Sunday, July 13, 2008


So here is a bit of dialogue that has played out over and over in my head; its within the first minute (literally) of this clip, so watch about the first minute or so and then you can stop it (unless you find you like it)

(Smallville {Official Site} Season 1, Episode 1--about ten minutes in)

This is, of course, the CW's (formerly the WB's) show, Smallville. In case you don't know the show, it's about the period of time where Superman was growing up in Smallville as Clark Kent. It's written by a large group of people, like most shows, but the primary comic-book person who assists is Jeph Loeb. As it turns out, Superman's teenage-life is a great way to talk about adolescence. As sort of roll-your-eyes as the concept might be, the show can often attain a pretty high level of function.

Hence, Lana Lang asking Clark "So what are you, Clark; Man or Superman?" Now, of course, what Nietzche meant by der Ubermensch is actually more like Batman than Superman, but most people ping on the relation between the two names.

But what Lana actually asks is far more interesting, because it forms the backbone of the show: see, Clark is learning about the sense of morality that the character is famous for episode by episode. Metaphorically, this becomes his learning about his powers and his past. With each new season, he figures out enough about himself to learn a new power. For example, the last power he's learning in the series, some 8 seasons later, is to fly; metaphorically this is related to his finally figuring out that the world needs a hero (and he has fought his "destiny" at every step...hence he can't fly yet). The reason he stumbles around Lana is that (though nobody knew it at the time) she has a small piece of Kryptonite around her neck; but even that metaphor works really well: he loses his power around the girl he loves because he can't tell her how he feels about her. Yet again, he can't take the mantle and say what he feels, and this takes away his power.

So, the question is far more than just a groaning ham-fisted question/reference to Nietzche. It's actually about Superman at a time in his life before he accepted the mantle of hero. The question is about him doubting himself and trying to decide if he'll hide out and "pass" for human, or to finally "out" himself as the hero he is and take whatever comes with that, good or bad. I've talked about this with other fans of the show, but I think there's some very interesting ways to use the show, and one of the best ones is this sense of "outing" vs. "passing."

I wanted to share this moment in particular because it's one of 2 moments over the 7 years of the show that I think about a lot. To me, that means it's good writing (and, let's be honest, Tom Welling isn't exactly hard to look at), despite the sort of groaning philosophy-pun (which I still like; sue me).

*by the way, before I get angry replies to the post, I'm aware there's more than a little problem with using wikipedia for philosophy; I use it here for convenience rather than accuracy


cfa said...

I never really got into the show, but I remember this episode, and I loved this scene. You're making me rethink my decision not to go "all the way" with TW...

J. Campbell said...

I won't say every episode of all 7 seasons is a gem, but generally the first 4 seasons are pretty good (if you can stomach the awful acting of the woman who portrays Lana Lang).

G said...

Two thoughts...
1) I actually did watch this show off and on for a while. Greg used to watch it, so for once I feel like I'm part of the "club" :)
2) Your comment that it offers a way to talk about adolescence makes me think mobility. I find it *very* interesting that the last power he learns to deal with is flying (cars for superheros?) and even more interesting that the first thing we see in this clip is two other adolescence commenting his lack of mobility (i.e. he loses the ability to walk around Lana). In essence his adolescence is complete when he can not only walk, but also fly

J. Campbell said...

I hadn't though of it that way, but that's awesome! We should talk.