Saturday, January 27, 2007

Why Superman not telling a lie had such an impact on my life

Why Superman not telling a lie had such an impact on my life

I want to preface this post by saying that I'm not presenting myself as this great self-righteous pillar of virtue. I'm not. I'm really not. I mean, I have a generalized goal of being a good person and all that. But I'm not a pillar. Thank you.

A common thread I found in the story of my life, as I wrote it, was being constantly faced with immoral situations and being told that it was "the way of the world" and that I would be the "oddball" if I did not participate.

For example, when I was a teenager and being told that I should be having sex -- that it is what "normal" young women my age did. Being told this not only by my "peers" but by adult men who should have known better who wanted to sleep with me, being told this by certain members of my family, being told this by the media.

While at 16 I did have certain awakening sexual needs, there was a strong, firm part of myself that didn't want to do anything of the sort. Or, if wanting to do it at all, to do it with a Good Man, somebody responsible, somebody who really loved me -- as if I was actually going to find a man who wanted to f**k me at 16 who actually had those qualities. As if the scumbag dude in his twenties who was f**king any woman that crossed his path and was basically a cherry-hound could embody any of the qualities of a Good Man. And as if any boy my age still struggling with high-school algebra was going to pay for my baby's diapers.

Perhaps in other cultures, in other times, the 16-year-old -- sexually mature and ready to conceive and deliver -- would have been at the perfect age for intercourse, the idea being that she would get married and start pumping out the brood.

But in this culture all being a sexually active teenager means is problems, problems that few people are ready or willing or able to deal with.

And yet I was told over and over and over again, "be normal, have sex."

Then I'm in the comic book industry and I'm told -- sex sells, nice guys finish last, let's go to the strip bar after work with these freelancers. What, you don't want to go to the strip bar? What are you, strange? Why don't you want to go to the strip bar? They have good food there. If you don't go, these freelancers will think you are a prude. Don't you want to be a "fun girl?" Don't you want to be social?

And then I lose all this weight, cut and dye my hair, and make one last ditch effort to be "normal" -- normal like every other "sophisticated" girl in New York City is normal.

And I go to these "sophisticated" parties, full of "sophisticated" people, and I'm told -- everybody sleeps around with everybody else here. See that woman? She's slept with everybody here, both male and female. She the most liberated woman on the planet. That's who you should be like.

And I'm taken to these clubs where people are f**king on the floor and on tables and are drunk and stoned, a big orgy, and I'm trying to get into it, I'm trying to be "normal," I'm trying to be sophisticated, I'm trying not to care, I'm trying to be "liberated" -- and in the end, I'm standing around in the middle of this orgy, bottles of beer rolling past my feet, and my arms are folded against my chest and I'm acting like Bob Newhart and I just want to go home.

Then I agonize -- I plan-- I scheme -- I try to figure out some sort of way to "move past my inhibitions" and remake myself and get to the point where none of this bothers me.

And what I've realized from writing my book is that, though I occasionally feel tempted, in the end, I will NEVER get to the point where this sort of stuff doesn't bother me.

I've spent what -- 32 years?! -- listening to people who have tried to convince me that what is wrong is right:
* lying is right
* sleeping with people you don't love is right
* sleeping with teenagers is right
* drug use is right
* excessive alcohol use is right
* covering up the truth is right
* doing bad things for financial gain is right
* exploiting others is right

And the lesson is -- no, it isn't right.

And you know where I got this deep sense of what is wrong and what is right from? This default mechanism that makes me such a nerd, so uncool?

Not really from my family, I'm sorry to say.

From the church? A little bit. I attended Catholic religious instruction on Wednesday evenings, if that really had an impact or not.

No, I learned the bulk of my morality from -- the media!

Yes, as a small child the television was my constant baby-sitter, and comic books my catechism.

I learned morality from Sesame Street, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, Romper Room, Peanuts specials, Batman, Fat Albert, Little House on the Prairie, even All In the Family.

Hey, remember how like in the 70s all the TV shows had to have "messages?" Well, it actually worked, at least on me! I actually learned the messages. I learned to love my neighbor, not discriminate because of skin color, and wait for sex. I learned that the most important thing was a strong family that loved each other.

And as the movie "Superman" explicitly taught me, never lie.

Superman, the most powerful being on the planet Earth, never told a lie. Wow. To a 6-year-old, it's really powerful stuff. It says a lot.

What does the 6-year-old of 2007 have in comparison?

Chris Reeve as Superman was my hero, representative of everything a man should be -- honest, brave, kind, respectful.

But who are our heroes now?

Are heroes passe?

The problem is for me, I'm really really really really good at writing about the crappy side of life. All the whoremongers, druggies, sociopaths, statutory rapists, and other scumbags I've just been complaining about? They make for great stories. I try to smuggle some of those "messages" in there. But in a society where serial killers and gangsters are elevated to the level of "heroes" in our media, I realize that there is a good chance that this "message" will be missed, discarded, edited out, misunderstood. And that some may think that the whoremongers, druggies, sociopaths, statutory rapists of my stories are kind of "cool."

They're not. They're scummy. But still, by writing about them am I contributing to the problem?

(shrugs) I don't know. I only can write what I can write. I don't know.

I'm not a pillar.

But I think I have a sense of right and wrong. I think I'm going to trust it from now on.

"What would Superman do?"


  1. I often wonder who my 16 year-old daughter will look to for moral guidance. I had the four Jims: Rockford, Kirk, West and Phelps. Matt Dillon and Festus also had a hand in helping me figure stuff out.

    Then there were the comics. Thanks to Scott Summers, Peter Parker, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne -- and especially Steve Rogers -- I saw that heroes could be heroes under any circumstance.

    At least, that's how it used to be.

  2. You see, I had a different view of the line "I never lie." from Reeves' Superman. I wanted to know that if Superman never lies, why didn't he just admit to Lois that he was Clark Kent when she accused him of it? By denying it... he was lying. For a good reason of course... but lying neverless.

    My father, when asked about this... stuttered for about a minute and told me to ask my mother. I don't recall my mother's speech that followed in full, but it was basically the "sometimes you need little white lies, and sometimes it's ok..." point of view... something which confused me even more.

    How was I (at 7 years old) supposed to know WHEN it was ok to lie?

    I, natually, could not have known. So...what did I do?

    Starting lying all of the time of course. *sigh* Took me YEARS to break out of that habit. Sheesh.

  3. Hey, at the end of the day, you have to do what YOU think is right.

    It's great if you can find a partner or friend who is your virtual image in morality, but ultimately, you're going to have to live with yourself a hell of a lot longer than you will with anyone else.

    Take care of yourself.

    Take it and run.

  4. Well, at 16 I wasn't a paragon of virtue, but I at least would've been decent enough to say, "Maybe we shouldn't be having sex at this age."

    Seriously, freelancers go to orgies? Wow. O_O;;

    As for heroes in our lifetime, I think it's doubly important that comic book heroes need to be a guiding moral compass for the youth of today, past the serial-killing, womanizing James Bonds of the world or the Frank Castles who'd sooner put a bullet into a bad guy than try to put him in jail. It's why I don't read Manhunter, despite how well-written it is. Give me your Alan Scotts, your Clark Kents, your Diana Princes, your Cassandra Cains, your Stephanie Browns. Give them all to me and I shall show you a force that can do more to show what's right than the twisted ethics of any wrongdoer. I close with the words of King Arthur:

    "Right or wrong, they have the might, so right or wrong, they're always right! And that's wrong."

  5. I've been following your blog since your last chapter of "Goodbye to Comics". I just wanted to say that your writing is amazing. Although I'm a guy and we definitely differ on some world views, I can relate to so much of what you say. This is one of those posts that really jumps out and makes me wonder if you're more long lost sister or something.

    I'm another product of the media of our childhood days, who somehow managed to learn all the right things. My biggest influence was Spider-Man. I believed that with great power came great responsibility.

    Ironically, I used to think that Superman was lame, but the older I got, the more I respected him and realized how great of a role model he is.

    I think it's inspiring that you are as mature as you are given the things you've been through. You are proof that you don't have to be a product of your environment if you don't want to.

  6. What makes Superman so powerful as a character, so wonderful is that he will always do the RIGHT thing. He's not owned by any political group or philosophy. Just an idea that good should be stronger than evil because it is good.

    It's his strength, it's his flaw. It's why he'll always take hits from those who want him to be a hypocrite, but he'll never be that hypocrite. Because he genuinely, honestly wants to make things better.