If I look up in the sky, I may see a bird, or a plane, but I won’t see a Superman. In a nation wracked by cultural and political division and trapped in a stagnant economy, the urge to wish for a quick fix, a heroic gesture, is almost certainly going to end in disappointment.
The movie “Waiting For Superman” is a ideologically charged documentary about folks hoping for someone or something miraculous to swoop down and save their educational system, in this case in Washington. D.C.
It’s such a tempting impulse that goes deep in the race. Holding out for a hero: A Hercules, an El Cid, an Andy Jackson, a Teddy Roosevelt, et al. Someone with extraordinary abilities and confidence who can change the course of mighty events with muscle and sheer will.
That explains the popularity of fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, John McClane (Bruce Willis in the “Die Hard” series) and, of course, Superman and Batman.
“Supes,” as you may know, is being re-launched (‘re-booted” in entertainment parlance) in an effort to make him — and comic books — relevant to new generations. The new Action Comics No. 1 came out last week, and depicted the Man of Steel more like the Boss of Iron, a Bruce Springsteenesque fella in blue jeans who isn’t invulnerable but nevertheless carries a populist chip on his shoulder.
He defies the cops and violently abuses white collar crooks, demanding that “the law works the same for poor and rich people alike.” His marriage to Lois Lane never happened, and he works not for the Daily Planet, but its rival, the Daily Star.
Is this what the modern hero looks like? People, even his supporters, complain that Barack Obama is too “professorial.” In other words, too educated and cerebral. Too smart and not gritty enough.
The American Film Institute, a fairly educated bunch, recently proclaimed the top movie heroes of all time. Number two was Indiana Jones — a two-fisted adventurer who was also an archeology professor — while the top post went to lawyer Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Finch demonstrates physical courage in calmly facing down a lynch mob armedwith only a book and a reading lamp, but most importantly, he is an example of moral courage. Without unseemly pride or ego, he quietly defies the racial prejudice of his time to defend a black man unjustly accused of rape.
Now, it’s difficult to think of lawyers as heroes these days. Attorneys as sharks has become a contemporary punch line. But to establish moral courage as equal to, or superior to, physical bravery, that is something that’s always remarkable.
In a group setting, people are often reluctant to speak up when they see a wrong committed. I’m not talking about a bank robbery. I’m speaking of neighborhood, schoolyard or workplace bullies (verbal or physical), bigots, abusers, compromised moralizers, etc. We don’t want to be the one who stands out, for fear of being disliked, ostracized or even abandoned by our loved ones.
We might think it’s remarkable to see a man with bullets bouncing off his chest, but it’s nearly as rare for a person to stand up alone and refuse to go along with something evil, especially if that person has a lot to lose.
I am not arguing for narrow-minded fanatics. That kind of person is usually trying to put on a performance for an audience of one (themselves). I am looking for the man or woman who simply says, “This is not right. I won’t just stand by and let this happen.”
It’s amazing what one honest person can do to change the course of an emotionally-charged incident. Other, more timid people, may be inspired to speak up. Passions can calm. Brains can re-engage. Justice may triumph.
For myself, I will be following the “new” Superman to see if the limits of his “amazing” powers begin and end with bending steel and talking tough. After all, alien invasions are pretty rare things, but chances to be brave occur almost every day.
How nice it would be to look in the mirror, and not up in the sky, for deliverance from evil. And if it helps, go ahead and tuck a red cape under your jacket.