Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When Everything You Know about Superman is Wrong

How do we answer the Superman question?  What is the Superman question? And, is everything I know about Superman wrong?

I loved the Superman comic as a child growing up in the 50's and 60's.  He was the Man of Steel, born on the planet Krypton as the baby Kal-El.   His parents, Jor-El and Lara, put Kal-El into a rocketship, wrapped in a blanket, as the planet Krypton exploded.  The rocketship survived and eventually made it to Earth, where it was found by an elderly Iowa farm couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent of Smallville. 

Never having had children, they took baby Kal-El, renamed him Clark Kent, and raised him. And then, both adoptive parents died of old age as Clark approached adulthood and he finally left Smallville for Metropolis and his secret identify career as a newspaper reporter.

I can recite this origin story in my sleep.

If you think about it, Kal-El, because he was born on a different planet, was an alien.  He came here without papers, so he was illegal.  So, what should the United States do with him?

That question is what Pulitzer Prize author Junot Diaz calls "The Superman Question": and maybe, if you are an American, you think you know the answer.


But not so fast.  First: was Superman really born on Krypton?

I know that Superman's origin story has changed through the years.  What I didn't know is how much it has changed since I was a little girl.  Apparently, one of the origin stories mentions a "birthing matrix" set up by the Kryptonians, so Kal-El (not sure exactly how) was actually born on Earth.

What about his adoptive parents?  Well, in more modern versions, they were young when they found baby Kal-El and they live into Clark's adulthood.  So many other parts of the "Superman origin" I grew up with have been changed...again and again and again.

So, what about The Superman Question?  It's a good question, as our country struggles with the questions surrounding what some caled undocumented workers, and others call illegal aliens? And, especially, what of those who came her as children and were never told of their undocumented/illegal status, until they accidentally find out when applying for a drivers license or a college scholarship?

What lesson does Superman teach?  I think he teaches us two lessons:

First:  the lesson that sometimes things aren't what they seem.

Second:  sometimes, everything you know is wrong.  Truth can be like shifting sands - sometimes, it's just hard to find the real truth.

Do you have a cherished childhood belief or story that you've found has changed over the years?

5 comments:

  1. I never knew the origins of Superman. For me, he just existed somehow. I think you ask some very good questions. I like your analogy of the truth being like shifting sands. It's forever changing. My childhood was very sheltered and I somehow believed that doctors could fix everything. I never worried when people went to the hospital because they would come out all better. That changing truth is quite a rude awakening for someone so naive! This is a wonderful thought-provoking post!

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  2. Great post, Alana, Unfortunately as we grow into adulthood many of our cherished childhood beliefs are crushed. Doctors make mistakes, for example, they are not infallible. Moms and Dads do, too. I've never heard of this Superman question but it certainly does give me pause.

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  3. Many of us know the true story of Superman, how Action Comics got its hands on the genius of his creators, and how naive/money hungry they were.
    But, the story is a well known one (http://www.adjuvancy.com/wordpress/tales-true-fiction/)

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  4. I love how you write, Alana! And I love how you make me Think about things... I will be thinking about this today! ssoo

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  5. I can remember watching re-runs of the original Superman series. Lois Lane sure has changed throughout the years! Smallville: I enjoyed it even though they took liberties with the original series. At least what he stood for hasn't changed.

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