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.