Clark Kent Vs Superman. Who Is The Real Man Of Steel?
“What do you want to do when you grow up?” Nonsense! How on earth is a child or a young person supposed to know the answer to this question? I thought about this question many times when I was younger and still do it now that I am 25 years old. Even now I don’t have a good answer for it.
Maybe I am weird or stupid as I don’t understand this question. But maybe it is the question that is all wrong. The answer to the meaning of life is forty-two. Does this answer make any sense if we don’t know the actual question or if it is the wrong question? I don’t know. I am stupid, did you forget already? All I know there is a better question or at least one I can answer. “Who do you want to become?” Easy. I want to become Superman, the “Man of Steel.”
The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man.
— Hunter S. Thompson, Letters of Note
Still, it doesn’t feel right. I have the better question, but perhaps my answer is wrong. There is a disconnection between my words and my actions. I always wanted to be Superman, but growing up my favorite show — Smallville — was about Clark Kent. One is a hero and the other just a human. One is a God and the other an underdog. And Superman should be the person I want to become, yet I want to be more like Clark Kent, or at least like both.
Why do I even make a deal out of this difference? Clark Kent and Superman are both the same person and the same answer to my question. Both are awesome and super. Except they are not all the same. Clark Kent is Superman and Superman is Superman, but only Clark Kent is the real Man of Steel.
Wow, wait for a second! What is this absurdity? Where does this above statement come from? Well, I have my reasons. Last week I introduced the first superpower which defines the Superhumans of Tomorrow. Now I will list the reasons to justify the above statement, and I will also introduce the second superpower by the end of this post.
1. Superman Among Men
“Maybe what makes life so terribly fatiguing is nothing other than the enormous effort we make for twenty years, forty years, and more, to be reasonable, to avoid being simply, profoundly ourselves, that is, vile, ghastly, absurd. It’s the nightmare of having to represent the halt subhuman we were fobbed off with as a small-size universal ideal, a superman from morning to night.”
— Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to The End of The Night
Let’s face it, Superman is invincible. His one weakness is exposure to kryptonite, but its availability is rare. It’s not as if every time it rains, alien crystals fall on our heads, and if we survive, we can say “Oh cool, now we can hurt Superman.”
All Superman does, is being awesome, fly at hypersonic speeds, display his brute strength, and save people’s lives and the world — you know, the usual stuff. Well, sometimes he faces mega villains, but in the end, they are not even a real match for him. Even if they are, and even if he dies, he comes back to life. Because he is Superman, a symbol, and symbols can’t die.
And let’s go back to Clark. Clark is a person, but he is more of a mask or rather an armor or a shadow. His purpose is to exist in the darkness and suffer so that Superman can romp free like the mind of god — thanks once again, Mr. Fitzgerald. No pain has been spared on Clark’s behalf, to make Superman’s life easy. Clark lives in fear. People fear what they don’t understand or anything unknown and different, and Clark is afraid all the time that the world will find out who he is. And he is an alien, an outcast and a freak among humans.
“A poor man in this world can be done to death in two main ways, by the absolute indifference of his fellows in peacetime or by their homicidal mania when there’s a war. When other people start thinking about you, it’s to figure out how to torture you, that and nothing else. The bastards want to see you bleeding, otherwise they’re not interested!”
— Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to The End of The Night
Unlike Superman, Clark is a human, and he bleeds. Humanity can hurt him if they find out who he is — even Batman tried to hurt him, but their mothers shared the same name, and he spared his life, yay! Superman is undefeatable, Clark surrenders to humanity. Clark is a victim of homo sapiens. Humans are civilized yet untamed animals. And what do animals do when they are afraid? Fight or flight. They attack, they bite.
And while Superman fights an enemy or saves peoples’ lives for a few minutes or an hour at a time, Clark needs to run for his life if he wants to stay alive. Clark has to fight from morning to night to preserve his armor and hide his greatness and his authentic self, his real identity as Cal-El. In this sense, he is a superman too, and a Man of Steel, as it’s a tremendous feat of strength to hide his true self, the hero, the god, the human, and maintain a perfect armor or shadow. Only steel could resist this huge amount of pressure and nothing else.
But aren’t we all made of steel? Isn’t everyone portraying a Superman from day to night? Isn’t this why we are all tired all the time? And I also wonder if we could fly too like Superman does if we had some energy reserves to attempt it.
2. Mouse Among Men
“To begin to act, you know, you must first have your mind completely at ease and no trace of doubt left in it. Why, how am I, for example, to set my mind at rest?”
— Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground
Dostoevsky argued about two different kinds of man. There is the man of acute consciousness which he called a mouse, and the other man, the direct man, the man of action, a gentleman who charges through his object like an infuriated bull. If the first man is a mouse, by default, the second man is the real man. The context is not the same as Dostoevsky intended, but it must work for my argument.
Clark Kent is a mouse and Superman is the man. And I don’t know anyone who should choose to be a mouse when he can be the man. He could be a rat, perhaps, if the rat is Master Splinter, a rat who taught the ways of the ninja to four turtles and named them after four Renaissance men. But being a mouse? Nonsense!
“Thoughts in our heads can’t do anything. They are so invisible, not even a microscope can see them. Only forward motion works. A superhero doesn’t blame. A superhero flies through the sky and saves lives. Action!”
— James Altucher, Reinvent Yourself.
While Superman acts with freedom and charges through gravity and his enemies, every single action of Clark must be conscious and intentional. Every decision is filtered by fear and doubt. Clark must consider all the possibilities and consequences that his every action could have, and it is draining. An action becomes impossible for him because it is impossible to decide the best course of action to take. But, do I need to remind you that Clark Kent is also Superman? Impossibility is nothing for him. He breaks free from the impossibility, even if he must imprison himself in fear, doubt, anxiety, and stress — in an everlasting sickness.
Clark can’t afford to ruin his perfect armor which is made of steel or draw a face and other characteristics on a figure that it is a shadow. Any mistake can expose a crack on his armor and make him bleed. Any mistake can shine the light on his shadow and expose him. The same goes for any mistake that he should do or he doesn’t do.
“Since all the world was a stage, acting was the thing.”
— Louis Ferdinand Celine, Journey to the End of the Night
Clark needs to blend with humanity, and their nature, faults, worries, and standards or otherwise people will start asking questions. Even if some of his Kryptonian qualities may be better than his human traits, he is obligated to portray faulty human behaviors and make intentional mistakes, or people might understand he is an outcast, an alien, and a freak among humans. A hero among humans and that is also outside the norm.
Thus, Clark must maintain his armor bright and polished in a pristine condition always and at any cost. The armor MUST be invulnerable. And if his armor is a replica of the human armor, it is indeed an armor made of steel. Me, you, and Clark, we all should wear an armor that portrays perfection, effectiveness, seriousness, beauty, and cleverness — but I am stupid, did you forget already? We need to be critical and cynical, cool and aloof, and we need to live to the expectations of other people, and never do anything strange because they will think less of us.
Sometimes I wonder with the degree of our stupidity. And I also wonder if we could fly too like Superman does if we could just remove this heavy armor and set ourselves free.
3. Shadow Among Men
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
— Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
The sunlight makes Superman strong. One time he nearly becomes a literal god, not just a god among humans. In the story “DC one million,” Superman takes a dip in the sun for 15000 years, and he turns into Superman Prime One Million. In that form, he could bench press the weight of the Earth for five whole days without breaking a sweat — you know, the usual stuff again.
And let’s go back to Clark. An individual with the symbol of the House of El on his chest. A symbol of hope and light. A belief in the potential of every person to be a force for good. An individual who despite his heredity is no longer a beacon of light or even a person, but he is a shadow — oh the tragic irony. Superman is exposed to light, and Clark is the shadow that forms behind him. A perfect shadow, just a dark shape that resembles a human figure and nothing more.
“Why is the story of Superman so appealing? It’s of course the idea that we are all Superman. We are all shy and awkward and IF ONLY PEOPLE KNEW the real us. The one underneath the suit, the glasses — the one who spreads the plain, white shirt apart to reveal the bright colors, the superpowers, the unbelievable intelligence, kindness, the moral and physical strength.”
— James Altucher, Choose Yourself!
Clark Kent, a clumsy and shy man, an imperfect human being. A sick man who lives in fear and doubt, anxiety and stress, and sickness. Clark Kent, a shadow that is afraid of light as it exposes too much.
Clark Kent, a person like the rest of us. A shadow like most of us and shadows don’t mix well together. As individual shadows, they at least resemble a human figure. Put them together, and they become shapeless, amorphous, a perfect black, the black of the abyss. Thus, the problem with shadows is they can’t hug each other. Hugs and laughter promote the sense of safety and heal the sickness, anxiety and stress, depression and loneliness, and fear and doubt. That is what Clark and the rest of us suffer from. Lack of real connection between our authentic selves.
“The one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person.”
— Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
And let me take this one step forward and add to it a pinch of drama. After all, I need to please all the members of this audience. Let me add Lois Lane in the equation.
Lois Lane falls for Superman, but rejects Clark’s clumsy advances repeatedly. How could she not? As I said already, Superman is the man and Clark is a mouse. Superman is the alpha man. Clark is at most a beta minus man. Man? He is a farmer boy from Smallville, Kansas. An introverted, shy, clumsy, passive, reserved and cautious guy, with a dull and typical wardrobe. She wants the “S” of Superman, not the “D” of Clark. How could Clark ever be a match for Superman? How could he ever, BE, Superman?
But Clark is Superman, and he is the man Lois falls for and the same man she rejects. Lois gazes at him every single day and glances at a close yet distant resemblance Clark has with Superman until it becomes a faraway possibility and Clark turns into a dot in the faraway distance. She looks at him, not through him. It is tragic considering Clark has x-ray vision that sees through anything and finds everything but a way to make Lois stare back at the real him. Poor Clark, poor Chuck. Oh, Clark, Oh Chuck, oh wait, I see a pattern.
Lois is blinded by the brightness of the armor and can’t see the man within it, the man behind “the man,” the shadow. “You can’t kiss someone who has no lips,” Chuck said. Armors and shadows, don’t have lips on them. You can’t kiss an armor. And you can’t kiss a shadow. If only Clark had lips and Lois would kiss him, then maybe he could transform from a frog — mouse in this case — to a prince. It is as simple as this.
Sometimes I wonder with the degree of our stupidity. And I also wonder if we could fly too like Superman does if we could just step out into the light and the sun, and let our cells get drunk from its radiation.
4. Martyr And Hero Among Men
“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”
— Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things
You stare at Superman, and you see a bird or a plane, a symbol of hope, a statue of power, the pinnacle of humanity, and the hero he is. What you don’t see is the kid behind the man, an alien from another planet, someone super. A kid with super strength, vision, hearing, speed, and reflexes, a super different kid from all the rest. The kid, the weak, the freak. You see Clark.
Clark should have had many questions. Why was he so different from everyone else? What did he do wrong? Why couldn’t he fit with everyone else? Why could he hear all the pain of the people around him all at the same time? Why did he have to hide and live in fear? Why him?
Now you get it. Clark is a martyr. Clark suffered a lot. But again, a pinch more of drama will spice things even more — seal the juices in the steak. Clark is a person who defines himself through saving the world and people’s lives. Yet, a lot of times he needs to stand still and do nothing and being no one. Inaction and inertia for him must be like being in a coma, but there is no other way. Otherwise, people will be harmed because of him or worse he could hurt himself, and I say it’s worse because in the scenario that he is injured there are a million other lives that he won’t be able to save because he can’t save them.
Perhaps the worst thing Clark must do, it’s to decide which life is worth saving over another one. Which life is worth his sudden disappearance from work and transformation into Superman? Clark is the one who should make a choice, among all the other choices he does to preserve his armor and shadow, and the one who should consider all the possibilities and consequences and stand by them, live with them. If all this suffering doesn’t make Clark the real man of steel, then call me stupid — oops, we already settled on this one.
“Sometimes I think the world tests us most sharply then, and we turn inward and watch ourselves with horror. But that’s not the worst. We think everybody is seeing into us. Then dirt is very dirty and purity is shining white.”
— John Steinbeck, East of Eden
But let’s go back to Clark’s questions. There is one right question or at least one worth answering. Why him?
Because Clark understands both the human and the perhaps superior Kryptonian nature. He can hear the laughter and the silent screams that people bury like a treasure inside of them. He can see both the good and the evil in humanity, both their light and their darkness, and he is not afraid. He is not scared and even tries to save them. He suffers, but he also saves. He is both a martyr and a hero. He embraces both his imperfect normality and his greater greatness. He is Clark Kent and Cal-El. He is a bridge between two worlds. Both a Superman and a Man of Steel.
Sometimes I wonder. Isn’t it this true for us too?
“So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES. But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal.”
— Hunter S. Thompson, Letters of Note
And if the first superpower of Superhumans of Tomorrow is the power of imagination and being a time traveler from the future, the second is embracing our humanity. Embracing the Superman, the mouse, the shadow, and the martyr and hero within us.
We human beings are irrational beings that sometimes make rational choices, or we are rational beings that sometimes make irrational choices. We are both stupid and smart, cowards and heroes, mice and men, shadows and beacons of light. We suffer a lot, but sometimes we remember to laugh at ourselves and life.
The reason I forgive you is because you are not perfect. You are imperfect. And so am I. All humans are imperfect. Even the man outside my apartment who litters. When I was young, I wanted to be anybody but myself. Dr. Bernard Hasselhoff said if I was on a desert island, then I would have to get used to my own company. Just me… and the coconuts. He said I would have to accept myself: my warts and all. And that we don’t get to choose our warts. They are a part of us and we have to live with them. We can however, choose our friends. And I am glad I have chosen you. Dr. Bernard Hasselhoff also said that everyone’s lives are like a very long sidewalk. Some are well paved. Others, like mine, have cracks, banana skins and cigarette butts. Your sidewalk is like mine, but probably not as many cracks. Hopefully, one day our sidewalks will meet and we can share a can of condensed milk.
— Mary and Max (2009)
We are imperfect perfect beings and perfect imperfections. Each of us is our current self and the time traveler from the future, Clark Kent and Cal-El, Superman and the Man of Steel. A bridge between two worlds. There is as much good within us as there is goop and as much purity as there is dirt. But we are humans, is that a bad thing? If you ask me, it’s a wonderful thing — but don’t mind me, I am stupid. There is only one thing we should strive for, and this is being ourselves. Humans with both faults and greatness, imperfect and perfect at the same time. But we are OURSELVES, and it is enough.
And back to my question and the proper answer. My first answer was that I want to become Superman, the Man of Steel, and then I said I want to be more like Clark, or at least like both Clark and Superman. It’s all clear now. I want to become Superman AND the Man of Steel. I want to be both. I want to be myself. Some days I succeed, and I am both, I am myself. Though, most days I am just one of them or none. But even if I fail today, I can always try again tomorrow.
PS: I never rated a movie with a perfect 10, but if it wasn’t for the above quote in the movie Mary and Max (2009), I should have. Please do yourselves a favor and just watch it!