Tag Archives: Superman

What to expect from the Dawn of Justice

Lex Luthor: We should all be careful when we elevate anyone, human or alien, to “super” status.

Ron Troupe: Because we’re all equal.

Lex Luthor: Well that’s just absurd. No – I’m saying we need to be selective and elevate the right people. The right human people.

“I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome.”—Nietzsche

We’re only a couple weeks away from the movie I have been waiting for: Dawn of Justice (you’ll notice I refuse to use the more sophomoric title that was clearly the brain child of an idiot studio executive *

The Trinity

This film is the extension of the brain child of producer Christopher Nolan and director Zach Snyder.  Christopher Nolan uses classic literature as the backdrop for all of his movies (Batman Begins is The Aeneid, Prestige–Faust, Dark Knight–Othello, Inception–Theseus in the Labyrinth, Dark Knight Rises–A Tale of Two Cities, Interstellar–Odyssey).  Snyder has a long habit of tacking on heavy philosophy as well (the speeches in 300 are better than any of the action, is not what you’d call shallow, and even his worst film Sucker Punch was clearly trying to be something more than pointless action—it failed miserably—but there was a clear attempt, I have no idea exactly what he was attempting but he was trying to do something more there.)

And together they went in a slightly different direction with Man of Steel; they went in a slightly different direction by not pulling from literature, but philosophy and made the whole movie a critique of Plato’s Republic (no really, Krypton is set up exactly like the Republic, castes, children raised to fit predetermined lives and are not raised by parents, they even go as far as to show you Clark reading The Republic in one scene for anyone who didn’t already get it) with Zod as the logical end result of Plato’s terrible philosophy.

Now Nolan is probably not going to be involved in the entire DC universe, but he did help Snyder chart the entire universe for the first round of films…and with charting the plots I am really hoping against hope that he outlined the themes of all the movies and they all deal with the same philosophical grounds that Man of Steel did.

I expect to see Suicide Squad tear Foucault a new one, Wonder Woman glorify 2nd Wave Feminism while destroying 3rd Wave Feminism, Justice League Part 1 to destroy Kant and Part 2 to glorify Aristotle (this is pure speculation)…but I am fairly certain that Dawn of Justice will tear the abhorrent beliefs of Friedrich Nietzsche (laughingly called philosophy)  to shreds.

What do I mean?
Well first let’s go through a crash course of Nietzsche’s insanity.  Now Nietzsche is very quotable, because he put nothing in context, and you can probably find a line to justify anything but traditional religion.  Some of it even sounds quite profound (again when taken out of context)  but when you take it as a whole it’s a poor and rambling attempt to justify sociopathic behavior.  It’s hard to deal with a man who claims at one moment to love self-reflection and then decry reason and rationality as a perversion of humanity the next. Once you’ve actively denied logic, it becomes impossible to challenge you because like a child your interlocutor just says that they don’t care about that, facts and reason aren’t relevant, they have something better, who the hell knows what that is (it’s like arguing with a Trump supporter).  Nietzsche’s ethics are just as bad, hyping the Übermensch:

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?… All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood, and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is ape to man? A laughing stock or painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to overman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape… The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth… Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss … what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.—Thus Spoke Zarathustra

While the nature of this overman, like most things in Nietzsche, hard to nail down because Friedrich was committed to an asylum a couple decades later than he should have been, it is clear that the übermensch is not bound by the slave-morality of “good and evil,” to be something superior to the common people, making his own values, free of all traces of empathy, and above the rabble, to do with them and the world as he pleases.

With as abhorrent a vision as this, it is no shock that Nietzsche’s ideas were so easily used by the Nazis (even though he personally did not support such nationalist views while he was alive), and was the subject of condemnation in an early comic which portrayed one of the overmen as a cruel dictator worthy of all the scorn ethical people would put on what Nietzsche viewed as an ideal.  That comic was of course “The Reign of the Superman” by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  Who quickly realized that the way to truly destroy the values of Nietzsche wasn’t to show how a fascist example of the master race in all its abhorrence, but to show the superiority of ethics in a Superman who was above the maxim that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

And this is why Nietzsche had to be the target of this addition to the Superman franchise, because the entire comic began as an attack on Nietzschian values.

So how will this play out in the film.

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”—Nietzsche

 

“That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.”—Alfred Pennyworth

Possibly the only part of Nietzsche that will not be lambasted is the oft quoted warning about staring into the abyss as this is pretty much where Batman is clearly going to begin this film.  His hopeless view that Superman can’t be trusted because “twenty years in Gotham, Alfred—We’ve seen what promises are worth. How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?”

This man has been fighting for so long he doesn’t believe any one beside himself and Alfred are on the side of good.  He sees the worst in everyone.  Granted after Dent, Todd, Quinn, and who knows who else is in this universe, he’s seen a lot of people fall to their worst side. He has fought monsters so long that as Alfred warns it “turns good men cruel.”

So if this movie is a refutation of Nietzsche why make one of the most hyped points of trailers the point where Nietzsche is correct?  Because it was a tip of the hat to let us know which philosophy they would be dealing with…and because as we all know for all his fighting Bruce isn’t a monster—not now, not ever.  And this movie will show that the good can survive the staring contest with the abyss.  (Which will probably be also mirrored in Clark’s doubts about his mission that we get hints of.

“In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man’s torments.”—Nietzsche

 

“This means something.  It’s all some people have.  It’s all that gives them hope.”—Lois Lane

Nietzsche was a real downer of a person.  And for all his claims to hate nihilism, his ideas were more or less nihilistic.

Now certainly the first movie Man of Steel the concept of hope was dealt with over and over.  But we’re going to return to this in this movie and see that, like Nietzsche, people like Luthor find the idea of spreading hope to be a dangerous one…probably because it ruins their ability to control. And we will almost certainly see that the idea of hope is what is going to take Batman out of the abyss and back toward the character out to give people a symbol that we saw in the last time Nolan had his hands on the character.

 

“God is Dead”—Nietzsche

 

“If Man won’t kill God, the Devil will do it.”—Lex Luthor

Nietzsche, Luthor, Zod, and Darkseid (whom we are getting hints of) all believe themselves to be above others, above any concept, laws and judges unto themselves.  They don’t need Gods to give purpose to existence, they just find their own glorification of power to be the purpose.tumblr_o41aveP62f1uorz8zo2_500

But our heroes will show, maybe not in terms of divinity, but a higher concept is still needed to offer a course and goal for humanity…otherwise it wouldn’t be called Dawn of Justice.

“Who can attain to anything great if he does not feel in himself the force and will to inflict great pain? The ability to suffer is a small matter: in that line, weak women and even slaves often attain masterliness. But not to perish from internal distress and doubt when one inflicts great suffering and hears the cry of it — that is great, that belongs to greatness.”—Nietzsche

 

“What have you done?”—Superman

If this Nietzsche quote isn’t an actual recipe for how to create Doomsday I don’t know what is.  And when that monster (I’ll admit I too hope what we saw in the trailer wasn’t the final CGI vision of the monster) is destroyed by DC trinity, it will go a long way to show this glorification of infliction of pain is flawed.

“What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.”—Nietzsche

With all the discussion from Luthor and corrupt Senators (at least I assume she’s corrupt as she’s with Luthor a lot) about power and it’s use, one can’t help but hear a disunion of the will to power coming into this movie somewhere.  And while I think he championing of the Aristotelian virtues is still a couple movies away, I get the feeling that this film will deal with how power is only a tool to be used for virtue or vice and is in itself not the central point of life or ethics.

“When a woman has scholarly inclinations there is usually something wrong with her sexually.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever known a woman like me.”–Wonder Woman

And I can’t help but point out that if you read Nietzsche you may find claims of his wonderwoman.gifanti-Semitism are not as simple as pop culture would have you believe…but his unspeakable misogyny more than makes up for any perceived points by not being a complete Nazi returning Friedrich and his ideas to the category of “complete waste of space and volume.”
And what, to point out the obvious, what better way to put the final nail in the coffin of Nietzsche’s ideas, than to show how wrong his hatred of women as “the weaker sex” with not only a version of Lois Lane who is finally able to figure out who Superman is, but the most bad ass super-heroine in existence.

Granted all of this is based off what we know of Nolan, Snyder, and the few hints from the trailers…but this is what you should go in looking for, as this director and producer have no intention of showing anything so mundane as a overpowered beatdown.

*But still somehow lacked the joy of any of these options.

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Hope, the American Way, and the “Man of Steel” Trailer


So there appears to be some brouhaha over the newest trailer for Man of Steel.  I have seen complaints about this on no less than 3 different political web sites, which seems a bit much for a trailer, but since they want to make a federal case over it, it should be pointed out that their case is baseless.   Namely the problem seems to be with the following lines:

Lois Lane: What’s the “S” stand for?

Superman: It’s not an “S.”  On my world it means “hope.”

Lois Lane: Here it’s an “S.”  How about Super…ManofSteelsymbol

Now the first complaint is that this is changing the story, where it has always stood for Superman.  This is a silly claim, especially for a comic book movie, which is based on comic books that have been restarted so many times with so many variations D.C. comics actually had to come up with a storyline about multiple universes just to keep all the versions straight (still didn’t help).   When you’re translating a story from one medium to another it’s pure insanity to think everything can remain the same.  Further, yes you might be justifiably angry at those changes…but only if those changes make the story worse.  The new Star Trek stripped all the good out of the original series and created a cheap sci-fi film that would never have gone anywhere without banking on the greatness of the original…so there bitching about the changes is justified.  Conversely, Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy took the Batman story from a more simplistic action/detective comic and created one of the deepest most meaningful films ever made.  Those changes made the story better, and so whining about purity of the original story is just bunk.  Rewriting stories is a part of literature dating back to when Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides rewrote the works of Homer for stage, nobody in their right mind claims they ruined the stories.  Now it may be that whatever changes Nolan and Snyder have made to the Superman myth in this film may make it better or worse, we’ll have to see, but change is not necessarily good or bad on its own.

The other reason this is silly (and keep in mind I’ve never read a Superman comic in my life, and even I could find this out easily) is that in terms of the meaning of the “S” they haven’t really changed anything.  In the original film starring Christopher Reeve, the symbol stood for the House of El, the Kryptonian family that Superman is a part of. But what about the “Hope” thing?  Apparently some on the Right are having knee-jerk reactions to the word and thinking that this is intended to be a reference to Obama.  It’s not.  This actually is taken directly from the 2004 comic Superman: Birthright written by Mark Waid (Obama had only come onto the national scene at the 2004 Democratic convention in July, the comic came out in September which means it was probably written well before July).  I will shortly come back to why using Waid’s work as a basis for this movie is a very, very good thing.

Finally there are of course the constant complaints still going on about the line from the last movie “Find out if he still stands for Truth, Justice, all that stuff” and how the writers shoved away the phrase “the American Way” and the worry that this will still continue in this film (this of course ignores that the line came from Perry White, the most cynical character in the Superman universe who probably would find the phrase silly).

ManofSteelAfter this trailer I especially find this fear also fairly unwarranted.

Why?

Well what is the American Way?

Contrary to what many believe, it has nothing to do with land, or resources, or economic success, or military prowess, or scientific achievement. America is America because of our ideals.  The ideals of liberty, of meritocracy, that anyone can achieve by their own will.  Or as I have stated before:

We’re the nation that fought to create a republic where the haves and have-nots gave equal measure.  We’re the nation that fought our own citizens to free slaves.  We’re the nation that pioneered capitalism and law that gave liberty and opportunity and progress to more people than any other country in history.  We’re the place where “tired, the poor, the huddled masses” come to be energetic, successful and stand on their own feet.  We’re the country that conquers whole nations so that others may be free then tries to rebuild them and then leaves without tribute or power.  If you don’t think we’re the “shining city on the hill” you don’t know history, philosophy or human nature.  We’re not perfect, we’re not always right, but we are consistently the nation that calls for the best in humanity to put down the worst.

The American way isn’t a habit, or a land, or a race, or even the citizens of this particular country, it is an ideal that believes the best in humanity can always rise above the worst in humanity, that the individual left to their own devices will rise to the pinnacle of achievement and not sink to the depth of depravity.

And just in this trailer alone, we see that way, that ideal.

We see it in Jor-El’s statement

What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended?  What if a child aspired to something greater?

Are you going to tell me a line about how a single individual can rise above the shackles of whatever society throws on them, and achieve because of their own will and merit isn’t at the very heart of America?

Or perhaps Jonathan Kent’s:

I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason.  And even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.

The belief that life has a purpose.  It has been seen in philosophy since Aristotle, but it has never been realized until America.  And this quest to find meaning is a personal one, “you owe it to yourself,” not one laden down with obligations to family, or clan, or religion, or state, or culture, or history or whatever other un-American claptrap other nations have followed.

Or perhaps we should go to first trailer, with another line from Jor-El

You will give the people an ideal to strive towards.  They will race behind you.  They will stumble.  They will fall.  But in time they will join you in the sun—In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

Shining city on the hill anyone?  The beacon of hope and light that America is supposed to be.

Oh I said “beacon of hope” which brings us back to the symbol and them taking that point from Mark Waid.  This is important that they are drawing form Waid’s version. Why?  I would direct you to an essay written by Waid in the book Superheroes and Philosophy entitled “The Real Truth About Superman and the Rest of Us, Too.” (It’s an excellent essay which you may want to read.)

The essay covers the thought process Waid went through when the head of D.C. asked him a simple question: “Why does Superman do what he does?  Why doesn’t absolute power absolutely corrupt in his case?”  He quickly found the stock answer of, because he’s Superman, to be unsatisfying to the employer who was hiring him to revitalize the franchise.

What follows is an argument that references two of my favorite philosophical beliefs.

The first is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Waid starts from the premise that even though an alien, he has the same needs in the same order as any human.  Physical needs then Safety needs then Emotional Needs then Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsAchievement needs then finally the need for Self Actualization.  (You’ll find that the American beliefs in liberty and capitalism parallel this order of needs quite well).  Now for Superman, the first two, physical and safety need, aren’t an issue at all.  So that leaves emotional, achievement and self actualization needs.  Now he might gain some emotional connections by just being mild mannered Clark Kent, but certainly not achievement or self actualization.  Which then comes to a question of how much does he need to achieve…and this is where Waid turns to another idea, a quote in fact (which I’m hoping against hope will make it into the movie):

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” [Italics on the last part added]

 

It is the realization that Superman is who he is because to do anything less would not lead to his Happiness, and that a central theme of the story has always been that we should all strive to the edge our abilities, as Kal-El does, not just to help others achieve their goals (You will help them accomplish wonders) but to also achieve our own Happiness (you owe it to yourself).

So this is why I’m happy they are pulling from Waid, with the concept of Superman being a symbol of hope, the city on the Hill, because it places the whole story in a very strong and correct footing of spiritual values and Aristotelian virtue based ethics.

Now while Waid, or Marianne Williamson who first wrote this in her book A Return to Love: Reflections on A Course in Miracles, don’t make the connection, it is only through the American Way of personal liberty and personal achievement that we achieve the heights of shining our brightest.  So I feel the need to again point out, that the American Way is being championed in this movie already, whether they say the words or not.

Now, no one has seen this film yet, so it could either suck or make the Dark Knight Rises look like an F film student’s half-hearted attempt…or anything in between. I am merely pointing out that the complaints based only on this trailer are completely unfounded.  This movie appears to appeal to the best in this story, the core ideals that have let it rise above whatever flaws have plagued the various incarnations over the years.

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