Krypton and Nothingness
Rick de Yampert/Candide’s Notebooks, July 12, 2006
During my comic book-infested youth, many philosophical conundrums bugged me about this Superman dude. Now that Supes has returned to the spotlight with a hit blockbuster movie, I once again find myself wrestling with these metaphysical issues:
● Why does Superman wear those blue tights with red granny panties on the outside and a red cape and that “S” symbol? Yes, I seem to recall Superman mythology says the material of the Man of Steel’s costume, just like the man himself, came from Krypton (his home planet). Ergo, his costume has heightened, er, “powers” on Earth, just like Supes himself. Still, it’s silly that a guy with super-breath and super-speed and super-invulnerability feels the need to flex his super stuff in costume — and tights no less — as he battles Lex Luthor or rescues a runaway train.
● Why hasn’t anyone pointed out Clark Kent is really Superman? Come on — removing glasses and drooping a lock of hair across one’s forehead makes for a really lame disguise.
● If Supes can’t feel any pain from those bullets that bounce off his chest, then surely he can’t feel the sweet delight of a kiss from Lois Lane or, ahem, any sort of carnal pleasure — right?
● Conversely, Superman possesses such mega muscular and sensory abilities as super hearing and super running speed. Ergo, shouldn’t he be blessed with the capability of having super orgasms? (And if he does — watch out, Lois!)
● Given that Supes is saddled with being the world’s numero uno savior, rescuer and all-around good guy, why isn’t his psyche an existential mess, pan-fried in angst or ennui like, say, the anti-hero of Albert Camus’ novel “The Stranger”?
This is really a two-fold metaphysical puzzler: One, why does Supes choose to be a superhero savior and not a Superjerk who rapes and pillages and indulges all his animal desires as he pleases? (If he’s concerned about appearing to be a nice guy, surely his super powers would enable him to immorally fulfill his lusts in a stealthy manner. Who would know it was Supes who robbed a bank one midnight in Bombay to finance his Playboy Mansion of Solitude in South Beach ?)
Two, if Supes really is a great guy who just happens to love doing good deeds, how does he handle the guilt of choosing to save the runaway train when, at the very same moment, a ferry boat is sinking in the Red Sea, an earthquake is swallowing people in Indonesia, and a Berlin skyscraper is engulfed in flames? For help on these two issues, I turned to the book “Superheroes and Philosophy,” edited by Tom Morris and Matt Morris. Part of the Popular Culture and Philosophy series published by Open Court Press, this essay collection features college philosophy professors and others ruminating on deep issues raised by the superhero lifestyle. Exploring why superheroes choose to be super good guys rather than super rapists, super debauchees or hedonists, several of the profs quote Plato’s “Republic,” Immanuel Kant and Spider-man’s Uncle Ben, who famously told Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
But Plato and his mates aren’t much help to me — perhaps it takes a super mind to comprehend Plato’s idea that people are motivated to do good because it brings harmony to what he discerns are the three parts of our souls.
Besides, Superman wouldn’t have to act immorally to score chicks. No need to force his carnal knowledge upon Angelina Jolie. Take Angelina on one super trip around our galaxy, or impress her with that pressing-coal-into-a-diamond trick, and she’ll forget all about that pitiful, super-wimpy Brad Pitt guy. And need we mention Superman would have no need of Viagra?
And what about that other puzzler — the guilt and angst that would come from performing good deed No. 1 over good deed No. 2, 3, 4, ad infinitum? Yes, the philosophy profs of “Superheroes and Philosophy” note Kant’s idea that choosing to do evil deeds is immoral, while not choosing to do good deeds is not immoral. Yet these profs do not really explore the super angst that must result in Supes’ psyche when, having chosen to do good, he discovers that every time he takes a break to super-bed Lois, his super-slack means people die from lack of his unique super-aid. Every second off-duty is blood on your super-hands, Supes!
● And what about that mess in Iraq — how would Supes handle that? And what if the space pod that brought the infant Superman to Earth had crashed, say, in the backyard of Osama bin Laden, giving birth to Super-Jihadist?
Rick de Yampert, a regular contributor to Candide's Notebooks, is a columnist for The Daytona Beach ( Florida ) News-Journal . He can be reached at email@example.com