In a recent New York Times article, Henry Cavill, who plays Superman in Man of Steel, expressed his feelings that Superman is, "a hero who has spent his whole life hearing that he is special, while being told just as often that he must conceal the things that make him unique."
I love Superman. A lot. He's been one of my heroes since childhood. This is the guy who looks just like everyone else, holds low key jobs, falls for an intelligent and gorgeous woman (played by the beautifully talented Amy Adams), and saves the people he cares most about. Yes, he's from an alien planet and his weakness is a rock. That's not the point. At some level, I think that we are all kind of aliens having a shared experience on some weird place we call Earth. And, at some level, our weaknesses are just as crippling (and as curious) as Kryptonite was for Superman.
Superman came to Earth to remind us of ourselves, to remind us that we are inherently good, that seemingly ordinary people have the capacity for extraordinary things, and that each life is important and filled with a purpose. Superman is told that he would "give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards." We are to learn from Superman what it means to be human, what it means to be entirely selfless, and what it takes to achieve the greatest of the greater goods.
We love Superman because he inspires us to lift our sights. He is like a god to us -- the embodiment of all that is right, and good, and powerful, and just, and kind. Through all kinds of crumby costumes, red briefs, and poorly done movies, Superman prevails because we want him to. We will Superman into perpetual existence because he gives us something to hope for, to reach for, and to run wholeheartedly towards. We want to be saved, and who better than Superman to do so.
How disheartening, then, it must be when Superman is no longer real, when the realities of life strike with a force greater than we can withstand. To know that Superman cannot and will not come to save us from our impoverished, imperiled, vulnerable, and often violent selves must tax the human mind beyond its capacity for hope. And yet, the mythology of Superman persists. It persists because we want to be saved. We want something to hope in, to hope for. That's what the "S" stands for -- hope. Despite the soul crushing reality that is (at times) life, we want hope. We want to believe that life will somehow get better.
I want to return now to the idea that Henry Cavill expressed in his Times interview. Superman was always told that he was special, that the world needed him. At the same time, he was told that if the world ever found out who he was, they would reject him. Why such contradiction? For Clark Kent to be Superman, he put everyone he loved at risk. To stay Clark Kent would have been to leave the world to its ruin. There are great intimations here into our lives, into my life. I am not claiming to be some alien life form that has super strength and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Unfortunate, I know. But, ask yourself how this dilemma is reflected in your own life. What is the greater good? To risk the ones you love to save others? To risk others, complete strangers at times, to save and protect those nearest to you? Which do you choose? How do you make or justify such a choice? Do we keep to ourselves our deepest parts in order to maintain the status quo? Am I true to every part of my being?