Mindy Newell: Who Are You?
“Whooooooooo are you? Who? Who? Who, Who?”
WHO ARE YOU
Composed by Pete Townsend
The Who, 1978
All our super-powered mythic creations, whether hero or villain, man or woman, are avatars—whether we realize it or not.
Superman, of course, is the Big Kahuna avatar of comics. Every corrupt politician that Superman put in jail, each mobster who pulled a gun and watched the bullets bounce off Superman’s chest, every misogynistic wise-ass jerk who insulted a woman and was punished by Superman was really being punished by these two bookish, nebbishy, and schlemiel-y kids from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, who weren’t able to fight the anti-Semites or win the gorgeous goyishe blonde. I doubt very much either of them were consciously aware of the psycho-sociological underpinnings of their alien hero who would capture the world’s imagination, but it’s all there, as many critics and writers, including Danny Fingeroth, Jules Feiffer, Grant Morrison, Scott Bakutman of Stanford University, and A. C. Grayling of The Spectator have noted. Grayling’s article, “The Philosophy of Superman: A Short Course”, discusses the need for a Superman over the decades since his creation in the 1930’s, including the early 21st century and events post-9/11, stating that:
…caught between the terrifying George W. Bush and the terrorist Osama bin Laden, America is in earnest need of a Saviour for everything from the minor inconveniences to the major horrors of world catastrophe. And here he is, the down-home clean-cut boy in the blue tights and red cape.
Others more erudite than I am may have used more polysyllabic pronouncements when analyzing the characterization of the Man of Steel, but I will say that he is a fugue, an escape, an exodus into a world in which, simply put, the good guys win.
Depending on your definition of “the good guys,” of course.
Did you know that Siegel’s original Superman was bald and had a distinct desire for world domination? He appeared in “The Reign of the Superman,” a short story self-published by Siegel in his own fanzine.)
And yes, that Superman does seem a bit Lex Luthor-y, doesn’t he?
So what does that say about Siegel’s psycho-sociological underpinnings? Off the cuff, I’d say there was a lot of anger there, wouldn’t you?
Sublimation is the psychological process by which we express a negative desire by transforming it into a socially acceptable form or act. For instance—and I’m not saying I believe this, though I have worked with some surgeons that I would swear on a Bible definitely hadn’t totally sublimated their negative desires—Freud said that surgeons are sublimating their sadistic need to physically hurt someone into a positive act of good.
It’s the difference between a daydream and a nightmare. In a daydream all our wishes come true—the person you love loves you back, your first novel wins the Pulitzer Prize, you discover the cure for AIDS. In a nightmare, the person you love meets you in a restaurant for lunch, says that he or she is leaving you, and casually orders a hamburger when the waitress comes to your table, your first novel is the laughingstock of the publishing world and Jimmy Fallon makes fun of you on national TV, your cure for AIDS unleashes an even worse plague that kills everyone on earth except for you.
And all those daydreams and nightmares are in each and every one of us, living side by side. Without them there would be no Superman. There would be no Lex Luthor. There would be no Professor X or Magneto. There would be no Reed Richards or Doctor Doom.
Because when we create our avatars, when we write our characters, we are unleashing not only the angels of our souls, but also the creatures of our ids.
So who are you?
I really want to know.
Who the fuck are you?