By Dan Hagen
In my remote but uncontrolled youth, the sight of a shirt bearing the Superman insignia was a rarity, although the logo was fabled even back then.
And when you did happen to see it, it was always on the chest or metal lunchbox of a little boy. Sometimes he was me. That small, real-cotton Superman costume I got when I was five was certainly the best Christmas gift I ever received.
A half-century later, shirts bearing the stylized, triangular S symbol are ubiquitous in America, most often on the chests, caps and skin of grown-up boys and girls. You spot them on everybody from the college athlete in the gym to that overweight blonde girl in the food court that I looked up to see when I was writing these very notes.
Considering what this symbol is supposed to represent, the remarkable thing is that it is now so very unremarkable.
A sign of a culture of narcissism? Yes, that’s the dark side of it, I think. But some aspiration toward enlightenment also shines faintly from that ever-more-familiar symbol, I think.
“We have a need for a champion who will know the right thing to do, the right amount of force that needs to be applied, and who has the resources to muster that force and set right everything that has veered off track,” wrote Danny Fingeroth in his book Superman on the Couch. “Although, in reality, when mere humans try to do these things the results are often messy and muddled, the superhero ideal exists because we want it and need it on so many psychological levels.”
Or as Kurt Vonnegut put it in Mother Night, “We are who we pretend to be, so we must be careful about who it is we pretend to be.”