Monday, May 14, 2012


I had this weird moment a while back, while doing research for this Superman book. It was maybe 1:30 in the morning, and I had put on the movie Hollywoodland. I wasn't that interested in it at the time, and so I was reading the book A World without Time by Palle Yourgrau. I was taking some notes on the book, occasionally jotting down a relevant line from the movie, and suddenly the oddity of what was going on around me took hold.

I was watching  a man (Louis Simo, played by Adrien Brody) watch home movies. He sat in a darkened room while a 16 mm film played. He watched himself lift up his son so the boy could stretch out his arms and pretend to fly like Superman. At the same time, I was reading about the friendship of Kurt Godel and Albert Einstein, and about how these men have contributed to the idea that time does not exist, at least not as most people understand it. If Einstein was correct about relativity, Godel argued, then there is no such thing.  I must admit, a lot of that stuff was beyond me. There's math involved.

I was watching a movie about a man who was attempting to abolish time by watching home movies, while reading a book about how time does not exist. All because of Superman.

Ben Affleck as George Reeves as Superman
There's a lot more to the movie, and to the book. But I was reading both because Superman led me there. George Reeves, played by Ben Affleck in the film, played Superman on television in the 1950's. And that part of Reeves' live plays a major role in the film. And Superman's greatest power, I had concluded at the time, was time travel. I'm no longer convinced of that conclusion, but I was exploring it at the time.

My real point in all of this: Superman is such an all-encompassing subject that I could literally study anything I want with him at the center. The history of popular culture (hollywood, comics--really any narrative form), any aspect of science (there are several books about this already), myth, clothing and costuming, visions of the future, astronomy and the possibility of alien contact, moral philosophy, childhood development, play, creativity, and a lot of others I can't think of right now.

Dead Man Speaks is collected here.
But in all of that, I'm most reminded of an essay called "Dead Man Speaks" by William Gibson. He's talking about the fact that we can actually hear the recorded voices of people long gone, and the dissonance that results from that. We're the only species with a rewind button. Not a bad definition for the current state of humanity. He wonders briefly at the repercussions of this state of affairs:

The end-point of human culture may well be a single moment of effectively endless duration, an infinite digital Now.

That's it. The abolition of time. When age and decrepitude have no power against the nostalgia-driven fulfilled wish of the pause button. When we need never forget. Superman sometimes has perfect memory, and sometimes can travel to the past and future just by flying really fast. We can all do this, so to speak, with our memory and imagination. How long before the virtual becomes actual? How long before Gibson's idea comes to fruition?

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