Monday, October 27, 2008

The Epic Song of Superman in Five Parts: Part Five

Part Five


 “…I don’t mind it if we had been beaten by a tall warrior in a steel helmet, a human dragon spitting fire. But we’re beaten by a louse. A big, fat, slow, blond louse.”

-Stepan Timoshenko, Ayn Rand’s WE THE LIVING

 In the comics, Superman was once killed by a mysterious, spike-covered, indestructible alien named Doomsday, the ultimate agent of destruction. If this were truly the case, there would be something meaningful to his death. And in the comics, not even death as the hands of such a beast could really keep Superman down. But as Stephan Timoshenko calls it in We The Living, “Let the world think that you’re a huge monster to be feared and respected and fought honorably. But don’t let them know that yours is not an army of heroes, nor even of fiends, but of shriveled bookkeepers with a rupture who’ve learned to be arrogant.” Doomsday could not kill Superman, but now, the Man of Steel is diseased mentally and covered with lice.

 With that said, let’s take a look at the next batch of songs.

 The band Our Lady Peace offers this lament in 1997’s “Superman’s Dead”:


Alone I’m thinking

Why is superman dead/

Is it in my head/

We’ll just laugh instead/

You worry about the weather and/

Whether or not you should hate/


There is a religious overtone to the song as well:

Are you worried about your faith/

kneel down and obey/

you're happy you're in love/

you need someone to hate/

an ordinary girl an ordinary waist /

but ordinary's just not good enough today/


Still, it seems that reports of Superman’s death have been greatly exaggerated, given the many songs in recent years about him in recent years. But if he’s alive, he’s slowly dying of infection of lice and mental disease. Some think that "religion" is the cure. After the appropriation of Superman in rap lyrics, it’s no surprise that the biggest contender to Christ-status since John Lennon comes under fire in the lyrics from gospel group DC Talk:


You’ll never find peace of mind in your pool of self

You’ll never find peace of mind in a sea of wealth

You’ll never find peace of mind in your rock and roll

You’ll never find peace of mind if you sell your soul

You’ll never find peace of mind in your superman


So now Superman is under attack by altruism and religion. It’s not just Superman, but everyman, and especially America, with its history of individualism and wealth, as we are told that we can never be strong enough to compete with the Lord. And it would seem that the culture is only too eager to agree. The Counting Crows make a break with the American Dream in “Ordinary Superman”:


He's never that bad, he's never that good/

He's always just a little bit and over understood/

And you say, "He's un-American, a little bit."/

And you think that that's so cool/

You like a little bit, and if he's un-American a little bit/

Then you think that he's no fool/


As we see on the television show SCRUBS, the doctors (doctor’s being notorious for having a “god complex” already) raise the white flag, as we here in the theme song:


Well I know what I've been told

You've to break free to break the mold

But I can't do this all on my own

No, I can't do this all on my own

I know, that I'm no Superman


Not only is this a surrender of the Superman, but a call to a more “democratic” approach to heroism, as argued in the book THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SUPERHERO, which claims that rugged individualism and heroism only lead to fascism. This theme is continued in the lyrics to another TV show, this time, the show is about Superman himself, in his formative years as Clark Kent on the farm in SMALLVILLE. Remy Zero pens the perfect summation of what our idea of Superman has become, depicting the fallen state of the man who made us believe we could fly:

I feel my wings have broken

In your hands/

All my dreams are falling down /

Crawling round and round and round


 Now, it’s Superman calling out for help:


Somebody save me/

Let your waters break right through/

Somebody save me/

I don't care how you do it /

Just save, save

Come on/

I've been waiting for you


(This, incidentally, provides the plot for the recent SUPERMAN RETURNS, sharply marking the difference between that film and the Christopher Reeves versions.)

 If Superman is still alive and in need of us, it still seems many are in need of him. Maybe some want to keep him alive, if only to save their own hides. Maybe the world, like the Flaming Lips, is “Waiting for a Superman”:


Is it gettin' heavy?/

Well I thought it was already as heavy

As can be/

 Is it overwhelming

To use a crane to crush a fly?/

It's a good time for Superman

To lift the sun into the sky?/


Well, the Lips are here to advise us:


Tell everybody

Waitin' for Superman

That they should try to hold on

Best they can

He hasn't dropped them

Forgot them

Or anything

It's just too heavy for Superman to lift


Well, if the lyrics elsewhere are right, it certainly has become to heavy for Superman to lift. But the assumption is that he hasn’t forgotten…but what if he has? What if, like the titans in ATLAS SHRUGGED, Superman has decided, “enough’s enough” and gone on strike? One band recognize the possibility, as the Crash Test Dummies pointed out in “Superman’s Song”:


Superman never made any money/

For saving the world from Solomon Grundy/

And sometimes I despair the world will never see/

Another man like him


For years, Superman played by the rules of altruism and self-sacrifice.


Hey Bob, Supe had a straight job/

Even though he could have smashed through any bank

In the United States/

he had the strength, but he would not/

Folks said his family were all dead/

Their planet crumbled but Superman, he forced himself/

To carry on, forget Krypton, and keep going


But will he?


Sometimes when Supe was stopping crimes/

I'll bet that he was tempted to just quit and turn his back

On man, join Tarzan in the forest/

But he stayed in the city, and kept on changing clothes/

In dirty old phone booths till his work was through/

And nothing to do but go on home/



Big Head Todd and the Monsters, also point out that what we have on our hands is a “Resignation Superman”:


And today the bad guys win/

Cause he turned his cape in/

Now, he says/,

And I'll turn my back on this world/

Yes I'll turn my eyes from this world/

Oh well...


Why? Well:


Yes he's tired of fighting in this town/

All the suffering and vice/

He wants to fall in love/

Maybe settle in and live a life/

The singer claims that


Oh I want to believe in you now that I'm suffering/

Oh lord, I need to receive your hand in my heart.


But it’s too little, too late:


And he keeps an eye upon this town/

The resignation superman/

He'll keep himself amused/

With the evening news/

Oh my...

Now I broke my back on this world/

Now I'll wash my hands of this world



Whether Superman returns remains to be seen.  What doesn’t kill him may make him stronger…and wiser…and this time, he may not come back at all, leaving us in a world without a Superman, in a Superhero Babylon...