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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Monday 23 July 2012

Waiting For Superman

Max Landis, the brilliant writer of Chronicle, has done a hilarious rant about the enduring popularity of Superman.  Landis contends that Superman is boring because, in essence, he's perfect; powerful, wise, compassionate, constant.  He's unrelatable, says Landis, which is why he's not relevant to an audience that wants to see themselves reflected in their heroes.  This logic rings true; none of our heroes are perfect, no legend is without flaws.  The Greek and Norse gods were essentially Dawson's Creek with superpowers; every mythic character from Gilgamesh to King Arthur to Anakin Skywalker had their fatal flaws.  They've either died heroes, or lived long enough to see themselves become villains

That's why Game of Thrones makes for such compelling reading/viewing. 

Landis also rips to shreds the chintzy way DC killed Superman off for ratings, then just as quickly brought him back.  Superman didn't change, his world didn't change, the audiences felt ripped off.  The stakes going in seemed so huge, yet there were no consequences.  It didn't ring true; our mythic protagonists, be they of good character or bad, must change the world with their passing.  Whether heroes or villains, these icons must die if they are to be reborn as more than just men, if they are to become legends.  Giants do not walk the earth without leaving footprints.

It has been said that there are no giants any more.  The larger-than-life leaders who shaped entire nations with their great and/or terrible visions have been replaced with technocrats, tweaking away at the margins.  An aversion to risk has replaced boldness; messaging has replaced vision.  We actively tear down our icons, whatever the forum; in an almost Socratic way, we subconsciously seek out and exploit the chinks in their armour.  We mistrust superiority as an oppressive force that, because it must by its inherent nature be flawed, will lead us into temptation.

Yet, locked away in the deep recesses of our hearts lies hope that one day the perfect hero will rise, take our sins onto their shoulders or do away with challengers and show us the way to a better world.  It's one of the great contradictions of humanity; we crave assuredness and unwavering discipline in leaders, but know our leaders are only human and therefore fear the inevitability of their - our -  failure.  We know that when we place our faith in all-too-human unwavering confidence, we inevitably end up disappointed.  This is why we tear our icons to shreds; if they seem too good to be true, they probably are.  It behooves us to deconstruct their perfection and discover those fatal flaws before they are able to harm us.  The only leaders who can bring us to the promise land, truly, must be superhuman.

But there are no Supermen in the real world.  We're waiting for someone who's not coming.

Which is why we love come-back stories.  We feel as though flaws are ingrained into our nature; the only way to grow beyond our faults is by first succumbing to them.  As much as we want to destroy our icons, we draw inspiration when they rise from the ashes/shed the skins of their mistakes; in so doing, they provide us with hope that we too have that power.  Whether you look at religions (accepting original limitation and being reborn) or overcoming "personal weaknesses" (admit you're an alcoholic then strive to be sober) or any form of education (tests, coming-of-age ceremonies, graduation ceremonies, etc.) we have a habit of building rituals around the notion of personal transitions.  We need these moments of personal transcendence to be wrapped in contextualized significance if we're to accept them as having real social meaning.

It's no surprise, then, that we expect our heroes to fall down, spend time delegated to the wilderness and be reborn as role models.  It's through the process of failing that they learn to pick themselves back up and transcend normalcy into exceptionality.  If gifts are not earned, they are not respected and therefore, not to be trusted.

There's a lesson in this, one that we already know but most of the time choose to ignore.  Failure is inevitable; not something to be avoided, denied or trickled down to others, but sought out.  When we cut away (which is different than deny) all the doubt that holds us back and actively challenge ourselves, there's a bit of a multi-faceted hero in each of us.

Which is why the best leaders don't impose from without - they nurture from within. 

RELATED - saw this quote, had to post here: "They are like Superman emerging from the phone booth in times of crisis; their abilities to concentrate and solve problems go up."       

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