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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 08/27/2001
Volume 2, Number 17

How Bizarro Rescues Superman

In my previous column, I referred to Bizarro as "the deconstruction" of Superman.

The term "deconstruction" was coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the 1960s. In general, deconstruction is a philosophy of meaning, which deals with the ways that meaning is constructed by writers, texts, and readers.

Derrida claimed that all texts are based on dualities in which one side was weighted rather too strongly against the other side, such as ideas like: being/nonbeing, reality/appearance, male/female/ good/evil, moral/immoral), In other words, there's a bias favoring one term or aspect of an idea or a myth or anything else. In a deconstructionist examination, this bias is exposed, and in this revelation the binary nature upon which the concept is built is revealed as a simple prejudice or error.

So now, let's see how this applies to Bizarro and Superman.

In deconstructionist terms, Superman's central reality seems to lie in his earnestness, his total acceptance of conventional morality, he is, because of his original publishers' dubious financial beginnings, really too good to be true. Well, considering that wars and even things like depressions are fought with that kind of unreal weighting of reality (in this case, goodness and morality were equivalent to a kind national righteousness), it really had to break apart after the war ended because it was unreal.

I wasn't actually thinking in those terms when I created Bizarro. Actually, what I had in mind was to present the "shadow" side of Superman's reality. Perhaps, in a sense I was anticipating the rise of Derrida's deconstructionism in doing so, but as I said, I didn't have any such thing in mind. And even would have questioned what in the ensuing sixties was to be come a fad in university circles. In fact, I hadn't even learned that deconstructionism had soon followed my first creation of Bizarro. I only came upon it years later as the movement was beginning to lose a lot of its intellectual cachet. But in the reality of 1958, with the war and depression long gone, iand the Beats about to be transformed intto the new anti-establishment reality of the Hippy Generation, it was possible to express thoughts and ideas, even behavior in a much more shaded way. Alan Moore in his Watchman series certainly seems to have been aware of this. But in the meantime, there was Bizarro out there, floating along, and gradually, inevitably, it would seem, the post-war world began to take to it. There was Superman, the Perfect, still struggling along, known across the world as a metaphor of the human at its highest point, and here, on the ground, we were beginning to be aware of the reality that that so-called highest point had to include, imperfections , weaknesses, uncertainties, moral confusions and social absurdities.

So what happened? Bizarro suddenly rose in popularity. It's still rising. And why? Because it's funny? Not really. Think about it. On it's own, the Bizarro idea as it has evolved today is really just kind of silly. And that silliness is not the reason for its popularity. Things don't happen in isolation in the web of the real world. Bizarro is an offshoot of Superman. If there were no Superman, there couldn't be a Bizarro. Also with Superman so firmly established, it wouldn't work to simply weaken and de-moralize him. Of course, the attempt was made, and is still being made, but it's not working. In fact, efforts to change Superman by various editors and creators have proven hopeless. The public still continues to see the old Perfection-style Superman. As I've explained in previous columns, Superman himself, in a manner of speaking, set it up that way.

But there is a better path to revealing Supes weaker, negative, foolish reality. Not the Clark Kent path which is only a pose. No, there's a much more devious cognitive path the collective mind knows how to take simply in the way it expresses its preferences. And it does just that with Bizarro. The public loves Bizarro because he stands for that weaker imperfect side of Superman that cannot get expressed directly. That's how Bizarro is essentially the deconstruction of Superman, and because of Bizarro, Superman may linger with us yet for a long time to come. I don't mean the myth that is Superman will die out. It won't. But without Bizarro, people will stop reading Superman comics even as they continue talking about Superman and referring to him. But thanks to the tempering and mellowing aspect of Bizarro, Superman comic books probably will continue to sell.

If those of you who are reading this understand what I'm trying to say, and I'll admit it calls for exercising a little "noodle", then maybe it'll also become clear that Superman should now be allowed to return to his original state, the mild, gentle, helpful guardian angel, the way most people still see him anyway.

All right, I've put forth some ideas here that may call for a bit of discussion. So let's have it.

- Alvin

<< 08/20/2001 | 08/27/2001 | 09/03/2001 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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