Rarely do you see two polar opposite groups of people embrace one particular thing and claim it as their own… unless that object of worship is none other than Superman. Superman, like the rainbow, apparently is an icon to both homosexuals and Christians. I don’t know whether to laugh or shake my head in bewilderment over this one, though the notion of Superman being a Christ figure or a gay icon is somewhat understandable. That these two groups can latch onto him so easily says tons about us, too.
The thing that brought this issue into the limelight was “Superman Returns,“ the movie Bryan Singer doomed the “X-Men“ franchise to make. And even though the trailers looked about as boring as a current Superman comic book, people almost immediately began making bold statements about homosexual icons and Christ symbolism. Did Singer or the studio intentionally market the film that way? Did they plant stories about it? I don’t know, but I do know that if there is one thing Hollywood does well it is marketing. Any film that’s got Superman in it will appeal to an audience beyond comic book readers, but the gay and Christian markets are not a guaranteed sell with this or any other comic book character, so a great way to secure their dollars would be to plant these types of stories. But let’s assume these groups really felt this way. What does that mean, and why is it important?
It’s odd that the assertions these two groups made are never really talked about on a mass scale when it comes to the comic book. Sure, there have been people tossing out similar theories for years, but the mainstream media never really invested much time into it (and nor had comicdom, for that matter). As soon as the movie hit, though, the media was all over the story, with the Associated Press (AP) putting out a particularly lengthy (for AP) piece that tried to cover all the bases. Why? Because people treat movies as something that are larger than life. They legitimize people, ideas and places. Combine the overwhelming influence of film with the one of the most recognizable figures in the modern world and the story almost writes itself.
Some people look at Superman as a Christ figure. Some homosexuals view him as a symbol of what it means to have a dual identity. Oddly enough, there are other superheroes out there who are far more spiritual (Daredevil is a Catholic, for those who don’t know), and while almost every hero has a secret identity, homosexuals never seem to flock to characters who truly are gay, like Northstar of Alpha Flight. No, these groups latch onto Superman because he’s something everyone recognizes, and — and this is the important one — he’s on film. (“Daredevil“ was a movie, too, but let’s be realistic. That character does not enjoy the same status as the blue boy scout, though he is a far more complex and dynamic hero.) So are these groups wrong in identifying with Superman? No, and the reason why is fairly simple.
Superman can represent Christ just as easily as he can symbolize homosexuality. He can be a projection of our ideal selves. He can be seen as an idealistic version of America that tops even Captain America in its symbolic power. He can also be a comic book character/marketing tool that is used to sell everything from milk to toys. He can actually be almost anything we desire to mold him into, and that’s what makes him an icon.
Symbolically gay or not. Christ-like or not. It doesn’t matter. Superman is huge. Movies are huge. And people are so desperate to find some kind of validity for their lives in fictions that they go out of their way to make the pieces fit. It makes them feel more real. That’s the power of icons, and that’s the power of movies. You can argue against them all you want, but like Superman, they are pretty much indestructible. That said, even though all these groups are quick to identify with the comic book hero, nobody seems to be doing more than scratching the surface because anything else is just too hard to deal with.
If we want to relate to Superman, let’s not look at his identity to justify our own. Instead, let’s do the one thing none of these groups have mentioned, but that which is key to the Superman myth. Let’s let him inspire us to actively try to prevent wrongs in the world — no matter who is behind them. Let’s make a difference for once, and instead of paying lip service to a myth, make the myth real in the only way one can — through actions.
See the movie. Read the comics. Buy the underwear. Just don’t try to make the square pegs fit the round holes unless you’re willing to do some work to make the pieces fit right. Doing any less is just ridiculous, and even a mental midget like Bizarro can see through that.
Posted on October 29, 2006 in Features by Doug Brunell
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