Thursday, June 18, 2009


This past weekend, I went to Metropolis, Illinois, for the Superman Celebration. I spent the weekend conducting interviews, recording events, and watching stuff.

The Celebration is organized by a committee of citizens of Metropolis who are devoted to their jobs. They're friendly and amazingly organized. Everything went smoothly, and they answered all my questions. I talked to some of them for half an hour or more, and they were gracious and excited about everything going on, even my book. They're led by Lisa Gower and Karla Ogle, who are sisters.

The events were spread out across the town, but many of the activities happened on Market Stree, which runs northeast from the 15' tall Superman statue, famous most recently for a picture of Barack Obama standing in front of it with arms akimbo. Here's the strip of food and vendors looking northeast toward some ominous clouds. About five minutes after I took this, it poured.

And here we are looking southwest, toward the Statue and the courthouse that sits beyond it.

The local businesses, which are located behind the tents in these pictures, use the occasion to try to sell more stuff. Superman gets an endorsement, whether he likes it or not. Here he is, in a collage that includes Obama and a better picture of the statue, advertising for a store. The Skin Shop has super deals (The Skin Shop is a mini day spa, by the way).

Here you can get an idea of the statue's size. These people are standing on the pedement, which is shaped like the Superman s-shield.

There were many people in costume, but only on officially sanctioned Superman, who's name is Josh Boltinghouse. He won the Search for Superman context and a five year deal to play Superman at the Celebration. Here he is, with my son Jacob.

Jacob, by the way, turned 2 this past Monday.

Inside the chamber of Commerce. There are tons of Superman souvenirs there, in case the vendors outside and the Super Museum shop didn't provide enough. (there's also, incongruously, a poster of the Wesley Snipes/Tommy Lee Jones film US Marshalls--which I came to learn was filmed partly in Metropolis). For some reason, I thought this section of the Commerce gift shop worth photographing.

I got lots of good stuff for a book here. If I was ever in doubt that this book will be about something important to people, that doubt was put to rest by this trip. People really make Superman an importatnt part of their lives, and not always for the same reasons. The Superman Celebration crystallizes that into one weekend. For some, it serves the same function that Halloween costuming serves: a chance to put on another face for a day or two, to let loose. I interviewed a pair of brothers, Alex and John Rinaldi, who do not put on costumes but are devoted Superman fans. They said that to dress up like that is to become interesting to others, like becoming a god for a weekend. An interesting observation.

For the town, it's an economic goldmine. They have other things that help this, a casino, a revolutionary war fort (with its own festival and re-enactment), and a harley davidson ralley. But many of them, while not necessarily fans, really get behind Superman and the Celebration. they love the work and the result. They love meeting the people. Karla, one of the chairs of the committee, compared it to a cross between Disneyland and a small town Festival. I'd replace Disneyland with a comic convention, but that might just be because I haven't been to disneyland. But my reason for the convention is the sense of community, which I doubt exists at Disneyland. Do many of the people who run the theme park know the guests by name? Perhaps, but do they incorporate the guests into the opening ceremony, allow them to run a trivia game? My interview with Karla included several moments when attendees would come up to her to chat for a bit. She knew them all by name.

All told, some 40,000 people attended the four day event. There were costume contests, a soft ball game, a car show, and scores of other events. I can't even list them all here, but they spread all over the town. I'm not that adept at fieldwork, having had little practice but a lot of theoretical instruction. I think I may have to go back next year.

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