Truth, Justice and a Fragmented National Identity

Review of Superman Returns

(originally posted 6/30/2006)

Has ever a director/producer spoken so directly to his audience as Bryan Singer does through Superman (Brandon Routh) in his movie Superman Returns? As Superman holds Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) close to him high above Metropolis, he says, “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.”

Superman speaks with Lois Lane 1000's of miles above Metropolis

It was clearly Singer who heard this nation’s cry for exactly that, and in true Hollywood style, he took the cries he heard about the problems facing this country and the world, the things that are “society’s broken bones” and, to quote film critic Tay Fizdale, “stuck a band-aid on them.”

That’s not to belittle Singer’s efforts at all. The last time we saw Superman on the big screen was in the thick of the Cold War. The U.S., and indeed the world, cowered under the possibility of nuclear war. Who didn’t wish that some higher power would come and rid the planet of these horrific weapons, and that’s exactly what 1987 Superman IV director Sidney J. Furey had Superman do. Unflinchingly, writer Mario Puzo’s Superman (Christopher Reeve) said, “I fight for truth, justice and the American way!”

Singer is doing an admirable job of addressing our modern fears in the same manner, though you won’t hear the words, “the American way” in his film. When Perry White (Frank Langella), Editor in Chief of the Daily Planet, is addressing his staff, he charges them with finding out whether Superman still stands for “truth, justice…all that stuff.”

Clearly Singer, who also wrote the screenplay, couldn’t stomach the words “the American way” coming out of any of his characters’ mouths, which gives us a clue about the real question posed by this movie’s arrival on the scene.  It’s not, “Why does Metropolis need Superman to return now?” It’s clearly, “Why doesAmericaneed this film franchise to return to the big screen at this particular time?”

It seems Superman has always had a good sense of when to land in movie theaters. He first appeared on the silver screen in 1948, played by Kirk Alyn, in two serials produced by Columbia Pictures Superman and Superman Versus Atom Man. This places his original big screen debut just three years after the end of World War II. America, through its engineers’ genius, having harnessed forces far greater than ever imagined in the atomic bomb, was perhaps feeling smaller and questioning its own wisdom more than ever before.

Kirk Alyn played Superman in the late 1940's in two Columbia Pictures serials Superman and Superman Versus Atom Man

Enter Superman, an energetic Alyn, to remind the generations of the 40’s and 50’s what being an American was really all about. As movies are designed to do, Columbia’s Superman serials let viewers escape, if only for an hour or so, from the dark clouds of reality. That escape, however, was tempered with enough pertinence to real world events to keep the movie relevant. After all, who was Superman’s nemesis in the second serial? ATOM Man. A coincidence? With such appealing movies, who cared to ask?

When the Vietnam War broke America’s heart again in the 60’s and 70’s, Superman was soon to be found on the scene, and the big screen. Veterans of the conflict had watched their fathers and uncles come home from Koreaas heroes, but they themselves were greeted with cries of “Babykiller!” Those involved in the protest movement were wondering why it had taken their government years to respond to them, how their voices could have been ignored for so long. After fifteen years of strife, bewildered and divided Americans had a common legacy: exhaustion.

True to form, Superman showed up just three years later in the 1978 Warner Brothers production Superman: The Movie.  Super villains General Zod (Terrance Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) used the term “regime” to describe the system they would use to rule Superman’s home planet Krypton. Americans were all too familiar with that term, and didn’t blame Superman’s father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) or the judicial council on which he sat for banishing the evil trio from Krypton. In Superman: The Movie and in the 1981 Superman II, both written by Mario Puzo (who also wrote the screenplay for The Godfather), Superman dispatched villains who were unquestionably evil. As before, Superman’s dealings with these criminals provided a relevance to reality, with just enough escape from it to spell relief.

To Americans struggling for clarity and identity after the demoralizing war in Vietnam, such a black and white presentation of good and evil refreshed them. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his self-interested plot to blow the West Coast off the map pulled the eyes of 70’s audiences away from their tattered vision of Americaand focused them squarely on someone who was easy to hate. In Superman II, the return of Zod and his wicked companions brushed subtly closer to the issues at hand (global supremacy, threatening ideologies) but reassured Americans that regardless of what America was, it was not a “regime.” It couldn’t possibly be as bad as those they’d been fighting against. Superman was here to say so!

Superman’s cinematic “band-aids” couldn’t heal society’s wounds, but they did ease the sting for a little while. Thus in his very failure to save America from its real fears outside the movie theater, Superman assured his continued success in it with two more movies emerging before 1988. Clearly, the country needed another dose of his vaccine against the loss of national identity.

In the 1983 Superman III, he tackled the nation’s issues more head-on than ever before when he became evil under the influence of the synthesized kryptonite given to him by Gus Goreman (Richard Pryor).  As the evil side of Superman split from the good side, represented by Clark Kent, and the two identities began to battle each other in the abandoned junkyard, 80’s audiences might as well have been watching their own eroding trust in “the American way” and America’s rights and responsibilities in the world. Of course, Superman’s good side triumphed and reemerged as strong and pure-hearted as ever. If only America could have felt its own redemption so swiftly and completely.  If only a real Superman could have wiped the world clean of nuclear weapons as Hollywood’s Superman did in 1987. Instead, fears over the atomic bomb, its implications, America’s humanity remained untouched, continuing to plague the national conscience forty years after the wholesome hero’s arrival on the big screen.

And now, almost twenty years later, Superman has spotted us plunging in an ideological freefall once again. With the last two presidential elections painting a picture of a country more divided than ever, and popular support for the current administration at an all-time low, is it any wonder that with 2006 comes a new Superman swooping in to catch us and place us safely in a theater seat? Luthor, played by Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns, is as easy to hate as ever in his selfish plot to flood the entire U.S., killing “billions of people” and establishing himself as the sole proprietor of the new land mass he’s going to create. It seems the perfect evil plot, especially since he’ll be growing his new continent from the crystals Jor-El placed in Superman’s escape pod from Krypton combined with some kryptonite that’s been hanging around in the Metropolis museum since 1978.

Superman Returns came in out the summer of 2006

Will Superman let him get away with it?  Not likely, but it will be a tough job for the Man of Steel, since the very ground Luthor stands on was created by, and is infused with, the one substance that can rob Superman of all his powers. Still, we’ll all be there again to cheer our hero on! Though Singer can’t bring himself to include the phrase “the American way” in his script, it is still part of what we’ve all come to recognize as an integral piece of Superman. Even at a time like this when the divided nation can no longer put its finger on just what is the American way, we still want to believe in it. This is evidenced by the fact that the movie has been number one at the U.S.box office since its release on Wednesday, June 28, with a five-day domestic gross of nearly $85,000 as of Sunday July 2.

Though it may not seem so, my hat is off to Singer for bringing Superman back into our lives in 2006. Just as his hero speaks directly for Singer in the earlier scene withLois Lane, it is Lois herself who speaks for all of us later in the film. Her fiancé Richard White (James Marsden) asks, “Were you in love with him?” An emotional Lois replies, “He was Superman. Everyone was in love with him.”

And, evidently, we still are.

Sources:

Harrington, Wallace, Synopsis/Review: Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman III & Superman IV, Superman Homepage, http://www.supermanhomepage.com/movies.php

Smith, Andrew A., CAPTAIN COMICS: A Glance at the Various Superman Presentations, Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.sacbee.com/24hour/entertainment/books/news/story/3318725p-12224719c.html

Tistaert, Lee, Daily Box Office, Weekend Box Office, Lee’s Movie Info, http://www.leesmovieinfo.net/BoxOffice.php

The Vietnam War, The History Place, http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/vietnam/index.html

World War Two in Europe, The History Place, http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/timeline/ww2time.htm#1945

Advertisements

Managing Cholesterol

Type of Piece:          Informational Web Content

Audience:                 General Public

Written For:             Client of The Search Agency

You need fat to survive.  As strange as it sounds, as you read this, cholesterol is being circulated throughout your body to keep it working, being used to grow necessary tissues and produce chemicals indispensable to the body such as hormones, and Vitamin D.  This is true for both “good” and “bad” fats, though it is important to distinguish between the two.

To perform its essential functions in the body, cholesterol must travel through the bloodstream, and in order for that to happen, it must be encased in a package called a lipoprotein.  Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) make that travel possible and act as vehicles for cholesterol through the body.  Both are composed, partially, from the fat you eat.  HDL, known as “good fat” or “good cholesterol” is most important since it is responsible for carrying cholesterol away from tissues to the liver where it can be removed from the body.  Having too little HDL hinders your body’s ability to eliminate cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease.

LDL, or “bad fat,” on the other hand, while still necessary, can become problematic when allowed to rise to levels above 130 – 160 milligrams per deciliter in your bloodstream.  Because LDL is responsible for carrying cholesterol to your tissues, including your arteries, when levels rise too high, it can build up in the bloodstream and may even adhere to the artery walls as plaque.  This condition, known as atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, reduces the arteries’ flexibility and narrows the passage through which blood can flow delaying or even cutting off necessary oxygen and nutrients to the tissues.  Sometimes, pockets of plaque can even burst open releasing their fatty contents into the bloodstream which are then covered with blood cells, leading to blood clotting and even heart attack.

When plaque builds up in the coronary artery which feeds the heart, the condition is known as coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease.  To maintain healthy levels of “good” HDL and “bad” LDL fats, you must make smart diet choices.  Fats that can raise your LDL levels include saturated fat and trans fat, found in most animal fat.  You can usually spot these fats, which harden at room temperature, including shortening, butter and margarine.  Fats that support a healthy level of HDL can be found in many nuts such as walnuts and some vegetable oils such as olive and safflower and fish such as salmon and mackerel.

For an average adult, daily calories coming from fat should fall somewhere between 25% and 35% of their recommended caloric intake.  It’s also important to strive for the majority of the fat in your diet to come from unsaturated fats.  To reduce LDL levels in the blood, no more than 7% of daily calories should come from saturated fats with the additional 18% to 28% coming from unsaturated fat sources.  Diets deriving less than 20% of their calories from total fat can hinder the body’s ability to use some vitamins and other nutrients and can even lower HDL levels to the detriment of heart health.

With heart disease as the leading cause of death in men and women, learning about fat and cholesterol and the roles they play in a healthy body has never been more important.  The educated consumer has a running start making the best choices for a longer healthier life.

Access Chartway

Type of Piece:          Brochure

Audience:                 Continental Airlines Employees

Written For:             Chartway Federal Credit Union

As a Continental Airlines employee, you’re working not only around the clock, but around the world.  You need access to what you’ve earned anytime, anywhere.  So how can Chartway keep up with you? Afternoon to after midnight? Alpharetta to Australia?  The key word is access.

The Access Chartway Program gives our members the freedom to make financial decisions whether it’s high tide inHawaii or midday in Dublin.  Even if you can’t get to one of our 24 branch locations, your accounts, as well as all of Chartway’s financial services, are still only a call, click or ATM visit away.

  • Our Call-24 system allows you to check your balances, make transfers and much more from any touchtone phone, using our toll free number.
  • Our free E-branch service provides convenient home banking on the worldwide web.  Most all of our teller services are here, at the click of a mouse.
  • Our international network of affiliated ATM’s offers Chartway members global access to their accounts. Members can even make deposits, free at any ATM in the CU24 network.

Want approval for a loan at midnight-in Milwaukee?  Call our toll-free 24 hour personalized lending assistanceprogram and speak with a real person any time of the day or night.

As a Continental Airlines employee, you’re not exactly standing still.  At Chartway, neither are we.  We may not be landing in three different cities in one day, but with Access Chartway, wherever you are, we can always help you reach your financial destination.

Nodding to Inada

(Originally posted 4/17/11 in Southern Oregon Arts)

On Tuesday April 12th,Southern Oregon Arts first tweeted the invitation to come to Southern Oregon University’s Friday the 15th reception for former Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Inada.  The Mail Tribune article from March 25th linked from that tweet simply stated, “Former Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Fusao Inada will be honored with a poetry event in his name Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16, at Southern Oregon University….  The opening reception Friday, April 15, at SOU’s Schneider Museum of Art, is free and open to the public.”

Lawson Inada (standing right) and Todd Barton (seated left) kick off Friday night's event with the first piece titled "As you Like It"

I arrive early to the event on Friday, quickly noticing the age disparity between myself and my fellow attendees.  Indeed Inada himself approaches me soon after seating begins and asks, “Are you under 35?”  When I reply in the affirmative, he continues, “What are you doing here?”  But it’s clear from the broad smile on his face and the playful glint in his eye he’s delighted to see everyone, from new faces such as mine to a number of wiser folks who knew him when he began teaching at SOU in 1966.

The reception begins with a brief greeting from Dr. Diana Maltz, SOU Department Chair for Language Literature and Philosophy followed by an introduction for Inada by Filipino-American poet Rick Barot, a professor of poetry at both Warren Wilson College and Pacific Lutheran University.  Barot speaks to Inada’s inspiring and transporting poetic voice as well as his incredible life story which includes a childhood spent partially in Japanese-American Internment Camps during World War II.  Barot reads “The Legend of Targets” from Inada’s collection Legends from Camp “The soldiers shot, and between rounds, we dug in the dunes for bullets. It was great fun! They would aim at us, go ‘Pow!’ and we’d shout ‘Missed!’’  Barot points out how, through these lines, Inada artfully translates humanity’s simultaneous atrocity and absurdity, but also how this skillful poet manages to more than capture a moment in history, somehow making it hold still to be explored and realized by his reader.

When Inada steps up to the mic, even after such a grand introduction, he remains humble remarking how honored he is to be asked to speak and sparing no praise for his “supporting cast” Todd Barton (SOU Music Instructor and Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Composer in Residence) and Terry Longshore (Associate Professor of Music and Director of Percussion studies at SOU).  Inada and Barton begin with a Shakespeare-inspired, conversational piece “As you Like It.”  Call and response between Inada’s spoken verse and Barton’s wooden recorder flute loop back through the speakers to create improvisational medleys and conversations.  Listening feels very much like talking a walk through the park with good coffee and a large group of good friends.  Just as Barot promised in his introduction, Inada transports the audience into his moment.

As the next piece “Fresno” begins, I fear it will be lost on me.  A native East-coaster, I’ve never been to Fresno, though I see a number of experienced heads in the crowd bobbing, and I hear knowing laughter from many who have known that city.  But then Inada diverts the poem into the national parks near Fresno and I’m right there with him again.  I don’t need to have been to Yosemite itself.  Growing up, I sat around campfires in dozens of this nation’s parks.  And then Inada diverts again, tugging me along (in a direction my own family would never have gone), choosing the city over the campfire.  It’s a testament to his mastery of this craft that I follow him eagerly, now laughing and bobbing my head with the rest of the crowd as Longshore illustrates Fresno through chaotic synthesized sound.

Terry Longshore captures the esence of Fresno through his synthesized percussion

When Inada announces “Tolman Creek Road” will be the final piece of the evening, it seems so soon, such a brief time we’ve been here, too early to be finishing.  But no time for mourning, we’re already running with the waters of Tolman Creek, musing and laughing with Inada at the absurdity he reveals through the juxtaposition of Taco Bell with the Universe itself.  Inada flirts with paradox since everyone sitting in the audience has seen a Taco Bell with his or her own eyes and yet (just as Barot described it) through Inada’s verse, Barton’s musical swirls and loops and Longshore’s melodic percussion, the Universe seems the “real” tangible thing with Taco Bell becoming abstract and far away.  What part of Earth, of the Universe, isn’t flowing in the water molecules of Tolman Creek?  The entire audience is flowing with it as Barton plays the last notes.

I find Barot accurately described several of the most unique qualities about Inada’s voice.  Taco Bell and the Universe is just one example of how this poet spins together his words in such a way that his message, beautifully and simply woven, inspires both despair and elation.  His verse is mortally and undeniably serious while simultaneously self-aware of its own absurdity.  Inada’s is poetry that laughs at itself.  The austere school teacher and the class clown live together (as one even!) in his words.  Barot also acknowledged how ordinary and simple Inada’s lines can sound.  He described it as deceiving since what sounds simple actually contains layers of meaning and meticulous crafting.  It’s that intangible and ultimately indescribable quality to Inada’s work that make him great.  Poems from other authors, seemingly more witty and pleasing to the ear, have fallen far short of moving their audiences as far.  His verse is the plain-faced prima ballerina who outshines all the prettier dancers behind her as soon as the music begins and her feet start to fly.

All three of Friday night's performers stand to receive the accolades of an appreciative audience.

Throughout the evening I watch Inada greet people he remembers as well as those he’s never met.  Everyone gets a smile, a handshake a sincere welcome.  Many have taken classes from him.  Some worked at the university when he started in 1966.  An SOU librarian from the late 60’s recalls for the crowd when Inada brought his class over to her building for the first time.  For these few moments on the evening of Friday, April 15, 2011, young and old flow together, (much like the waters in Tolman Creek) creating our own Universe around and through the masterful artistry of Lawson Inada.