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I love Superman. A brief visit to my home to see my various Superman items scattered around leaves that in no doubt. Or, perhaps you have seen me strolling around Massey University or at a conference with my trusty Superman branded satchel over my shoulder, glasses case for my sunnies and tin with Superman pens and pencils. Chances are, I probably drove there in my car fitted out with Superman seat covers and a rear window decal. I’m not even that interested in other characters from the world of superheroes and villains; it is and has always been only one for me.
Yeah, I love Superman.
Interestingly (to me at least), I’ve come to realise that I am smitten with what Superman represents. That realisation manifests as a solid reason why my love for the red and blue wearing son of Krypton has survived the poor acting and barely pleasurable movies of recent years. For me, the idea of Superman is someone coming to save us from ourselves. While he brings plenty of drama here with him (think, General Zod), many of Superman’s saves involve him stopping the action of a human (think, Lex Luthor) and that is the idea that sits well with me – a moral being with (almost) unreproachable integrity arriving on Earth to save humanity from its biggest danger, itself (if, at this point, you want to expand the sociological possibilities of this conversation you may like to consider Weber’s charismatic authority). I’ve also come to realise that Superman can’t live up to the expectations I have placed on him.
Okay, okay, let’s pause here for a second and be clear about something. Yes, I do know that Superman and Clark Kent are fictional characters. I can assure readers that the pressures of PhD candidature have not forced me into a state of delusion within which I live in a scenario where Superman and Clark are running (or flying) around in plain sight. Stay with me here and remember, I am now talking about the idea of Superman.
It is the idea of Superman or, if you like, the hope that this idea offers, that cannot live up to the expectations I have placed upon it. Take, as one example, the idea of world peace. You would think that someone with abilities like those possessed by Superman would be able to solve all of the world’s problems, so why doesn’t he save us completely? Why doesn’t Superman use his extensive capabilities to rid the world of crime, poverty and the like? Surely, he could create the utopia that many of us crave? But, alas, this is not to be. For, to do so, he would have to contradict his own morals and become the dictator and oppressor he is celebrated for opposing. Let’s think about crime. Sure, Superman could rid the world of crime. But for how long? A day? A week? For every Lex Luthor taken down, there is another one waiting to take his place. To truly rid us of the ways of the evil villains, Superman would need to control the behaviour of citizens, which is a clear deviation of his moral compass. Meaning, Superman (if he existed) could never really save ourselves from ourselves and could never truly rid the world of evil. Hence, my problem. The hope I find in a Superman-like figure can never be realised.
But I still need a hero.
Drawing on philosopher Brian Feltham’s work leads me to believe that I can be my own hero. I can also be your hero, and you can be mine. We don’t need Superman! Feltham (2013) suggests we can all be heroes by focussing on the little things, by caring for each other and giving up some of our precious time to support our neighbours and those in need. He proposes giving up a screening of your favourite show to volunteer, or not to buy that latest DVD (it was published in 2013) and donate the money to a worthy cause. Feltham uses this argument to suggest that Superman deserves a life too (as we deserve those DVDs from time to time), yet it is his conjecture that “we could be heroes” which most resonates with me. Either I quite enjoy the idea of being compared to Superman, or he has touched a rather melodious chord with me (perhaps set to the tune of a certain David Bowie song).
We can be each other’s heroes!
Have you ever been the recipient of a random act of kindness and noticed the way it made you feel? The rest of your day was better, wasn’t it? How about the way you felt after those instances where you were the giver of those random acts? Just as good, I bet. What if we dropped the ‘random’ from that phrase? I understand that most define the word to mean that the act is uncalculated and the recipient unqualified, yet the pessimist in me takes the definition in another direction. I equate the use of ‘random’ in front of ‘act of kindness’ to indicate sparse, irregular and only when it suits or is easy to perform. Why can’t we just be kind? Why does it need to be an act with a title inspired by a movie with a tearjerking ending? Why can’t being kind be part of our daily lives?
Most of you would have seen those shared videos on social media, the ones where a biker stops in the rain to assist an elderly lady across the road or where a group of strangers work together to save a drowning dog. “Awww”, right? Well, not for me. I find the notion that we should celebrate these acts and the resulting obsession with the clips going viral to be somewhat depressing. The reaction we have towards these videos indicates that the acts shown in them are not the norm. We react because it is not something we see every day. It should be something we see every day! Stopping to help those in need should not be something we celebrate in awe through the unabating act of sharing and liking by the masses, it should be something we just do. Everyday.
Okay, so nothing I am rambling on about here is revolutionary, and a basic internet search will confirm that, although perhaps this is the first time someone has ranted on the idea while exposing themselves as a huge Superman geek? Regardless, this is a casually written blog post and not a laboured over thesis that I shall be called upon to defend, so I will finish with a simple thought. The world would be a much better place with more smiles, some casual door opening and basic human kindness without hidden agendas or suspicion. Perhaps we can start there and then tackle the bigger things with not such a heavy heart and with the support of knowing we are in this together. We could even save ourselves from ourselves.
Maybe we don’t need Superman?
But I still need a hero.
I’ll be yours.
Will you be mine?
Feltham, B. (2013). Action Comics! Superman and Practical Reason. Superman and Philosophy: What Would the Man of Steel Do?, 16-25.
Kalym Lipsey is a PhD Candidate (Sociology) at Massey University Auckland, researching perceptions of justice and security-related rights.