I was having a discussion on Twitter with someone about how fed up I am with every superhero now having to be a whiny, introspective emo who is terribly tortured and conflicted about his powers. This being prompted by reports of plans to “reboot” Superman, with a film which will apparently focus on “Clark’s Gethsemane moment” when he has to choose between wealth and fame versus service and self-sacrifice. Whatever.
As I commented on Twitter:
It’d just be nice to have the young Clark Kent say, “WTH? I can fly! How cool is that? Take a look at this, girls!”
I’m currently reading Slavoj Žižek’s First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, in which he talks at one point about this trend for “humanization” in recent superhero blockbusters such as Spiderman and Batman:
Critics rave about how these films move beyond the flat comic-book characters and dwell in detail over the uncertainties, weaknesses, doubts, fears and anxieties of the supernatural hero, his struggle with his inner demons, his confrontation with his own dark side, and so forth, as if all this makes the commercial super-production somehow more “artistic”. (p.43)
Žižek links this with a wider tendency to claim that the “richness of my inner life” represents who I “really am”, in contrast with my outward actions in public, on which he comments:
The first lesson of psychoanalysis here is that this “richness of inner life” is fundamentally fake: it is a screen, a false distance, whose function is, as it were, to save my appearance. … The experience we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is thus a lie – the truth lies rather outside, in what we do. (p.40)
One example Žižek gives of this is that of Reinhard Heidrich, the architect of the Holocaust, “who liked to play Beethoven’s late string quartets with friends during his evenings of leisure” – hard to think of a more extreme example of an attempt to offset the “richness of inner life” against the truth of one’s public actions.
A more benign example given later in the book is that of “Western Buddhism”, which Žižek discusses in the context of “fetishes” which people unconsciously use to mask their true ideological commitments:
“Western Buddhism” is just such a fetish: it enables you to fully participate in the frantic capitalist game while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it, that you are well aware how worthless the whole spectacle is, since what really matters is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always withdraw… (p.66)
I suspect it’s all-too easy for Christianity to function in much the same way, not least those versions of Christian faith (such as the “emerging church”, or bloggers prone to quoting the likes of Jacques Ellul…) which self-consciously contrast themselves with the mainstream of “bourgeois” Christianity. When this happens, the Christian may well be like the “Western Buddhist”, who is
unaware that the “truth” of his existence lies in the very social relations he tends to dismiss as a mere game.