Thursday, April 2, 2009

A central focus of my book is the morality at the heart of Superman. The jokes about him lead me there, as do the conversations I've had about the character. So I'm glad to see essays like this one, at It's a response the idea that Superman's morality would be shaped by his powers, that he would inevitably give in to the temptation to use them for his own selfish ends and because he doesn't, he's not an interesting character. The response is well articulated.

The list of people given the nickname Superman grows every day. Here's Shane McConkey, extreme skiier. Then there's Dr. Gahl, about whom I know nothing other than that he's associated with the fight against Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome.

The title for the Dr. Gahl post refers to him as "our Superman." I recently read that superheroes are not so much gods in the sense of a lot of gods whose nature gives them provenance over some force of nature or human institution (i.e., Zeus was god of justice and lightning; Athena was god of wisdom in battle and weaving), but rather superheroes are tutelary deities who protect specific cities. It's not entirely true, but super heroes are first and foremost associated with cities, especiallly Superman. Superman is also associated, with varying degrees of agreement, with "the American way," which makes him a patriotic figure more so than pretty much any other super hero. The iconography supports the argument.

What I'm getting at here is the "god's on our side" attitude. It crops up in sports, in war, and probably in lots of other places. Several religious people have written books on Superman, mostly to point out the parallels with Christ and show us the way, so to speak. John T. Galloway, Jr. wrote perhaps the earliest one of these, The Gospel According to Superman. More recent books attempt to demonstrate that Superman is Christ-like, and that this is a good thing. Galloway goes in the opposite direction, labeling Superman a false god and saying that the best response to his story is to compare it unfavorably to the gospels. In particular, he notes that Superman is "on our side," which he criticizes because of his belief that god is on everyone's side. I've simplified his argument perhaps too much, but I hope the point is clear.

If there's "our Superman" there can be one for other people, too. All of which is sort of beside the point. I think the post I've been discussing labels Dr. Gahl as Superman because of his tireless efforts attempting to find a cure for the disease in question. So "our" here isn't a form of patriotism, and in fact includes everyone. I don't even necessarily agree with Galloway. Just writing and writing and writing. Here's a patriotic picture:

Interestingly, the image came up on a website devoted to stem cell research, something Christopher Reeve advocated, if I recall correctly, because it could lead to advancements in treatment for the injuries he sustained. There was an episode of South Park about this, which pitted Reeve against Gene HackMan. Funny stuff.

Then there's this:

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