2011: Desperately Seeking Superman Part 1
So I keep hearing all of this talk, and have for a while now, about “updating” Superman. Talk of whether or not he’s still relevant, talk of his American vs. International roots, talk of which elements of his mythology need to evolve or be eliminated completely, and then there’s the Big Kahuna: Does he even belong in the Global Soup that we swim in in 2011?
And my answer to all that is….he’s not the one that needs to be changed, and he’s not the one that has changed, we have.
1) His Origin
Much ado has been made about his comparison to both Moses and Jesus Christ. Superman was indeed released by his biological parents as a baby, amidst destruction all around him. He did indeed travel in a vessel constructed specifically for him, to a land that was far away from his place of birth. He was indeed found and adopted by foreign parents(foreign meaning they weren’t Kryptonian) and raised to “look like one of them” but with his parents knowing that he really isn’t one of us. He was indeed the only son of his father sent to save and inspire the world, he did indeed come to a point where he knew he had to separate himself from humanity to learn and develop his true nature, and later be reintroduced as someone different, and he does indeed display powers and abilities far beyond what ordinary people can do.
He has also been hailed as the ultimate immigrant, because he did indeed enter this country from another place, and spearhead the movement of extra-terrestrial acceptance(doesn’t hurt that he could pass for a white boy from Kansas though). Because of him, other heroes that were either the last of their kind, or the chosen one of their kind, found a bridge into the world of herodom, J’onn, Diana, and Arthur being some of the more prominent examples. When you take away the mythological elements of Superman’s origin, and make him more Earth bound while minimizing or eliminating his alien roots, you do away with the grandness of his destiny. Part of the whole point of his origin is not just to display that he has powers….but to display that he has a mission. A purpose. As did Moses(“Let my people go”) and Christ(“He shall save the people from their sins”). Jor-El knew what he was doing when he chose Earth…that was always on purpose. He never, in any origin story I’ve ever read, just randomly picked Earth, or just shot Kal into space hoping that he’d be alright. He sent him somewhere where he knew that the rays of the yellow sun would fundamentally transform what his son’s body could do…and in many tellings of the tale(but not all), the Kents were specifically targeted as well(more on that later).
Q. So what’s wrong with all of that?
A. Absolutely nothing.
The problem here is the cynicism and unbelief that pervade modern culture when it comes to leadership. And heroes.
I remember a time when little boys would look up to firemen….to astronauts….and want to be them when they grew up. When society in general would revere and respect State Governors…look up to the President…to dignitaries, both domestic and foreign…to teachers….to clergy…to parents.
And all of that has gone to Hell.
The rhetoric and actions of so many of the people that used to be heroes is so full of shit it needs diapers. Firefighters caught using racial and homophobic slurs on the air, as well as making videos that display a total lack of discretion given their job. Police officers tasering and beating people to death, calling it justifiable every time. Politicians using their positions to feather their own nests at the expense of the people they’ve been elected to serve, whilst totally backpedaling, ignoring, or simply lying about the promises that they made to get into office. Teachers hooking up with students, sometimes even running away with them. Clergymen being full of hatred and condemnation for sin, supposedly, while secretly doing the very things that they preach against. Now, I don’t really think that all of that is new…I think that it was always happening, and to be sure, the sensationalized extremes are most often the minority examples when it comes to those groups that I named. The vast majority of them do their jobs, and many do them well. Unfortunately, the media has given the population X-ray vision when it comes to the negative aspects of human behavior, and you cannot watch any news program without seeing something that just serves as a pinprick in the balloon of your soul. I’m over 21, but for anyone born in 1990 or later, this is the world that they know.
So why exactly should they believe in heroes?
And that’s the problem when it comes to Superman….we have a whole generation or two, as well as a national culture that can simply no longer relate to, or believe in, the idea that someone would show up, with power beyond imagining, with no real vested interest in serving humanity other than his own altruistic motives, and have humanity’s best interests at heart. Because who does that nowadays? There is absolutely nothing wrong with the powerful & wise foreign/alien father sending the son as a babe to grow up and save/inspire/lead his people model…it’s just much harder to believe in.