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« Distraction | Main | Ares »

Supermensch

Just to note, for those going to see the movie this weekend, he's a good Jewish boy.

What I found fascinating, and hadn't realized, was that in the 1930s, until Hitler came along, Jews (or at least some Jews) were into Nietzsche.

[Update in the mid-afternoon]

Astrosmith has some thoughts on illegal superaliens.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 30, 2006 09:22 AM
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It's still going on now... see, for example Richard Rubenstein. Lots more to Nietzsche than just master-slave morality and so forth.

Posted by Jane Bernstein at June 30, 2006 10:28 AM

What's especially ironic is that Dr. Frederic Wertham, the man who wrote _The Seduction of the Innocent_ and harshly criticized comics, saw Superman as a Fascist icon. At one point he specifically mentioned how threatening he thought it was to have a "superman" wearing an S symbol -- kind of like the guys wearing a double-S symbol during the war.

All of which goes to show that Dr. Wertham really was a twit.

Posted by Cambias at June 30, 2006 10:57 AM

Someone should have told Dr. Wertram that sometimes a superman is just a Superman.

Posted by Mike Puckett at June 30, 2006 11:57 AM

Speaking of Superman, I wrote a post at my blog last night which I just realized was inspired by your posts where you extrapolate how the media treat the war on terror to WWII and so forth. Not that I'm trolling for traffic, and not that it comes up to the same humor level of your writing, but you might appreciate it.

Posted by Astrosmith at June 30, 2006 12:23 PM

A couple of years ago a book came out (the name of which I've forgotten) which pointed out that Nietzsche himself was not by any means a proto-Nazi, which floats around in popular myth. In fact, it was his sister who long outlived him who intentionally distorted what he was saying and turned it into anti-semitic, proto - Nazi crap. In fact I think she lived long enough to turn her brother's writing directly and intentionally into a tool for the early Nazi party. I don't recall if she lived long enough to see Hitler come to power, but she certainly tried to help the early movement.

Posted by Charles Lurio at June 30, 2006 07:00 PM

I think Charlie's probably right about how Nietzsche's legacy has been distorted. And I've heard a great deal about how his sister had a lot to do with that, particularly in the eleven years between his breakdown and his death.

Change of subject: Just saw Superman Returns. My POV: Meh. However, I was tickled to see Sir Richard Branson as a flight engineer on the spaceship in the beginning, and a fleeting Virgin Galactic product placement.

Posted by Jane Bernstein at June 30, 2006 08:31 PM

When Superman Vaporized the falling glass with his heat vision, I blurted out loud: "AAAGGGGGHHHH! He is showering us with molten glass!"

And when he threw the ball so "Krypto" could fetch, I could not resist to letting an 'asshole' remark slip out.

Still, (sarcasm)I was glad to see that the Kryptonians had perfected their retro rocket technology and finally enabled a soft landing.(/sarcasm)

Posted by Mike Puckett at June 30, 2006 09:07 PM

The term "superman" had been around in English long before Siegel and Shuster got hold of it. As I recall, one dictionary I checked gave a date around 1906 as its earliest attested appearance. It was originally a direct translation of Nietzsche's "‹bermensch," of course, and used in connection with his philosophy at the beginning, but by the '30s "superman" had passed into daily usage for someone who had done something notable. I've seen Charles Lindbergh called a "superman" in something published circa 1930, for instance. You don't see it so much now because the guy in the cape pretty much usurped the term, and even philosophical writings trying to deal seriously with Nietzsche often resort to something like "Overman" just to avoid sounding silly. What it comes down to is that by the '30s, "superman" (lower case) had long passed into the language and was in common use by people who had never read Nietzsche nor had any conscious awareness of his philosophy. I've also read that it was common in the science-fiction field magazines of the day to refer to stories about super-powered protagonists as "superman stories," whether they came by their powers naturally or with technological help. The term "superman" was simply in the air at the time, and to speculate about "Jews into Nietzsche" is to lose an awful lot of historical context.

As for Dr. Wertham, who famously thought Superman was some kind of fascist avatar... Well, he was a German Jew who had left Germany in the '20s and settled in the US. Being very educated, he would have known of Nietzsche and the ‹bermensch, particularly as seen through the distorted lens of Nietzsche's sister. Just the name "Superman" would have raised warning flags for someone of his background, and since he had come to the United States too late in his life to have absorbed an instinctive understanding of the popular culture, he wouldn't have realized the threat level was far less than he assumed, or that a "superman" was something very different to people who had grown up here than where he grew up. He refers to a magazine article about Superman's creator in his anti-comic-book screed SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, so he had to have known something about Jerry Siegel; why a Jewish writer would allegedly create and promote an explicitly fascist SSuperman is a mystery Wertham doesn't address.

Wertham's attack on Superman in SEDUCTION, in fact, is so overwrought and so off the mark, I've long suspected there's more to it than what was on the printed page. I would guess Wertham was actually talking over the readers' heads and shooting at Dr. William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman (and a strange bird in his own right), who had earlier written a laudatory (in an oddly left-handed way) article about Superman. If you read the Marston piece with Wertham's attack on Superman in mind, it seems clear Wertham is dealing less with anything he ever saw in a Superman comic book and more with answering Marston.

I remember Wertham saying somewhere that the best way to make American children into stormtroopers would be to have them read Superman comics. But wouldn't you then get stormtroopers who save lives and like to help people...?

Posted by Dwight Decker at June 30, 2006 09:35 PM


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