Thursday, May 28, 2009

I don't know why I never tire of seeing Obama as Superman. It's always interesting to me. this one is stencilled graffiti, looks like it's on pavement somewhere.

Then there's the cover for this Taiwanese magazine. Flickr is absolutely wonderful for this project.

For a mere 29.95, you too can own your own Superman Obama bobblehead.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

American Dreamtime

I just finished the book called American Dreamtime, by Lee Drummond. Its "an anthropologist goes to the movies" angle is an intriguiging one, of which I approve. I believe it shows its age a bit, being writting way way back in 1995, with all of its defenses of choosing to study movies, but that's a minor quibble.

There are major quibbles, thought. First, Drummond doesn't mention Superman even once. What's the deal?

On a more serious note, Drummond lays out his theory of culture, which he derives from science and the notion that humanity is not a discrete species. He problematizes boundaries throughout the book. His overall argument is that"culture created humanity" rather than the other way around, by which he means that culture preceded homo sapiens and thus played a key role in evolution. There are some very interesting arguments made about myth, its nature and its importance. There's some pretty good macro-level points here.

On the micor-level, the book falls apart. The writing itself is annoying, but that's another minor quibble. Drummond chooses to focus on four films and series of films: James Bond, Star Wars, ET, and Jaws. Good choices overall. The Bond chapter is probably the most successful, and I wouldn't be surprised if Drummond is a huge fan. The chapter that follows it, on Star Wars, is simply inexcusably bad. Never before have I encountered a scholar who makes up data to fit his theories. Yet Drummond seemingly does so. Star Wars was pretty important to my childhood, so I know the films pretty well (but not the books or comics, which is why I have to say "seemingly does so"). So when Drummond puts certain scenes in the wrong movies (such as the first glimpse of Vader's face being in Empire instead Episode IV, as Drummond has it), I notice it but excuse it. However, Storm Troopers (which Drummond labels Imperial Guard but describes clearly as Storm Troopers) are not machines in the sense that he labels them--robots. He invents a scene where Han tells Luke not to worry about killing them because there's nothing inside the armor.

Everybody who's seen the prequels knows that Storm Troopers are clones. Devotees knew it a long time ago. it's not a recent idea. This is just crazy.

And no Superman. It's too bad, really. Then I might have something to say about it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This article about the reasons for the success of Batman movies and the failure of the recent Superman movie raises some interesting questions and makes a couple of good points. This paragraph, however, is probably a bit off.

So let's break this down into superheroes and its current trend in film. “Superman Returns,” the 2006 Bryan Singer dirge, didn't fail because audiences no longer resonate with a super being that can fly, shoot heat from his eyes and is immune to bullets. It failed because Superman is the epitome of good morals and justice, which today's audience find boring and childish.

I disagree with his reasoning here. I don't think that "today's audience" finds that boring at all. Success for Superman and for Batman do not have to be mutually exclusive things. I think, rather, that it's entirely more probably that people going to see a movie went with the idea that they'd see a Superman movie. Instead, they got something else. I'm not sure what that something else was--all I know is that it wasn't good by any reasonable standard. They got a lame plot. They got too much nostalgia and too little adventure and excitement. It failed because it wasn't a good movie.


I've been compiling a list of athletes (among others) who are called Superman. The Bleacher Report has done a short one, too, but with the added critique of pointing out how everyone on the list is not Superman for one reason or another.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Evidently the term Superman in fitness (at least in this article) refers to "Lying flat on your stomach, simultaneously raise both arms and legs (knees locked) as high as you can". From the pose Superman makes when he flies, no doubt.

Interestingly, that pose is sort of justified in The Iron Giant. I watched that not too long ago. It's fantastic, but I watched it because there's a lot about Superman in it. In an essay in the Man From Krypton: A Closer Look at Superman, David Hopkins says that the movie uses Superman as a guide to morality for powerful people. But Hogarth (the kid who befriends the Iron Giant) tells the giant to hold his arms out like Superman to steady himself as he flies. It works.

The latest edition of Wired UK has the Superman logo on the cover. For whatever reason, the computer I'm using won't download the on-line sample of the issue, so I don't exactly know why, but the cover blurb reads "How science is re-engineering your mind, body, and spirit..." so that may have something to do with it. Superman is, in some ways, and especially in the All Star version, about perfecting humanity.

A while back, Neil Gaiman and Adam Rogers wrote a brief piece in Wired called "The Myth of Superman." It's not a bad little essay, though I disagree with their assessment of Superman's villains. Sure, a lot of them are disposable, but as far as I know the only villain who's entered the general lexicon of pretty much everybody is Bizarro. Brainiac gets used pretty often, too. And everybody knows who Lex Luthor is.

I read a really good article on Halloween, called "Does the Word 'Dog' Bite?" It's by the legendary folklorist Linda Degh--legendary because of her primary area of study (legends) and her stature within the field. Her book Legend and Belief changed the way I approach narratives in general. The article only mentions Superman once, as a disguies for children on Halloween, but it's just generally interesting, so I thought I'd mention it. She points out that dressing up as Superman is enacting the legend of superman, a retelling of the story that she labels ostension (after Umberto Eco).
Then there's this, Superdavid:

There's a site called It ran a contest called Superhero ModRen. People were invited to take a renaissance painting and photoshop in a superhero or villain. Three different entries portrayed Michaelangelo's David as Superman. I liked this one the best, but that's just me. Looking at that statue from the front, it's easy to forget that it's actually a portrayal of David of David and Goliath fame. Once around back, you can see the sling draped over his shoulder in detail, and the story comes into focus. He was supposed to be perfection, I guess, as is Superman. He sired a line of kings that putatively lasted until Jesus.

In a related story, my wife Mandy and I went to see that statue in Florence. Waiting in line, a pigeon pooped on her head.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I wrote my dissertation on Prometheus, and I analyzed every use of the character I could find, from references in books to businesses that are named after the character. I also studied the use of the name as a referent in conversation. What did people mean when they referred to something as Prometheus, or Promethean?

I'm not doing this for Superman, because that would take the rest of my life, but I still think it's interesting. Take, for instance, the story "Sometimes You Feel Like a Man of Steel". It's hilarious for two reasons: First, because of the description of the pump at the beginning, which goes into far more detail about big macs than is necessary. Second, for the ending, and the perfect way the writer handles being punched in the stomach by a random drunk girl. I think the series of which this is a part, "Life is Real: Writing the final chapters" is a really great idea. I can barely imagine what it must be like to fight terminal cancer, but I think that having a forum to write about it must help in some small way.

Then there's stuff like this. The meaning that people find in Superman's secret identity takes a long time to catalogue. I hadn't come across a homosexual interpretation until now. I don't recall for sure, but I seem to remember a lot of people writing about the homosexual subtext to Superman Returns, basing it on the director's sexual orientation more than anything else. Wait a minute, I don't have to recall anything: i've got the internets...

Here's just about the only one worth a look:

"I think the generation of gay men that grew up on Superman and a few of the other comic superheroes probably read a lot of stuff into it that they recognized -- the whole double-life situation and running into 'closet-like' spaces," Lock says.

In Other News...

Friday, May 8, 2009


Since I discovered that someone is actually reading this (see the comment for the last post--by a real guy!), I figure I should remark on what I've been doing in my absence. First of all, I went to Los Angeles to deliver a portion of this project as a paper for the Western States Folklore Society annual meeting. The reception was enthusiastic, and there was a good discussion afterwards. It prompted one scholar--the incomparable Wolfgang Meider--to give me a book, which was nice. I got some nice feedback, notably from Elliott Oring, a humor scholar of much renown. The paper, by the way, was on a joke:

A guy walks into a bar on the top of a very tall building. He sits down, orders a huge beer, chugs it, walks over to the window, and jumps out. Five minutes later, the guy walks into the bar again, orders another huge beer, chugs it, walks over to the window, and jumps out again. Five minutes later, he re-appears and repeats the whole thing. About half an hour later, another guy at the bar stops the first guy and says, "hey, how the heck are you doing that?!" The first guy responds, "Oh, it's really simple physics. When you chug the beer, it makes you all warm inside and since warm air rises, if you just hold your breath you become lighter than air and float down to the sidewalk." "WOW!" exclaims the second man, "I gotta try that!" So he orders a huge beer, chugs it, goes over to the window, jumps out, and splats on the sidewalk below. The bartender looks over to the first man and says, "Superman, you're a jerk when you're drunk."

It's the same joke I posted a link to (in video version) in the first post. I must say, it got a good laugh when I told it to the crowd of folklorists. The meeting--and my talk in particular--were well attended, which was really nice. It was a good group of people, most of whom I'd never met before.

The other reason for the lack of posts is that I've been writing the next chapter. It's called "The Apotheosis of Our Former Selves" because why wouldn't I use the most ridiculous-sounding chapter title ever? It makes me laugh to think that I may be delivering a paper with this title at the next American Folklore Socity conference. It's in Boise. I've never been to idaho before.

This next chapter is about a joke as well:

At his request, each morning 3-year-old Ray's mother pinned a bath towel to the back shoulders of his size two T-shirt. Immediately in his young imaginative mind, the towel became a magic blue and red cape. And he became Superman. Outfitted each day in his "cape," Ray's days were packed with adventure and daring escapades. He was Superman. This fact was clearly pointed out last fall when his mother enrolled him in kindergarten class. During the course of the interview, the teacher asked Ray his name. "Superman," he answered politely and without hesitation. The teacher smiled, cast an appreciative glance at his mother, and asked again, "Your real name, please." Again, Ray answered, "Superman." Realizing the situation demanded more authority, or maybe to hide amusement, the teacher closed her eyes for a moment, then in a stern voice said, "I will have to have your real name for my records." Sensing he'd have to play straight with the teacher, Ray slid his eyes around the room, hunched closer to her, and answered in a voice hushed with conspiracy, "Clark Kent."

This one has gotten a few laughs as well. I've found it, verbatim, on five different websites. in the process of studying this joke, I've come to invent a whole biography for Ray. he and I don't get along very well.

While we're on the subject of fashion: It seems as if this warrants mentioning:

The "Superman" is what we work-hard-play-hard ladies named our semi-public wardrobe change ... where we wiggle out of the boring business suit and throw on a halter or the cocktail dress that's been smashed in the bottom of a work tote all day.

I'm not sure if this is an example of a journalist inventing a term, or it's real. Either way...

Finally, because there hasn't been a picture of Obama as Superman here in a while: