Friday, June 14, 2013

In Defense of Superman

Superman! Just his name is enough to send some people into conniptions. He stands as one of the most divisive fictional characters we have. People tend to view him as the ultimate expression of the “super-hero”, which for some is a good thing and for some is bad.  His detractors tend to allow that he’s important historically, but they can’t seem to ever be a fan of him. Amongst their complaints are that “he’s boring” or, “he’s too good” or, “what’s with all the powers”, etc. etc. I myself was one of these people. I flocked to characters like Batman, Spider-Man, or the Fantastic four but Superman and I just couldn’t get on the same page.  However, as I’ve grown older, I have grown to love the character and everything he represents. Today I hope to present to you why if you are a Superman hater, you should change your ways and if already like him, to help you relive why you do. So without further ado, I present to you: IN DEFENSE OF SUPERMAN!

Superman matters because he represents everything we should strive to as a society and as
individuals. It’s true he has a lot of powers but those abilities are not what define him. He defined by his upbringing in Smallville and the values that world instilled in him and the ways those values have been tempered in the big city. He’s a man who has the ability to do anything and he chose to be a hero. That’s an ideal that we really all should strive for. We all have talents or resources that could be used to better the world but often we choose not to. It’s not that Superman always does the right thing, it’s that at least he tries to do the best he can with what he’s been given. He’s not too good, it’s that very often we are not good enough. It may not have been his original intention, but the character of Superman forces us to confront the fact that we often give up without giving our full measure for others.
Superman is often weighed against other heroes like Batman, and is usually found wanting. This isn’t utterly surprising considering what Batman represents. Batman speaks to a legalistic nature in us all. He represents a deep seeded need to see people get their comeuppance when they do wrong. On a certain level Batman is very childish, he holds fast to notions of black and white and that justice is a harsh arbiter. Batman is childish because he can never truly forgive, which really is an adult quality. It’s also what separates him and Superman by a very wide chasm. It’s definitely not a trait that ruins the character, it’s just an example of why Superman is a better hero. So why is that people cling to the bat rather than the “s”? I think it’s because on a certain level the idea of what Superman represents is very scary. That we could give up on ideas like revenge and punishment and believe in forgiveness and a change for the better within people intimidates us.  That, and writers seem to have an easier time crafting stories staring Batman than they do with Superman.
So, why do I care about any of this? Because, I think that it’s important for people to have a fictional hero like Superman. In a day and age where people are becoming more and more self-centered it’s hard for me to want to wish away a super hero, a pulp culture icon, an institution like Superman. He stands for goodness, not perfection. He stands for the idea that there is something greater than your own needs and that by serving the common good you can help yourself as well. What’s boring about wanting to save everyone? It’s a noble sentiment.  Superman is there to remind you that no matter who you are and what your talents are that you can do great things in the world. Sure, he has fantastic powers that seem to multiply when needed but he is not defined by super breath, super speed, or super hypnosis. He is defined by his desire to use everything he can do to do good to his fellow person. He isn’t perfect, he isn’t infallible. He tries and fails. He can never save everyone, which is all he ever wants to do. A world where people look down on that as boring and worthless in a comic book character is a sad world.

I am not asking you to love every story published or every movie made. But I do earnestly hope that everyone can come to respect the ideals of Superman and maybe even emulate them. Because if you don't like those ideals or respect the man, it says more about you than it does about Superman.
All he ever wants to do.

 Enjoy Man of Steel this weekend everyone.

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