There is still around six months to go until the cinematic release of Batman v Superman, and already the hype machine has kicked into overdrive, and anticipation for the film from fans is at a fever pitch.
No matter where I look online, people are hungrily devouring even the slightest scrap of information about the film.
Ben Affleck rumoured to be on a set somewhere? A million hits.
Ben Affleck takes a dump! Two million hits.
Ben Affleck with his shirt off while taking a dump on a movie set that POSSIBLY MIGHT be related to Batman?!!?
A BILLION GA-JILLION hits!
Fans are also predicting which will be the bigger film at the box office…
Batman v Superman or Captain America: Civil War.
Normally it would be a no contest. BVS would be the clear winner at the box office.
We’ve already seen two Avengers movies, and two Captain America movies. Both of which made good money. Both films now have legions of fan salivating for more. But any way you look at it, it is more of the same.
Except the part where Civil War is about Marvel heroes fighting each other. We have not yet seen that as the main plot of a Marvel film.
Sure every Marvel film has arguments and petty squabbles, but we are talking about fundamental disagreements in core values here. Funnily enough, that is the core of both Civil War and Batman v Superman – philosophical differences that lead to the inevitable punch fest.
Batman v Superman by contrast to Marvel’s films so far is something we have not already seen (except for the Dark Knight Returns comic book of course).
Marvel so far has had a fantastic run of films and its cinematic universe has been a big success.
But BVS is not just about Batman and Superman, we have Wonder Woman as the third main character, and the film is the launching point not only for a new Batman film, but the long anticipated JLA film and the entire DC cinematic Universe.
BVS is the equivalent to Marvel’s Iron Man in that the launching point that DC / WB hopes to launch its cinematic connected universe from.
The difference is that nobody expected Iron Man to be so damn good. Iron Man was a real crowd pleaser that did well with fans, the critics and even your Mom and Dad. In contrast EVERYBODY expects BVS to do well. No, better than that. Some predictions say that BVS will out gross Marvel’s first Avengers flick.
The danger in so much hype, in so much anticipation and expectations for one single film (BVS) is that by the time the official JLA film rolls around, will the non-geek crowd care? Even your grandmother has heard of Batman and Superman,
but how many non comic readers know who the Justice League are? Iron Man was fortunate to not suffer from too many expectations. Hell I didn’t even like Iron Man before Robert Downey steeped into that goofy metal suit.
JLA is a tough sell despite featuring so many iconic DC characters. But the Avengers were not that well
known before Marvel’s film to the general public.
While Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have been around since the 1940’s, Marvel’s Avengers (and the JLA) have only been around since the 1960’s.
The JLA first appeared in The Brave and the Bold #28 (1960). They are as old as the Avengers, but other
than Flash and Green Lantern, the rest of the JLA is a tough sell to the modern public. Batman and Superman get their own movie, and we all know who they are anyway. The challenge is selling every JLA member who is not Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. Green Lantern had a crap film, while Flash is on to his second live action TV show in the last 30 years.
Avengers had public name recognition for Hulk and Thor, both of whom have been on Hulk television several decades ago, along with Daredevil. Although most people won’t remember or be aware of Thor and Daredevil being part of the Hulk TV show and TV movie.
Captain America has featured in previous movies (laughably bad movies at that) and ancient serials, before the modern Marvel films with Chris Evans arrived on the scene.
The Justice League by contrast are still relatively unknown. The JLA may have featured in numerous cartoons and animated movies, and be mega-superstars to comic fans old and new – but most non-comic reading adults have still never heard of them.
There is no “live action” mainstream TV precedent for the JLA like we had with the Lou Ferrigno Hulk, the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman or the George Reeves Superman. There have been numerous DC JLA cartoons, but mostly only kids watch them, non-comic reading adults don’t know a whole lot about them other than seeing action figures at the toy store etc.
The Justice League of America (or more often just “Justice League”) had predecessors in the superhero team of the JSA.
The Justice Society of America are DC Golden Age Royalty. You had Wonder Woman, the original Green Lantern (Alan Scott) the original Flash (Jay Garrick), there was Wildcat, Hourman, Sandman, Black Canary, Atom, Doctor Mid-Nite, The Spectre, Hawkman, Dr. Fate and more. These characters formed DC’s first premier super-team.
Later versions of some of these JSA characters would go on to be in various incarnations of the Justice League such as Hawkman and Wonder Woman. While the JSA were mostly forgotten for a number of years, they made a come back in the modern era thanks to fan favourite uber-writer Geoff Johns (known for his fantastic Green Lantern run, among other things).
If the JLA movie is a hit, we may yet see a Justice Society film, it only makes sense. Whether it would be it’s own brand, or simply have more of the JSA characters incorporated into the JLA #2 and JLA#3 is anybodies guess.
The JLA as a film I.P. have been in development hell for around 20 years, and now finally they have passed “GO”. They pulled a “get out of jail free” card from their collective asses, the actors are lined up to star in the JLA and spin-off films.
However we have yet to see whether JLA will truly be DC’s cinematic equivalent of the Avengers at the box office in dollars and cultural impact, and whether the general public connect with the characters like they did with Marvel’s family of characters.
Marvel has its “grand vision” and plays their movies more for fun, while DC has the “we’re super serious so don’t fuck with us” attitude and grim tone that Nolan and Snyder have established.
Avengers as a film does not pretend to be art or cinema, it just promises you a fun day out at the movies on a Saturday. DC films want to be taken seriously as “cinema” something the buying public does not give two shakes of a dead sidekick about.
It makes sense for the next Batman Battfleck film and Batman v Superman to be grim films, as it suits the character of Batman.
But what will the tone of the JLA film be?
Will it super serious and relentlessly grim, all flash and style, but little substance? Will it be another pseudo-existentialist film as Man of Steel attempted, but ultimately failed to be?
If there are two lessons that the DC can learn from Marvel (or that WB studios can learn from Marvel Studios) they are:
1: Create an awesome shared universe that people love and want to talk about, that you can launch other I.P from. 2: Have fun along the way.
I go to the movies to have fun, not to be depressed.
So while I am super-eyes-bulging-out-of-my-head-psyched for Batman v Superman next year, I hope that DC / WB does not make all their films the same tone, I feel that would be a big mistake.
I look forward to the first DC superhero comedy down the line.
Maybe it will be Plastic Man or Justice League International era Booster Gold and Blue Beetle in an 80’s set movie.
How good would that be? I don’t even LIKE those characters. But in the right hands it would could be a fun day out at the movies. Give it to Edgar Wright or another director/writer who can write hilarious dialogue.
My favourite version of Justice League International also sometimes had Batman as their leader. JLI was a laugh out loud funny comic that was closer in tone Marvel’s Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy movies and it would make a FANTASTIC film if you ask me.
I hope the JLA movies do gangbusters at the box office, and I hope we see many more DCU live action films of exceptional high quality, that spin-off the likely success of JLA and BVS.
But please don’t let them ALL be super serious and grim!
**This is my 50th post here on this “Batfan on Batman” Batman Blog which has been around for over a year now – so take a second to put your hands in the air like you just don’t care!**
A hero at best can only reflect our cultural values.
A hero reflects the way we want to see ourselves.
Or how we imagine the best version of ourselves to be.
A hero represents our collective dreams and imagination. Heroes are wish fulfillment fantasies while also being ciphers for projecting the best version of ourselves into the future.
The hero archetype occurs in diverse cultures around the world.
America is home to (and the innovator of) two unique versions of the hero archetype – the silver screen Cowboy and the comic book Superhero.
I love Western films and I can’t get enough of Superhero comic books, so let’s talk a little about heroic archetypes, in this case the definitive Cowboy and the Superhero – Superman and John Wayne.
A hero can choose their actions and live their values, but can only be truly called a hero by an observer. To call oneself a hero means basically nothing, it is more a label other people apply to the hero. The hero simply is.
Modern fictional heroes tend to lean more towards pacifism than historical heroes. But we have no shortage of the soldier/killer hero type of character. Old time Greek heroes from myths and legends thought nothing of killing monsters or their fellow man in the name of their quest, or if the Gods asked them in return for special favors.Modern heroes like Superman resort to violence as a last resort, and try to avoid killing any living thing unless absolutely necessary.
To some people this non-violence is the evolution of the hero archetype in alignment with modern human values, to other people not killing a clear and present threat is just naive. There is no right or wrong answer here, merely differences of opinion and cultural values.
The shadow side of a hero becomes an imperialist, conqueror or being of power who imposes his (or her) will on another, regardless of circumstance. The hero in shadow becomes a self-righteous person unable to stop being the hero, and who is not really a person concerned with serving the genuine needs of others, but with serving their own needs, and enforcing their will on others as they believe they are morally right to do so. The hero as villain may become a benevolent dictator or world conqueror / self appointed ruler.
Superman is the definitive Superhero. He’s a little old fashioned, he sticks up for the little guy and he visits his parents perhaps a little too often. He believes in looking after each other, and he believes in America.
He’s the big blue boy scout, the angel on your shoulder that tells you to avoid doing bad deeds, America’s conscience.
He’s the guy who blah blah blah blah and he……..ZZZZZZZ…..
……..SORRY! I fell asleep there for a moment.
So yeah Superman is a little vanilla, a little boring. At least according to some people. I get it, Superman is not what you would call edgy or cool or extreme like Batman.
But frankly I love Superman. I’ve been reading a a fair amount of classic and modern Superman stories lately, and the more I read the more I love the character. While Batman is my favourite literary character, I can’t think of him without thinking of Superman, they are like Spiritual brothers, forever entwined.
Yes, it’s Superman–strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman–defender of law and order, champion of equal rights, valiant, courageous fighter against the forces of hate and prejudice, who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice. – Adventures of Superman radio serial, 1940-1951 (thanks to the CBR Comic Book Legends Revealed column for the quote text)
When I think of these semi-mythic timeless pop-cultural icons I am reminded of classical greek myths and legends.
The Avengers are an awesome team, but the JLA are like modern day Gods!
If Superman represents all that is good about America, then Batman is America’s dark underbelly, repressed feelings, ideas and values. Batman is America’s Shadow self that it doesn’t want to acknowledge. I think Grant Morrison sums them up wonderfully in his Supergods book:
Superman was of the day; Batman was of the night and the shadows. Superman was rational, Apollonian; Batman was Dionysian writes Grant Morrison in Supergods. This fascinating new hero was horned like the Devil, and most at home in darkness; a terrifying, demonic presence who worked on the side of the angels. – Alex Wainer quoting Grant Morrison in Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film
I tend to think of Superman like Helios and Apollo, Greek mythic figures associated with the sun. Morrison refers to Superman as the Sungod from Smallville – after all, Superman is a living solar battery. The more solar energy he stores, the stronger and healthier he is, and the less solar radiation he has stored the weaker he gets. Take away the yellow sun and Superman’s powers fade away until he becomes basically mortal and human.
Superman’s values may be old fashioned but they still have relevance in today’s world. In a healthy creative cycle somebody creates something – let’s say in this case the fictional character Superman.
The character becomes popular, and then that popularity declines. Along with the decline in popularity (but not always) comes experimentation, irrelevance, revision, revamp, relaunch, deconstructionism, post modernism, and eventually a return to the original version via Holism. What was old becomes new again, what was no longer in style comes back in style. The classic version of a character re-emerges, now more fully defined, and thoroughly explored after going through the creative literary cycle.
From Superman’s humble origins as a champion of the underclasses, the poor, and the disenfranchised to a tool of wartime propaganda and later a corporate icon, to his evolution into a protector of the planet earth from threats both alien and terrestrial, Superman is as Seinfeld calls him the guy.
Superman is the original, the best, the definition of what a Superhero is, or could hope to be.
Despite his metamorphosis from modern day Moses and Samson into a sort of Space Jesus – Superman is still the guy. He’s the gold standard all other superheroes are compared to. He is the living inspiration to generations of fictional heroes in the DC Universe, and he’s an inspiration to a few of us here in the real world too. He may be old fashioned like your Grandfather – but he’s also loving, kind, and lives to serve others.
One of my all time favourite Superman stories that best represents Superman’s values and what he stands for is the tabloid sized Peace on Earth story by Paul Dini and Alex Ross. Superman: Peace on Earth is a great snap shot of the values that Superman embodies, while also showing the limitations of the Sungod from Smallville.
The painted photo-realistic art by Alex Ross in Peace of Earth is based on human models. The base model Ross transforms into a fictional character, with accurate anatomy and lighting that bring his stories to glorious life.
Peace on Earth deals with some possible real world ramifications to Superman forcing change on human beings. Despite the realist art style, the book still feels like a mythic tale of a near immortal sun god who walks among us, and painfully realises despite his immense power he has some very human limitations.
What Superman comes to realise is that you can help people all you like, but ultimately they have to want to help themselves. People have to want to learn and act on that choice themselves, otherwise your efforts can just make people dependent on your help, and will perhaps do nothing to evolve in their own way. This kind of help can even set humanity back by making them dependent on a savior figure, instead of choosing to evolve and think for themselves.
Superman: I can only tell you what I believe, Diana. humankind has to be allowed to climb to its own destiny. We can’t carry them there. Flash: But that’s what she’s saying. What’s the point? Why should they need us at all? Superman: “To catch them if they fall.
The welfare of Earth and all its people will always be my primary concern. But if there is a solution of hunger, it must be one that comes from the compassionate heart of man and extends outward toward his fellow man. There’s an old saying: ‘Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.’ That simple message asks humankind to nurture with knowledge, to reach out to those in need and inspire others to do the same. That is life’s greatest necessity and its most precious gift. – Superman : Peace on Earth
Okay we will come back to Superman later, but now let’s talk about John Wayne, the all American cowboy hero. John Wayne was an actor, the most famous screen cowboy that ever was, and in many ways, John Wayne IS America.
Or at least he was.
John Wayne stood for the old guard of America, or more specifically pre-Vietnam and pre-civil rights America where the American dream rapidly became the American nightmare. There were cowboys before John Wayne, but during his reign as a Hollywood leading man, John Wayne became the definitive film cowboy, he defined the cowboy archetype and any cowboys who rode the dusty trails in his wake are forever eclipsed by The Duke.
While John Wayne had some controversial, perhaps backwards and conservative views, even his critics admit that he was one hell of a man, who almost never said a bad word (at least publicly) about anyone. Despite his unpopular views during the rapidly changing culture of the post World War II years, and the death of the Western as a film genre in the modern era, John Wayne remains a much loved figure of film culture and Americana.
Wayne’s on screen characters were consistently men of good moral character, who stood up to bullies and outlaws. Wayne had a no nonsense way of speaking his mind both on and off the silver screen. John Wayne was a man’s man. He was big, strong, kind and he spoke his mind. One of his most well known movie maxims – a man’s got to do, what a man’s got to do.
Wayne’s on screen persona was one of quiet dignity, strength and good moral character. While off screen he spent most of his time involved in the production of his next project, away from his family, and he never went to war.
He was the only person I could think of at the time who could personify great strength and determination without talking much. That sounds easy, perhaps. But it’s not. Either you have it or you don’t.
-John Ford on casting Wayne in Stagecoach
Some of Wayne’s critics felt that John Wayne was a hypocrite for appearing in jingoistic war films, while not going to war himself. At the time, many leading men in Hollywood did go to war. Men such as Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and Lee Marvin. Some critics would say there was a disconnect from Wayne’s on screen persona to who he actually was. Despite this seeming hypocrisy, Wayne was still considered a hero by soldiers and civilians alike.
With other leading men away during the war, Wayne had very little competition for lead roles. His career had earlier bombed when he first had the opportunity to be a leading man in The Big Trail (1930), only to be sent back to B-Westerns for the better part of a decade. Had John Wayne gone to war, it likely would have been the death of his career, if not his actual death. Wayne would most likely be remembered as just another struggling actor in B Westerns, or more than likely not remembered at all. Wayne forged an enduring partnership and friendship with director John Ford. Ford believed in John Wayne and insisted on casting him in Stagecoach (1939), the film that made John Wayne’s career.
Whatever went on off screen, it seemed that John Wayne was fated to become one of America’s most beloved leading men. Personally I feel glad that he never went to war to potentially die a pointless death, as his on screen persona would go on to define the role of the American Cowboy hero for decades. You could say John Wayne had a destiny to be exactly who he intended to be in this life, and nothing in this world was going to change that.
While the Cowboy archetype in the negative aspect is one of potential oppression of the Native American people by Colonials, the Cowboy myth in the positive aspect also stands for determination, self-reliance, hard work, honesty and integrity. In short the mythic Cowboy film archetype is also a symbol of the rugged individualism, can do attitude and self-determination of America, and is tied to the birth of the American dream.
I feel we can all learn a little something from John Wayne, as a on screen example of heroism and determination in the face of adversity, an example of a man of moral character and strong values. Wayne was human of course, and he had his flaws as all of us do.
Whether ranch hand, settler, farmer, bounty hunter or sheriff, the Cowboy archetype has many facets and permutations. The Cowboy as sheriff or Lawman becomes the modern day urban cop. Industrious settlers became captains of industry. The farmer Cowboy fulfills the typical american dream of marriage, children, property and prosperity born of hard industrious labor and a can do attitude.
Modern cowboys still exist in certain parts of America of course, and the general attitude of Cowboy is one that America is often labelled with as a whole in a derogatory sense, particularly in reference to America’s never ending invasions and wars in third world countries.
The cowboy archetype never truly died and is alive and well in some modern fictional characters such as Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) in Justified, and Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) in Longmire.
Even John Wayne’s critics had a hard time when they met him in person, finding him an opinionated, strong, likable, intelligent, charismatic and reasonable man.
What John Wayne stands for today, is the archetype of the rugged individual, the man’s man. This classical male archetype that has all but disappeared from our cinema screens in recent decades with the rise of the sensitive man and the metrosexual dilution of typically old world male values in mainstream cinema culture.
From the 1960s-2000 we have seen the death of the manly moral Cowboy hero, and the rise of the anti-hero, the amoral bloodthirsty action hero, and the new age metrosexual hero such as Neo in The Matrix (a thin loner computer nerd who becomes an enlightened Superman figure). We’ve seen our heroes and manly men deconstructed, pulled apart, vilified, called redundant, sexist and old-fashioned. Even James Bond was not immune to the rise of culture clash, and changing gender roles at home and in the workplace.
While films like the James Bond series attempted to remain socially relevant by aping changes in cultural values, instead the films merely adopted a horrendously bad politically correct style that left Bond effectively castrated, a shell of his former self. Not until the reinvention of Bond as Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (2006) did Bond get his balls and machismo back.
Post year 2000 we have seen the rise of the comic book superhero film, and not so much a return to the old fashioned potentially racist, sexist misogynist Cowboy heroism, as a further evolution and re invigoration of the hero and heroine archetype. Moral heroes likes Captain America and Superman are back on the big screen where they belong, and what was once old is new again. Thankfully a stand alone Wonder Woman film is finally making its way to the big screen, 70+ years overdue, the tireless icon of the super-heroine, the adopted feminist icon and all around amazing Goddess will hopefully get the cinematic treatment she deserves, standing as a rightful equal next to the JLA in mans’ world.
Old fashioned hero vales may be synonymous with bigotry, but they need not be. We can enjoy heroes without them being sexist killers, racists and colonials. Male heroes can have charisma, charm, balls and machismo, without being cookie sexist stereotypes who put women down. Female heroines can be empowered strong Women in their own right, without just being a reaction to male heroes, or serving as convenient plot devices.
The superhero archetype may have been born in a patriarchal world, but there is no reason for superheroes to remain tethered to outdated and irrelevant paradigms.
A hero or heroine need not be anything other than what they choose to be.
The power of the hero and superhero archetype is not locked into the past, but remains progressive and ever-expanding. A hero need not be implicitly be a killer, enforcer of empire, or the “might makes right” attitude.
Many classical and contemporary heroes have been exactly that. But the further evolution of the hero and superhero archetype is not dependent on reinforcing limiting cultural values of the oppression of any individual or group. The hero and heroine archetype does not have to continue to be one of sexism, violence and death, it has far more potential as an archetype of higher values, compassion, co-operation and service to humanity.
With popular comic book heroes we get our puritan moral characters such as Superman and Captain America, our dark, cynical and conflicted characters such as Wolverine, Batman and The Punisher, alongside more middle of the road moral characters such as Spider-Man, and monsters such as the half-human/vampire Blade and the genetic atomic monster The Incredible Hulk. The hero-ism and moral values of these characters varies, each can be said to emphasise a different aspect of the human psyche, allowing for playful healthy expression of our higher values and darker desires in safe context.
The over dominance of male-centric hero characters and plots reflects an unbalanced patriarchal society while simultaneously showing our fear of embracing the feminine aspects of our psyche, both in men and women.
Superhero cinema embraces and draws upon all other genres at its leisure. Action movies, horror, science fiction, drama, fantasy, existentialism, comedy, western. Any and all filmic tropes are up for grabs. The Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen can become the Suicide Squad. The Magnificent Seven or Ocean’s 11 can become The Avengers.
The further evolution and integration of basic human values in Superhero Cinema is up to the new generation of writers and film makers. Will they continue down the outmoded path of sexist colonial male heroes with women sidelined as femme fatales, kung-fu divas and other ridiculous stereotypes? Or perhaps dare to evolve themselves and their world by writing strong independent female heroines? In my opinion we need more Joss Whedon’s and Angelina Jolie’s in the world. We need to hear the authentic voice of the feminine at all levels of society, particularly in superhero cinema.
Getting back to Superman – Superman’s story is the ultimate immigrant story. As a character he is timeless and universal. While born on Krypton and adopted by Ma an Pa Kent on Earth, Superman is truly a citizen of the world, an advocate along with Wonder Woman for world peace, and a tireless champion of Justice, Freedom and Truth.
The famous phrase Truth, Justice and the American Way was not part of the original incarnation of Superman, the American Way part was added later during World War Two, most famously it was adopted by the George Reeves Superman TV show, and then became part of Superman lore.
Truth and Justice can be said to be ideals that can apply in any nation, but The American Way makes Superman into an imperialist, an enforcer of American culture and values. Fans and some writers would argue he has outgrown that status, and has become more like modern world mythology. Superman today then belongs not only to America, but to the world. The character even renounced his US Citizenship in Action Comics #900, however it is unknown whether that story by David S. Goyer was canon, or merely a one off experiment.
As a non-American, I agree with the decision of Superman. He is more than an American. He is a symbol of peace, justice and humanity. He is no more the puppet toy of one country.
-An anonymous internet fan on Superman renouncing his US Citizenship in Action Comics #900
Revisionist and post-modern Superhero stories such as Watchmen, Miracle Man, Dark Knight Returns, Superman: Red Son, The Authority and Irredeemable show the potential negative side of the Superman archetype. These stories show a Superman figure as a potential tool of empire, as an iron fisted tyrant, an otherworldly alien threat (the eternal outsider or other who threatens the status quo), and as an mentally ill evil alien God of near limitless power.
While these stories are entertaining and brilliant in their own right, their place in the canon of Superhero stories is part of a larger cycle. Creation, Innovation, Experimentation, Deconstructionism, Post-Modernism and eventual metamorphosis back to Holism (the reintegration of the various deconstructed story parts and themes that often resembles the very first version of character) means that even stories not about Superman, ultimately help to define who and what Superman IS, by showing us what he is NOT.
In a similar fashion, the Batman Knightfall story gave the world a Batman it did not want, and clearly demonstrated that Batman (as an idea) was not broken, and was not in need of fixing. Similarly, Superman is not broken or irrelevant. The Man of Steel’s stories are as strong and relevant as the authors ability to write engaging fiction.
Superman stories are as emotionally resonant and deeply meaningful as a writer allows them to be.
The values Superman stands for are not just old fashioned and irrelevant so much as timeless and subject to innovation that ultimately brings the character full circle back to his earliest incarnation. Superman (and Batman) can withstand endless revisionism and retconning because they are such strong well defined characters to begin with, yet with room to project something of ourselves onto the characters so that we can also relate to them.
One writer who has struck a chord with modern fans is Jeph Loeb. Loeb has been a writer for the big and little screens, and comic books for several decades. Jeph Loeb knows characterisation and plot like the back of his hand. More than that, he knows how to reinvent a character for a new audience, or reinterpret a character to bring them back in line with their core values that were present all along. What was old and boring becomes fresh and new again in the hands of a talented writer such as Jeph Loeb.
The earliest version of Superman was a man of the people, and for the people. While modern Superman battles crooks, super-criminals and space aliens on a weekly basis, he still rescues cats from trees, saves damsels in distress and helps out the common man and woman however he can. Superman never truly ceased being a man of the people, he just took on more responsibility than anyone could rightly ever ask him to. He transcended and included his earlier stories, he continues to be the champion and inspirational figure he always was and will be, while evolving beyond a simple minded moralistic crusader of Truth, Justice and the American Way.
Modern Superman is smart and capable. While the sungod from Smallville walks among us, no less a man than a God, he is still flawed and deeply human. He makes mistakes and questions his actions like any sane person would do. Modern Superman is more complex, more intelligent, stronger and most importantly more human than his earliest incarnation.
Superman is in a sense the best of us, or one potential version of what we collectively imagine the best version of ourselves to be. He is a man from Smallville, a farmer, a keen eyed reporter, and a living deity of near limitless power. To some he is Hercules and Samson, to others he is baby Moses floating down the Nile river, to others he is a messianic Christ like figure who suffers for our ill-informed choices, and never complains as all he has for us is Love, tolerance and peace – no matter how badly we treat him.
Superman can take it, because now and forever, he is the guy. The cloth, the mold from which all Superheroes are cut and defined. The all American square jaw, the courage of his convictions, his kindness and generosity, his tireless service to his fellow man and calm demeanor are what define Superman and make him the person we aspire to be. His humble upbringing on a farm in Smallville and very down to earth old fashioned parents inform who Superman is. Superman is basically the most moral character ever created in Superhero fiction.
Superman sets the bar of human values and achievement high. While we may never reach the same heights as the Sungod from Smallville who can lift mountains and see microscopic bacteria and macroscopic worlds and galaxies in outer space beyond our limited vision, he knows that we will try to do our best and he will be there to catch us when we fall.
Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! (“Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Superman!”)… Yes, it’s Superman … strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman … who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way! And now, another exciting episode, in The Adventures of Superman!
Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul, I swear…until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share–I’ll never stop fighting. Ever. – Superman in Action Comics #775
John Wayne was more than one of Hollywood’s most famous and most successful actors – he was, and still is, an icon and a symbol of American itself. Wayne projected dignity, integrity, and strength in all his films, even when his characters were flawed.
– Scott Eyman, author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend
When I think of the best qualities of America, I think of a nation that has embraced immigrants and diversity, a nation of unlimited opportunity, a nation of freedom of expression, a nation free from the tyranny of Kings, Lords and Royal Families who considered themselves divinely appointed rulers and whose rule was absolute and unquestionable.
While those are all fine ideals, the dark underbelly of America is corruption at the highest levels eating the heart of America like a flesh eating virus that will eventually kill its host.
I am ashamed at the alarmingly high rate of incarcerated African Americans, the relentless irresponsible spending of the War Machine disguised as Liberty, and the propaganda that America has enemies it must fight, or foreign nations it must liberate. I am ashamed that the once proud and free America has allowed itself to be taken over by greedy corporations and mega-banks who control much of the country, and have far more power, money and influence than the Government.
It is easy to hike up taxes when there is a war on, or some other fear inducing national crisis to be milked for all its worth. America is a strange nation that makes peace by dropping bombs and shooting bullets, but I question whether those actions are in the best interests of the American people. Home of the brave and free, or home of the unintentionally enslaved?
I think of archaic horrendous policies like Rendition and turning back the clock on human and civil rights with Guantanomo Bay. Sadly America has made itself a world leader that coerces other countries through trade agreements to play ball or else.
To see America as all shiny red and blue superheroes, rainbows and lollipops is to live in a dangerously delusional and naive fantasy world. The worlds of American movies and fantasy paint a different story. They tell us the story of how America used to be, or at least how America imagined itself to be at its best and how it wants to be seen on the world stage. But that America does not exist any more, and you have to wonder at this point if it ever did.
By contrast seeing America as all cocaine cowboys, mercenaries, and corrupt governments run by shadow corporations is also only a partial truth. The larger almost incomprehensible truth I suspect is somewhere in the middle, and of course I am using extreme examples to make a point.
Every country has its best self and its worst self
What I like about American culture is the spirit of independence within the heart of Americans. I love the can do attitude and the will to work to better themselves.
It pains me to see that spirit being undermined by a country being divided amongst itself, rather than united. The endless justified wars and manufactured over inflated crises that keep people too poor and afraid to do anything to help themselves. The rampant pollution and environmental devastation and corruption at every level that keeps people too sick, stuck in survival mode and afraid to really stand up to the corporate overlords as a collective of free thinking individuals.
I love the values that Superman and John Wayne represent, and the America that exists in popular fiction. But was that America ever real, did it ever exist, or was it merely an unrealised dream? I have no idea. The unparalleled prosperity America knew in the post World War II era was in part because the factories and exports of competing nations had been bombed to hell. Once they recovered, life was not so sweet and easy for the average Joe and Jane.
A cynical view of Supes and the Duke sees them as conservative puppets of the establishment – but the values I identify with these two icons more than any other are those of hard work, self-reliance, self-confidence, courage and kindness. But are those values rewarded in modern America or are people trying to get ahead in a rigged game? Are people really enjoying the fruits of their labor, or are they finding that Government does whatever the hell it wants to do, no matter what opinions and choices the people voice.
What happens when you work hard to get ahead, live an honest life but then the Government decides to take your house away anyway in the name of progress and urban expansion? What happens when people fight a war of independence, only to succumb to a virtual dictatorship or at best an Oligarchy from a shadow Government that publicly talks about making changes for the better, while privately locking up and torturing anyone they like without trial after publicly calling them a terrorist and throwing away the key?
Is it because we collectively LET it happen through not standing up to the authorities who are supposed to represent the will of the people? When did the servants become the masters? When did the officials elected to represent the American people decide to kick out the owners of the house, and change from servants into ego-driven dictators? When did the American Dream turn into the American Nightmare?
I love what the Heart and Spirit of America stands for, but does that America still exist?
Despite all this, I believe that the Heart, Spirit and Soul of the American people is strong, and one day soon, big changes will take place. The dinosaurs who dictate to the people of America are dying a slow, painful and long overdue death.
Their life support machines are failing, their life insurance policies will not be cashed, a new energy, a new blood is being born onto the planet who will be the final extinction of the Greed is Good mantra that has ruled America in recent decades.
Superman and John Wayne are icons and symbols of America itself. In many ways they ARE America
They represent the best and worst of the nation. They represent freedom and independence, but they also represent the might makes right attitude. To be a hero, you gotta make someone else into the villain, and America loves to invent new villains every week so they have someone to fight or liberate.
Their is a danger in the hero archetype that those who see themselves as heroes will enforce their will unquestioningly. Hitler believed himself to be a hero for the German people. He’s no hero in my book. If he were alive and I met him today, I’d punch him in the face for sure no matter what the consequences. America loves to see itself as Cowboys and Superheroes on the world stage, but the danger in that view is that somebody has to become the villain, otherwise the hero just does not exist.. Somebody else has to be wrong to make America right, hence the constant invention of new enemies and perceived threats.
However what I love about Superman and John Wayne is that they are both men of character and principle. It’s easy to be soft and lazy, it’s easy to drop out, not care or be cynical. It takes a tough and emotionally strong person to give a damn, to have the courage of their convictions, to not be swayed by the crowd of popular opinion.
The true test of ones convictions is when we stick to our principles during the hardest times in our lives
It is easy to have principles and values when there is nothing that challenges those values. The true test of character is when we face struggle and opposition and we just keep on marching forward, enduring the unendurable, being true to our word, our actions flowing from our principles without hesitation or second guessing.
The danger here of course is that we may be wrong. Might does not make right in my view.
But right or wrong, our actions speak louder than words. There is no greater coward than a person who refuses to engage with the world, or take any kind of action at all. The man (or woman) who acts and is proven wrong still commands greater respect then the man who fails to act at all. Having tried and failed, those who act have the choice to modify their actions, and learn from their mistakes. Those too full of fear, doubt and the mental virus of self-loathing fail to act, and thus fail to learn or to truly live life in all of its complexity.
Having never risked anything, never gained, never lost, the person of inaction can be said never to have lived at all
Cowboys and Superheroes are more than anything, men of action.
Dynamic figures of bold confidence who command our attention and inspire with their acts of valor, heroism and bravery. More than their physical achievements, they inspire by example, through being living examples of abstract principles, ideas and values. John Wayne is America. Superman is America.
We should emulate the archetypal hero’s core values if we want to better ourselves. We can enjoy heroes and heroines as entertainment, but we should not act out the violence of the Hero, Superhero and the Cowboy. Let the fictional characters act out the violence we feel in our hearts so that we need not enact that violence in the real world. To be like our heroes also means acknowledging and finding a healthy outlet for the darker aspects of our own nature, rather than repressing those impulses.
America for better or worse is a nation of achievers and people who take action. Despite rampant corruption in business and government at the heart of America is a CAN DO attitude. I can’t say the same about the UK, Australia and New Zealand. If you succeed in America or dare to dream, people encourage you. While in countries like my adopted homeland of Australia, people tend to shoot down your dreams and ask you to be realistic. Basically code for Be mediocre like me, go nowhere, do nothing, attempt nothing, be nothing.
I’d like to see more people taking action from their heart of hearts, and not just thinking of short term goals, but what is good for us as individuals and as an intelligent evolving species on this planet.
What I love about America is that it embodies more than any other nation on the planet, the idea of:
I CAN AND I WILL, I DO AND I DARE
Superman and John Wayne are men of action, men of myth and legend. Men of moral character, men who live their values in every breath and step they take and embody the kind of self-confidence, dignity and pride that can not be faked.
And that is what I love about America, those eternal values that will never die in my view, no matter what corruption festers in the background undermining the hearts and souls of the honest hard working American people.
There is power in the hero and superhero archetype, but whatever power it holds is only what we give to it, and what we allow to manifest within ourselves as we live our lives, and live our core values.
Superman is not just an alien with extraordinary abilities, far above mortal men… he cares for us. He radiates decency and integrity, it’s not just the powers that makes him a great man, it is because he is Clark Kent. He, the All-American country boy from the Heartland. Clark Jerome Kent is too integral to the mythos and grandieur that is Superman. That rocket could have been choosen to have landed anywhere, at any time, even fleshed out for decades. Could it–would it have been the same? Perhaps, but I am thankful such curiosities are left to Elseworlds. The Kent’s wholesome upbringing they raised Kal-El with is what makes Superman a gentle being filled with warmth, kindness, and innocence. An adopted son of man and Earth with honest values and a big heart.
What is true is that we humans cannot shrink the Universe or its God down to something we can see and understand. We, to understand, must expand our ways of understanding to infinite and eternal expanses. -Bob Laughlin, Denver, USA
In the modern world our mythologies and legends have been deconstructed.
Our cultural stories have been torn apart, dismantled, analysed to death and seen through the eyes of post-modernism and a rational scientific mind.
Our religions, spiritual and wisdom traditions have been endlessly studied, analysed and pulled apart.
At the end of it all we have culturally dismissed most, if not all of it as irrelevant or at least the childish beliefs of primitive societies. While the inherent corruption and power of cult like societies that steal people’s money while keeping them stupid has diminished, we have also lost some important benefits along the way.
Few people in the modern world consider mysticism a genuine spiritual path, yet most if not all religious founders had some sort of mystical experience of love and unity, the watering down of that experience then becomes all sorts of nonsense beliefs and practices by people who don’t understand what was attempting to be communicated by the founder who had the direct experience of a higher reality. This is generalising of course, as religions, belief systems and political messages are added to, redacted and promoted or neglected according to who is in power, and what cultural story is being massaged into an easily digestible group of beliefs.
We have thrown out our myths and fables, which served as communal ways of transmitting not only important life lessons, but basic survival skills while warning us of genuine dangers such as predatory animals and the danger of wandering into the wilderness away from our tribe or group where death was a constant threat. Our cultural stories are infinitely adaptable to any belief system and we tell stories to small children, and it becomes part of their ongoing education.
As adults stories entertain us but also can be used to convey important life lessons. At no point do we cease individually or collectively growing and learning. Life is growth. Of course we can choose to remain stupid and not learn, nobody is forcing us. We may have moved on from the fundamentalist mythic-literal interpretation of events in world religions, we may dismiss myths and fables as silly stories from a primitive world view. However, if we deconstruct our cultural stories, this in no way fulfills our genuine need that was at least partly satisfied by those stories.
Our need for cultural values passed on through oral traditions, our need for wisdom, a sense of belonging, our place in the world, our unique personal story, and the mass story of our tribe, town, city, nation or world story. This article then is about stories and myths, our need of them, how they fail to meet our needs and how we live in constantly changing times where our mass cultural stories and fictional stories are all up for grabs. Our mass and local culture is being rewritten, re-interpreted, re-invented. As deconstructionism and reductionism have served their purposes, the inevitable move then is back to Holism, to arrive at the place where we have always been. Let us say for example you take a modern car / automobile and you pull it apart. You take every piece of it and completely dismantle it, label every piece carefully, you look carefully at all the parts, see the functions they have and can accurately tell someone everything you have learned from taking the car apart, you have learned all you possibly can from this process. Now, suppose you have to be on the other side of town within the next hour. What use is the car to you in this disassembled state?
We still have need of a vehicle to take us to our intended destination.
We have dismantled our cultural myths, we have dismantled our religions (although some still choose to be part of them). We have dismantled and studied the ways of life of hundreds of generations who proceeded our time on this earth. We feel that we are above all of that primitive stuff, we feel that we are above – rather than a part of – Nature. That somehow the religion of Science will fix everything, that there are experts somewhere who have it all figured out. We still have the same needs as human beings that led to those myths, religions, spiritual and wisdom traditions and cultural stories being formed in the first place.
We may currently be living in the techno-inspired future of Tron, The Matrix and The Terminator, but we are still running around in hunter gather bodies primed for action and reaction to immediate physical threats. Our intellect has grown in leaps in bounds while we have lost touch with our “primitive” bodies, the modern workspace and educational arenas see us ill-equipped to handle adrenaline and nor-adrenaline dumps into our blood stream to in response to threats both imaginary and real. Modern man then is cut off his at the head, disconnected from his body. We stand on the verge of reintegrating our lost stories and values, our lost ways of being. But where we are at present is a place of fear and uncertainty that can lead to inaction where action is required.
We are then the hunter gatherers who have evolved to greater intelligence and sophisticated culture and domination of the natural world, but have yet to evolve our world views. Like a caterpillar mid transformation, the promise of the butterfly is yet to appear, and some traditionalists want to remain caterpillars, while progressives argue that we are already butterflies. From my perspective I would say we are collectively like Neo in The Matrix, some of us have taken the “reality” pill, while others are as yet undecided, but the future of humanity demands that we both grow up and wake up to ourselves and our world. To remain ignorant is a luxury none of us can afford if we want to survive as species. What we have not done in the modern world is create a new world myth, world religion or world spirituality to replace what we have pulled apart. We are a culture and world obsessed with technology, but we have yet to reconcile our hunter gatherer roots with our techno space age ambitions. No true synthesis of belief system that incorporates our previous ways, meets out genuine needs and integrates with our modern and post-modern technological world view has yet appeared. What we are left with is endless yearning for something undefinable, something just out of reach.
We don’t quite know what that something IS but we know we have the capacity to fulfill any wish or desire we may entertain. The cycle of satisfaction and completion escapes us when we are lost in frivolous pursuits and neglect the essentials of life. We lack a communal world story to match out current living at a world-centric level. Our problems are no longer just local, but global. But our religions and spiritual traditions have remained in the cultural dark ages while our every day reality has blasted off to the the moon and back.
Old time religions where never intended to handle world-centric concerns. It’s like asking a Ford Model T to outperform a V8 Supercar, Formula 1 or Nascar in a race, that old Ford vehicle was NEVER intended for such a task, and is completely incapable of fulfilling that purpose. Our technological progress have outpaced out spiritual progress as a species and few today are capable of even defining what Spirituality even means, instead being lost in petty arguments about whose version of the Truth is more “true”.
Some have tried to synthesize a new world view based on the old world views, but so far attempts at world religions, world spirituality and/or belief systems have failed. And some people would say good, we don’t need it, we are no longer primitives running around with stone and wooden idols making human sacrifices to some god in the hopes that our crops will grow and that we will be successful in slaughtering our enemies/neighbors/friends whose hearts we have literally ripped out while atop our glorious citadels. We have taken the old ways, pulled them apart, claim we understand them and they are redundant in our new scientific world view (Science being the default world religion of today).
There is a clear and present danger in assuming we know everything there is to be known.
That kind of arrogant erroneous thinking led to limited beliefs like the world being flat and that the earth was the center of the known Universe. When some new information comes along that proves how clueless we are as a species, we tend to try and categorise and apply it within old world paradigms. But that is like trying to play a DVD or Blu-Ray disc on a record player, not only does it not work, the technologies are fundamentally incompatible. Retrofitting new world experiences into old world paradigms is a recipe for disaster, if not mass voluntary suicide through ignorance.
Progress through the Sciences is generally met with resistance, ridicule and denial, often one grave at a time. As the old guard dies off, new ideas and theories gain the opportunity to flourish or flounder among younger generations who eventually grow up and replace the old guard completely. When new ideas are suggested, we often view them through the filter of our old world beliefs. But we just metaphorically threw out most of our old ideas, or rejected them as irrelevant back in the beginning of this article – so where does that leave us?
We live in a cultural, religious, scientific and spiritual ghetto.
Where does that leave us? It leaves us with the story of “no story”. It leaves us thinking hey, we are pretty smart, we don’t need all that old cultural junk from pre-modern times, it just held us back, we’re marching boldly forward into the future baby! But what if some of those old ideas and traditions actually held something quite valuable, that we did not recognise. What if amongst the noise of wars, persecution, assassinations, executions and genocide of the old world in the name of the most holy, or whatever King or dictator was flavor of the month – we lost something of our unique cultural story and perspective?
What if we overlooked some very fundamental needs that were addressed through life lessons and fables by those old world stories? What if there were deeper meanings to those stories we learned as children that we would neither understand nor comprehend understand until we were adults and seriously inquire into our inner and outer universe? Another perspective at being at a place of “no story”, is that we are in metaphorical terms at a point of “zero” or infinity. At the point of zero, everything is possible.
Eventually we will have a new cultural mass story, but first our old ways have died like the Dinosaurs, the hazard of moving to zero point is that we lose our traditions and gradual incremental growth oriented changes. Good cultural stories, be they scientific, religious or purely poetic or mythic are like a Trojan Horse. Outwardly they appear as one benign and perhaps beautiful form, while inside they contain something potentially more powerful that may help or harm us. Good stories may act as catalysts, as information that interacts with out unique consciousness to unleash our innate potentials by reminding us of who we are and the life we intended to live before we got distracted by the ‘noise’ of the world. Good stories exist on multiple levels that can speak to different ages and generations. Good stories can have every day simplistic meanings in union with deeper symbolic meanings, every element then becomes essential and we should consciously aim to understand the literal AND symbolic meanings of good stories, we should aim to understand both the simple and the complex in life, valuing both interpretations equally. How we learn and evolve is partly through increasing our simultaneous parallel perspectives on life. The more contrasting and complementary points of view we are able to hold within our own minds at one time the greater our mental model of reality and life becomes. The cyclic journey of our lives appears to be a circle, but from a different perspective the unique story arcs of our individual lives is more akin to a spiral that seemingly overlaps with a return to the resonant themes and motivation of our lives, this spiral then is a growth of our selves in time as we overlap previous versions of ourselves. Sometimes when we seem to be at the end of something in life, we are truly starting from zero with new perspectives. Regression seems to be a step backwards, but our inner and outer journey in life is a series of spirals that bring us full circle through our path of learning with ever deepening meaning and an expanding perspective. A big part of that learning in today’s world is learning not only our own cultural history and traditions, but the history, traditions and ways of life of other cultures. We are only capable of thinking within the dominant paradigms we grew up with in our own culture and passively absorbed as children. While we learn from our mass and individual history, a key point is not to be enslaved to any idea that does not serve our needs for the sake of “tradition”.
Tradition is fundamentally the passing on of daily habit through ritualised repeated behaviors for people who have no access to written records, or are under the rule of an oppressive leader. Tradition and ritual preserve cultural wisdom across all fields, as well as the deeper subtle fields of the inner universe (your own mind), soliciting both beneficial inner states and outward physical action. If we want to expand our personal realities and intelligence then there is a need to learn the ways of people from cultures different than the culture we grew up in, not just their outer actions but how they elicit their inner subjective states, their fundamental relationship to how they perceive the world – while remaining committed to your own learning, expansion of love and not being a slave to any ideas or limited philosophies that oppress humanity along the way.
To transcend and include, but not be held back by anyone or anything. Our devaluation of wisdom traditions and ways of the old world has lead us to feel collectively lost and alone in an existential void, and we try so hard to fill that void with drugs, bad relationships, food, sex, entertainment, or anything else, but it is never enough and does not truly satisfy us. Anything to offer a brief reprieve from that emptiness that we so desperately need to be satisfied, and which can easily be satisfied once we identify that which is essential in life, that which is real and timeless. We collectively lost sight of our traditions as they became more and more perverted through the willful destruction of libraries, perversions of sacred teachings by rulers who seek to control the masses, genocides, wars, gaps in the passing down of traditions, or that good old standby – mad power mongers and super-villain like rulers with iron fists who tear down culture and tradition in the name of their own inflated ego or anti-life philosophy. Think Dr. Doom, Thanos, Darkseid, Stalin, Hitler etc. To destroy the will and heart of a people, you take away their culture, you take away, destroy or pervert their personal story. You break the will and the Spirit of people be denying them their basic freedoms and sowing seeds of doubt and mistrust in their own minds about who they fundamentally are in their heart of hearts.
I don’t have the answers, just an inquiring mind that never rests – and I do not suggest you look for the answer to life’s biggest questions in a Hollywood movie. But, in the existential wasteland we live in contributed to by deconstructionism and a post-modern rational scientific world view there now exists a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. Something will come along to fill it, it may be good or bad, but what that something is we do not know.
The future arrives one day at a time, and it is not all hover boards, DeLorean’s and sports almanacs. Part of what has stepped into that existential void we currently live in is modern superhero cinema. It is only one contender, one idea in the ring, and it is not the only idea out there. Superhero cinema in no way replaces or meets our actual needs in life, and I do not mean to suggest it does. Superhero cinema does not replace genuine Spirituality or man’s search for for or relationship with God in any way.
I believe that Superhero cinema can be inspiring, uplifting, but also remind us of own potential for greatness, and inspire us to live out not only our grandest dreams, but to co-operate with others, to be considerate and be of service however we can in life.
When I watch the old Star Trek shows, I see a human race that bickers and fights amongst itself, but I see a human race that is ultimately united in their mission and purpose. Good science fiction, fantasy and superhero stories can help to remind us that we are one human race, one big family, and the sooner we learn that lesson, the more can co-operate and work together creatively instead of inventing new ways to slaughter each other. I love when fiction reminds us of that possibility. For to manifest out hearts desire we must first see that desire as possible, we must imagine a future grander than any Star Trek like utopia where humanity functions as a healthy whole organism, as symbiotic organisms that live with the earth and its many species rather than as parasites or viruses who attack their host. The hero archetype and myth is as old as time itself, the particular superhero evolution of the hero archetype is just another spin on a timeless tale. Whether the hero/heroine and superhero/superheroine archetype is one that ultimately serves us or holds us back as a species, as a culture is really up to us. Where we place our values, what we invest our time and efforts in ultimately determines the direction of our lives.
The Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell is a fascinating, deep, insightful and meaningful work. However that work comments on the past, on what is and has been. As valuable as it is, it only a beginning. It can only tell us where we have been, and not where we are going. The Hero’s journey is one of common tropes across different cultures in different times identified within a patriarchal paradigm that displaces female power by necessity. Whether we continue to define the Heroine and Superheroine in male terms, as reactions to male power, rather than finding the authentic voice of feminine power and strength within women and men as we live today, and incorporate that into our stories and new mythologies is up to us. The re-emergence of the suppressed divine Goddess within all of us is long overdue. Living as we currently do is psychologically unbalanced for both sexes, how and when we address that issue is up to us as individuals and as communities. Men need to be able to express their emotions and follow their intuition, Women need to be able to stand up as self-confident empowered individuals and equals, and not as merely reactions to perceived male power.
Each of us must do the hard inner work of acknowledging and allowing healthy expression of the male and female aspects of the psyche within each of us. Collectively we must work to embody our deepest values in the outer world as free thinking and feeling men and women. Perhaps it is time on this planet for the artificial battle of the sexes to come to an end, and instead be replaced by a genuine equality and co-operation that we have never known in modern times. It is up to us to create, model and live that way of being, and to refuse to back away from the challenge.
We should not remain prisoners of the past, or outmoded ways of living, merely because what is new and different may at first be frightening and strange to us. Life is change and motion, evolution and growth whether we want it to be or not. We can resist the flow of life, or move along with the beat of the evolutionary impulse within our hearts.
So within the existing cultural and explicitly sexist paradigm of the Patriarchy we currently live in, I feel several significant films have come along that attempt to address our unmet need for myth, meaning and story in our lives. I am not saying that they satisfy our genuine needs, or that movies should ever take the place of genuine wisdom – just that one offshoot of the never ending evolution of story telling has appeared in a popular format that speaks to the masses.
Inspiring films are a complement to, rather than a replacement of our other activities in life. However, while good, these films also fail to integrate feminine energy, to integrate authentic feminine voice and power, despite however seemingly progressive some of them may be. Storytelling, like most other arts has become so commercialized that we barely recognise its roots and origins. The films that we find satisfying not only as pure entertainment and escapism, all have deeper philosophical meanings layered within their narrative structure.
The films I feel that best meet this criteria for putting an emphasis on myth and magic, on Science and Spirit – and this is not a complete list, just well known films that fit the bill that I happen to like a lot – are Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), Rocky (1976), The Matrix (1999), X-Men (2000) Spider-Man (2002), Batman Begins (2005) The Dark Knight (2008) and The Avengers (2012). I could have chosen others, but these films were seen by enough people that even those who have never seen them have at least heard of the characters, and all of these films feature archetypal heroic stories. Part of the appeal of modern hero and superhero cinema is the very primal, fundamental way in which the films attempt to address our need for stories, myths and cultural narrative. Whether Rocky, Batman or the Avengers, superhero cinema is a celebration of old world traditional values (but not Dogma) wrapped up in a shiny new package. Superhero cinema tells the timeless tale of heroes and heroines rising and triumphing over adversity, growing in wisdom and knowledge to meet life’s challenges, and offering their unique gifts in service to the world – rather than sinking away into depression and feelings of powerlessness. What constitutes the core values of a Hero or Superhero, what makes them a hero in the old world sense is the quest, facing adversity, victory etc. A hero in our modern context in my view however is not so much about any particular quest.
The hero I most often think of and admire is Batman. His quest is ordinary and never ending.
He can never win, his quest will never finish, he can never win, it is by definition impossible. Yet he fulfills his duty anyway, not because of any external rewards, not for any magical swords or fair maidens or the love of the people. Batman gives his gifts selflessly, because there is a genuine need for him in Gotham City. But more than that, Batman is simply who Bruce Wayne is. Batman is Bruce Wayne’s calling in life, it is his mission, sole purpose and primary focus in life to be Batman, along with everything that represents.
As an avatar of darkness and shadows, Batman makes the unknown known, he makes the unconscious conscious, shedding light on the ugliest parts of humanity that we refuse to see, acknowledge or integrate.
Batman is a metaphor for the alchemy of our mind and soul, of how to integrate and transform our darkest impulses and direct them towards our highest good.
What I love about Batman, or Spider-Man or the Avengers is that they knowingly face certain death and impossible situations, yet they boldly march forward, because being a hero is what is in their DNA, it defines who they are. Heroes in my mind are selfless individuals who serve the needs of others not just out of a sense of duty or responsibility, but because they genuinely care about the welfare of others.
They are heroes not just because they choose to be, but because they don’t know how NOT to be Heroes, they don’t know how to shut off their humanity or to suppress their feelings, so instead they must be who they are. The heroic movies may focus on spectacle and action, but the heart of a hero is forged in the crucible of testing their values against adversity while not compromising themselves. A hero then is one who serves others and lives by their core values, their own moral code and not by the laws of the nation, and is not motivated by external forces. A hero follows what is in their heart, what they know to be true, and a true hero does what they do out of love for humanity, out of love for life. This article is a long one and I I have plenty more to say on this topic, so I’ve broken it up into two parts – stay tuned for PART#2, where I will discuss the themes and the cool bits of each of the films I just mentioned in detail. I’ll be talking about Rocky and Batman, X-Men and other great characters. Stick around, you’ll be glad you did!