Privilege

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       “The smallest minority on earth is the individual.” –Ayn Rand

 

In the context of the rest of Ayn Rand’s teachings, this was to run parallel to the idea that the individual should be held in consideration above all else. She was of the idea that institutionalized equality necessarily kept the able in chains, stifling their progress. On the contrary, I believe the strength of the enlightened individual can generate tectonic shifts in the world directly around him, for ill or for good, once he realizes the society is a brick house of individuals. I don’t like Ayn Rand’s teachings; I wouldn’t quote her unless it was extremely important.

 

When division is present, privilege will always be subjective. America may be one of the most prosperous nations, but we’re also one of the least happy, unappreciative, close-minded, and insulated nations. If truth is the greatest virtue, then isn’t the one who possesses it privileged regardless of how long he lives, how he makes ends meet, etc. With an optimist’s eyes, there can be an advantage to just about anything.

Now when I say these things, I do not mean to say oppression is non-existent. It’s a real pervasive force within a society and between individuals. However, oppression can never be eradicated if it goes mis-identified. I am not of the belief that societal division necessarily equates oppression. Real oppression, I believe, is precisely the “exaggerated” model initially presented in “The 5 Faces of Oppression.” That model of the conquered having the others will involuntarily imposed upon it. Such a state, or state of being, is the only truly, absolute non-privilege.

 

I am not in such a state, but I’ve felt marginalized my whole life. I am an alien, somehow, someway, though my parents love me, they are relatively socially retarded. The basic hi, bye, please, thank you, excuse me was all gotten to a T. What else was there? I sometimes joke, I’ve FELT alienated, but Clark Kent actually IS an alien. Imagine how he felt.

 

However, in my later years, understanding the mechanisms behind my lifelong frustrations have left me immune to their assigned power. Free to chose or deny that power at will. One of the few things my mother taught me that I hold close to this day, is that a culture can be wrong. Cultural rules reflect underlying assumptions about the nature of reality. Just as I am under no obligation to obey an unjust, written law, same can be said for unwritten ones.

 

It’s also put me in a very unique position to play with the old tropes in creative and exciting ways.

I have been the subject of racism before in my kindergarten years. Fellow student. I didn’t quake in my boots at the prospect of being put down, nor did I boil over in some Pavlovian response. My child’s mind just dismissed the stupidity of the event. Now that I have historical context in my adulthood, I wouldn’t have had myself react any other way.

 

My general deprivation of companionship had nothing to do with my race, class, gender, religion, age, sexuality, location, level of education, language, or marital status. (One could make the argument that my relationship status was a result of the other things.) I have been put in my position because I’m an individual, and for no other reason. Not as a black man, but as a person.

It’s been a privilege.

Superman: A Requiem of Steel

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Introduction

Superman created the precedent and template for the concept of “superhero” in 1938. Over time, he had developed into an American institution, a symbol, and a myth. To many, he is a kind face printed on children’s tightey-whiteys, a symbol of power, an inspirational, benevolent figure hovering in the skies that we are expected to “look up in the sky” toward.

But he is beyond many people’s reach. He is an untouchable, “unrelatable,” perfect demigod that no compelling story can be told with.

“Batman is way cooler.” I held this opinion for a while. He was the basic, pitiful Freudian childhood trauma that many more people can readily identify with, despite his questionable methods, vengefulness, and aristocracy.

As my reading of the DC Universe increased, however, my understanding of the heroes who stood alongside him did as well. I became “acquainted” with other heroes, and then realized Batman was not the world’s greatest superhero. Superman was.

I did not make this decision out of some elitist entitlement he procured from being the first or “most powerful” (he is not the most powerful by long shot), but because of the human being that is often overlooked in favor of the myth, legend, costume, smile, poses, powers, nationality, extraterritoriality, cape, and symbol. He is a super man. I wanted to make this abundantly clear to the reader.

DISCUSSION

Superman, despite his alien nature, is one of the most normal, emotionally well adjusted, and levelheaded of modern superheroes. His initial creation in 1938 saw him actively dealing with relevant issues of his time, like worker exploitation, domestic abuse, and mob violence (Ayoub, 2010). However, as times and editorial direction changed his battles grew more epic, dangerous, and large scale. His essentially human tale of individual potential, unrequited love, longing for acceptance, and anonymity is often overshadowed in the minds of the general public. (Darowski, 2008)

The Creators

Clark Kent’s love life was very evocative of his creator’s own longings. The Golden Age Clark Kent was depicted as a stuttering, cowardly, and extremely longing in his infatuation with Lois, whereas his behavior as Superman toward the admiring was a few snarls short of being brisk (Darowski). This was without a doubt, a self-indulgent, but very relatable, reversal of the situation. Jerry Siegel Admitted: “I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn’t know I existed or didn’t care I existed,” he said. “It occurred to me: what if I had something going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that?” (Robert, 1996).

The Lois and Clark dynamic as been filtered throughout generations and writers. “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” portrayed two young, sexy, smart people who would melt in each others arms once their defenses fell, and Superman’s modern comic-book canon features a married Lois with full knowledge and access to his secret identity (Darowski).

 

The Death Of Superman

Ironically, Superman’s comic book writing team had to put off Lois and Clark’s wedding for a whole year to coincide with the tv show’s wedding, and the (in)famous “Death of Superman” storyline was to fill that gap (Timm, 2007). “The news that Superman is about to die has provoked anger and surprise, … from people who haven’t read his comic book adventures in decades(New York Times, 1992). Comic shops across the country had lines forming out of the door to buy Superman #75 (Bailey, 2002).

My initial search results almost contained at least one mention of this media sensation. Even completely unrelated news tried to jump on the potential deeper meaning of the event (Frank, 1992). He died defending Metropolis from the rampaging monster known only as Doomsday after a long drawn out fight across the country that ended at Metropolis (Jurgens, 1992). Though the story was emotionally resonant, his actual means of death reflected the increasing demand for dangerous physicality and alien, non-societal threats on the part of Superman (Timm).  The success of the story was also an indicator of how ingrained and valuable the character had become on America’s (and perhaps the world’s) collective consciousness.

Ironically the All-Star Superman was a non-canonical, but critically acclaimed storyline that exaggerated his powers, while killing him the process. The story of Superman’s epic trails his quickly risen to become one the most touching, celebrated Superman stories ever told, despite his newfound invulnerability to kryptonite and being able to lift several quintillion tons (Morrison, 2011). He had reached myth status (Rubin, 2006), and like many myths, would soon be time for him to be raised from the dead (Zinn, 1993).

 

Powers And Abilities

The audience is divided on whether Superman’s powers are inspirational (Kriegel, 2006), or a barrier to compassion on the part of the reader or critic. His powers have proven difficult to elicit a sense of peril from one whose main power is essentially the “lack of danger.” His apparent, Silver Age tendency to “juggle planets” is the most re-occurring criticism. (New York Times)

Keep in mind that Kryptonite of many shapes and colors was available in copious amounts in the Silver Age of comics (Niven, 1971). His powers in the right circumstances may allow Superman to be the ultimate power fantasy on the part of the audience. (Darowski). Grant Morrison suggested that Superman’s powers might serve to simply exaggerate his humanity and trails and triumphs that result from it.

When Superman walks his dog, Krypto, he may do it across the moon, “but he’s still walking the dog.” (2011)

Relevance

The issue of Superman’s relevance comes up from his critics (Frank). His power levels are often cited as a barrier suspense or peril, and his moral uprightness does not allow for as much dilemma as for more morally compromised heroes. Many even assert he does not even risk his life by engaging in super heroics (New York Times).

Superman’s more altruistic motives do not generate as much pity as Batman’s motives (Grossman, 2004). Not only this, but his mythic status and expectations put pressure on his current stories (Jennings, 2009). He is a difficult sell.

Heroic Ideal

As the heroic ideal changes, so does Superman. In his early days, Superman was very belligerent, threatening, and socially active (Ayoub). However, this changed as new writers came on board after the creators left the title (Darowski). Hegel might attribute this to gradual cohesion of different identities (Darkowski). Though he initially had no such problem, writers have taken extra steps to make sure he’s “humanized” especially after the 1980s (New York Times, 1992).

The Movie

Before his death in 1992, the 1978 Superman The Movie directed by Richard Donner and starring Christopher Reeve became a cherished a collective memory of the Superman myth unfolding that is to this day. In the introduction of Superman: Secret Origin (Johns & Frank, 2010), David S. Goyer admitted he waited several hours when he was 11 to secure tickets to opening night. After the movie, David resolved to one-day make comic book movies.

Goyer grew up to co-write Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. In 2010, Goyer was selected to write the reboot of the Superman film franchise. However, the sequels were less than stellar (Frank).  His likeness has become synonymous with Superman in the minds of many (Kriegel), so much so that artist Gary Frank may oft use his likeness in his artwork (Frank, 2010).

Reeve even played a pivotal role in the series, Smallville up until his death (Kate, 2005).

In 2008, Donner joined forces with his apprentice, the prominent superstar writer, Geoff Johns, on a story arc entitled Last Son. The story served to incorporate several film elements into the modern DC Universe canon, but introduced Superman’s adopted Kryptonian son, aptly named “Christopher Kent.”

Audience

Despite all of this, flaws have been more easily found in praiseworthy figures in recent times, despite their ever-presence (Niebuhr, 1921). In the intro to the Secret Origin (Johns), Goyer said stated, “He’s not someone the reader can readily identify with.” However, the idea of Superman that has taken the most hits, not the character himself (Grossman).

His death put several dents in the notion of the character’s infallibility in our collective consciousness, and even they agreed that he’d be more interesting upon his resurrection (New York Times).

Conclusion

The author of this paper believes Superman to be one of the most human, emotionally well-adjusted superheroes. However, his history belies the critiques, but underscore them with more uncomfortable humanity. The audience’s apparent preference for tragedy and moral degradation of the hero may say something about the reader’s presupposed relationship between himself and a fictional (superhero) character.

This presupposition may yet be satisfied by the Golden Age Superman’s overtly threatening tendencies as well as decreased power levels (his ability to leap tall buildings was the limit to his “flight” powers, initially). Grant Morrison has described the original as an “angry socialist.” But this is not to say the modern Superman lacks the potential for a compelling arc in light of the increased power and level-headedness.

“They were always wrong. Superman‘s greatest vulnerability isn’t from some meteor rock. It is from something far more human…
…his heart.”
–Batman (Loeb, 2005)

Our seemingly collective, American resistance to recognizing shared humanity, especially in its most stellar manifestation, speaks volumes of our readiness to discriminate outsiders.

Kara Zor-El: “You’re their champion. Bigger than life. No wonder the eyeglasses work– nobody would look for you dressed like them!”
Clark Kent: “Kara… There’s no them. It’s just us. (Loeb)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

(1992, October 4). When Superman Gets Boring. New York Times. p. 16. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..

Ayoub, N. C. (2010). Superman’s Staying Power. Chronicle of Higher Education, 56(23), B16. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Darowski, Joseph J. (2008). It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s .. synthesis: superman, clark kent, and hegel’s dialectic. Journal of Comic Art, 10(1), 461-470.

Enger, P. T. (2010). In Pineda R. (Ed.), The mediated hero: Superman in the post 9/11 era. United States — Texas: Communication. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/854508180?accountid=8483

FRANK, R. (1992, November 22). Term Limit for the Man of Steel: Yes, It’s Time for Him to Go. New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..

Frisby, E. (1979). Nietzsche’s influence on the superman in science fiction literature. United States — Florida: The Florida State University. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/302900803?accountid=8483

GAUDIOSI, J. (2010). THE COMIC CONNECTION. Computer Graphics World, 33(10), 22-26. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Grossman, L., Lofaro, L., & Ressner, J. (2004). The Problem with SUPERMAN. Time, 163(20), 70-72. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Jennings, J. S. (2009). Understanding superheroes: Scholarship, superman, and the synthesis of an emerging criticism. United States — Arkansas: University of Arkansas. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304845434?accountid=8483

Jessica, S. (n.d). ‘Science of Superman’ breaks down his strengths. USA Today. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..

Johns, G., Donner, R., & Kubert, A. (2008). Superman: Last son. New York: DC Comics.

Johns, G., Frank, G., Sibal, J., Anderson, B., & Wands, S. (2010). Superman: Secret origin. New York, N.Y: DC Comics.

KATE, A. (2005, February 23). The Past Catches Up With a Future Superman. New York Times. p. 3. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..

Kirk, A. J. (2009). In Gray J. (Ed.), “Sometimes you’ll feel like an outcast”: Using superman to interrogate the closet. United States — Illinois: Speech Communication. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304996382?accountid=8483

Kriegel, L. (2006). Superman’s Shoulders: On the Healing Power of Illusion. In , Southwest Review (pp. 258-267). Southern Methodist University. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Liu, S., Page, B., Timm, B., McDuffie, D., LaPaglia, A., Asner, E., Denton, J., … Warner Bros. Entertainment. (2011). All-star Superman. Burbank, Calif.: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Loeb, J., Turner, M., & Steigerwald, P. (2005). Superman, Batman: Supergirl. New York, NY: DC Comics.

Niebuhr, R. R. (1921). Heroes and Hero Worship. Nation, 112(2903), 293-294. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

ROBERT McG. THOMAS, J. r. (1996, January 31). Jerry Siegel, Superman’s Creator, Dies at 81. New York Times. p. 6. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..

Rubin, L., & Livesay, H. (2006). Look, up in the sky! Using superheroes in play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 15(1), 117-133. doi:10.1037/h0088911

Sternlieb, J. L. (2006). Review of: It’s a Bird… Families, Systems, & Health, 24(3), 353-354. doi:10.1037/1091-7527.24.3.353

Timm, B., Capizzi, D., Montgomery, L., Vietti, B., Baldwin, A., Heche, A., Marsters, J., … Warner Home Video (Firm). (2007). Superman: Doomsday. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video.

Zinn, L. (1993). IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE — IT’S A RESURRECTION. BusinessWeek, (3314), 40. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

My “letter” to DC about Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Apocalypse (that I finally sent electronically)

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Hello, my name is Daniel Ballow and today I’d like to talk to you about sexism. Especially regarding the release of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. (Or as it should have been called, “Superman/Batman: Supergirl.”)
Before I continue I’d like to give some background information:

I do not readily identify myself as a “feminist,” but I am a gender egalitarian and opposed to sexism. I believe holding onto our fixed gendered perspective and focusing on what separates us, and what has been separating us is a barrier to true gender equality. I believe modern feminism often sabotages itself in this regard.

I believe that something is only a gender issue when the person performing the action or the observer contextualizes it as such. There is almost always an explanation for things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with these things.

I’m not one to cry “objectification” whenever artists tend to fall into the tendency to “idealize” female heroes. Most living creatures sexual objects alongside whatever else we are, and it would be dehumanizing to mask that fact (though this does not excuse nonsensical renderings, and poses that serve no storytelling purpose. I’d chalk that up to “bad storytelling, not sexism).

I give this context to set up that I firmly believe that something is only a gender issue when it is contextualized as such, and I am decidedly hesitant to label something as “sexist” for the aforementioned reason. But in spite of all of this, the more I thought about the title of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, the more I realized how undeniably sexist this name-change was, and how it would be hypocritical of me not to object to it.

Superman/Batman: Supergirl (I read the story in paperback form) is one of my favorite Superman stories of all time. As far as I am currently aware, the original storyline aptly titled “The Supergirl from Krypton” sold very well, as well as the trade paperback. (Be sure to respond with any contrary data so my disappointment will subside, please.)

It was exciting news that the Superman/Batman: Public Enemies movie would be followed up by an adaptation of the “The Supergirl from Krypton.” But it was a peculiar move to name the movie “Apocalypse.” The movie itself was stellar, featured one of the best-animated fight sequences of all time with (ironically) Wonder Woman. The adaption from the source material was true to the spirit of the source material, so why the name change?

According to a newsarma interview:

“I think the main reason why they didn’t call this piece Supergirl is because for some reason the Wonder Woman home video that we made, which was very, very good and filled with (fe)male* characters, didn’t sell well,” she told us. “And so marketing people said, female titled pieces don’t sell well. So this is a female piece, it’s got a very strong feminine character in it but they called it Superman/Batman: Apocalypse just to get people to come into the video stores and buy them.”

http://www.newsarama.com/film/superman-batman-apocalypse-interviews-100929.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Newsaramasite+%28Newsarama.com%29

I spoke with my father about this some time ago before writing this. He asserted that chauvinism wasn’t the motive behind the name change, and that the decision was of pure monetary motivation. I would not argue that the decision was sexist, but the thought process behind the decision was sexist. Because according to the marketing people’s assertion, “female titles don’t sell.”

It became sexist when gender was contextualized as the reason behind Wonder Woman’s less-than-ideal sales. They made this a gender issue, and I will call them out for doing so.

According to www.the-numbers.com, the “consumer spending for Wonder Woman was listed as $6,974,613. Batman: Gotham Knight was listed as $8,059,255. Superman: Doomsday was listed as $9,442,880.

At face value, this data would back up their claim, but there are other reasons for this.
First, the Batman animated movies were riding off the success of the ’89 film all the way to the Joel Shoemaker movie, the award winning animated series (airing around the time I was first cognizant, contributing to me becoming the DC fan I am today), The Batman, and Batman Beyond.
When you generate movies and television shows in such a way, it generates nostalgia for young viewers. You create “comfortable memories” associated with the character.

Superman has the success of the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve film series, The Lois and Clark tv show, Superman the Animated Series, Superman Returns, and Smallville.

If you look closely, there is a direct correlation between the success of the animated movies and the legion of fans generated by different media.

Wonder Woman has not had a solo television series since 1979. To expect her animated movie to perform as well as Gotham Knight or Doomsday is like asking Batman to rely only on the success of the Adam West tv show. There are not many young fans left that have grown up with Wonder Woman outside of her “Superfriends” and “Justice League” appearances.

Wonder Woman has not had an award-winning animated series, another animated series, a romantic comedy, a primetime drama, a beloved classic that’s generated more comic book writers than any other, or a highly successful reboot.
She’s only had her solo comic book series for decades, and Lynda Carter. On that alone, however, the sales of her animated movie outsold Green Lantern: First Flight ($6,070,921), Justice League: The New Frontier ($5,232,076), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths ($5,220,061), Batman: Under The Red Hood ($6,656,692), and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse ($5,847,410).

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies had the advantage of featuring both Superman and Batman, making it to ($7,996,266). Yet, that by itself apparently was not enough to guarantee the success of the sequel. “Supergirl” was consciously removed from the title because “girls don’t sell.”
(That’s right… the Catwoman film featuring Halle Berry movie did poorly because she’s a woman…*)
*Sarcastic.

The title of the project was affectively changed on a dubious, gender biased decision.
How could you let this happen?
The title was not “just changed.” A poor business decision was made. Not everyone knows Supergirl even exists. The potential, interest in the origin of this prospective character may have been lost because the title
As it is, a passive observer might interpret:
a) a vague reference to the Fourth World by Jack Kirby, something that even less people know about, or…
b) indicating the name of another disaster movie.
I was fishing through back issues one day, as a couple walking into a comic book store for the first time, apparently. The girl was presently surprised by the amount of female heroes there were (as she should be). Then remarked at astonishment, that a “Super-woman” existed (referring to the Supergirl statue she was eyeing.)

The thing that upsets me more than sexism is hypocrisy. I would prefer to think that DC comics to take the principles their beloved icons fight for very seriously.

I’m not asking anyone’s resignation.
I would like this letter, or the summarized contents thereof, to be drilled into the skulls of whoever is responsible for this.
I would like some kind of public indicator that this ought not to have happened at all.
I want nothing like this to EVER happen again.

Sincerely,
-Daniel