The other morning over breakfast my wife and I had a raging debate of mankind’s need and desire to behold simple “concepts,” as philosophy defines them. It is because of concepts that I occasionally detour away from the normally serious matter at this site and dwell in great detail about the nature of Hollywood movies and published books. In my private life I have two basic loves which drive me, a love of philosophy and the mythologies of thought which attempt to frame them to the human world through “concepts.” Most everything else I care about in life drips off the leaves of knowledge from those basic forms of art esthetically. The reason for the raging debate over breakfast with my wife was over the value of concepts in people’s lives versus a given morality. My wife values morality among mankind as the highest honor, even over the air she breaths. If she had to choose between morality and taking another breath, she would choose morality. However, my side of the debate declared that the ability to behold a “concept” of morality is far more important, because without having the ability to grapple with conceptual ideas, morality falters in both human beings and animals 100% of the time. I explained to her that the ability to understand concepts was like getting popcorn into a bowl that has been popped in a kitchen. If a person’s mind is small, they have a small bowl from which they can place popcorn in from which to consume. If a person’s mind is large they can hold a lot more popcorn. In my metaphor I was of course transposing popcorn with ideas, or in this case “concepts” in order to explain why mankind is so sick these days. We spend the first five years of our lives being given gigantic “concepts” from our parents, grandparents, friends, and extended family through the toys we play with and ideas they give us. We are given from birth extremely large bowls which hold a lot of metaphorical popcorn so that concepts can be formed in our minds allowing us to walk, speak, and develop ranges of physical movement. But from every year after our first kindergarten class in public school, we find that our bowls get smaller and by age 10 to age 15 our ability to hold thinking concepts diminishes greatly so that by the time we are grown adults, instead of holding a bowl of popcorn with most of what could possibly be popped in the kitchen, we are lucky to get a few small kernels into our 35-year-old brains. I view human mythology as a way of expanding our metaphorical bowls so that our minds can hold more philosophy about the way life should be lived, and today in all of human history it is the movies produced from Hollywood which are the strongest creators of modern mythology, which makes them of great interest to me. This basic preamble is needed before I say that I understand why so many critics stated that they did not enjoy the new movie which I have been raving about—Man of Steel. They did not like the movie because they are suffering from conceptual handicaps given to them by their crumbling society, of which the most recent rendition of Superman clearly was conceptually articulating. So I will provide you dear reader with a conceptual handicap free review so that you can understand why a slight tear was running down your face at the end of the movie, and why you thought about standing up and clapping at the end while others actually did with a ruckus ovation.
I have spoken before about how important the concept of Superman is to my family in a previous article. CLICK HERE TO REVIEW. Before seeing the film, we went to Newport on the Levee to view the new Man of Steel film by Zach Snyder and one of my favorite modern film producers, Christopher Nolan and have dinner at Claddah’s Irish Pub. My daughter, son-in-law, and wife wanted to make a big event out of this film with me so we went to that particular theater and dining location to place the experience in proper perspective. The AMC theaters at Newport are built three stories above the mall below, and are unique in their design. Going up the escalator to arrive in the lobby is literally like arriving in some heavenly plateau which is appropriate for a modern viewing of Superman, especially for my family. The reasons I love Ayn Rand’s characters in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are because her characters created during the same era as Superman are about the same elevated sense of mankind’s potential. For Ayn Rand, Superman is in all men who have a thinking mind. Yet for the character of Superman created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, high school students living in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1933 their large concept ultimate man had extraordinary powers given to him from the sun’s energy on earth. But all these creations of the mind were a direct answer to the communism being imported into the United States by progressives during the roaring twenties and early thirties. It was a time when President Calvin Coolidge was going door to door running for office with a miniature chalk board trying to educate voters on the perils of socialism. Superheroes were born in literature as a way to protect the concept of Americanism against the anti-concept of European communism. Young Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman to define what living life in America was all about creating a symbol that allowed the concept of Americanism to be defined in a single character named Kal-El from the planet Krypton.
To understand what this 2013 version of Superman is all about, let me explain how the film ends without giving away any particular spoilers. Superman smashes out of the sky a drone aircraft which is attempting to spy on him and proceeds to lecture the U.S. military of his need for privacy even though he understands the military is afraid of all his vast powers. Superman continues to make clear that nothing the military can do will hurt him anyway, so the effort is useless. The military then asks Kal-El, how they can know Superman won’t use his superior powers against the American people. Superman explains with a smile, “I grew up in Kansas and am as American as there is; you’re just going to have to trust me.” This is almost the last scene of the film. Superman was metaphorically speaking on behalf of all Americans to their modern government which is currently plagued by scandals such as the IRS, Benghazi, and spygates against the American people. Superman represented in mythic form the power of every individual American who may not be able to leap about like Superman, or shoot lasers from their eyes, but hold the potential to be super in their own way which Ayn Rand would get more specific about in her own overmen exploits of literary endeavor. The message at the end of Man of Steel is that Superman wanted to be left alone to live as an American and that if he wanted to he’d crush anybody who stood in his way of achieving that goal. He chose to value the people of earth for the hope he had for them which was something that was lost to his dying planet of Krypton.
Russell Crow who played Kal-El’s father in Man of Steel was very good in his role of explaining how Krypton became doomed in the first place. The highly technological society of the Kryptonians had enjoyed a period of great expansion in their culture where they planted seed societies throughout known space. But as time moved on, their society had become more politically corrupt leaving them to pursue short-sighted goals like stripping out their own planet’s core for power, instead of harnessing the power from neighboring star systems, as they had in the past. The Krypton metaphor was clearly in reference to our own times where space travel has been cut away to virtually nothing in America as left-leaning politicians squabble in endless debate with political apathy serving as the centerpiece of their action. On Krypton, as many are attempting to suggest here on earth, they devolved from a flourishing society that embraced personal freedom and enterprise to one that micro managed the smallest detail of their lives including the birth of children which had been taken over by a technology called the Codex. Jor-El and his wife gave birth to the first free-born child in centuries on Krypton. That child was Kal-El–Superman, a free-born creation of two loving parents. Knowing that Krypton was imploding on itself, even as the political class squabbled in denial of the impending doom Jor-El sent his child to earth to allow the best of what Krypton was to live on elsewhere. All this while General Zod was staging a rebellion to turn Krypton back into a society under his managed care. In Man of Steel, Zod is a collectivist born under the dystopian care of the Codex, not having natural parents, but instead being raised to and for the collective Krypton society. (I knew Christopher Nolan would not let me down.) I was very concerned about how Krypton’s demise would be handled in the film, and it is very appropriate to the direction our current society is devolving. Man of Steel just in this regard is conceptually brilliant……….but that’s not all.
Even Kal-El’s adoptive parents were heroic as Jonathan Kent died in the Man of Steel defying a tornado’s wrath. He ran into the blistering storm as it consumed cars and entire homes to save a few more people only to get caught because he broke his ankle and couldn’t run away fast enough……..but he saved Kal El’s dog! That is a great dad! The good guys in the film were all heroic in their own way. Ultimately the pinnacle decision of the film was Kal-El having to decide whether the society of Krypton deserved to be resurrected on earth through the Codex killing all of humanity, or should the people who live on the planet be given the opportunity to have hope for their own future. Superman ultimately decided that Krypton had its chance, and it screwed it up. The people of earth had a real chance to get it right, and Superman had made a decision to lead them to the light under his guidance. Superman made a value judgment between the two societies, Krypton had taken a noticeably collectivist route and destroyed itself, and earth was headed in the same direction, but could still change course.
On the way home from the movie my family was philosophizing about the very idea of Superman, a man who was invincible and could be harmed by nothing on earth. For many this is a boring idea because the wish is to see conflict in their heroes brought about by fear and weakness. But that is not what Superman is all about. Superman could decide to rule the earth if he wanted as there would be nobody to stop him, but he doesn’t, because he is a good man who chooses to spend his time helping humanity instead of acting as a parasite off of it to feed his own ego. What Kal-El gained from his adoptive parents was a sense of knowing the difference between right and wrong which would be the key to allowing the grown-up Superman to use his powers for good, instead of evil. General Zod, with all his good intentions openly declared at the end of the film that his sole purpose in life was to serve the greater good of Krypton by any means necessary. He was speaking as a product of the collective and might as well have been a Russian revolutionary from 1917 marching around Petrograd destroying any life that stood in the way of communism, as the greater good of mother Russia was more important than the whims of any individual who might think they were serving good as it is defined by anybody. As I was explaining all this to my family a drunk driver nearly ran into the side of our minivan. I reacted as I have hundreds and hundreds of times over the years, with quick aversion out of harm’s way. It happened so quick that I barely paused in my sentence structure and after the danger was averted, I proceeded with the explanation of my metaphor without pause. Such situations are only dangerous if the mind surrenders itself to panic, and I don’t. After years of training myself, there is little that worries me. And it is this kind of attitude that Kal-El maintained throughout the Man of Steel once he had become comfortable in his role as Superman, savior of the planet earth from falling to a similar fate as his home planet Krypton. All men and women come to such a place in their own minds once the concept of goodness is understood by them. But first they must have a bowl big enough to hold the concept of such goodness and behold the definitions of evil in the same container. Once there, the mind can eliminate danger from its life-like avoiding a drunk driver by simply taking evasive action without any fanfare. Panicky social commentary asking politicians for more public safety never works. The truth is politicians are actually quite powerless to provide any safety without stealing from some to give to others in legalized theft. All they can really do is react as a second-hander and write new laws which bring our present society that much closer to the fictional fate of Krypton.
At the conclusion of Man of Steel my family sat till the end of the credits as viewers gradually left the theater. We were the last to leave. Several young men who might look like gang-like thugs in any other circumstance from the streets of Cincinnati were wearing the Superman emblem on their shirts and had obviously given up for the evening any youthful decadence they might otherwise engage in to see a story of “hope” unfold upon the silver screen. A young man covered in tattoos and body piercings saw me smiling at his big “S” imprinted across his shirt as he left the theater to descend the escalator back down into the shopping complex of Newport on the Levee. His first reaction was a bit of anxiety as he thought I was laughing at his immature love of Superman. But I gave him a reassuring wink as he walked by to let the young man know that I understood. He was attempting to behold a higher concept of what “man” should be, and I didn’t want him for a moment to think I didn’t approve. He smiled boyishly as he walked by, realizing that my gaze at him was not condescending, but quite the opposite.
Small-minded reviewers after they saw the movie found that without large concepts in their own imaginations to allow them to behold the messages of the film they were regulated to commenting on the physical appearance of Henry Cavell, the young man who played Kal-El or criticizing the 40 minute climax which took place in an epic battle all over the globe ending in a fist fight between Superman and Zod which migrated into space at times where even satellites fell from the sky in destruction. Critics spoke about the metaphors of 9/11 as half of the city of Metropolis was destroyed in the gigantic battle leaving a crater of cleared buildings in the center where the two earthly gods did battle in the climatic ending with Superman snapping the neck of Zod. When Kal-El broke the neck of the villain there was emotion in the audience. It was 1 AM in the morning, and the audience was filled back to the projection booth. One man yelled out from the crowd………….”damn!” Others clapped. Some whistled. It was not a critical appraisal, but one of approval from the audience, of seeing a battle between right and wrong, good and evil displayed clearly in front of them, resolving itself with the clear decision of a nearly decapitated villain.
Man of Steel is about “big concepts” and it assists the viewer in grasping those ideas which require large conceptual bowls to hold. It is why in spite of the attempts by established Ellsworth Toohey type film critics taught in their institutions of learning to have small concepts in their lives, not large ones; Man of Steel will become the next $1 billion dollar film franchise. Shortly after the drunk driver nearly hit us on the way home, and I dropped my kids off at their house, I thought of the export potential of this film. Man of Steel is about undeniably American ideas and it didn’t waiver from that responsibility for even a moment. Superman didn’t say he stood for “truth, justice, and the American way,” at the end of the movie, he simply said…………..”I’m an American.” What a wonderful thing for kids throughout the world to see whether they are in London, or Delhi. The best vehicle for projecting American ideas to the world is the film industry of Hollywood, which has traditionally been consumed by left leaning communist ideologues, like what’s represented in the upcoming Matt Damon film Elsyium. Most movies that Hollywood produces like Elsyium or the 2012 fall attempt with Tom Hanks called Cloud Atlas are not so subtle attempts to sell socialism to America and the world. But the box office take usually tells the story as fans reject the message. They will go see the movies for entertainment, but quickly drop them, as word of mouth does not spread like wild-fire, the way it does during the very capitalist movie messages like Iron Man, and now Man of Steel, which is going to break records during its opening weekend. The film made $21 million just off Thursday midnight shows, and $50 million on Friday alone.
Man of Steel is a fantastic film. It is worth watching many more times than once. It is a pleasure to live in a culture that can produce films like Man of Steel where the story telling is first class, the visual effects epic, the music astonishing, but most importantly, the concept is huge. The value of Man of Steel is in its ability to generate a concept that is epic in scope and definitive in its message. There is no question where the message of Man of Steel intends to go, and it is in no way complimentary to evil, weakness, or even blind dedication to a race of people just because they represent one’s ancestors. It is more valuable as an American export than all the money that is currently spent on defense because the message is clear, and void of politics from any party. Man of Steel is film making at its best and the message to everyone in the world with a mind to think is one of goodness! It is a big bowl of philosophy that will take multiple viewings for those functioning with small bowls of conceptual thinking and will require expanding enough to behold the real message of Superman, which is certainly one of hope. A hope that earth will find its way and not fail the way Krypton did, leaving that society to live on in the rebellion of an innovative young couple who decided to go against their entire society and have a natural child who would have to flee their planet and live again as the shining beacon of truth, justice, and the American way for not just on a continent in North America, but the entire world which desperately needs the message of Man of Steel.
One particular scene in Man of Steel defines the entire film. It’s a scene when young Kal-El is being picked on by a group of bullies who are around 10 years old. The little Superman is reading a book, called Plato’s Republic. It wasn’t Tom Sawyer, or the Diary of Anne Frank. It was a work of philosophy that the budding superhero was reading, and a message to all viewers was that Man of Steel is not just an action movie, it’s a work of conceptual philosophy designed to give mankind the tools it needs to save itself. All society needs to do is listen to the message and allow their minds to conceptually hold the memorandum of goodness which is represented immaculately by Superman: Man of Steel.