2010 Movie News Archives

December 22, 2010: Academic Essay on "Superman Returns"

Superman Returns Ben Murnane, an Irish writer and editor, who has published three books and written for several newspapers and national radio, has allowed the Superman Homepage to publish his academic essay titled "(Not) Believing Again: Superman Returns - from Postmodernism to Faith (and Failure)".

This essay (for Ben's Masters class in Trinity College Dublin), is an analysis of the movie "Superman Returns" as a re-vision of Superman on screen, for which Ben received First Class Honours and came top of his Masters class.

    The superhero narrative is an assertion of faith. As the tagline for Superman: The Movie (Richard Donner, 1978) read, 'You'll believe a man can fly.' Comparisons of superheroes to religious figures, and descriptions of them as 'secular gods', are well-worn, yet at its core any superhero story is about a system of values. Even 'darker' protagonists such as Batman and the Punisher champion some form of justice, even if it is personal rather than institutional. Values define the superhero, and s/he has 'a determination to, no matter what, protect those values'.

    With their affiliation to values, 'grand narratives', superheroes and postmodernism don't mix - which perhaps explains why Hollywood has blitzed us with superhero movies since September 11, 2001. The West's postmodern era ended on September 11. That day, metanarratives were 'revitalized' in American culture and heroes were needed again. History, like art, moves in cycles: from periods of belief (in one idea) to unbelief (in the same idea) and back to belief. The cycle from modernism to postmodernism has been around before. To use an artistic example, in ancient Athens, it occurred when the state-sponsored theatre of Aeschylus and Sophocles gave way to that of Euripides; when the values expressed with 'full seriousness' by the former two playwrights could only be expressed with 'ironic cynicism' by the latter. As the 1990s began, both Left and Right declared the 'end of history' as Jameson's logic of late capitalism took over. Writes Mark Fortier: 'To live in the postmodern condition [...] is to live without a grand and deep sense of abiding truth'. Since 9/11, grand truths and grand narratives are back in vogue: the War on Terror, the West versus Islamic Extremism, Democracy versus Tyranny. The rhetoric has been toned down since Barack Obama took office, but the narratives remain: we are all more aware of Forces at work in the world now than we were before September 11.

Read Ben's complete academic essay on "Superman Returns" right here at the Superman Homepage.

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