Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Superman: A Symbolic Representation of the State of Our Union

I've always loved Superman.


Yes, he's nearly invulnerable, has probably WAY too many powers (which fluctuate in strength depending on who's telling the story), and is known as a "boy scout", but he is my all-time favorite superhero.

Why do I like him so much? I think the number one reason is that he's a good guy. The character of Superman is a moral, upright person (alright, alien) who is constantly trying to do the right thing. The very essence of Superman is self-control. He could kill anyone at any point, but he chooses not to. He could have any woman (thousands are throwing themselves at his feet), but instead he married, and stays faithful to Lois Lane.

However, over the years as I've watched and studied this iconic character, I've noticed a disturbing trend. The heroic and moral figure that I've loved has changed, and not always for the better.

Click here to go to the page where I found this image.
When Superman was first invented in 1938, he was an full-blown American. He was super (forgive the pun) patriotic, stood for 'truth, justice, and the American way,' and used his abnormal strength to topple cheesy villains.

He was a huge success. So what if his costume was designed after a circus performer? That style lasted for years, and was copied by many other wannabes. Our country empathized with and loved Superman. We were also extremely patriotic in 1938 and we wanted to be good moral people. Superman symbolized what every human desired to be like. Yes, he was a little goofy, but people read comics to be entertained and they like to laugh at the campy characters.

The original context of the character occurred in the Great Depression. The wikipedia page states:
"Superman took on the role of social activist, fighting crooked businessmen and politicians and demolishing run-down tenements. Comics scholar Roger Sabinsees this as a reflection of "the liberal idealism of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal", with Shuster and Siegel initially portraying Superman as champion to a variety of social causes."

He continued in this tradition as the years passed and he fought other social groups like the Ku Klux Klan. His creators, Siegel and Shuster, were both Jewish, and some scholars have suggested that Superman's creation was influenced by Moses. On the wikipedia page, it states:
 For example, Superman's Kryptonian name, "Kal-El", resembles the Hebrew words קל-אל, which can be taken to mean "voice of God". The suffix "el", meaning "(of) God," is also found in the name of angels (e.g. Gabriel, Ariel), who are flying humanoid agents of good with superhuman powers. Tye suggests that this "Voice of God" is an allusion to Moses' role as a prophet. Moreover, Kal-El's parents send him away in a vessel, delivering him to new adoptive parents in an alien culture in order to save him from impending doom, just as Moses' parents do. "The narratives of Krypton's birth and death borrowed the language of Genesis.""
Other people (including myself) have seen Superman as a symbol of Christ. This has been heavily stressed in some of the movies as well. 

However, as times have changed, so has Superman. His stories and villains have become darker and more violent. Superman himself has faced times where he struggled with his own inner darkness. Of course, thus far, he has always conquered, but sometimes it has been supremely difficult. As the morality of our country has struggled and become fuzzy, Superman's own decisions and methods have been questioned. People have become less interested in a hero that strives to be perfect and more interested in heroes that have questionable moral ethics. 

I think one of the worst things that Hollywood tried to do to the Superman character was to give him an (spoiler alert) illegitimate son in Superman Returns. Hollywood and television have tried harder to rip down the morality of Superman than any other medium. In the comics, Superman eventually married Lois Lane, and they adopted a child. However, before that, Superman practiced celibacy. This was well-stressed in the series Lois and Clark where Lois finds out that Clark is a virgin. Hollywood tried to change that, much to the dislike of many of Superman's fans. That is the main reason that I didn't enjoy that movie as much as I should have. Hollywood wants us to believe that no one can abstain from intimacy before marriage, and everyone is doomed to have one or two past affairs. This is NOT true, and anyone who writes Superman with those fallacies in mind is determined to ruin the soul of the character.

(By the way, I loved Man of Steel. I felt as though the character was again portrayed in a way that was true to the essence of Superman, even if they did ruin half of Metropolis in the process.)

As our country has slid further and further from clear moral standpoints, many heroes like Superman have faded away or been mocked or scorned because they are 'too perfect'. However, for some reason, the Man of Steel is still a popular figure all across the globe. 

Even though the story lines and villains have darkened, for the most part, Superman still retains his intrinsic goodness and moral strength of character. I feel that even though our country has darkened and all the media portrays is evil, for the most part, our country is still filled with good people that are trying to be better. None of us are perfect (we all have our kryptonite), but we are trying.

It is possible that the day that Superman fails and stops being the moral symbol that he is; may be the day that the majority of our countrymen abandon their morals as well. 

That day may be coming sooner than we'd like.

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