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Friday, March 27, 2009

The Superman in Us All

Among the many uses of the term Superman is its application to specific real people. Here are a few instances:

Superman Ahmet, a Turkish diplomat.

Blake Griffin, a basketball player. The name is applied to lots and lots of sports stars, but this one seems sort of critical. The writer seems to be saying that it's not enough to be Superman on a sports team; you have to lead a team, not carry it. I can't help but think of all the comics that stress Superman's leadership role, in the Justice League and out of it. Is his leadership not part of the popular conception? What's the difference between leading and inspiring?

Li Ka-Shing, investor. In this case, it seems to indicate that he's just really good at what he does, which is to make money.

Sebastian O'Hare, survivor of a nearly fatal car crash, who's showing his doctors what they can do with their prognoses of death, coma, and parapalegia.

I've already mentioned Dwight Howard once before on this weblog, but it's good to see it again.

If I had to guess what quality of basketball makes it so common to label its players Superman (and there are lots of examples I haven't included here), I'd say it's because they jump really high. In addition, people tend to conceive of Superman as someone who doesn't need help. (See Lois' comment in the '78 movie: "You've got me...who's got you?" Nobody. He flies on his own.) Basketball is a team sport that often is dominated by one key player on a team. I think Jordan exemplified this, and especially relevant were the two years during which he "retired" for the first time, which are a break in the long streak of Bulls' championships. They won again when he came back. Whether it's leadership, inspiration, or intimidation, I cannot say. The point is, the sport is dominated by singular players. (Yes, I know there are counterexamples. The Pistons and current Celtics. But the fact that I can't even name another player on the Cavaliers must mean something.)

So Superman is somebody who's really good at what they do, whether that be recovering from injuries, playing sports, or making money. There's probably fodder here for another post on the romanticly conceived notion of a Superman.

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