… man is an enigma to himself. This is understandable, seeing that he lacks the means of comparison necessary for self-knowledge. He knows how to distinguish himself from other animals in point of anatomy and physiology, but as a conscious reflecting being, gifted with speech, he lacks all criteria for self-judgement. He is on this planet a unique phenomenon he cannot compare with anything else. The possibility of comparison and hence of self-knowledge would arise only if he could establish relations with quasi-human mammals inhabiting other stars.
– Carl Jung
While Superman physiologically looks like a regular human being his abilities are far beyond those of the common man. Even though his powers have been changed and slightly tweaked over the decades, he still remains on of the most powerful comic book characters. His alien birth and cognisance of another comparable civilization make him a very unique character to discuss. He doesn’t suffer from the same anxiety that human beings suffer from because of a lack of comparison as Jung describes in the quote above. He is very aware of other civilizations, other languages and global systems of governance. He has all the tools available to him for self-knowledge but he ultimately is not human and has much to bring in his observations.
A lot of comic book characters have been used at one time or another as a political vehicle for the propagation of a certain ideology. Superman is no exception to this rule as he ironically stands for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Therein lies our first contradiction. Superman doesn’t kill villains or people who potentially are a threat to the country or the city of Metropolis. Whereas the USA has killed many people, toppled many democratically elected governments, and grossly mistreated some of her own peoples. I want to start with a quote from Umberto Eco
Often the hero’s virtue is humanized and his powers, rather than being supernatural, are the extreme realization of natural endowments such as astuteness, swiftness,fighting ability, or even the logical faculties and the pure spirit of observation found in Sherlock Holmes. In an industrial society, however, where man becomes a number in the realm of the organization which has usurped his decision-making role, he has no means of production and is thus deprived of his power to decide. Individual strength, if not exerted in sports activities, is left abased when confronted with the strength of machines which determine man’s very movements. In such a society the positive hero must embody to an unthinkable degree the power demands that the average citizen nurtures but cannot satisfy.
The character of Superman embody’s an unbelievable amount of powerful. He has to because he is the means through which we can project our own sense of insignificance and weakness. One of the major feelings that marks a post industrial society is a feeling of apathy and helplessness (helpless to change the situations we find ourselves in politically sociologically psychologically) Superman is the antithesis of this to an unthinkable extreme.
The Double Identity
Superman alter ego Clark Kent is the mean through which Superman can live and move among us without arousing our suspicion and or hatred. For the sake of the narrative Superman’s double ego has a specific purpose. It is the embodiment of his understanding or critique of humanity at its current state of development.
He appears to quote Eco “fearful, timid, not overly intelligent, awkward, nearsighted, and submissive to his matriarchal colleague Lois lane who in turn despises him. He is the average man in our society assailed by psychological complexes and despised by his fellow man.”
Superman’s goal is to set an attainable example of what human should aspire to, Superman is crippled by this need to be an example for humanity. He cannot kill those who repeatedly conspire to hurt humanity though it is in his power. He also cannot utilize his full force when fighting his super powered enemies either for the collateral damage it will cause. Reading the superman comics was always a study for me of isolation, and self-denigration. I would imagine that the truly smart and gifted among us have to appear in ways that the majority would find acceptable.
The Political Superman
The character of superman has been based on that of the Biblical Moses. He is torn from the warm embrace of his parents, and his shit travels down the watery ways of deep space to the Earth. However what is interesting about Superman the comic is the he doesn’t concern himself with the afterlife or some otherworldly place where our good deeds will take us. He is concerned with the here and now. Which reminds me or takes me back to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch – the Overman also translated as the superman.
Nietzsche introduces the concept of the Übermensch in contrast to the other-worldliness of Christianity: Zarathustra proclaims the Übermensch to be the meaning of the earth and admonishes his audience to ignore those who promise other-worldly hopes in order to draw them away from the earth. The turn away from the earth is prompted, he says, by a dissatisfaction with life, a dissatisfaction that causes one to create another world in which those who made one unhappy in this life are tormented. The Übermensch is not driven into other worlds away from this one. Zarathustra declares that the Christian escape from this world also required the invention of an eternal soul which would be separate from the body and survive the body’s death. Part of other-worldliness, then, was the abnegation and mortification of the body, or asceticism. Zarathustra further links the Übermensch to the body and to interpreting the soul as simply an aspect of the body.
A lot of our politics in American is derivative of our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and a corner stone of the the Judeo-Christian Heritage is this concern for the other world, for what lies beyond the realm of the perceivable and demonstrable. Superman’s core nature is apolitical however unlike Moses. Moses is the law giver he is the master politician who through some holy authority leads and guides his people to the promised land. Superman isn’t a law giver, he serves as an inspiration as to what we could achieve if we turned from our violent ways.
Ending it Off
I could continue but I feel that I am beating a dead horse here. If there is something more I could say lemme know
- Superman vs The Elite (fight 1 of 4) (gradingfightscenes.com)
- A Letter to Superman (lastyearsman.com)
- Superman: The Essential Comics (houseofgeekery.com)
- The Reality of Superman or Why There Can’t be a Good Superman Movie (thedailyquirk.com)