The problem is, with each new iteration of Superman, one has to suspend disbelief just a little bit more. Of course, the older one gets, and the more we, as a species learn, the harder that gets.
M and I went to see an advance showing of Superman Returns last night, and I really enjoyed it. But I had to completely forget everything I have ever learned about physics to do it. I do not say this as a criticism, just as a statement of fact. M did not like the movie as much as I did because she found it too hard to suspend her disbelief and we walked out of the theater discussing why Superman is such an enduring story.
In part, I think it is because every American thinks of themself as Superman. Americans love our heroes and this makes us no different from anyone else, anywhere on the planet. But a mainstay of the American Dream is that anyone can become a hero, given the right set of circumstances, and this helps to make superheroes part of the American pop landscape.
Superman, in particular is an ideal that is particularly American. He is, by turns, a warrior, a goof, a god, and a regular guy with a day job. He is also righteous to the point of arrogance, just to the point of vigilantism, and modest to the point of humility. In other words, he is all these great things, taken just a bit too far to be an average guy. Kinda like most of our other heroes.
I realize I am not saying anything new, nor anything that has not been said before, just that this gelled in my mind as I tried to explain almost 70 years of American pop culture to my wife in five minutes or less.
So now I am running an experiment on my wife. I am now making her watch some of the other iterations of the Superman mythos that have come along in the past few years: Lois and Clark, Smallville, and the animated Superman.
I want to see if, by seeing all these other versions of the ideal of truth, justice, and the American way, my wife begins to understand why I was bouncing up and down in my seat, like a four year old when Superman flew up to save the plane, or bullets bounced off his chest, or put out a fire using his breath; why even though I know it is not real, why even though I know it can not be real, why I keep on wishing it could be real.
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