I have a love/hate relationship with Superman. When my addiction to comics began, I hated Superman because he seemed to be everything I could not be. Superman was the perfect pretty boy who American society loved. I connected to Spider-Man’s flaws and the race themes of the X-Men, but Superman I absolutely despised. He was the authority figure in comics, squeaky clean, white, Christian (if you weren’t outwardly Jewish, Hindu or Muslim, you were a Christian to me) and loved by all. I later realized the many Jewish themes to his comic, and learned the history of his Jewish creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. I grew a deep respect for his creators and finally felt my connection to Superman, but I still love to hate Superman.
Most Jewish historians are very kind to Superman. History books on Jews and comics are written to not threaten the gentile masses. The Jewish comic historians are almost begging for the Jewish influence on the comic industry to be acknowledged. Because the entire superhero genre was influenced by Superman, we feel we need to kiss his @$$. Lucky for you, I am essentially kryptonite, I am the man who does not fear taking down Superman!
This is not meant to be simply an attack piece, but this is not a politically correct ode to the Man of Steel either. Superman is my history- Jewish history. He is Moses on a ship to escape anti-Semitism, an immigrant in a new country, a nice Jewish boy who was forced to change his name and his identity. Upsettingly, the identity he took on was what the racist culture told his creators a Superman had to be- everything they were not.
I hate Superman because he is the assimilationist dream. His creators, two nice Jewish boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were bullied and picked on growing up; they created Superman to be the embodiment of what they wished they could be. They were poor Cleveland boys who met in high school. A pair of neurotic Jewboys, shy and not popular with the ladies, their Semitic looks did not fit America’s standards of beauty. They both loved the escapism of science fiction, producing their own fanzine prior to entering comics and eventually creating the Man of Steel. Superman shows the effect of anti-Semitism on the creator’s psyche because Superman is everything Siegel and Shuster could not be, he is the Aryan dream.
Superman signifies the assimilation and loss of culture many strived for. Like many Jews, he left his homeland behind as his people were killed. His real name, Kal-El, means “all that G-d is” in Hebrew. Much like many Jews in comics who chose WASPy pen names, Kal-El lost his Hebrew name and was given the most “gentiley” name ever, Clark Kent. Clark Kent yearns to fit into his society, surrounded by goyim and longing for his shiksa dream girl, Lois Lane. Clark Kent was still shy and klutzy, but when he put on a costume he was Superman, the Aryan standard of masculinity. He gave up his Kryptonian culture to become the ultimate American, a Midwestern hunk.
I love Superman because he is our golem. The golem, in Jewish culture, is a clay giant created by a rabbi to protect the Jewish people from anti-Semitism. The same way the Rabbi created the golem, Shuster and Siegel created Superman to protect the downtrodden. Shuster also lost his father, who had a heart attack when his store was robbed, and there was no one there to save him. Shuster and Siegel made Superman fight for the poor, the oppressed, the “Jews” of the world.
I hate Superman because he is not real. Jews throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries were being killed throughout Eastern European countries while their governments did nothing. Many Jews escaped, immigrating to America and other countries, but immigration quotas and lack of finances kept many family members behind. Families were split and branches on the family tree died. Those left overseas reported to their families the horrors they were dealing with, and the families in America could do little. The American news media often did not report the atrocities occurring overseas, either they did not know or they did not care. Prior to entering World War II, Nazi Sympathizers were throughout America, and a good percentage of Americans were isolationists who did not want to enter the war, no matter how many Jews were dying. Where the heck was Superman while we died? He only existed in the comics.
I love Superman, because he is an analogy for Moses. Superman’s parents placed him in a ship prior to the destruction of his planet, the same way Moses’ mother saved her son by placing him in a basket and sending him down the Nile. Both Moses and Superman had to hide their heritage as they grew up in a foreign land, eventually acting as protectors of the oppressed in these lands.
I hate Superman for being the Ubermensch; Friedrich Nietzche, the 19th Century German Philosopher, came up with the concept of the Ubermensch, a person who is not influenced by the corruption of modern values and overcomes his weakness to be the greatest man he can be. Siegel originally based his superman on this concept (the published version was much different than his original concept). When Siegel first used the idea of the Ubermensch, it was associated with Nietzche, but the Ubermensch later became the basis for much of the Nazi ideology.
I love Superman because he pissed off the Nazis! The Nazi minister of propaganda, Josef Goebbel, referred to Superman as a Jew and stated “Jerry Siegel, (is) an intellectually and physically circumcised chap … (who) named this pleasant guy with an overdeveloped body and underdeveloped mind ‘Superman’”.
I hate Superman for not looking like me; for having a similar history but being so utterly unlike me. For having his whole world destroyed and his family killed yet he is able to start over, as a good American country boy, without giving into his hatred or anger.
I love Superman for being our golem, but I hate that we needed one. I hate that the golem we created had to be so symbolically Aryan in order for our racist society to accept him. I can never read a Superman comic and not feel a sense of anger with a mix of love; not love for him, but love for Siegel and Shuster, two heroes just like me who lived in a society that fed them lies about Jews not being masculine, not being heroes and not being Supermen.
See you in two weeks guys and gals.
Jay Deitcher, LMSW(
@mrdeitcher) embraces the term MUTANT and proudly represents his MUTANT brothers and sisters. He is an educator on comic history and runs successful Free Comic Book Day events yearly. You can see a listing of his incredible articles and his highly energetic videos at JayDeitcher.com.