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Waiting for Superman (to man up)


It goes without saying that Ben Shapiro’s not a very talented writer, but reading about his achievements leads me to despair for the future of America, because apparently it’s possible to graduate summa cum laude from one of the best schools in the best public university system in America and still write sentences like these:

More people will still shell out bucks to see Harrison Ford (as long as he stops the metrosexual post-Calista Flockhart crap) and Sean Connery than they will to see Robert Pattinson sans fangs. It’s not because they’re old. It’s because they’re dudes. Men want to be them. Women want to be with them. They kick ass, take names, and don’t shave their chests.

I’m not about to defend Pattinson, but given that, prior to this spasmodic outburst of cliché, he’d knocked other “metrosexual” actors for failing to star in a commercially successful film recently, I feel obliged to note that the Twilight films grossed the GDP of a small country. He may think writing “sans fangs” undercuts my objection, but it doesn’t: there clearly is an audience for actors he deems metrosexuals, as is evidenced by the fact that Shapiro can only paint actors as unsuccessful when he deliberately ignores their successful films.

A smarter writer would at least possess wits enough not to mention those films, but Shapiro is no smarter writer:

Four of Depp’s last five films not involving pirates have underperformed at the box office (the lone exception was Alice in Wonderland, in which Depp played Jack Sparrow with red hair and slightly less coherence). Jude Law hasn’t headlined a hit in his entire career (Sherlock Holmes was Robert Downey Jr.’s show, start-to-finish).

Translation: since some of the highest grossing films of the past decade don’t count, these actors are failures. Put aside the fact that most films aren’t successful; put aside the fact that anyone would look like a failure if you disregarded their successes; put aside the fact that Robert Downey Jr. is, without a doubt, a man with “metrosexual” appeal whose two most recent successes were playing a metrosexual tycoon and a homosocial detective; put all that aside for the moment and concentrate the sheer stupidity with which he presented his argument. He wants to claim that audiences shun films with metrosexual actors or about metrosexual characters, but he actually claims that audiences shun them, except when they don’t. When don’t they? Why, in all these extremely popular and profitable films, none of which count because he doesn’t want them to.

Now, if he were an honest cultural critic, he’d be concerned with the actual tastes of actual audiences and try to understand how they were shaped, but he’s no more honest a cultural critic than he is talented a writer. That said, his failed sophistry distracted me from my original topic, Superman, about whom Shapiro writes:

I am constantly bemused by the attempt to re-set Superman. The original comics are classic pieces of Americana. The original movie with Christopher Reeve was wonderful in almost every way—the first forty minutes of the original Superman is pure magic. And the movie is true to the comic book sensibility: Superman is conflicted about his identity, and wants to tell Lois the truth, but he’s also supremely powerful and uncompromising about his defense of truth, justice, and the American way.

First, no less of a leading liberal light than Frank Miller already exploded that version of Superman in 1986; second, this is a child’s understanding of the character that even the children’s show avoided; third, those clauses after the colon reveal the gross limitations of Shapiro’s conservative imagination, in that they suggest that no one who’s conflicted about their identity could defend American ideals. I wonder what his take on gays in the military is?

All kidding aside, Shapiro’s adamant that Superman occupy the same cultural space as Donna Reed et al. He must live in the perpetual twilight of an imaginary Golden Age in which

Superman is sincere in his masculinity … doesn’t wax his chest [and] doesn’t whine about having to do his job[.]

Wait—didn’t John Nolte just tell me that conservatives hate Mad Men? So why is Shapiro idealizing Draper? Guess he didn’t get the memo. Probably too busy writing about a book he hasn’t read:

Fast forward thirty years. Now we’re hearing that DC Comics wants to reshape Superman. According to the New York Post the Man of Steel will now be “a conflicted 20-year-old who’s trying to find his way in the world … He wears hoodies, has smoldering eyes and, as a lanky Clark Kent, wears low-cut pants and hipster skinny ties.”

Even more disturbingly, according to CNSNews.com, the new Superman will be an emissary of the international way which presumably will be more in line with multicultural norms and practices. “I was raised in this country. I believe in this country,” Supermetroman will say. “Does it have its flaws? Yes. Does it have its moments of greatness? Yes. Bottom line is, it’s my home and I’ll always carry those values around with me. But if I do what I can do just for the U.S., it’s going to destabilize the whole world. It could even lead to war.”

Yeah, that has best-seller written all-over it.

Actually, it does, and to return to my earlier point, if Shapiro honestly wanted to understand the culture he’s so feebly critiquing, he’d account for that. I’ll address the actual content of the book tomorrow, you know, like a right proper cultural critic and all.

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