Man of Steel

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Is art, as they say, a reflection of the culture? If so, God help us!

I have a friend who attends the movies frequently. We correspond via e-mail, and he often asks me if I’ve seen this or that movie — none of which I’ve ever heard of, much less seen. Perhaps he’ll laud the performance of some actor whose name means nothing to me.

When I tell him that the last movie I saw was Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson was wonderful!) he is incredulous, and, truth to tell, I am fudging just a bit. I’ve probably seen half a dozen movies since then, but remember them, if at all, because — for the most part — they were a horrible waste of time and money.

And now I see that they’ve made still another movie about Superman! The features section of the newspaper this morning bore two articles about the movie; television ads assure us it is a "must see." Gosh, I hope I don’t break some law by skipping it. Since Adam and Eve, thousands, even millions, of people have trod this earth! Many of them have had fascinating lives; others have endured remarkable and notable experiences. Countless thousands of authors have written stories that entrance and delight. Yet we have movies about comic book characters! If my aging memory serves, in addition to Superman, there have been movies about Spiderman and Batman, who, except in the wonderful spoof starring Adam West, is presented as a profound, enigmatic figure, riddled with psychological hang-ups. (Psychology is about the only "religion" Hollywood worships.)

Well, if this fascination with preposterous fictional characters reflects our culture, what does it say? For one thing, the fabulous characters work hand-in-glove with government. I remember those truly awful Superman TV programs, wherein old Supe, after capturing a gaggle of gangsters, would invariably turn them over to dumbstruck Sgt. O’Leary, or some such, who’d take them to the station. Never mind that Supe had just arrived from the sky with bad guys under his arms, and O’Leary simply took his word for it that he was to drag them to the precinct and see them locked up. (And never mind that the bad guys’ lawyer would show up twenty minutes later and get them all out again.) Superman worked hand-in-gauntlet with officialdom.

And who can forget Batman and his doting subservience to that imbecilic police chief, and pompous mayor? They have merely to mention that notorious criminal X has been seen in town, and Batty is off to catch him. There is a refreshing — I guess — lack of unconcern about any semblance of due process in the operation of these superheroes. Bad guys belong in jail. Period.

We are also left with the impression that the problems of life are well nigh insuperable, and only these dei ex machina can save us, working closely with the authorities, of course. The law, which we are told is a reflection of our own wishes and desires, as expressed via our elected representatives, and which exists for our good and protection, and which we must cherish and respect is, however, to be utterly out of our hands. We must no more think of enforcing law ourselves than we must think of leaping a tall building in a single bound. In fact, we can’t even understand it, and must pay someone to interpret it for us, sadly informing us that, in our particular case, it won’t do us a bit of good.

So the message may be that we are utterly at the mercy of wicked powerful strangers, and our only protection is via some heroic, magical, all-powerful individual doing the will of government.

Why should I pay admission to see such a story? Can’t I watch the evening news? Don’t we already have a super man who, without the need for gaudy tights and a cloak, brings about truth, justice and the American way, and does it without the encumbrance of tedious and clumsy laws and legal procedures?

Quick, somebody: the kryptonite!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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