My family has a disproportionate love of Superman and I never quite understood why until recently.
When I say disproportionate love, I mean manic crazy love. My sister took a tape recorder into Superman II, recorded the whole damned thing, and then transcribed the entire movie via a typewriter. Why? So she could read the transcript of the movie she just saw.
I followed her madness by clipping Superman II ads out of any newspaper I could find and placing them carefully into a photo album. Black and white, low resolution ads. All the same, carefully curated in a photo album so I could remember what it felt like to watch those movies.
Clearly we both had too much time on our hands.
Superman has suffered since those first two movies. The latter movies were awful. We had high hopes for Superman Returns, but the essential story was left on the editing room floor. Meanwhile there were the critiques of Superman the character, that he’s boringly one dimensional. An invulnerable and totally moral character. He’s perfect; he can do no wrong. He’s not a realistic reflection of us mortal humans and therefore an unattainable idea.
Meanwhile, Batman. Yes, pathos and dysfunction. That’s a hero. Look at him – he’s that close to killing The Joker. He thinks about it because even though he’s a strategic fictional genius, he’s kinda fucked up. AND WAIT DID HE JUST KISS CATWOMAN? See, Batman has good days and bad days… just like you and I. I love Batman. While he remains a hyperbolic exaggeration of our ability, if you shoot him, it hurts, and we can relate to hurting. Does Superman ever feel pain?
I better understood what Superman meant when I watched the most recent and final trailer for Man of Steel. When Lois Lane asks him what the S stands for, he says, “It’s not an S. On my world, it means hope.”
When a twisted someone believes that they are delivering an important message by blowing up innocents in a city that is a cradle of our liberty, I choose hope. I choose unrealistic and unbounded hope. I choose Superman.
Superman is a story. It’s a great story. It’s an unrealistic story full of fantastic elements that appeal to our desire to be intensely good humans, to perform amazing feats of strength, and to live forever. These stories, while unrealistic, give us direction, they temporarily relieve our burdens, and they give us an ambitious plan forward.
Perhaps the biggest critique you can make of Superman is that because he makes it look so easy with the flying and the invulnerability that doing the impossible is somehow easy or even achievable. It’s big. It’s over the top. It’s unrealistic and no one human can ever complete the feats of a single Superman. But it’s not the individual feats of Superman we care about, it’s that we, as a group of humans, working together, can do anything, even though it’s never easy.
My family loves Superman because he is an unrealistic and impossible creature. We know that. We know he sets an impossible bar, but we need that bar because that is how we dream big, that is how we aspire to something great, and that is why we choose hope.