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The Man of Steel Movie & Our Loss of Innocence (July 1, 2013)

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As a child of the early sixties, I could remember watching the George Reeves’ Adventures of Superman show on television.

Back then, the show did not feature super-sized villains like those that we have grown used to seeing over the past thirty years or so. No, Superman generally fought against a garden variety of thugs, scientists with super weapons, e.g., a hypnotizing machines, robots, Episodes follow Superman as he battles gangsters, thugs, mad scientists and non-human dangers like asteroids, robots, and malfunctioning radioactive machines.

My immigrant father from Czechoslovakia used to fear that I would try to jump out of a window in an effort to fly. Yes, those were the days kids used to wear a tow and make believe they were actually flying. He never cared for much of the fantasy world comic books promoted, but for a young child, Superman taught me much about the psychological archetype that is associated with being hero. When I was a young child, Superman also taught me how the mighty need to treat life with reverence–a quality I would later associate with the Albert Schweitzer. In retrospect, Superman lived by a biblical ethos that teaches us that every human being is made in the Divine Image (Gen. 1:26). For a young Jewish child enamored with the Golem stories of medieval Jewish tradition, Superman seemed much more of a role model than the Golem.

Each incarnation of the Superman character evolved. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, featured a charming reinterpretation of the Superman mythos and as a young adult, I watched every show. The story-lines featured super-powered villains, a dangerous but charming Lex Luther, and a cute looking Lois Lane. Then came Smallville, which focused on the adolescent life of a young Superman. This was definitely the best of the television series programs I watched over the decades. Superman seems to have grown older, much like you and me.

When The Man of Steel movie came out, I discovered there was hardly a seat in the theater. Obviously, the film was well received by generations of Superman fans. After watching the reincarnation of General Zod, Krypton’s well-meaning but ruthless general, I was curious how Superman would dispose of his enemies. Then the makers of the Man of Steel movie threw a curve ball at me—Superman breaks General Zod’s neck, thus killing him. I had expected that Superman would have zapped Zod back to the Phantom Zone, or at least to The Twilight Zone—a show that was contemporaneous with the original Adventures of Superman of the 1950s.

Superman had always represented the ideals of “truth, justice, and the American way.” He always treated even his enemies with considerable humanity—even though they relished at the opportunity of killing our Kryptonian hero. Put in simple terms: Superman has never killed. Yet, in 2013, Superman does indeed kill. What kind of message does this say to our young and very impressionable children? One wonders whether a child may break another child’s neck the next time boys play Superman and General Zod. Somehow, I do not think my father would have approved of this postmodern version of Superman.

Now, my rabbinical training teaches me that anyone who threatens the life of another—how more so the lives of many—may be stopped by any means possible, even if it means murdering the assailant. Policemen make such ethical decisions on a daily basis whenever they see a robber or a thug endangering the life of an innocent. General Zod threatened to re-terra-form the earth, and in doing so, he threatened the lives of an entire planet. (If General Zod had such a machine, one wonders why he didn’t choose to terraform Mars or Titan instead—or some other exo-planet in this vast universe, but I realize such questions would render the Man of Steel movie meaningless.) With a little more forethought, the writers should have had Superman zap General Zod back to the Phantom Zone, until he would come back again at some future date for another episode.

Superman’s traditional reverence for life vanished in a heartbeat. Somehow, I think Superman was not the only one who lost his innocence, perhaps we all did by cheering our hero as he dispatched his foe to oblivion.

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Discussion

  1. M. Yitzhak Samuel  October 21, 2013

    It’s not reasonable to assume that Superman can do the job he does without killing the enemy occasionally. He’s done it in the comics more than a few times over the last few decades. What sets Superman apart from a character like “The Punisher” or someone like Nick Fury, is that Superman does not want to kill. He does not set out to do it, nor does he does not relish harming other people.

    Even in the case of New Zod, he pleaded with him. He attempted to reason with him. Kal-El did absolutely everything that could be done, short of sacrificing himself, or joining Zod’s corrupt cause. By the same token, Zod upon losing the battle, and in so doing losing his life’s purpose made the final battle a zero sum game. He had to die. It was the only way he could find redemption.

    I know the movie was panned by nerds far and wide, but I thought it was a pretty good representation of the current state of the Superman mythology. It was rich, textured, and full or ethical nuance. Much like the times we live in. A hero is never a pure hero anymore. Even children understand that right isn’t always all right, and wrong isn’t necessarily entirely wrong. Krypton isn’t portrayed as a whimsical fairy land, so much as it is a real place, deeply flawed, with conflict and disagreement.

    I’m happy to see this evolution in the way we look at Superman and his supporting cast of characters. I think the added realism adds to create a better story, rather than detract from it.

    Just my two cents.

    (reply)

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