Friday, March 26, 2010

Superman = Super-Simulacrum?

Hi kids:

Normally, I don't do this sort of thing on here, but I was struck by something when I was watching the first bit of Singer's Superman last night.

Namely, all the different levels of Simulation that Superman and his particular diegesis embodies, if we enter that fictional realm as "the real" and not just as a text. Singer's film itself could be viewed as a simulation of the 1978 movie - the opening credits, the music, even the footage of Jor-El/Brando are recycled and/or imitative of the original 1978 film. I also happen to think that Routh's performance of Clark Kent is so Reeve-esque that it can only be intentional. So, perhaps in Singer's case the film itself was in a way experimental - he pointed out repeatedly that in terms of "canonical" time for the original 70s/80s films, his takes place between the 1978 version and its very good sequel. So by inserting/pushing his own story in-between the two films, it does make stylistic sense to try to make those films adhere to the artistic rules of its predecessors, with varying degrees of success shot by shot. It's almost like the film is a re-mix of other materials that were still in the vault. The degree of usage of these materials reminds me of the work of filmmakers (and former teacher of mine) like Leslie Thornton, who crafts films out of footage she finds in places like yard sales.

But back to Superman himself. Think about it - his Earth-birth is immaculate (that's been covered to death) and he is not *really* human, but raised as one. He looks like one of us, but is most definitely is NOT. He is The Other, and he is here to help. Some scholarship has been focused one Siegel and Shuster's creation of a Judiac Messiah figure, but I would contend that they have created a specifically *American* Messiah. As the Ultimate Immigrant, Superman embodies the American Dream as it has been consistently manufactured for the past two centuries. Come to America, and you will become more than you are in your homeland, or in his case, on your home planet. Superman's powers are directly derived from being physically ON Earth under our yellow sun, whereas the populations of immigrants - Jewish, Italian, Irish, whatever - arrived in poverty for the most part but were economically climbing up because of the opportunities presented to them here in the States. With money comes power. With presence on the Police Force comes power, with taking control of Construction Industries, comes power. Etc.

Kal-El's landing in Kansas and upbringing by (presumably) some sort of Protestant something-or-other adoptive parents makes sure his American (White, unspecified) pedigree is completely unimpeachable. If Superman had been raised on the Lower East Side in the 30s, he could have ended up being an Orthodox Jew, thereby marking him as an Unacceptable Other, and therefore not a hero for the total American public. What is fascinating (and telling) is the global adoration of Superman in both our "real" world and in the world of the comic book - he represents the American Way to everyone, everywhere. Democracy, and the chance to be who you are without fear of reprisal. He is available to everyone to identify with because he is not from Here, he is not born to any particular nation, he belongs to the planet.

But there is a catch there. He does have the secret identity of Clark Kent, that was so elegantly explicated by David Carradine in Kill Bill 2. There is no way for Kal-El to ever really "be" human, so he must pretend. He loves us, but he is not us. He is the Anti-Icarus, not punished by the Gods for flying too close to the sun, but rather rewarded with becoming one of the Gods BECAUSE of flying so close to our sun. He is not fueled by Pride, but rather by his sense of Duty, instilled in him by his adoptive parents, and later in his life by interacting with a simulacrum of his biological father Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude.

The Fortress itself is not a piece of Krypton, but rather a small simulation of Krypton, built from a single authentic Kryptonian crystal that came with the infant Kal-El to earth. That said, it could be argued that the Fortress is a metanym of Krypton, since its origin is from an actual artifact/seed of the Alien World. It's like the Samovar that gets handed down through the generations of immigrants and placed in the center of the home, or at least in the curio cabinet. The kids have no idea what it's for, but they know that some ancestor brought the damn thing over on a boat, thereby giving it significance. So, the Fortress pulls off two things at once: it's a grown insertion of *actual* Krypton, expanding and creating a space for itself on Earth, and it is also at the same time being a total simulation of a planet long destroyed. Superman is the same thing, i.e. the real Kryptonian and the Simulated Earthling at the same time. Since we as humans are only allowed one position in discourse, this "dual-identity" in some ways place Superman in an almost trans-discursive position, and in that liminal space his powers are born. Interestingly enough, that's not that different than what Singer did himself by putting his film in-between the first two Superman films.

OK, I need to think about this more, but also finish this Tikka Masala.