Thursday, July 16, 2009

Clothes make the man

Ok, so this is happening a lot: People dressed up as Superman (and super heroes in general) are being arrested. It's getting to be something of a pattern. There's this guy:

On Tuesday, he was lying on the sidewalk, which, not surprisingly even in this city, caught the attention of a police officer.
“I am just tired, I am not going anywhere,” prosecutors quoted him as telling the police. “I am Superman, the Governorator, ” he said, according to a law official.
He then ran into the street. Vehicles swerved around him, the complaint said. He “flailed” his arms, refusing to be handcuffed, it said.
And so that was how he landed in Judge Alvin Yearwood’s courtroom, sitting on a hard bench at about 11 a.m. on Wednesday, with a hole in his tights, as prostitution and drunk driving suspects were called up to appear.
“This was the company that Superman was keeping,” said John Marshall Mantel, a freelance photographer for The New York Times who saw him there.

I'm not sure I understand the reason behind referring to the guy as Superman. The "freelance photographer" is only one of the people who do this sort of thing. Because he wears the costume, he is the character. At least that's the logic here. This is a tough subject for me to work through, because there are a lot of facets to it. Lots to account for.

For instance, by putting on a Santa Claus outfit, a person kind of sort of really does become Santa Claus--at least in the eyes of the kids who believe in him. And there is something similar going on with Superman. And with the disney characters. The Superman (Josh Boltinghouse) at the Metropolis Superman Celebration isn't allowed to appear out of Character. He displays his own face (as does Superman--Mark Waid's Superman: Birthright has a great take on why this is necessary; Waid's a guy who really has thought all of this through), and because of his contract, kids who attend the festival will see the same face on Superman for many years.

A guy I interviewed here in Bloomington told me about the day he realized there was no Superman. He told it just like you might imagine a kid relating the story of how he learned there was no Santa Claus. It was the differences from his idealized version and the guy standing in front of him in a truck stop that clued him in. This guy had a wedding ring, a beer gut, and a moustache. None of which the Superman in his imagination possessed.

So what, exactly is going on with comments like the one by the photographer? Why must we conflate the man with the costume? Another example:

Superman and Batman took on New York's Finest last night in an epic Crossroads of the World battle that left the Caped Crusader in cuffs. (from the article linked in my previous post)

The costume is the most important symbolic aspect of Superman. Are these quotations telling us that by appropriating the symbol, we appropriate the identity? Or do they reveal that Superman is only what we make of him? That we control his image with what we do, so we should be careful what we do, especially when dressed as him?

The guy who dresses as Superman in Confessions of a Superhero probably has a lot to say about this. It was kind of appropriate how he as Superman was sort of the leader of all the other people who dress in costume outside the Chinese Theater in LA.

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