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Down to the nitty-gritty — the psychology of Marvel’s Sandman

Can learning from Spider-Man’s famous foe help us in our own lives?

In celebration of everyone’s favorite web-head, July is Spectacular Spider-Month at AiPT!. We have a series of amazing articles in store for the month. Movies, television, gaming, and of course comics will all be covered with great responsibility as we honor one of comics’ greatest heroes.

There’s only one constant in life, and that’s change. Flint Marko, AKA Sandman, embodies that sediment …er… sentiment as well as anybody. There are several aspects to the human experience that we can learn from him.

Fluidization

Yes, I know this is a physics term, not a psychiatric one. Hear me out. The basic idea is that a solid material can act like a liquid, especially when in tiny particulate form. Sandman goes where he pleases, without constraint, and molds to the environment he’s placed in. And yet, when challenged, he can be as stiff as concrete. This is great if a person wants to escape a hazardous situation. Pick your battles. Acclimate to your surroundings. Gather information first before reaching a stubborn conclusion.

When I think of a villainous look, I envision khaki pants and green striped shirt. Not really, and yet that’s how Sandman dresses. I’m not sure that’s a minor point. He’s supposed to have a mundane (if not well sculpted) look. He learned to beat a bully by being a good counter-puncher. He kept parts of his life hidden from his mother so he could avoid shame and still be productive (I don’t condone that, but it’s a survival technique for a troubled time).

Image credit: Marvel Comics

Liquefaction

Of course when soaked, the ground beneath us can lose all strength. It’s great to “go with the flow” when life deals us good fortune. Unfortunately, too much exposure to the status quo and a lack of mindfulness leads to a lack of direction in life. Dulling experiences to drown challenges only leads to more despair.

This actually happened when Venom fought Sandman and ripped away a part of his body, and Marko couldn’t take a human appearance for a while. Don’t become indifferent to everything in the world. There is always something to cling to.

Image credit: Marvel Comics

Mirroring

*gasp* – an actual psychological term? Yes! When we interact with others, we may subconsciously copy what we see and here from the other person. As long as it’s not obvious mocking, this may be the best social skill-builder we have. We want others to like us, and to be like us. Sandman has the types of power that could make this his number one talent, yet he comes across as too brutish to develop it further.

He’s more likely to use his body as glass, or turn his fists into hammers, than to subtly match the body language or facial expressions of his opponent. Then again, he eventually does use a more sophisticated form of mirroring by becoming an ally of Spider-Man for a while. Even when he turns on him like shifting … allegiances, Peter Parker remains an odd confidant at times.

Image credit: Marvel Comics

Inevitable demise

Well, it’s comics. There’s no real end . But what’s that old saying, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”? Our memories fade. Our bodies weaken. This sounds like it’s a sad progression, and it can be. Thankfully, there is no rule that says it must be so.

Reflecting on a life well-lived, relationships fostered as the hourglass runs out of … utility, fondly basking in the contentment that one person can have an impact on many. That’s a celebration! Wisdom doesn’t crumble. It becomes fertile soil for a new harvest.

In fact, that’s how we’re usually left with Sandman stories. He may have been mixed into a cement coma, or scattered to the winds, or an amorphous blob, but Peter uses those opportunities to reflect on the value of consciousness. As long as you have one grain left, you can always gather another.

AiPT! Science is co-presented by AiPT! Comics and the New York City Skeptics.

Thank you for joining AiPT! during Spectacular Spider-Month! Be sure to check back in every day for more Spider-Man content including interviews, features, opinions, and more!

Credit: Marvel

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