Thursday, July 11, 2013

This Time For Real: Is Superman Jesus Christ?

On my last post, I received a personal note, not posted, asking if I was ever going to approach the actual question: Is Superman Jesus Christ?

In the last post, I attempted to compare Man Of Steel with the film The Passion Of The Christ, thinking that was sufficient. Apparently not, and here I am trying to make sense of that which was previously ranted. I am fine with that, if I am not clear that is on me, the writer, not you, the reader.

For the record, though, that only goes so far. If I make every effort to be clear and fail, well… maybe it is me, maybe it is not.  So be it, world without end, selah.

Short answer: no. From this point on, “tl:dr” may apply. I have no intention of backing down, but some are pressed for time, the web is full of all manner of entertainment anomalies and this is but one of many. There is a finite amount of time in human existence, and frankly, yes, I understand that there are more important things to do; at least, in the lives of others. Film is my mad passion, and I am a total pop culture junky. So, as Heath said: Here we go…

Cultural icons, regardless of their initial intent and origin, have a subconscious impact. This is the point in which a character (we are all characters in our own story) becomes an archetype. I won’t go on about the archetype, see Jung and his acolyte Joseph Campbell. Be that as it may, these certain icons resonate; they have a lasting impact on the social mindset, the cultural subconscious. The Hero does indeed have a thousand faces. The point is to recall that the faces are similar but not the same.

The Hero Christ, then, aka Jesus of Nazareth, has a massive impact, the One True God brought to physical existence, the Word made flesh. That statement, even should one prefer to not agree with it for whatever personal religious or psychological reasons, is so loaded with memes and subtexts that there is literally no way to eliminate it from the discourse of the planet. Yes, there are others that are similar… and those echoes remain, too.

The Hero Kal-El, aka Clark Kent but known as Superman, has his own rather remarkable impact. A strange being from another planet lands here, on Earth, but more importantly, in the United States, a land made from immigrant influxes over the decades prior to his appearance in 1938. Similar to the Hero Christ, he is with us, among us but no matter how many differing ways we approach them, they are (quoting Peter Gabriel) Not One OF Us.

They are different. As such, they are often misunderstood (cf: their individual stories) and sometimes feared for a variety of reasons.

Christ is The Savior, the Way that is not the way (Tao Te Ching), the only hope of avoiding eternal damnation. Kal-El can act as a savior, but more in terms of a fireman or policeman; Just doing my job, folks. These things may appear to be the same, but are not: Christ is the Metaphysical Savior, the one on the other side of the current physical existence, the one that will intercede during the Final Judgment. Kal-El zooms in, saves your ass and zooms out. There is no Judgment, Final or otherwise, within the realm of the actions of Kal-El.

Both are, to be sure, possessed of remarkable talents, gifts and/or abilities that allow them to move within the mob and do some pretty cool things: water into wine, crush coal into a diamond, walk on water and fly unaided. These things, again, appear to be the same, but are not. The Hero Christ does these things to prepare for his Message, to underscore the circumstance of His existence. Kal-El is, frankly, just able to do things the rest of us cannot, and does them to help us, save us and sometimes just to show off (albeit usually for a charitable event of some kind). Both are without preening self-aggrandizement, but there is nothing showy about the Hero Christ; Everything is laden with meaning, rich in metaphor and worthy of contemplation for them that are so inclined. Kal-El… not so much, but interesting nonetheless; He is the Ultimate Boy Scout, after all, and doing good is its own reward.

Close, but not exact.

The Hero Christ is the Messiah, predicted from Ages Old and is to lead his followers, even unto Him becoming King Of Kings on a real, return to Earth after the End Days manner. The Hero Kal-El has had a number of interesting mutations/evolutions over the last 75 years, though, and in the last couple of decades his accident of birth and relocation has started to carry the notion of Kal-El serving as a form of leader. At this writing, the term “leader” would have to be adjusted, more to the understanding of the present author: He is a Guide.

Of all of the permutations of the character Kal-El, it is the notion of him being a “leader” that is most interesting. He is not a leader of any way, shape or form, at least not in the sense that, say, another Hero, Captain America, is a leader. The Hero Captain America is an actual military leader (his name is also his rank in the United States Army). He has seen combat, lead others into combat and has no problem in calling out orders. In some ways, Kal-El appears to be that way, but if a closer inspection is done on the stories in which he is part of a team/group effort, he will take point and take charge if no one else is willing to do so, but usually, in the overall scheme of things, he tends to be the moral center rather than the locus of strategic thought. The position of authority is often held by others, but as he is such a moral center his statements of blunt fact are often misunderstood as being commands.

Kal-El is an example, and he is aware of that. He has to live up to a standard that is virtually impossible to meet, but it is his unstated goal. He is to guide us, not lead us, a man who is not one of us, but invites us into his life, special and powerful, he accepts us and merely asks the same. Being a true Man’s Man (regardless of his odd accoutrements, bounding about in his jimmies), he is a form of the Hero John Wayne. Respect is given freely, a steadfast course is held regardless of circumstance but understanding that a course change may need to be made. Unlike the Hero John Wayne, Kal-El, like the Hero Christ, makes a permanent habit of turning the other cheek. Disrespect can be ignored… to a point. The Hero Christ becomes enraged and chases the lenders from the temple, Kal-El will stop those that harm others at almost any cost.

In Man Of Steel, Kal-El is forced, at the end, to make a moral choice. If he lives by his normal, high code, the story has to end one way, but the results are going to be catastrophic to every living creature and being on his adopted home planet. If he crosses an impossible line, one that cannot be forgotten or self-forgiven, the planet itself is no longer under threat, but the cost to him, the Hero Kal-El, would be catastrophic.

What does a Hero do when they are forced with the possibility of breaking their own moral code? This question is at the core of Man Of Steel, it is the foundation and basis of the need for the film, why we, as a viewing audience, need this film and need it now.

We live in a world that is, while we watch, literally and figuratively, collapsing. While it is true that current events are nothing with which we as a global community would be unfamiliar, there is, indeed, nothing new under the sun, but are seeing, possibly, for the first time in human history, as a global community, that which is at the end of every fork. The social structures from one area to another seem to be toppling, or at the best rotting from within. The religious upheaval, regardless of name, that is currently boiling over is unprecedented. (Pope Francis aka Pope Frank is becoming the Hero Peter, for example. I am shocked that at this point he has not come out doing a full on Michael Douglas impression: Greed, for lack of a better word, is STILL A MORTAL SIN! KNOCK IT OFF!!)

The Hero Kal-El, by the end of Man Of Steel has not become the Savior of all mankind. He did his job, and wants to go home, now, thank you, to do his other job, live a life and be ready if ever needed again. It is here that the differences between the Hero Kal-El and the Hero Bruce Wayne, known as Batman, are the most striking. Batman does patrols, occasionally works himself so hard that his loved ones worry about his health, mental and physical. Kal-El wants to live among us, be one of us and play his other, more mundane role of Average Human. He is not, and he knows it, but it is the part, the archetype that he wants most.

So, if you skipped to this point after seeing “tl:dr” then, no, Superman is NOT Jesus Christ. They just look similar enough to cause confusion between one and the other, because everything Superman lacks, Jesus Christ has in abundance.