Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why Lois Doesn't See Superman ... And You Don't, Either

I haven’t seen any of the new Superman movies. I am willing to admit that there were four Superman movies, but none of them was made in the 21st century. As far as I am concerned, there is only one Superman, and the fact that there have been two new Supermen in as many movies … I think that makes my case.

For me, the story of Superman as it appears in film is the story of Lois Lane. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane made me want to be a reporter, the only one of my childhood when-I-grow-up fantasies I actually pursued. I spent four years in the exciting world of newspaper journalism. Lois was my idol – the spirit of “wherever it breaks, whatever it takes.” I can’t say I actually got to be Lois; my world was far less exciting and utterly devoid of Superman. But I tried hard to be Lois Lane for four years, and I had a great time doing it.

It is usually about here that someone mentions that Lois spent all those years right next to Clark without knowing he was Superman. I can’t argue with that. But I can explain it.

It makes sense to me that Lois was slow to see that Clark was Superman, but I’ll go a little farther than that. I think each of us has had a similar experience. That’s because the most effective secret identities, while they are created by the superhero, are actually maintained by the rest of us. We are doing most of the work.

I feel guilty telling you how this works. Once you see the Superman beside you, your world is going to change in a way you can’t take back. But I can’t help myself.

Lois doesn’t see that Clark is Superman because when she looks at Clark, she can only see Clark. Clark is shorter than Superman. He’s soft-spoken. He’s a little naïve. Good Lord, look at those glasses.

But most importantly, Clark carries around this protective shield of Dorkiness that proclaims him Not Superman. The shield is so effective that she could take those glasses off and look him in the eye and still think, “No. What was I thinking? He’s not Superman.” That’s how it starts.

Clark is set in Lois’s mind as Not Superman. And so it doesn’t matter that Clark – timid, nervous, far from bulletproof (as far as she knows) Clark – once stepped firmly between Lois and the mugger’s pistol. She only sees Not Superman. So what if Clark recited the exact contents of her purse moments later? Clark is Not Superman. It doesn’t matter that Clark and Superman are never in the same place at the same time because Clark is Not Superman.

Similarly, in Lois’s mind, Superman is Not Clark. When Superman catches her as she falls from the top of the Daily Planet building – and then he catches the helicopter falling right behind her – Lois isn’t paying any attention to the fact that Superman looks an awful lot like Clark without the glasses. No way this guy, who leaves her speechless and lightheaded, is Clark. The man who flies her from Metropolis to New York and back again is absolutely Not Clark. (How far is Metropolis from New York? I imagine it’s a short trip if you’re flying.) Clark’s convenient appearance on Lois’s doorstep seconds after Superman leaves only cements things in Lois’s head. Clark is Not Superman.

If she stopped long enough to challenge this in her mind – something Lois finally does in the Donner Director’s Edition of Superman II – she would see that she’s been right next to Superman for a pretty long time. But let’s be fair. How often do any of us stop to challenge the things that are set so firmly in our minds?

Seriously, look around. Every day, I look at the people on my day job and smile to myself. I imagine that they see me as Not Erotic Romance Author. And I wonder how far off the mark my own preconceptions are. Not Musician. Not Triathlete. Not State Trooper.

My day job is great for this, by the way – I’ve met a musician, a triathlete and a state trooper, and I wouldn’t have guessed any of that to look at them.

Here’s a challenge for this month. Look around at those closest to you. Ask yourself what you’re not seeing. And remember that Superman might be right next to you, behind the protective shield of Dorkiness.

Alexa Day’s Illicit Impulse is a Top Pick at Night Owl Reviews. She’s hard at work on her next story, but you can keep up with her on the first Wednesday of the month, right here, on her own site, and on Facebook or Twitter. See you there!


  1. I'm with you, Alexa, on the Superman film versions. Although, to be honest, I kind of thought of the original (George Reeves, '50s TV show Superman) when I read your opening paragraph. (Hey, they were reruns...okay?) :-) I have seen the other movies, but none can compare in my opinion. I think it's partly because of the advancements in film technology from the TV show to the movie. I'd spent years watching TV Superman fly, and I'm pretty sure he carried Lois a time or two. But it wasn't until that first movie that I literally felt the dizzying weightlessness as Clark/Superman guides Lois through the heavens. (What a guy...sigh.) Thanks for reminding me of the magic.

    1. Don't laugh -- reruns made me a Star Trek purist by the time Next Generation started!

      There's such a huge leap from accepting that a man will look like he's flying -- and that was a big deal for George, don't get me wrong -- and the bold assertion: "You'll Believe A Man Can Fly." Did you know they almost cut the flying sequence with Lois? I wouldn't have believed a man could fly without all that proof!

      I saw a headline for a review of the newest movie: "You'll Believe A Man Can Fly ... But Will You Care?" Speaks for itself, no?

  2. It is "magic", isnt' it? That blur between reality and fantasy. Yes, I'm in agreement too. Christopher Reeve, all the way, RIP.

    But here's the big question for me. If Superman has X-ray vision, how can he see the contents of her purse? Wouldn't he just look straight through her purse? And her? And the building behind her? There's gotta be some lead lining somewhere to stop him seeing through all that stuff infinitely. (And I thought she was dense not to recognize Clark was Superman, but I totally get your point. It was a buy-in on her part.)

    1. The Donner Director's Edition of Superman II rehabilitates Lois a bit -- she catches on right at the beginning of the story and won't let go. Totally worth seeing, just to see the potential of that story realized, instead of the Superman II we all got stuck with.

      My thinking with regard to x-ray vision is that it works in much the same way regular vision does. Say I am on the street corner with a lottery ticket in my hand. If I am focused on the ticket, then Naked Cowboy in the intersection is not as visible. If I am focused on Naked Cowboy, the ticket in my hand is less distinct.

      Besides, if Superman could see all the way through all the time, we would not have that priceless line: "Pink." :)

  3. We really need a "like" button on this page so I could "like" all these comments!

  4. Yea Lexie! Great blog, and I'm sorry to be late getting to it. A guy was painting our kitchen ceiling, and I got to talking to him. It turned out, his son is some sort of soccer star who was training at a famous soccer school in Barcelona, Spain! You just never know who's in your kitchen some days.
    Another guy who does some handy-man work for us (having no actual 'handy' man available)told us his daughter was trying out for 'America's Got Talent'. You never, ever know.

  5. Great blog post about how we often don't see what's right in front of us and why. But it still had a fatal flaw: Lois Lane! I HATE Lois Lane, with a passion! Always have, from the first movie. I've never liked any incarnation of her. It's a long-standing and oft-joked subject in our house.