Friday, March 25, 2016

Excellence vs Mediocrity: Man Of Steel

Christopher Nolan's Man Of Steel is a political masterpiece, and hardly a day goes by that I don't ponder its lessons regarding the state of liberalism and what it means to the world. While the death of General Zod seems to be confusing and unnecessary, if we ask three basic questions about Man Of Steel, we should be able to understand why Zod had to die and why Superman was upset about doing it: first, why did Superman's parents send their son to earth (no, not because the planet was exploding); secondly, why does Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) suggest to young Clark that he possibly should have allowed the kids on the bus to die, and then Jonathan himself not try to avoid being swept up in the tornado? Lastly, why does Clark Kent go in search of his real identity (no, that's not an obvious answer, either)?
Jor-El and Lara don't go with their son; it would have been easy for the three of them to escape, however, they too are of Krypton, so they would have held their son back in his life's journey. Young Kal-El had to deal with the hardships of not knowing who he was in order to grow and not become unstable in his core like the planet from which he came and, ultimately, like its inhabitants. 
Sending their son to another planet because their own world is exploding probably seems like a good idea, but there is a funny thing about the world of art: sometimes things get turned around, and because the vehicle of art is that of metaphors and symbols, it's easy to accomplish without confusing the audience. In this example, the planet Krypton isn't exploding because of an unstable core, because the culture is unstable itself, they have created an unstable core. What is happening while the planet is dying? Zod is launching a coup because the council has been irresponsible and decadent,... which is probably true, but it's also true that Zod was committing treason, and that mirrors how Krypton became a dying utopia to begin with: the elite in charge always take the most and best for themselves and the military is always ready to overthrow them and impose their own brand of justice, so rather than being a system of checks and balances, it's nearly always a state of revolution which is always unstable. Several characteristics of the society reveal this to be a socialist regime, for example,...
Isn't this a darling scene? Except, it isn't, it's quite serious. Because of the "dirty laundry hanging out to dry" earth will need Superman, we will need a sign of hope, we will need someone committed to excellence in everything they do (I'm not suggesting Mrs. Kent hung up dirty laundry, but the scene is meant to invoke the idea of the familiar saying). Notice where young Clark stands: in a field full of weeds; this isn't the family lawn, or s well-tended garden, rather, it's wild and left to its own nature, not discipline. This scene foreshadows two other scenes later in the film: first, after the truck driver dumps a drink all over Clark and then goes out to find his truck tangled up in the electric pole. Just as young Clark here rises above the weeds of the field, so Clark will have to rise above his own animal instincts and passions, "weeding out" his emotions and choosing virtue over vice; this is what "Superman" means, the man who is "super," or "above" humanity and his own human appetites. The second scene this laundry image foreshadows is after Clark rescues the workers on board the oil drill and takes some clothes out of the back of a truck. Did Superman steal? No, that's why there is this scene, it's to assist the audience in making the connection of how difficult it is for Clark to "disguise" himself as a human being: he's "stealing" our identity, not living his own identity. His good deed of helping to save those workers is rewarded because his next stop is where he gets his cape, just as we see foreshadowed in the image above, so a "loop" has been completed, rather like the 12 labors of Hercules. 
There hasn't been a natural birth in centuries; why not? Because socialists don't trust nature. Anything and everything that can be manipulated and engineered, will be by socialists because they have to control everything, including who is and who is not born. The people do not get to decide what to do with their lives, it is decided for them: in the name of efficiency, everyone has to be miserable. So, did Superman's parents send him to earth because the planet was exploding? No, they would have (eventually) sent him anyway (and probably left with him, too) because--even if Krypton wasn't exploding--there was only death and slavery to the system in that culture and they wouldn't have wanted their child, who was born free, to live as a slave. The problem is, however, once on earth, Clark is adopted by a liberal.
There are three things which Jonathan Kent does that upsets me: first, he suggests to Clark that he should have let his classmates die on the bus; second, he wants Clark to become a farmer, instead of discovering who he really is and using his abilities for good, and third, Jonathan allows himself to be killed by the tornado and sets up everyone else to be killed as well (because everyone in Tornado Alley knows the worst place to take cover is under a bridge/highway like he herded them under). First of all, some have deduced that Jonathan only wants to let the kids on the sinking bus drown so that Clark doesn't reveal himself and his power; I utterly disagree with this, and it took me awhile to arrive at what Nolan was explaining to us about liberalism, but it finally occurred to me what was happening.
Liberals want to be victims.
If a liberal is killed or hurt, if something catastrophic happens to them, they rejoice, because that validates their view of reality which is: they aren't capable of taking care of themselves and being self-sufficient, so they need the government to do it for them. If you are a conservative, this is completely counter-intuitive to you and nothing could be more alien,... like Superman being an alien (which is why he is an "alien": striving to be the best you can be and to take care of yourself and others has become "alien" to Americans since Obama and the socialists took over). Initially, during the scene of the tornado coming and Jonathan running out to save the dog from the car, I was tempted to interpret that as a metaphor of Superman saving us: we are like the dogs, helpless in the car and stuck, but he has the ability to free us and lay down his life to save us (there is a part when Clark goes to talk to an old school mate who became a priest because of how Clark's sacrifices witnessed to him, and Clark sits in front of an image of Jesus, linking Clark's identity to one of salvation as well). This interpretation, however, wasn't satisfying and didn't fit the rest of the film,... then, Interstellar came out.
This was the best shot I could find of Clark's costume in this scene, which is important. The grey shirt he wears is the sign of the pilgrim, because grey is the color of ashes. He's on  a journey to find himself, even if he hasn't "officially" started it yet. The white undershirt is a sign of his purity and faith in this quest, that is, he genuinely wants to know to know, not to gain power, wealth, fame, etc., his motives are true. The red shoes he wears--like Dorothy's ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz--symbolize his will (because our feet take us in life where our will directs us in our hopes and dreams) and red is the color of blood, so either you love someone enough to spill your own blood for them, or you hate someone enough to spill their blood to appease your anger. Clark is motivated by love. He wears blue jeans, because legs symbolize our standing in society. Blue is both the color of wisdom and the color of depression, because we cannot gain wisdom without the hard experiences in life that teach us. So Clark's "standing in society" (as an alien, as a "god," as a son of a farmer from Kansas) is also the source of his sadness, but also his wisdom.
Nolan's Interstellar pits Cooper (Matthew McConnaughey) in a similar circumstance to Clark Kent. While Cooper had been a NASA pilot and engineer, the socialist government in the US made him become a farmer, even though he obviously wasn't cut out for that and could have done more for the famine being an engineer, but the inefficiency of the government insisted he farm because they needed food (rather like the mis-handling of resources on the planet Krypton).
One can argue that Dr. Mann (Damon) doesn't want to die and doesn't want to be a victim which is why he sets his signal so they will come for him; I would argue, he just doesn't want to die alone. What does he want? To get back to earth, which is a dying planet, just like planet Krypton; he's going to die whether he stays on the ammonia-planet or if he goes back to earth, but he doesn't want to die alone. When Mann ignores Cooper to not open the airlock, we can call this a coincidental suicide: seeing Cooper, who he just tried to kill, Mann knows he won't get back to earth to die with the others, and being an astronaut, he knows the auto-docking system, but he goes ahead and opens it anyway, basically, not only committing suicide, but trying to kill Cooper (again) and Amelia so he doesn't die alone. What does he tell Cooper when he watches him die? Think of your kids, think of those who love you (so you're not dying alone, and I will even stay here with you so you won't die alone, even though I have just tried to murder you). In Man Of Steel, we see the exact same scenario unfolding with Jonathan Kent. UPDATE: In Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, there is a brief scene with Jonathan Kent (a dream or a hallucination, we're not sure, but it takes place on top of a mountain) and Jonathan relates the story of a bad flood and how saving his own farm caused the water to go to another farm and their horses drowned. This is a carbon-copy repeat of the situation with Jonathan saving the family dog from the car when the tornado is coming: he can't distinguish between humans and animals. Sure, it's sad when animals die, don't get me wrong, but in the flood story, he helped save his family, but he acted like he murdered people when the horses drowned, and that's because--to socialists--there is no difference between animals and humans, humans are animals, and that's why Jonathan can't understand why Clark won't become a farmer: Clark doesn't have a calling, he doesn't have a destiny, he's no different than the family dog, and if the family dog can be happy on the farm, Clark should be happy on the farm as well. Now, in a way, Clark does become a farmer because Clark is "farming" his soul, he's sowing the seeds of virtue and pulling the weeds of vice that he needs to control in order to become the person he was meant to become.
The "Plan B" of Interstellar is that Plan A--saving the people on earth--isn't viable, so the only solution is to have frozen embryos taken to a habitable planet and start a new colony there (again, like the "colonies" which had been established by the socialists on different planets by Krypton in Man Of Steel). In Interstellar, the socialist figures portrayed by Mann (Matt Damon) and Dr. Brandt (Michael Caine), don't want to fight for survival the way Cooper and his daughter Murphy do (Murph won't give up on the equation working out and she holds out hope that she can still succeed). So, where does this leave us with Jonathan Kent?
Clark's teacher in the classroom asks the class who were the first settlers in Kansas, as poor Clark experiences a break-down his powers are causing him. It's an important question because Kansas--and all the states in the Great Plains region of the central US--were called the "Great American Desert," not because of sand as in a typical desert, but because of the lack of sizeable bodies of water and trees to build homes. The plains, then, weren't a destination, it was part of the country that had to be crossed to get to the good land out in California and the West Coast, so those who settled in Kansas got, basically, the "left-overs" but were determined to live their dreams and have their own land, and they did. Why is that important? Those settlers are the "stock" from which Kansans come and the basis of the culture in which Clark grew up, so when he says, towards the end of the film, "I'm from Kansas. I'm as American as you can get," he is referring to those self-determined settlers that fought for their dreams and what they wanted out of life, to be free and not the victims or slaves of anyone or anything. During this part in the classroom, Clark runs out and we see Mrs. Kent telling Clark to focus; why? "Focus" is the reason why the US has succeeded: in capitalism, people focus on something to do, rather than trying to do everything, which is what socialist governments do and why they don't do anything well. Zod can't focus, because he wants to control everything, but capitalists focus on just creating pancakes, or just supplying gas to people, they don't try to serve pancakes and sell you fax and copy equipment at the same location. 
The detail of Jonathan directing everyone on the highway to get under the bridge is key, because everyone knows that is the worst place to be during a tornado because the air is channeled and intensified, making it even more dangerous than being out in the open, so Jonathan is, in essence, herding the flock together to have them all killed. Like Mann opening the air-lock chamber on the Endurance space craft in Interstellar, Jonathan Kent basically commits suicide in going to save the dog and he does so as a kind of socialist messiah: watch me sacrifice myself for the cause of victimization, now stay under the bridge and let the tornado take you, too, and sacrifice yourself for the cause of victimization. If you are a conservative, this makes no sense to you, but if you look at how this victimization attitude drives liberals in their decision-making process, then why they are intent on the government taking care of them makes more sense: they are the Jonathan Kents going into the storm and not wanting to be saved (this is the foundation of the death of Zod scene, so hold onto your thoughts just a few more minutes). This leads us to our last question: why does Clark Kent go in search of who he really is?
The neck is an important symbol because it reveals what guides and leads us in life; the way we put a leash on a dog to walk it where we want it to go, functions the same way as something a character will wear around their neck: it's leading them to where they want/need to go. The Krypton Codex Clark wears around his neck shows what guides him and what he needs most: his real, genuine, authentic self. When he has found that, he knows what he's meant to do and he can help others find their real, authentic self as well. Clark chooses this. Free will is an important issue in the film, even though it's never blatantly stated. Clark uses his free will to help others, whereas socialists like Zod and Jonathan would argue that free will doesn't exist, we are helpless in the world and the victims of events that we can't do anything to change or stop. Superman, on the other hand, believes he can and should stop Zod and try to save as many people as possible. 
Jonathan wants Clark to find out who he really is, "You owe it to yourself," but just before Jonathan dies, he and Clark argue in the car about who and what Clark is, with Jonathan wanting Clark to become a farmer (again, what we saw happening to Cooper in Interstellar; I myself want to become a farmer, I love farming and would love to be a farmer, so there is nothing being put down in farming, but it's obvious that Cooper and Clark aren't good at farming and don't want to do it, and that is the problem). It would be far easier for Clark to go on "pretending" to be Clark Kent, and "stealing" the identity of earthlings instead of being the Son of Krypton that he really is,... or would it? When Lois is at the cemetery, where Jonathan is buried, Clark stands in the background wearing a ball cap that covers most of his face and he seems like a zombie: like a shell. Why? Because he is still "in disguise" and, in essence, living a lie, so he is a zombie and that's why this scene takes place in the cemetery, is because if he had done what his dead father (Jonathan) had wanted, Clark would be the "walking dead." Before Clark can save the lives of others, he has to save his own life, and now, we can explore the controversial ending of the death of General Zod.
The eyes are the windows of the soul, and for Zod to use his laser eyes to try and kill the family, reveals that Zod, "at his core" (like the exploding Kyprton which had an unstable core) is bent on destruction of everything America holds dear to its way of life. It's important to realize this, because that is why Superman breaks Zod's neck: the neck symbolizes what leads us and guides us, and Superman realizes that, if Zod is willing to kill the family (like his own family on Krypton and the family that saved him and adopted him) Zod is unstable at his core because what leads him on is inherently at odds with what Clark loves about earth and being American; conversely, what led Clark on to finding out who he really was--symbolized by the Codex he wore around his neck (the opposite of Zod's neck he breaks)--is what forms the basis of America and our culture. We have seen nearly all these themes in other films as well: the  transforming of the world was in both Transformers IV and the Tom Cruise film Oblivion ,the Divergent series and we will see it in X-Men Apocalypse, as well as Aurora
Zod is a socialist figure, that is beyond dispute, and so he, like Jonathan Kent, subscribes to the same "theology of victimization." When Zod threatens the family just before Superman kills Zod, it's not just that Zod is going to kill these people, it's that Zod--and socialism--wants to destroy the family, the very basic concept of a mother, father and their children which these three people represent. Remember, Superman was the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries, and it's from the Codex that Zod wants to start a new race of Krptonians, not by mating with other Kryptonians. Superman isn't upset about killing Zod because he is one of the last Kryptonians, Superman is upset about killing Zod because he knows he has fueled the vicious cycle of victimization upon which liberals thrive: I am a victim and so I need a socialist regime to protect me, and because Superman is going to kill me, that proves that I am a victim and that justifies having a socialist regime, even though there are going to be more victims created by a socialist regime. In other words, Superman doesn't want to be the cause of death for Zod the way the tornado was for Jonathan, but if Superman didn't kill Zod, Zod would have killed those individuals as well as the family unit, and destroyed the earth. That Superman chooses to save the family and earth is a sign that the highest ideals of America and individuality are the foundations of the hope he which he stands.
This is really a great image. Behind Superman's left shoulder, is the American flag, a stop sign and a 7-Eleven sign, and we can argue that these are three things which make up America: the patriotism and history symbolized by the flag, the laws which govern us and maintain law and order throughout society, symbolized by the STOP sign, and the 7-Eleven reminds us of the opportunities which exists for every person. You might not want to own and operate a 7-Eleven, or a business like it (like the IHOP restaurant featuring in the last battle scenes of the film) but how many people have become successful because of franchises like 7-Eleven? These kinds of opportunities didn't exist on Krypton (or opportunities similar in nature) nor in socialist/communist societies.  We can also add that the building itself is a symbol of the very infrastructure of America; why? Remember another Christopher Nolan film, The Dark Knight Rises? The bat mark was left in chalk on various structures, because the 1% like Bruce Wayne had built those structures (not Obama or the government, but mostly private enterprises and individual Americans investing in their communities) and someone built that building just as individuals built America, and this one scene takes in all those factors demonstrating what it is that Superman is fighting for and defending as well as what it is that Zod fights against and wants to destroy.
In conclusion, Man Of Steel is a political masterpiece because it articulates so thoroughly how closely victimization and liberalism are tied together and how one is a vehicle for the other, as well as the slippery slope created by both. Like so many great films being produced in these last several years, it reminds us of our values as a culture and the importance of being individuals, that we should respect our own individuality, as well as that of others, because you can't have one without the other. Clark Kent has a choice to make in his life: he can either strive to be everything he has the capacity to be, or he can hide and try to be as mediocre as possible so he doesn't suffer the consequences of not blending in with the rest of society. His choice is meant to inspire us to make our own difficult choices and embrace our gifts and live a life based on our highest ideals.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner