Superman values die out, darkness, conflict prevail

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By Bennett Fuson
<bfuson@hilite.org>

People as a whole are drawn to darkness.

Not darkness as in the absence of light, per se. Or, in that trend of thought, the absolution of evil (accompanied by a Slipknot album).

No, I’ve seen people draw like flies to a man whose very psyche could fill a library with theses and analyses. They have given him their money, their time, their attention to fill the ever-awkward small talk around the water cooler, all because this man radiates one word: darkness.

I’m speaking, of course, about Batman.

“The Dark Knight” is a masterpiece, a unifying piece of art that has shattered records at the box office and perceptions in the minds of those who doubted men in capes. It has done so, in part, because of both Christian Bale’s and Heath Ledger’s stellar, perhaps Oscar-worthy performances. But I think there’s a deeper reason behind the success of “The Dark Knight.”

I think what draws people to both Batman and his nemesis, the Joker, are the two characters’ personal flaws. Both men foil each other; where Batman seeks justice, the Joker seeks chaos, and while Batman seeks stability, the Joker craves…well, chaos, I suppose. Yet Batman himself struggles with his responsibility to the citizens he protects and his own personal agenda, a conflict that Ledger’s Joker draws out like a caricature while satisfying his need to “watch the world burn.” So I think the truth of the matter is that people relate a lot more easily to these characters because they aren’t perfect.

This doesn’t only apply to “The Dark Knight,” either. “Iron Man” was, before Batman’s reign of darkness, the number one movie in the nation for multiple weeks, and Tony Stark is no role model. On the flip side, Indiana Jones, whose deeds are generally regarded as those of the greatest good and could very well be looked on as role model material, had the starring role in the most critically-blasted film of his canon, a summer-long running joke about aliens and geriatrics.

Did you know there’s another Superman movie coming out? Neither does the majority of America. After all, “Superman Returns” was, in essence, a failure, both for the Hollywood money machine and the franchise itself. But it is indeed true, and a shame, really; I thought that “Superman Returns” did the characters (Superman and Lex Luthor) justice in their epic struggle of good versus evil.

But the struggle of good versus evil is the very problem at the center of recent trend. We now live in a time where the line between good and evil is blurry, if it’s even there at all. “Good” men are increasingly drawn to do evil things, while groups we sometimes label “evil” are not, in fact, the threat that we necessarily deemed them to be. I’m not trying to be political by any means; the fact of the matter is that the “good” times are long gone, and we as a people are left clinging to whatever we can. If Superman were among us today, would we treasure his heroics and protection, or would we demand to see his humanity in order to sleep at night, knowing that he’s one of us?

This election season, we have no “super”-presidents vying for power. There are no Abe Lincolns or FDRs in the running. These men moved mountains for this country, but frankly, if they were running today, I don’t think they would have made it this far. Both Obama and McCain have image-altering, self-depreciating issues that they must deal with, and the public thrives on it, continuing to fuel the trend.

I honestly don’t believe we as a people can stand and admire greatness anymore. It makes me kind of bummed out for humanity, since there are some truly good people doing truly good things and being dissected in search of any little flaw to exploit. Flawlessness can no longer be admired or desired, because at the end of the day, no one wants anyone else to be better than they, to experience a light that they themselves cannot. No one wants their heroes to do good these days; they only want them to do what everyone else does. “The Dark Knight” will probably go on to earn billions of dollars and multiple Oscars, while “Superman: Man Of Steel” will, eventually, be moderately accepted but generally discarded, unless Superman becomes addicted to kryptonite or encounters some other Achillean, tragic-hero flaw.

Because, honestly, flaws are all that anyone can expect from a hero these days. Bennett Fuson is an Entertainment editor for the HiLite. Contact him at bfuson@hilite.org.

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