The Man Of Steel

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man of steel

Remember Metafilter’s most favorited user and former Partial Objects webmaster Pastabagel?  This is the kind of emails I get from him, regularly and thankfully.   The one below was in response to a link about easter eggs in the movie Man Of Steel.  The shame is he doesn’t write posts anymore, I assume because of his blood pressure.


The easter eggs in this article (except for the soldier Farris) are literally impossible to see when you watch the movie, because the camera is moving too fast and the shots are so quick.  Even in the still shot, the words Lexcorp are extremely hard to read.  You barely have time to register the satellite in space, let alone take the time to spot a logo on it.

In fact, there is a much easier to spot reference to Lexcorp, which is during one of the  interminably long and pointless fight scenes, superman is pushed into a stopped freight railcar with the words LEXCORP emblazoned neatly on it.

Finally, I find it very hard to accept that people are studying frames of Man of Steel for references like Blaze comics and then searching that out and lauding it online as a clever Easter egg, and yet these same flavor-profile fanboys somehow missed the literally hundreds of art, architectural, and philosophical references in Inception, historical references in Avatar, and literary references in the works of Kubrick.  Or worse, when you point those things out to them, they accuse you of reading to much into it.  Really?  The name of the security officer in Avatar is Miles Quaritch, which is a reference to Miles Standish and and the 19th century book published about his genocide of Indians by the firm Bernard Quaritch.  Oh, but I guess that’s just a coincidence, because James Cameron isn’t that smart even though he designed his own submarine to go to the bottom of the oceans.  Instead, let’s have man-child hold a seminar about Blaze Comics, which as everyone knows is a famous publisher of openly gay comic books, as opposed to the closeted gay ones published by DC and Marvel.

Notice that in all this Easter Egg talk, it’s all fanboy bullshit.  There was a pod that was open, so you conclude that it was Supergirl?  Because it’s impossible to image that the filmmaker invented a new character that wasn’t already the subject of a six-color kid’s picture book.

No reference on the internet anywhere to all the (badly) cribbed Nietzsche in the film, like where someone tells superman “You are a bridge,” even though Nietzsche meant that man was the bridge on the way to superman, “man is a bridge, not the end.”  Or how about all the soft-core religion “You will be like a God, etc” even though the point of Nietzsche declaring man to be the bridge is that God is dead, God has held man back, and for man to evolve, he must abandon God and religion.  But this is Warner Bros and Zack Snyder, and the last thing Hollywood wants to do is rock the boat that keeps the money rolling in.

Or how about the fact that with all the God and Country in Kansas treacle, the movie basically revives the original conception of Superman as a jewish hero.  Krypton is basically a failed totalitarian state which perfected Eugenics.  Zod is a Nazi caricature, trying to revive the master race on the ashes of a mud race (recall Zod’s many references to the dirt, and human crawling out of mud, etc.)  Superman’s real name is Kal-El, his dad is Jor-El.  In hebrew, El means, you guessed it, God, or “the highest”.  Kal-el and Jor-el, like Samu-el, Dani-el and Emmanu-el are servants of God.

All this makes the Nietzschean references dropped to the film even more incongruous.  Now, there could have been a very interesting film here if this was explored, in the way that the Dark Knight deeply probed the “liberty vs security” issue.  E.g. if Zod set himself up as God to the people of earth (like how Jor-El said his son would be viewed), and Superman destroyed him (thereby killing God and freeing the people, which is exactly what they did in Superman II–“”God help us…”  “Not God. Zod.”).

But they didn’t do this, and in fact Zod wasn’t even that bad of a bad guy.  He wanted to rebuild Krypton on Earth, but he was genetically engineered to want to do that (as he says at the end of the film), which sort of excuses his behavior.  But Superman also wanted to rebuild Krypton, he just wanted to do it somewhere else so that the people of earth wouldn’t die.  But the truth is that superman and Zod are exactly what we would call gods, and Gods can be excused for wanting to build their cities on top of humans, much like we are okay with building our houses on top of rabbit holes, birds nets, anthills etc.  We only care because we’re looking at it from the perspective of the ants (this environmental question is another path they could have gone down especially given that Krypton exploded because they used up the planet’s last natural resource, the core.  But they didn’t).

These are hard questions that are upsetting to the masses, which is precisely what art is for.  The fight scenes are pointless because the ideological stakes don’t matter.  The end of Star Wars has considerably less kinetic action than most modern action films, but it feels more dramatic because it’s really important to us that Luke win.  Luke vs. Vader is rural vs urban, domestic vs foreign, freedom vs tyranny, US vs Russia, the allies vs. the nazis, innocence vs corruption. The stakes matter.

In Superman, the stakes don’t matter.  In the movie, if Zod wins he destroys the earth, but Zod isn’t a metaphor for anything real.  We know superman will win just like we know Luke and the Rebels will win.  But we want Luke to win because we want freedom to win over tyranny.  But what is Zod?  In today’s world?  If you can’t answer immediately, the movie failed.

What is the Joker in the Dark Knight?  The Joker is terrorism.  Not a particular terrorist, but the phenomenon itself.  The chaos that erupts without justification or explanation.  The Joker is 9/11 unfolding on TV.

If they make the story matter to me living here and now, I’ll sit through dogfights in the Death Star trenches 50 times over and over.  Make the story matter and I’ll be on the edge of my seat the fifth time I see IED’s go off in the city of Gotham.

But dodge the tough questions?  Then I’m bored after Superman throws the first CGI punch.  I know Superman is going to win, but it’s meaningless to me.  This is also why Tron failed.  There, they set up a great philosophical question, God as creator in a hierarchy vs emergent phenomena blooming from within: which is better, or gets you closer to truth?  But then Disney wet its pants about scripture-loving folk not buying RC lightcycles, so they waved their hands and defaulted to the traditional position “Yup, it’s God, nevermind that other bit! Look over here! Vinyl tits!”

None of this is on the internet.  But oh, look! A sign on  building says Lexcorp!  You mean there’s a reference to Superman’s archenemy in a Superman movie?  No way!  Let’s all grab our acne cream and have Dorito-bespittled debates about who is stronger, the Flash or AIDS. 

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22 Responses to The Man Of Steel

  1. Oneironaut says:

    Just kind of smacks of “geek-culture” in general right now. If your work is strongly self-referential, whimsically pulls from other works and believes that making a reference, even a nonsensical one, is a shortcut to proving the cleverness of it’s readership/viewership (I’m looking at you, Trekkies/Hobbits/Joss Whedon fandrones) then it probably has a rabid and raving fanbase.

    They aren’t there for enlightenment, or to be challenged; they’re there to say “Haha, I get it!” when they hear Spock scream the villain’s name in “Star Trek 2013.”

  2. JohnJ says:

    If Inception, Avatar, The Dark Knight, etc. all have the kind of artistic references that you think are appropriate, then doesn’t the success of those movies demonstrate that people do support that kind of art?

    • hurtleyduffield says:

      Nope. People don’t support the Art. People don’t understand works. They skim through them. They watch them either because others told them they are great or because they have an easier layer/level on which they can comprehend (vide Dark Knight and the shitty scene with two boats and the thrown out controller, which is SOOOOO DEEP! I mean SOOOO DEEEEEEP. You gotta watch it to understand human beings!).

      Very few people can analyze a work on the level pastabagle does. That’s why those works of art that don’t have the poppy-pulpy-shitty-easy-to-get and disgusting layers which help people like it (and lots lots lots lots of action) aren’t that popular. Look at Jarmusch’s movies popularity and despair.

  3. Nethescurial says:

    Yeah, also the part in the church where he says he doesn’t trust God, but he doesn’t trust humanity either. And how his dad keeps saying whoever he grows up to be, that man will change the world. But the part where he was reading Plato really threw me off.

  4. Mark K says:

    Zod is America. Or, rather, Krypton is. Superman is the America that the audience wants to think it is; Zod is the America that the audience wants to say isn’t theirs. Substitute for “America” any other hegemon or former colonial power if you’re more interested in a different one.

    It’s the crystallized moment of whatever it is you felt when, growing up, you first learned about your people’s bloody history. It’s the fantasy of being different enough, powerful enough, to avoid complicity in the system.

    Sounds like Pastabagel ought to find a better place to talk about movies. I hope he finds one. You can lead a nerd to symbolism, but you can’t make him think.

  5. Jerboa says:

    I miss Pastabagel. I wish he’d come back and write some more stuff.

    • Guy Fox says:

      Ditto. But I suppose we can make stuff of our own, no?

      • Tim says:

        Sure, but where?
        I understand a lot of folk went to, but I like the format here – start with an artifact, critique that. Are you aware of some place people are doing that?

        • Nachlasse says:

          Hey motherfucker

          you can rip off your moms clothes finish on her face and hair take a picture develop it in your fucking red room and take the picture wipe it up your asshole, and then deconstruct the oedipal family tree, cry that your ancestors are genghis khan and avitall ronell, we DGAF what you do. Just do whatever you want from PO but just post it on PoMo – what is there not to understand? Oh i see, you want a place where there posits a collective symbol of absolute repitition of representations. i think redtube is the website you’re looking for.

    • Hypocrisy Illustrated says:

      I too miss the interesting commentary.

      If I weren’t so lazy and passive I suppose I could contribute some of my own.

      But I don’t think I can keep up with the originality and perceptiveness of the regulars.

      The analysis of advertising here is something I’ve found particularly interesting.

      Our economy selects its brightest and most creative to analyze our deepest and least understood motives and impulses and then manipulate us with the skilled composition of imagery that play to our fondest dreams and darkest fears.

      I don’t blame them out of some kind of “anticapitalistic” paranoia. They just do what the market requires. It’s just refreshing to be made aware of this clever handwork and -indeed conscious of my own murky interior.

  6. Guy Fox says:

    Fair enough. Those activities are of a different order. One is basically playing “I spy”, like catching all the product placements in Mad Men (brought to you by AMC and TPB). The other is interpretation in the sense of detecting, analyzing and contriving meaning. Difference accepted.

    Is everyone obligated to interpret, though? Yes, playing I spy should get tiresome once you turn 8, but so should playing with your own excrement, which plenty of adults like too. Depth is relative, and watching a movie with active attention for hyperlinks to other, similar content might be deep watching for some. How many people are you really going to reach on the level of ‘stupid people saying stupid things about movies is stupid’? Maybe showing them how awesome it is at higher levels by giving them a taste of the towering heights of enlightened interpretation is more productive. Or if dumbing it down is just to painful, ignore it?

    But pastabagel is among the best in the biz, and it’s probably hard to be excellent without getting corrupted with contempt.

  7. Felix says:

    Hi Guys,

    loved the movie analysis. Maybe we can do a collaboration about another movie? Problem is i don’t have the background to start something by myself.


  8. Guy Fox says:

    At the risk of spamming like a broken record, postmodernize does allow for movie review/interpretation content.

    Here’s an awesome reading of Moonrise Kingdom, here’s what some pretentious bastard had to say about Dredd, here’s a brilliant reading of Futurama, and here’s a piece about the nostalgia in Drive, which kinda echoes Pastabagel’s post on it of many months ago.

    If you want to improve your writing and develop a background, write. You know the experience paradox people face when looking for jobs? Well, that’s how you get experience. Here’s how to submit. If you have questions you’d like to pose via email first, . The only obstacles left are making time and your inhibitions. Go.

  9. Pingback: The Man Of Steel | Apparel stuff

  10. qubitman says:

    I am thankful I only have enough time in my life to spend on this sort of crap that all I can do is read the article and write this comment. Thankfully I do not have the energy any more to get passionate about this subject matter.

  11. lilin says:

    See, I feel the exact opposite way. I’m not saying that Superman was a great movie, or even a good one, but I found the Joker As Terrorism and the political consequences of that incredibly tiresome. Seeing one individual act insanely (helped by the performance) was fascinating, but I hated slogging through a debate about civil liberties with Morgan Freeman playing morality, and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart playing the various deaths of idealism and Gary Oldman playing world-weary wisdom and that silly business about a cell-phone-scape. If the writer/director doesn’t care about the characters as anything more than the personifications of ideas, why should I?

    • NAAC3PO says:


      Really good points. That first sentence had me skeptical, because I think Pastabagel has some very solid points too, but you’ve swung me over to the other side – at least for now, until I actually go watch Superman.

      If I were going to add/challenge (dunno) anything, it’d be a) that perhaps Dark Knight is only a good movie precisely because we have the opportunity to see i) the best on-screen insane character characterization of insanity, the ii) performance of whom is better than that for any other insane character, the first and perhaps therefore the second of which is made possible by the opportunities which present themselves when working with a character whose insanity is already known and established, which frees you, the writer/director, from the very tiresome, very costly narrative-overhead — i.e., within the frame of the movie, you may, with zero protest whatsoever, ditch the blase’ “building up of insanity cred” and weave something with iii) true and total and true focus on the insanity itself, at a level of completeness which allows the movie to serve, truly and totally, as iv) a depiction of insanity. If the preceding logic is true, the corollary of note is that all prior attempts to depict insanity were deep failures, even if only in ways which we accept. Really, honestly, compared to the Nolan/Ledger Joker, Hannibal Lecter seems/is fake-insane. Insanity, by definition, does not attempt to prove itself, but when the audience is unfamiliar with the character, that is what you must do.

      b) (Yes, b.) Now that I think of it, maybe — maaaaybe — the very, extremely valid criticisms of character characterization character characterization you make in your post are in fact intentional on the writers’ part. It’s almost like the Nolans invite us to say/rhetorically question: “What the fuck, you call these characters? They’re fucking cardboard cutouts. They’re pretending. The only character who doesn’t suck, the only guy who isn’t totally full of shit 100% of the time he’s on screen, the only guy who doesn’t consistently strive toward the lie-character which he has created and still creates for his true and total self to play, to perform, to expose frames of, … is the man the world of performers calls insane and who calls himself a joker. If Insanity is the joker, then who is the joke?

      • NAAC3PO says:

        TL;DR, kind of:

        Batman/Gordon/Dent/etc/(civil liberties activists, some of whom must have been on that boat?): “I HAVE A CODE; I AM MY CODE, PERSONIFIED; I HAVE ASCENDED; I AM AN IDEA.”

        “No you don’t, no you’re not, no you haven’t, and no you’re not. And you call me insane? Because I don’t tell these lies?”

        • NAAC3PO says:

          “I don’t want to watch the world burn, Mr. Spying-On-Everyone-Against-His-Own-Code-Just-This-Once-But-Only-Because-It’s-Necessary-And-Because-I’m-Going-To-Destroy-The-Functionality-After-I’m-Done-Transgressing-My-Code-I.e.-Myself-So-That-No-One-Else-May-Commit-Such-Evil.

          I want to watch your world the stage your stage burn. If you want to masquerade, entertaining yourself by employing armed guards to defend your shiny red rocks, then fine. I’m going to entertain myself, too. And it entertains me just to destroy your entertainment. Who are you without your tangerine-sized ruby? By your own definition, that which you explicate via your choices and your actions, you are far less without the ruby than with it. Who are you, Mr. Fox, now that it’s gone?”

          (No, I do not mean Alfred. I mean Fox. Alfred told the story, yes, but he was not the pro/antagonist.)

          • NAAC3PO says:

            Gotham National Bank Manager, to last standing bank robber: “Think you’re pretty smart, huh? [Joker turns around]

            The guy that hired you, he’ll just do the same to you. [Joker thinks, “Of course it doesn’t occur do you that you can hire yourself.” Re-read that, think it over.]

            Oh, criminals in this town used to believe in things. Honor. Respect. [“Hahaha, you lift high the men you take a priori to be low! And why! Because they believed ? This bore any weight at all compared to their actions?”]

            Look at you! What do you believe in, huh? WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN?” [“Mr. Shoot-To-Kill-In-Order-Not-To-Defend-Myself-Or-Others-But-To-Retrieve-FDIC-Insured-Money’s idea of morality is belief-based. Internal. The external, the killing, he partakes in, but the internal, that which does not matter, he assigns greatest importance.”]

            Joker, placing gas canister in manager’s mouth: “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you…stranger.” [The camera is on Joker, but he is not speaking about himself. Joker the movie character is looking at the bank manager, but Joker the concept is staring into the movie audience’s eyes – yours and mine. Whatever doesn’t kill our ludicrous hypocrisy of belief-self will necessarily make belief-self stranger and stranger, contorting once-simple beliefs again and again and again.]

  12. AdamSaleh1987 says:

    Wrong. The movie was about Savior (Superman) accepting that despite his inherent superiority to God’s (jor-El) adopted people (Earthlings’s) he needs to accept his responsibility to inspire them. Notice how the young Clark was reading Plato, he secretly pities them and looks at his tormentors with disdain, much like the unublished books of the Bible with young Jesus. The devil (Zod) is abhored by mankind and wants to destroy them and rebuild the world in his image. Jes-er uh Superman realizes what his responsibility is and stops him. The movie is actually about Superman’s struggle within himself, knowing that he is better than the people that hate him or are using him but is instead using his gifts to transcend and inspire as Jor-El wanted. The fight scenes were also epic and visually they were a masterpiece. Compared to Avengers’ annoying green screen bukkake that looked more like a weather forecast than a final climax.

  13. progretarian says:

    Some additional thoughts I had while watching the movie:

    – Superman is a surrogate for the narcisstic Average Joe out there: Awareness of omnipotence, uniqueness, special gifts, but not able (allowed) to show the world
    – An example of this would be the passive aggressive destruction of that harassing truck driver’s truck. There’s no chance an 80’s Superman would have done that. But the audience from today thinks in those terms. Showing strength for your own’s sake is only ok, if you’re evil. If you’re a good guy, showing strengths is only permitted for higher goals.
    – There are quite a few scenes where Superman is omnipotent and powerless at the same time. Just like the freshly graduated generation feels with their degrees.
    – Kevin Costner’s death was a nice metaphor for life-death, father-son relations. Clark, again, is omnipotent and powerless at the same time. Omnipotence here is youth and powerless is rules of Earth. Costner’s stopping his son by hand sign means: “It’s ok. Everyone has to go.” The tornado is death, that’s why he was black and scary and takes everything away.
    – Although omnipotent, Superman struggles to find a purpose and kind of just wanders around with morals intact. Just like this generation of 20somethings.
    – In order to find a path and purpose in life, the help and love of a woman is necessary. A woman that doesn’t play by any rules to make career progress.
    – Lois Lane is average in looks, because she’s a symbol for all women roughly her age. The most omnipotent guy gets an average girl and is happy with it.
    – How come, no mention of the fact that the Daily Planet editor in chief is now black? Old white men in suits have ruined enough. Let the morally superior black guy and the next generation of young white guys do it.
    – Superman’s job choice at the end is obviously influenced by his Penis, not by his purpose.
    – Hostile Aliens adress humanity via the devices we understand to deliver truth: TV, Internet and smartphones. They don’t warp/beam voices directly into our heads or just act as we would with facing ants. They too play by the rules of Media.
    – Being a bullied outsider means you’re the good guy.
    – Smallville is the seed of the future, Metropolis the seed of the past.
    – Only a guy working with his hands can raise future’s hope, not a guy in a suit.
    – The more advanced a people is, the more organic their buildings and devices.
    – Both right hands of good and evil are women with obviously weaker codes of morality.
    – Disguise your gifts with the mask of intelligence (glasses) to be taken seriously in today’s world.