chaim at life at superheroesanonymous dot com.