Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Look. Up in the Sky!

A few weeks ago, I got pretty sick. This hybrid flu/black plague/Klingon chicken pox thing that has been going around and is so bad this year. The combination of Nyquil and Codine-laced cough syrup really gave me the chance to contemplate life. That and watch a bunch of movies. One of them was a recently released DC Comics movie, Superman vs. the Elite. It’s based on a Superman comic book story called What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way? I’d forgotten about the story until I watched Superman vs. the Elite. I’m not really here to do a review of the movie (other than it’s awesome) but it really got me thinking about a lot of things that have been going on lately.

In it, Superman faces off against Manchester Black and the Elite, a new group of superheroes who are more brutal than Superman. They claim they are a superhero group for the 21st century, willing to kill those villains that Superman just arrests, willing to use the full expanse of their powers to stop those they really view to be a threat. They initially get acclaim, becoming more popular that Superman because of their willingness to kill. The story ends with Superman fighting them, appearing to agree with their more brutal methods, but he uses his super-speed to pull the members of the Elite out of harm’s way before actually killing them. (oh, yeah... spoiler for a 10 year old comic book) He shows people that violence isn’t always the answer (by outsmarting them) and that he’ll continue to fight for his own ideals.

I guess I kind of gravitated towards this story right now because of the reminder of the upbeat message. Not just the non-violence method... this isn’t some anti-violence rant. But lately... we’ve gotten kind of cynical as a country. 20 kids are shot, and the first reaction is putting more guns in schools and arming teachers. (I should probably clarify that I’m a FAN of Die Hard, I am not, in fact, John McClane. Thank you for thinking of me.) Someone we don’t like is running for President, rather than coming up with a passioned defense of why we should vote for the other guy, we immediately attack just about everything from how they dress to whether or not they look like the Joker (The crazy scary Heath Ledger version, not the fun, whimsical Jack Nicholson version). Our heroes manage to let us down. And I fear our reaction is to let it get us down, think the worst of people and just sort of sigh and let it weigh us down. Even more.

Superman has always been a story of hope. Think about: Superman can do anything. He’s super strong. Super fast. Super everything. And he uses that power to help people. And he does it without killing them, despite the fact that he can bat around an eighteen wheeler the same way an Olympic Team might cheat at badminton. Yep. We live in a world where we’re coming off an Olympic badminton cheating scandal. We live in a world where badminton is an Olympic sport.

Moving on.

Superman was losing against the Elite not because they could overpower him (he proved that) but because he was starting to doubt himself. That part is extremely easy. Not the losing to a guy who can read minds, but doubting yourself. It’s easy to get defeated, we all doubt ourselves. And it just seems to be getting easier to be defeated and to doubt ourselves. Lord knows I’ve been doing that more than I should lately.

But... and this was the main theme of the movie... you can’t doubt yourself. Superman is Superman not because he wears the cape, but because he’s the eternal optimist. He puts Lex Luthor in prison because he hopes against all hopes that Lex Luthor is eventually going to use his vast wealth and intelligence for the forces of good, not for the forces of Lex Luthor. 

As the world gets scarier, it’s important that we don’t allow ourselves to fall into self doubt, and we break this cycle of getting more and more cynical. We need to stop thinking that the only way to combat cynicism is with more cynicism. Hell, how many scientists immediately run out and disprove that your favorite movie could happen? It seems like that’s all they do lately, while avoiding curing that cancer thing or making a diet soda that actually tastes great. Yes, I’m aware that there will never be an Incredible Hulk. I don’t want to know the science behind it. I want to watch him punch a giant alien spaceship. That’s why I’m in the movie theater. (A lawyer also went and found out how binding Biblo’s contract was in The Hobbit. If you needed more reasons to hate lawyers.)

So, take a chance. Just take a chance on a little optimism. Try not fighting fire with fire, and hoping for the best, rather than expecting the worst all the time. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see how great we can be.

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