looking at superheroes - myth, pop culture, ideology...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Myth of Superman pt. 3

Superman is examined as a mythical figure in this CNN article (Jesus Christ Superman, June 14 2006) . I guess this is a mainstream take on the whole thing.

Not everybody welcomes the Superman-Jesus comparisons.
"It's a misrecognition," said Amy Pedersen, who is writing her doctoral thesis in art history at the University of California, Los Angeles, on superhero comic books.
Pedersen said Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who introduced Superman in 1938 in a comic book, were Jews who were inspired by the Old Testament story of Moses and the supernatural golem character from Jewish folklore. (Author Michael Chabon made much of these similarities in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.")
The Christian allusions are recent innovations that compromise the integrity of the Superman myth, she said.
"This does not need to be a consistent cultural form from its beginning to its present, but something has to be maintained," Pedersen said. "Superman Returns" director Bryan Singer said the notion of Superman as a messianic figure is simply another case of contemporary storytelling borrowing from ancient motifs.
Singer, who is Jewish, said his neighbors' Christianity played a powerful role in the community where he grew up.
"These allegories are part of how you're raised. They find their way into your work," he said. "They become ingrained in your storytelling, in the same way that the origin story of Superman is very much the story of Moses."

I read on a blog somewhere that seeing Superman as a Christ like figure is problematic, because more people will go to the Church. The author sees the Jesus-ness (is it a word? it is now) of Superman as ideologically hidden. Problematic.

"My concern is that in a time where an aggressive Christian right is looking for new ways to reach young people, one of America’s most positive icons threatens to be hijacked. The more Superman resembles Christ, the more Christ resembles Superman. For some young people this may be the kind of link they need to buy into a cult of ignorance."

Cult of ignorance? What? Superman has as much in common with Jesus Christ as do hundreds of other modern icons. Simba in the Lion King. Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. Neo in the Matrix. Large in Garden State. Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks. Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. Frodo. Wolverine. It is storytelling. It is retelling one, grand narrative that helps us all understand what this world is, what life is, who we are. What is right and wrong.

I don't think that Superman being a Christ figure will win the church any more followers. The important thing to note is that the bible is a form of tribal mythology, that over time has been made historical, authoritative 'fact' through normalisation.

Also worth a look is this essay, Batman Crucified: Religion and Modern Superhero Comic Books. Its PDF, its not too long, and its fucking awesome. It looks at constructions of the heroic icon from within a religious paradigm.

Sydney Morning Herald has an article, "Is Superman the new Messiah?" (June 21, 2006). Similar stuff to whats above, but more local.

More soon.

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