Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Quick Cultural Critique of Man of Steel

A Quick Cultural Critique of Man of Steel:

Hey Viewers!

Enjoyed talking Iron Man with you last time! Now, this is just something I need to get off my chest. As you may or may not know, I'm not a big fan of the dark re-boot aesthetic for Superman. But, mainly, here's why. The thing about Superman is he represents coming from two different cultures. And for the most part, stands up for what's good about his adopted culture, but he doesn't even particularly need to DO much. The environments, the soundtracks, HIS actions, fill you with hope. But, contrary to Iron Man, he's completely modest. All he needs to do falling building, "Just doing my job, ma'am!" fly off...cue Superman theme! Isn't multiculturalism nifty? Sure am glad Superman flew down to save us...

The mind fills in the rest. This isn't the sense I get from Man of Steel. There's gonna be a lot of exposition. In Superman: New Krypton the graphic novel, we're told that the "S" is actually the Kryptonian crest of House El. As in "Kal-El" and "Jor-El". I like that explanation. It makes sense. His parents sent him with a momento of Krypton. Nope. Not in Man of Steel. In Man of Steel, it just means "Hope". Do we really need to be told Superman is hope? Anyway...I hope they base it on good comics, but yeah, essentially this seems to be a Dark Knight re-skin. I'll admit I was excited at first, but really Superman is about modesty and multiculturalism; when I see Henry Cavill in the preview explaining that the S means hope; I DUNNO....YA DON'T SAY???

Additionally, the soundtrack seems to be off. When I hear the new theme, I get the impression of a man burdened with responsibility, but still no hope, no rising notes. There are no rising notes to signify the "flight" of Superman which is optimistic because he's above the world he's saving; but he just sees it as his job. "This looks like a job for SUPERMAN." Ever since 1941, there have been these sort of three rising notes that (to me.) seemingly sing SU-PER-MAN, and symbolize his flight. Especially after the "It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!" bit. Heck, even Lois & Clark played around those notes. As did John Williams, and the '96 Superman: The Animated Series (Which I was watching when I opened up the N64. Epic Nintendo reveal!)

To demonstrate the effectiveness of the Superman leitmotif and character, I leave you with a sample of selected Superman anthems, and Captain Picard playing around with notes (Because it's what Superman's themes do, too! (With the three rising hopeful notes.) It's never the same theme, but it's played around. The new theme does not, and is flat. Plus to demonstrate the effectiveness of Superman's modesty, consider the opening scene of Lois and Clark. It was a cheesy 90s drama, I know! But consider  Dean Cain's first scene as Clark Kent.That's perfect! He stops a bus with his hand, and just walks it off. Modesty! All of Superman's traditional portrayals are essentially mild-mannered.

When I hear Russell Crowe as Jor-El say "He'll be a god to them." in the trailers...I cringe a little. Superman wouldn't want that; Jor-El wouldn't want that. That's what I have against all these "Superman learns not to be a god" plots. He just wouldn't want to be. He's just doing his job, and doesn't want to hurt innocents. It amounts to a humiliation of Superman to try to portray him as a god. But nonetheless, Injustice needs its villain...and Batman is popular right now.

You can make the argument that Superman's creators were Jewish, yes. But, to me, nothing about Superman is a religious experience. He's for America, and for everyone who's ever felt different. TRUTH, JUSTICE, AND THE AMERICAN WAY. It's about honoring that Jewish background, maybe, but there is no evidence that he is exclusively tied to it: he represents intercultural discourse. WITH HIS FISTS and a Boy Scout morality. Oh, sorry I went all Colbert on you there.

Like to me, Superman represents the feeling of me being in German class, almost. When speaking German, I don't worry about my disability. I'm able to focus on what I can do..speak. I have a sense of being judged by the good I can do, not restrained by physical limits. And indeed independent living has been an alien world for me, that I'm still in culture shock about. But see, with Superman...the less said the better. Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman said it best: "Gods get their strength from us believing in them. Superman gets his strength because he believes in us." Superman can never be a god, and wouldn't want to be.

Maybe the film will clear it up later. "Secret Origin" was good as a comic, but I kinda lost hope when Superman was explaining to Lois that the "S" means "HOPE" and General Zod was all: "I WILL FIND HIM!" and blowing stuff up. In the comic, Luthor just manipulates the military's paranoia about alien threats, which they will no doubt do here, but differently. It all comes down to identity, not who Kal-El is, not who Clark Kent is, but as that comic later shows, who SUPERMAN is. I guess I just worry that when I see Henry Cavill strutting around is that armor over a gloomy orchestra...they're setting him up to be a god, and something much less human. Just my two cents. Enjoy the links, and see if you agree with my analysis!

                                        Now let's learn about playing around themes with Picard!

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