A few days ago, I posted a link to this article about the new Batman vs. Superman movie. Based on a response or two, I wrote about the connection between Superman, father hunger, and the rise of American demagoguery. I was pleased with how it turned out, so I’m posting it here, slightly edited.
First, a disclaimer: I haven’t seen the movie Batman vs. Superman, never intended on seeing it, and probably never will. Also, Christopher Nolan’s run on Batman has spoiled me for any other Batman.
That said, I posted this review because it seemed well-written, especially regarding our ongoing inability to “get” Superman. I’ll totally allow that I find Superman to be a boring character, but trying to make him into a brooding character seems like a symptom of our cynical age. It’s like we can’t believe that someone that powerful could genuinely be good. Power must corrupt, right?
I would connect all of this with father hunger. So many of us learned early on that their dad couldn’t be trusted. And why should he be trusted? After all, he was a brute, or violent, or gone. That void festers in the soul, leading us to a fundamental distrust (or even active violence) against authority figures of any sort.
This seems to be what happened in Man of Steel (another movie I’ll admit I’ve not seen). Rather than Superman being a loving authority figure (i.e. not one of us), he’s remade into a wandering orphan (i.e. one of us). I think this is why a lot of the Superman fans I saw online really hated this movie; they understand that Superman is supposed to fill the void of father hunger, not be afflicted by it.
(As an aside, if you want to understand what Superman fans like about him, this comic seems like a good thing to check out.)
This whole issue spills over into our relationship with government and church. Sure, let’s allow that both institutions have managed in various ways to earn that reputation. Yet still, our adolescent kicking against any authority leaves us vulnerable to predators and demagogues, who fill that void in ways that are dangerous to us.
(Did I just draw a line from our handling of Superman to Trump and Sanders? I think so!)
Deep down, I think that we all struggle with two warring impulses. The first is the savage howl of victory, as we cast off our fathers in triumph, asserting that we will stand alone. The second is the plaintive cry of a child, wondering if Daddy is ever coming home. For some of us, the abandonment came first. For others, the bitter anger. But these two emotions swirl in our hearts, and they rush out at the oddest times.
Like, say, the release of a superhero film.