04 March 2012

The Never Ending Superhero

Umberto Eco, in his article "The Myth of Superman", analyzes the story of Superman as a myth. Eco explains how Superman, although he was invented in 1932 and should be nearing his death, still lives on and is popular today. The writers do this by creating episodes that are not chronological, making it easy to keep Superman the same age for years and years. Although writers work hard to portray a seemingly endless Superman, they also must show the mortality of Superman. If he were to be immortal, he would be a God and not relatable anymore to the public (which is the most intriguing part of Superman). Part of being mortal is falling in love. Louis Lane is deeply in love with Superman and he is with her, but they never end up getting married. Their romantic relationship is present in nearly every episode, but if they were to get married it would be an ending to the story. For the story to continue on, the romance must as well. This is a key part of the timelessness of the myth. Another aspect of the myth is the predictability of the story. In a myth, the ending is already known. Although the exact details of each Superman episode is not known, the ending is inevitable, Superman will defeat the enemy. This creates problems for writers because the popular method of writing a novel is to leave the reader in suspense and to have an unpredictable ending. Eco analyzes the civic and political consciousness of Superman. Through all of Superman's triumphs and moments as the savior, he exemplifies perfect civil attitude and virtue. He has unlimited powers that he could use to overpower the government or politics, yet he uses them to fight everyday street crimes. He could be fixing the core of the problems (social problems) but he chooses to fight the products of these problems. But for the myth to go on, he must do this. His virtues and triumphs must be on a small scale or else the story would come to an ending. He cannot fix the core of the problems, because there would be nothing else for Superman to do. The myth of Superman has lasted for nearly a hundred years because of its timelessness. This has made Superman very successful, for years he has been acknowledged as someone relatable yet superior above anything humanly possible. This has given people hope in the past and it will continue to in the future. The myth of Superman will live on.

In the Superman chapter of Up Up and Oh Vey, Simcha Weinstein explains how Superman is essentially a retelling of Bible stories. In "The Myth of Superman" Umberto Eco talks a lot about the timelessness of the Superman myth. Not only is Eco right that Superman hasn't died since he was created, but he was around even before Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster invented the Superman story. There has always been some sort of "hero" story in the world. Superman will always be a myth because the world will always be in need of a hero. This is exactly what Eco is saying, that there is a timelessness to the story of Superman.

11 comments:

  1. This is a good summary. I like how you talked about the reasons why Superman is still thriving .

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  2. I agree most stories are stories that were once told in past times.

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    1. Not really adding to the conversation here, Lizbeth :-/

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  3. Your blog did a good job talking about Eco's ideas, it was kind of hard text considering all those allusions. I definitely agree with you though, if Superman was any more "immortal" then he already seems, then he would lose his public. We all know kyrponite kills him, but it seems like such a limiting factor considering normal mortals die due to tons of stuff. Although I guess the strange relationship we all have with superman goes on past whether we can relate, its more of whether we can look up to him or not.

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    1. Excellent point! When Superman stops being an icon, we know he's lost.

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  4. Great post, Marci. Eco and Weinstein are definitely talking about the same ideas! But Eco also laments Superman's mythic status. Why?

    And watch your facts. Superman first appeared in 1938, and he's in love with Lois Lane, not Louis. That would be a whole other story ;-)

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  5. This was a very good summary, you did a very good job. Many of the points you made I felt were strong. I liked how you made the connection between Weinstein and Eco. Good job.

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    1. Not really adding to the conversation here :-/

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  6. Your post was awesome! I found alot of similarities between ours. The whole idea that is Superman will come to an end if the writers dont streth it out and not allow him and lois to take their relationship to another level was a great point I also made.

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  7. Fun post, but there are some far more biting criticisms lurking within Eco's critique as a Marxist materialist that you can explore HERE:

    http://rhetoricsuperhero.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/comics-as-capitalism/

    Doc T

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    1. Thanks for the link! We, sadly, didn't really get into those themes in our 100-level composition course, but if I ever get to teach this at a higher level, we'll definitely be studying this!

      Fun Fact: My friend April is a fellow comics scholar getting her doctorate at UNT. Small world :-)

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