No wonder superman returns didn't do as well as expected at the box office this summer.
The caped hero is no longer iconic of the times, as he was in the 50s TV series and later on celluloid with Christopher Reeve. Not surprising. Clark Kent's more assertive Other was first conceived in the 40s in the days of Stalin, man of steel, and Hitler, Nazi über-mensch.
The American Superman, created by a Jew, offered a psychological balance to the dark broodings of the era.
But these days, there are no supermen, neither Nazi nor American, waiting in the wings. The more relevant archetype is Jorel, Superman's father, a Kryptonian scientist who tried unsuccessfully to alert his world to its impending destruction. "Krypton is doomed!" he warned. "The core of Krypton is composed of uranium. Soon, very soon, every atom of Krypton will explode in one final terrible blast! Gentlemen, Krypton is one gigantic atomic bomb!"
If that sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because we've all heard numerous such speeches from our own earthly Jorels. But unlike the comic-strip father, our prophets are all too credible. Physicist Stephen Hawking, for instance, recently stated, "Life on earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."
Jorel's solution was to send his only begotten son rocketing to a super-powered life on Earth. Hawking suggests a base on the moon, where we can at least jump higher, I guess. "It is important to spread out into space for the survival of the species."
James Lovelock, the British climatologist who formulated the Gaia hypothesis, is even more dire. Long a proponent of nuclear energy as a solution to the buildup of carbon, he's now convinced such measures are too late. During a recent CBC interview, he even went so far as to suggest that air pollution, by blocking the sun's harmful rays, actually delays the inevitable. With or without our protective smog cloak, he gives us about 30 years before civilization collapses.
And he doesn't even offer the hope of escape into space. Instead, he suggests we build lots of levees to hold back the rising seas and meanwhile prepare messages in a bottle. "We need people to carry through the message of things we've learned hard won things like [the fact] that bacteria cause diseases, not witches or some evil influence somewhere."
Al Gore, whose An Inconvenient Truth also transmits dire warnings, even looks like Jorel. Indeed, we are being pecked to death by so many Chicken Littles, global warming has developed its own attendant echo culture of global warning. The difference is, unlike the denizens of Krypton, we believe.
Evangelical TV preacher Pat Robertson, who only a year ago claimed that disasters like Katrina are direct punishments from God, did a big flip-flop last week. "We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels," he declared. "It is getting hotter, and there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the air." Oh, the rapture!
It's easy to fall into paralysis and despair. Are we really doomed to face the floods of global warming without so much as a berth on No One's Ark? It depends on which Jorel you consult.
You might prefer the words of Khabibullo Abdusamatov of the Russian Academy of Science: "The global temperature maximum has been reached, and Earth's temperature will decline to a climatic minimum even without the Kyoto Protocol," he opined last Friday.
One is tempted to sigh with relief, but that would be premature. "On the basis of our research," he goes on to say, "we developed a scenario of a global cooling of the Earth's climate by the middle of this century."
It is not rising sea levels and skin cancer rates we ought to be fearing, he suggests, but a new ice age. Sounds like a job for Superman.