At 75, is Superman over the hill? … In 1938's first issue of "Action Comics," the world got its first glimpse of a superhero, and it was never the same again. Superman soon became an icon – not "just of truth, justice and the American way" – but a symbol of good for billions of people, through their childhood and beyond. Super-fans told CNN their stories of what the character has meant to them over the years … In the movies, he's been surpassed – both in box-office fortunes and popularity – by his DC Comics stablemate Batman and the wisecracking Marvel gang. His recent TV shows, never highly rated, are off the air. His sunny, selfless side is seen as passé in an age of dark knights and troubled mutants. Is this any way to treat Superman? – CNN
Dominant Social Theme: Superman represents the best of us.
Free-Market Analysis: Is Hollywood relying on superheroes to create mass-marketed movies because society's dominant social themes don't work anymore?
All human societies rely on cultural myths to provide the "glue" of commonality. But what can you say about a culture that uses made up heroes to provide it? Iron Man, Batman, Superman … these individuals never existed, and yet they are far more real to young men and even some young women than flesh-and-blood heroes of a previous era.
The heroes that the US in particular sought to provide not just America but the world were mostly politicians like presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy. But in the era of the Internet Reformation it is getting more and more difficult to retain the mostly made-up virtues of such individuals.
A sizeable population in the US and abroad would not consider FDR or Kennedy heroic, or not for the reasons that have been advanced to lift them up to demigod status.
There are other heroes, of course, like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, but the virtues of "the magic negro" (as some deride them) are not fully transferable for a variety of reasons – and they are therefore not universal in their appeal.
Women's lib has thrown up female heroes as well, but the idea of a heroic women doesn't necessarily transfer to the male population – especially because such heroines are often glorified for "standing up" to male dominance and repression.
In fact, it is hard to locate a modern-day Western hero that can surmount Internet scrutiny. Britain has been fairly good at elevating its upper classes, but even here, these days, the scrutiny that accompanies such elevations can be savage.
Winston Churchill was a kind of sociopath who exalted war and twisted history to suit his own narrative. The "royals" – or almost all of them – are all too often embroiled in sex and money scandals, probably because they have too much time on their hands.
Generals, both in the US and abroad, are always a tempting target for exaltation, but in the Internet era, so many wars turn out to be bankers' wars that it is hard to think of those who fight them as anything other than ruthless employees.
In the 21st century there has been an effort to glorify technocrats and central bankers but the Internet has made that meme fairly questionable, as well.
And so we are left – in the US anyway – with the cult of the superhero. This can either be viewed as a wonderful tribute to creative destruction or the bankruptcy of modern culture. Did Rome throw up any real heroes in the latter stages of its crumbling empire?
Here's more from the article:
This year marks 75 years since the creation of the superhero who essentially started it all. Though his image is secure and he still has abilities far beyond those known to mortal men, it's an open question whether one of those powers still works: the ability to draw audiences.
On Friday, "Man of Steel" opens. The film, backed by a reported budget of $225 million — not to mention more than 100 promotional partners, enough to make "The Great Gatsby" envious — is yet another attempt to reboot the Superman legend, just seven years after "Superman Returns" hit screens.
The new work, directed by Zack Snyder ("Watchmen"), written by David S. Goyer ("Batman Begins") and starring Henry Cavill as Superman, hopes to surpass the lackluster returns of "Returns," which made $200 million at the domestic box office but was widely seen as a disappointment.
[Is] Supes back on top of the superhero heap, a place that he once had all to himself[?] That was decades ago. The world has turned many times since then; we've fought draining wars, dealt with horrific acts of terror, even entered an age where bespectacled Clark Kent types are cooler than six-packed musclemen. Horrors! Has time passed by the Man of Tomorrow?
The article goes on to answer these questions somewhat in the affirmative. But for us the larger question still stands. Where are today's heroes? Even sports stars are regularly torn down by the military-industrial complex's determination to criminalize every nook and cranny of social interactions.
Whether it is drugs, sport or any other social activity, one is apt these days to come under a police threat that is just as dire as if one were an international, criminal banker … or even more so.
Yet, even law-and-order types are not hero-fodder in the modern age. G. Edgar Hoover was a thug who collected files on all his colleagues in order to blackmail them; the latest intel scandals show clearly that the public is not apt to honor those who purport to "keep society safe" by spying on it.
What does it say about modern Western society that the closest we can come to identifying a true (non "super") hero is someone like Marlon Brando in "The Godfather," an individual who ruthlessly made his way to the top of a fictional crime syndicate?
Mobsters and fading comic book characters seem to be today's exalted ones. What does this say about modern society?