Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lois Lane: Savior of Earth?

Spoiler Alert: Man of Steel spoilers abound below. Written for those who have seen the film, are interested in the odd articles minimizing Lois Lane’s role, or don't mind knowing the plot in advance.

In much of the buzz about the (rather blatant) links between Kal-El/ Clark Kent and Jesus in Man of Steel, the latest entry in the ongoing, and ever-morphing Superman saga, I have yet to see any really positive analysis of the crucial role played by Lois Lane in the film. This is a mysterious omission, since Lois is absolutely pivotal to saving the world from the fanatical General Zod's plan to "terra-form" earth into a new Krypton.

Lois, as well as Clark, has changed since her comic book beginnings. Once an intrepid 1930s feminist reporter dazzlingly clueless about Clark's secret identity, she had to be rescued again and again from the dangerous situations into which her nosing around got her. Since then, she's  been married to Clark/Kal-El, pregnant with their baby, or bereft of her idol and off in another marriage, depending on the decade.

Two Seems Better Than One

In Man of Steel she works her way into a newly exalted place. Appearing first in her "take no prisoners" journalist mode, she becomes intrigued with the mystery of the quiet young man who carried her bags to the Arctic base where the government is investigating an alien spacecraft buried in the ice. Tracking down Clark's incognito wanderings as a lowly laborer in many settings, she finally hits pay dirt in Smallville, where she hears of his early "miracles" in saving people.  After a face-to-face with this "hidden Messiah," she decides to suppress the story, making her a co-conspirator with his need to remain unrevealed.

In the climactic last half of the film, when Kal-El can no longer hide, she bravely agrees to go with him into the alien spacecraft, turning her investigative skills to discovering how to defeat the Kryptonians.  Stumbling into a conversation with Jor-El, Superman's father, she finds the secret of defeating the alien invasion. While Kal-El does the (heavily overdone) muscle work of battling the invading Kryptonians, Lois clues the Armed Forces into the secret, and risks her life in the attack which sends the enemy back into the Phantom Zone.  Superman's muscle alone would never have saved earth. It was Lois's smarts that saved the day.

His Brawn and Her Brain?

In the light of this, I've been dismayed to read more than one complaint that "men rule the day" in Man of Steel and "women exist only to be rescued." Sure, she gets saved in this film, too. But did these commentators miss the obvious plot-line in which Lois uses her skills to help save the world?

The film ends with Clark, wearing his innocuous “disguise” glasses, appearing to work under Lois' supervision at the Daily Planet. They share secret, knowing smiles and glances. Not only are they already romantically involved, but proven partners as well.  His brawn and her brain? Whatever the case, this “dynamic duo” dimension changes the elements in the story considerably.

An Update to the Hero Myth Itself?

And if we're doing Jesus parallels, then Lois has (apart from the romantic dimension) assumed the elevated role many Roman Catholics see in Mary—Co-Redemptrix of the world (!)  I'm actually not partial to the Kal-El/Jesus connection myself. I'd rather see Clark/ Kal-El/ Superman as one variation of the universal Hero myth reflected in the stories of Moses, King Arthur, and Harry Potter, among others.

But "Man of Steel" makes it clear that, unlike so many ancient stories (and the original Superman myth) the male Hero does much better with a female Hero as his partner.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bright College Years Revisited: Reflections on a 50th Reunion

The poignant ache of college reunions wants to speak itself into words, but has trouble finding them.

Why did I find it so touching that my freshman roommate’s girlfriend, now his wife of many years, blurted out that she “secretly loved me” because I was “so nice”? Her husband, who was a preppy fresh out private school confinement, gave every semblance of a wild man in our first-year suite (including bouncing a lacrosse ball against the bedroom wall at midnight while I was trying to sleep). But he's been nothing but warm, welcoming, apologetic, and friendly at the two reunions I’ve seen him.

Why do such things mean so much, all these years later, when we have had hardly anything to do with each other in the years between these two sightings?

This 50th reunion was almost as good as the 25th, which was the first I attended — good because, like the 25th, it had so little evidence of one-upping, status strutting, and other ego-flashing. Twenty-five years ago we were all deep in mid-life, and now we were men (not co-ed in our day) in our early 70s with the bulk of our careers behind us, facing into the common challenges of living our humanity for the last phase of our lives. Mostly in good health, we are still aware of our vulnerability and, more importantly the preciousness of life.  So seeing once-close friends again, some perhaps for the last time, was good.

But what’s the ache, no the yearning, that, at least for me, makes otherwise trivial conversations, and late evening conversations about weighty subjects so very important?

As I left my lengthy talk with Rick about the Civil War, and war itself, and picked up a final club soda from the young Yalie staffing the bar, I did a very older man thing. As we chatted pleasantly about his own college career, I said to him, “I keep wanting to say to all of you, ‘Where we are now, you will be eventually.’ I remember roaming this campus after graduation and seeing the older grads back for reunion, including the 50-year-out men, and finding it so incredible that I would eventually be one of them. And here I am now, one of them.

“I’ve been trying to put my finger on what’s so important about these meetings and conversations with people I only see at reunion. Seeing you standing here makes me realize that we’re all, to one degree or another, trying to catch some of the fire that burned in us when we were young and being so deeply shaped by what we were learning, and more deeply by each other as we discussed, debated, argued and laughed our way through these four years.  College was the very crux of our young adult formation; these years set us on our paths. We meant so much to each other then, and we so very much want to capture the exciting, protean, possibility-filled elan of that time. However glad we may be to be past our youth, we ache for the fire of it, which we see in all of you staffing the Reunion. I hope you cherish this time, even though the Yale song isn’t really true: these are not ‘the brightest, gladdest years of life.’ But they can point you toward them.”

I’m glad I went, just this one last time. Or maybe the last time it isn’t.....