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For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Indy and Superman

The movies came out in the same summer, with the fedora-topped Indiana Jones reaching the local screens before the Man of Tomorrow.

A fan of comic books since I started reading, Superman was the towering figure of Truth, Justice and what passed for an American Way that seemed to include only white people. Or pink, actually. The whole magic of the film was the selection of an unknown actor, Christopher Reeve, as the latest incarnation of the most emblematic of funny-book heroes and the latest technology to make it seem like a man (or woman) could fly. None of this “George Reeves on a table with strings tugging his cape” crap.

I point out that George committed suicide. I’m sure there’s no connection.

But before the flying unknown crossed the screen, Indiana Jones outsmarted death traps, ran through the jungle to escape a hundred crazed warriors, fought snakes, solved puzzles, took punches and blows that would deck a lesser man, sabotaged a plane, shot a swordsman (okay, not really sporting, but damn funny), hijacked a truck after being dragged under it (by choice, of course) and even infiltrated a Nazi submarine.

I remember telling Tim-the-Freudian that after seeing Indy, Superman would be a wimp. Well, he was. Although it’s true that Raiders is a much better movie than Superman, to me the difference went deeper. Superman was simply “unengaging”. He didn’t make you feel much because, well, he’s just loaded with advantages too overwhelming to pose a challenge, so you ultimately don’t care.

Indy was human, with common frailties, but a sense of purpose—and thus of self—that made him heroic. Superman was a hero because he simply had to be: he had no choice. Indy was a hero because he chose to be, despite the many chances to choose otherwise.

I’ve since watched people as they face challenges. I especially watch me. Are they—am I—choosing the heroic or the mundane? Although none of has ever been forced a la Superman to be a hero, there are times when the decision is made for us. Having a child who needs us is an obvious example. But in those foggy moments when taking the heroic road is difficult, especially when people will never see the choice, I always remember Indy and Superman: one human, one alien; the chooser and the chosen; free will versus obligation. I have failed to make the choice for heroic a number of times; it has yet to be a pleasant experience. Unlike the Man of Steel, I am flesh and blood.

Indy would understand. I couldn’t care less if Superman does.


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