The Man of Steel is a film where nearly anything anyone would say on it of substance is rather obvious. Critique of A Brave New World Meritocratic societies, or Plato’s Republic where the Good is placed in higher value than freedom of choice and destiny and is seen in opposition to it similar to The Giver. It’s a rather simple message, and one that doesn’t reflect any of the serious problems in the world such as Capitalism or religion – but it’s still one worth making. It’s worth making because though most people (at-least in the Western Liberal tradition) will empathize with this sentiment readily, they don’t possess the intellect to process the sentiment themselves, or if they do only viscerally or sub-consciously.
It could (with Heroism in-general) seen as a critique of Capitalism however. In Capitalist society we are told to sell our virtues on the market for whatever the Capitalist will give us for them – or for our vices which our sold and encouraged for his or her profit as well. And that the more money a person has the more virtuous they are. Superman, the pinnacle of virtue, however contradicts this message by doing what needs to be done – what he can only do – without asking for financial compensation. He’s a journalist to make a living, to steal from others (though not the Capitalist in my opinion) would be immoral, and it is in his nature to do things of worth and substance rather than taking the easy course. Speaking of free-market enterprise, though the Existentialist essence of the film stands alone and is fine, it would be far-better if it would bring in a materialist element saying that without the proper resources (that Capitalism among other systems do not provide or wish to accommodate for) Man cannot achieve his highest heights. Having the freedom and the structure in terms of Negative Liberty that allows unbridled choice is essential, but so is having the institutions that embrace Positive Liberty and the healthy stimulation and manipulation of our healthiest impulses so people can freely choose in a sense and will be inclined to do great things in the grandest conception of societies. And by doing so actually bringing promise to the otherwise idealistic notion of every human being being a force for good.
Also Jor-El mentions how Kal-El is the first “natural birth” in centuries. So what? The fault in their society had nothing to do with genetic engineering – same with Brave New World save the Epsilon Semi-Morons and others who were designed to be stupid or lacking in virtue. The fault in their model was the deprivation of choice which genetic engineering does not deprive. This fault can also be seen in Gattaca which flirts with the same message. It’s a inspirational story that the main character could defy the odds and do something great, but does doing something against the evidence he couldn’t prove that what could have made him more likely to do it (though he would be an entirely different person – in some ways better, particularly since he had high odds for mental illness and depression)? Does shooting a bull’s eye without my glasses prove that having glasses be encouraged in society when you need them is wrong? The genetic discrimination is wrong, yes, but there’s a difference between discriminating against someone and not hiring or favoring someone because they seem unlikely to do what is expected. It is safe to assume that the main character in Gattaca wouldn’t achieve greatness based on his genes, however he should still have every resource afforded for him to achieve greatness and once there is evidence he can there should be nothing and no one in his way to stop him. This is real materialism I’m talking about, not, “oh no! Those stupid people who don’t believe in God have made everything a matter of math and formulas, and now people who don’t fit in their perfect Socialist society are being held back by prejudice!” First off I’ve explained why that notion in the anti-scientific mind is an irrational one, but also, right, because Christian Conservatives (who are the main anti-science and reason crowd) are usually so much against judging others without proper evidence and bigotry.
It recreates the origin of Krypton and allows the comic book reader now grown to realize its absurdity. In this technocratic empire spanning star systems they don’t at-least examine the evidence given by Jor-El? In this film it seems like he comes at the last minute and says that they are all doomed, and can only save their genetic material to save their species, but even then they doubt him despite his accolades as a well-respected scientist – if I remember correctly. There are more flaws in the origin story, or at-least how it is portrayed in this film. Jor-El claims Kryptonians abandoned their colonies because it exhausted their resources. But if you alter the atmosphere of a planet couldn’t you use the resources on said planet and potentially alter the make-up of the ground to create vegetation? Perhaps there are resources that are scarce on the newly habituated worlds, but it would be assumed that there would be some resources of value (otherwise asides from pure exploration there wouldn’t be any point in colonizing Kryptonians there) that they could send to Krypton and have people from their home world send them what they are lacking in. Also how does artificial population control make the core of planet unstable?
A great thing about Superman however is how it posits virtue coming from material necessity rather than divine providence. Kal-El’s earth father wants to believe he was put on this planet for a reason, and in a way there was a reason, though causal and not divine. Reflecting the lack of objective meaning in the Universe, there was no grand purpose to Kal-El’s arrival on earth, just as there is no grand meaning behind any organism’s pursuit for survival – which reflects the moral impulses we have and our virtues. Some would say that this steals from the notion of virtue and ethics, but I would argue otherwise. As products of billions of years of evolution, we are the products random occurrence trial and error. As such, our very existence and our sentience shows what astounding feats can arise from naturalistic processes and the meaning that both our lives can create and our indebted to such processes that exist not to propagate some creator’s message but as a result that only we can assign value to. Our highest virtue as sentient beings is the capacity for critical thinking, and our greatest ethic is to expand such knowledge and skills across the globe so all may achieve the freedom prosperity and opportunity for greatness that comes from human excellence. The failure of our society is not the intervention of sin into the commands of the divine, but a failure to apply reason and the fruits of it to social relations. Religion, Capitalism and Government prevent the action of knowledge and wisdom and also poison the garden of both.
Obviously Superman should use his might and sense of right and wrong to drastically alter our corrupt societies, rather than merely catch bank robbers and one particular greedy and immoral Capitalist when he could be dismantling the entire Capitalist system and create the opportunity for Anarchist communes. Yes I realize this idea was explored somewhat in Superman: Red Son but in that story Superman did take away some people’s freedom by effectively lobotomizing them when they differed with what he thought was an ideal society – completely ignoring the main element of Anarchism and Marxism by still having a State that interferes with people’s lives in the most fundamental way, rather than having people manage things themselves in the Anarchist case or have what was the Government be merely the administration of things rather than legislation over men in the Marxist case and to paraphrase him. But this of course will be the main fault of Gods produced in today’s Liberal and Capitalist society of “don’t help too much, that takes away some people’s freedom to be shot by racist cops and work for minimum wage!”
There is obvious religious symbolism and imagery throughout the film. The most obvious perhaps being when he is discussing things with the priest and a stain glass panel of Jesus is behind him. He wonders if he should sacrifice himself to the people he doesn’t yet trust. He does and suffers for it – if he surrendered without resistance it would have led to the damnation of the human race. This to me shows the flaw in the very essence of Christianity. A god sacrificing himself in material form so he himself could forgive the sins of Man which are largely not even proper wrong doings. This mentality of holding self-abnegation and surrender to a supposed higher intelligence who has shown its malevolence (much like Zod) is one of the main flaws in humanity and one of the greatest forms of suffering (both in the suffering it created and the prosperity it prevented) throughout history. It is in complete contradiction to Naturalism and Materialism which would hold that Superman should fight Zod (who is threatening mankind) in order to continue the progress of Man rather than allow the humans to sacrifice himself (who is the exemplar of virtue) so the humans might be on Zod’s (God’s) good side.
That’s in essence the end of my essay. Hope you enjoyed it. Here however are some petty critiques that I had but were deemed unnecessary in-relation to the more intellectual topics probed:
This is by far the best of the Superman films. It’s basic in some ways but exceptional in others. It has its faults, like Clark’s father being killed by a tornado trying to save a dog that Clark could have attempted to save. Or here’s an idea, fuck the dog and continue raising your alien kid. Also if Perry thought that Lois was doing the right thing and dropping the story then why is he giving her such a hard time and raised her penance to three weeks? The whole alien translation issue is predictable with Sci-Fi involving aliens and is overall a minor transgression to be forgiven for the sake of the plot and not having some type of ear-worm Hitchhiker’s explanation in every movie; same with all aliens (for the most part) being humanoid. More minor problems: How does Krypton’s destruction unlock them from their ice vessels which by the way is not the phantom zone? It’s like the logic of an ex-prisoner smashing the control panel in a jail to automatically unlock all the cells – I don’t think it works that way. Also great way of persuading him Zod, yeah, bury him in the skulls of his beloved humans, that’ll swing ‘em over! Also couldn’t he colonize Mars and force the earthlings for resources that Mars or another planet couldn’t supply? The tension seems forced, unless he wanted to force the humans into slavery, or to become citizens of the Kryptonian Empire and adopt their ways; that would’ve been interesting. Oh yeah, and go ahead Sups, tell Zod how you manage to function on earth allowing him to fight you and potentially kill you more easily and likely effectively not killing all life on earth – always eager to help aren’t cha? And how the fuck is Lois Lane falling? Large, heavy objects from the ground are being pulled up towards the space ship and Superman needs to struggle against the pull yet this bitch was falling like sack of potatoes. I was also going to rant about having the Kryptonians be “evil Darwinists” but anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see how ethics is an evolutionary advantage as Anarcho-Communist thinker Kropotkin expounds on. Also I already elaborated on a connection between virtue, ethics and evolution and how Naturalism trumps divine narration. And finally props to Sups for doing what no other main stream hero (that I can remember) has done by actually killing the villain to save lives.