My partner Pam and I went to see Man of Steel yesterday.
I wish we hadn’t.
The iconic hero Superman is a part of every Baby Boomer’s history. George Reeves making his cheesy entrance flying through windows, or dashing into a phone booth—do we even have them any more?—to change clothes. Christopher Reeve (a true superhero in real life) flirting with Lois on the balcony and wrestling with his inner demons about his calling and destiny.
That’s the Superman we knew as kids. The one who is sent for a higher purpose. The one who rescues people from natural disasters, captures the bad guys and turns them in, foils Lex Luthor’s nefarious schemes, and harms no one in the process.
The one committed to truth, justice, and. . .
Oh, wait. The American Way.
Pam said it best: The American Way. That’s what this Man of Steel movie is all about. Identifying the Enemy and mowing them down with Gatling guns and howitzers and lasers and bare knuckles and who knows what all. Two hours and twenty-three interminable minutes of violence, beginning with the first scene on Krypton and ending with Superman killing—yes, killing—his enemy General Zod.
There was a moment or two, I admit, when the carnage stopped long enough for Superman and Lois Lane to share a kiss. And to give him credit, the Man of Steel cried after he snapped Zod’s neck. But otherwise the film was pretty much bereft of anything remotely redemptive. No real character development, no soul-searching, none of the philosophical or spiritual depth of the earlier, less brutal versions.
After the movie, we talked at length about it. A true American movie, Pam said. A reflection of our shallow, insatiable need to identify and wipe out the Enemy, at any cost. Even the cost of our souls.
If you think I’m delusional, take a look at our history. From the moment we cultured white Europeans set foot on North American soil, we’ve been at war, first with the indigenous people we call Native Americans. We systematically wiped them out, took their land, and herded the few who were left onto reservations. Then we fought the British, the French, the Spanish, the Mexicans, and even Canada. When they were vanquished, we fought ourselves over the question of whether it was morally acceptable to own other human beings. And the list goes on: Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan.
But I digress. The real issue isn’t organized war. The real issue is violence in our own hearts. The violence reflected in movies and TV and music and video games. The violence of guns in the streets and the schools and the movie theaters. The violence of gangs in the cities, and self-appointed vigilantes who shoot unarmed citizens in the name of protection and self-defense.
And let’s keep in mind that we don’t have to carry guns to be steeped in violence. The violence of racism and sexism and homophobia. The violence of domestic and sexual abuse. The violence of road rage, and cutthroat competition. The violence of the language we use, and the way we treat people we’re supposed to care about.
Oh yes, there is an enemy.
But the enemy isn’t “out there.”
The enemy is in here.
The enemy is. . .us.
And I must admit, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, that the enemy is me.
After all, I endured two and a half hours of that brutal carnage without speaking up. I could have said, “Come on, let’s get out of here.” But I didn’t. I just sat there and took it, and came away sick and sad and exhausted.
Like Superman, we all have to wrestle with our inner demons. We all have to work hard to discover what we’re sent here for, what our mission is, our calling. Mine—or at least part of mine, I believe—is to do what I can to make the world a kinder, gentler, more compassionate, more loving place.
So we won’t be giving any more of our time or money or attention to movies that glorify violence. And if we get caught off guard, like we did with Man of Steel, we’ll leave the theater. We’ll tell the manager why, and request a refund.
I don’t think we’re likely to get our money back, and I doubt our protest will do much to stem the tide of violence in our land.
But at least we’ll be able to sleep at night.