Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Heroism and Superman II

Our thoughts on Superman often parallel our thoughts on the president. This came to the foreground with the widespread references to President Obama in Supermanian terms during the days of his first campaign and early term. And it was no coincidence that Bill Clinton was referred to as Superman when he facilitated the release of two Americans from North Korea a while back.

But I don't want to write about the presidency today--not about broken promises (is a hero someone who always keeps a promise, no matter the consequences?) or exceptionalism or fascism or hope and change. I'm going to write about the Fortress of Solitude.

In Superman '78, a teenage Clark Kent hurls a green crystal into the Arctic ice and witnesses the rise of a place where he can go to be alone, to learn and become the sort of person he wants to be. In the comics, he often does experiments there, and keeps souvenirs and trophies; it's a place of history moreso than anything else. Its purpose is fulfilled when  he takes flight for the first time, returning to the world to help it realize its potential. He stops criminals, rescues a cat from a tree, saves Lois Lane.

I see so much rhetoric about both American exceptionalism and isolation, as if keeping the rest of the world out will transform a country into a paradise. I can't help but think of the Fortress of Solitude in that context. Yes, Superman became a hero by isolating himself, but only for a little while--and he wasn't really isolated. He had with him all the learning of his birthplace. He had, in the Fortress, the capacity for change. I worry that isolation (true isolation, as is being proposed; separation from the world itself in an attempt to put America first) will have the opposite effect. Isolation can breed stagnation. After all, if Superman had never left the Fortress, that cat would still be stuck up in the tree.

I'm always wary of any tradition that counsels disengagement from the world. 

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