We all know the story. Superman, the god-like being from another world, who puts on a pair of glasses and hides among humans as the unassuming Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper.
Clark Kent’s flimsy disguise has drawn a lot of criticism over the decades (including some from this very blog), but it really is an amazing metaphor when you stop to consider it.
In his world, Superman is one of the most powerful beings in the universe. He can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, he’s faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He is a hero revered by all around him. And then, when he’s done being awesome, he puts on his glasses and suit and slouches and uses out-of-date slang like “swell” – he turns himself into a nerd. And he does so by choice.
I think a lot of us have come to take that for granted, but consider for a moment the fact that this person does remarkable acts of kindness, and then hides from the spotlight by becoming unassuming. He even knows for a fact that the woman he loves is impressed by the awesome things he does in his other life, but he doesn’t stop and tell her the truth… because he wants her to learn it on her own. He wants her to see past the glasses, see through the nerdy disguise, and realize how amazing he is underneath all the trappings of the bumbling fool.
It is the perfect wish-fulfillment for the nerd in all of us, and I am in love with that metaphor.
BUT IT MAKES NO FREAKING SENSE.
Seriously. He puts on glasses and then hopes that no one will realize he is the guy flying around outside. Which would be fine if he didn’t surround himself with reporters. These people are literally paid to investigate the world around them, and none of them realize that the person they share a cubicle with is a nigh-invincible extra-terrestrial. And again, that feeds into the metaphor, but it is still a huge obstacle for me in the way of suspension of disbelief. And if Lois and Perry and Jimmy can’t figure that out, how am I supposed to believe they have a chance at investigating Lex Luthor’s latest machinations, or the insidious threat of Brainiac, when they don’t even realize that the black-haired, blue-eyed, 6’4” Kansas farmboy with the specs is the same black-haired, blue-eyed, 6’4” superhuman always catching them when their helicopters keep exploding in mid-air.
And that goes double for Lex Luthor. He’s supposed to be the smartest man on the planet, and he can’t even see through this simple disguise to realize that Clark Kent is his most hated foe. And, once more, that works into the metaphor brilliantly, and speaks volumes to Lex’s arrogance that he can’t conceive that anyone important came out of Smallville (except for him)… but he IS still supposed to be the smartest man on the planet, and it’s the thing he can never figure out. And, once again, there goes the suspension of disbelief.
It’s the one thing I would change, and I don’t even know what I’d do differently – because, as I keep saying, it’s a beautiful metaphor. One that says so much about the character, and by extension, the human condition.
… but seriously. Everyone he works with is a reporter. How can they all possibly be that stupid?