I had wanted to write about Man of Steel once and once only, but just last Thursday director Zack Snyder had an interview with The Japan Times in which he had the following to say in regard to the massive collateral damage that takes place during the latter part of the film:
“I wanted the movie to have a mythological feeling. In ancient mythology, mass deaths are used to symbolize disasters. In other countries like Greece and Japan, myths were recounted through the generations, partly to answer unanswerable questions about death and violence. In America, we don’t have that legacy of ancient mythology. Superman (who first appeared in ‘Action Comics’ in 1938) is probably the closest we get. It’s a way of recounting the myth.”
That having been said, let’s talk about mythology.
It’s All Greek For Me
When I was younger I was all about Greek mythology. Seriously, though, I read every book in the [granted, very small] library on the subject. Since I know next to nothing about Japanese mythology, I’m going to focus on the stories coming out of Mount Olympus and its surrounding areas.
Mythology, specifically Greek mythology, has always been a near-perfect analogue for modern superheroes. Men [and they were always men] like Hercules and Perseus were the sons of Zeus and mortal women, and all performed incredible feats. But how about the “mass deaths” that Snyder is pointing to?
The Greek heroes defended the innocent and slayed the guilty, as heroes are wont to do, but never faced particularly high body counts. A large portion of Greek myths followed the exploits of these demigods. It was either that, or the sordid interactions between the gods themselves. As far as “[answering] unanswerable questions about death and violence,” blaming Poseidon for sinking ships comes to mind, but isn’t particularly satisfactory.
The only myth that approaches the body count I believe Snyder is referencing is a great flood Zeus set upon the world, which brings to mind another story . . .
Who Are the American Gods?
If extinction-level deluges are what you’re all about, why not simply point to the Bible? This is a tale in which literally every human being not related in some way to Noah straight-up drowned.
Judeo-Christian scripture could be the American ancient mythology and legacy which Snyder claims doesn’t exist. The country was founded by English settlers who were inarguably very Christian men and women. They believed in the capital-G-God the same way the Greeks believed in Zeus et al, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. Though if we want to consider all this appropriation [or misappropriation] of a culture that ultimately isn’t American, we can look elsewhere-
Have you ever heard of Paul Bunyan? How about John Henry? Pecos Bill?
Paul Bunyan was a lumberjack so big he created the Grand Canyon when he dragged his axe behind him. John Henry was so good at steel-driving he won a race against a steam powered hammer. Pecos Bill lassoed a tornado and then he rode it because why not.
America has myths. All of these folktalkes were told from the 1870s to the 1920s, a good number of decades before Action Comics #1 was ever published. The US has mythology, albeit a young one, it’s only that it doesn’t have the prerequisite number of casualties [or nearly any at all] that Snyder appears to be looking for.
The thing is, you don’t need to dig to find such a large-scale tragedy that has burned itself into the American psyche.
Look at the image above. Now look at the image to the right.
The image above is a shot from the 2013 summer blockbuster Man of Steel. The image on the right was taken in New York City on September 11, 2001.
The parallels have been drawn by more than just yours truly, and the question I want to raise is what the director’s intentions were by presenting imagery that is clearly evocative of one of the nation’s greatest tragedies and then stating that he “wanted the movie to have a mythological feeling.”
Snyder says that in “ancient mythology, mass deaths are used to symbolize disasters.” The thing is, in real life mass deaths are disasters. Disasters can be defined by the number of people who have died.
Is he trying to use larger than life characters to explain what happened 12 years ago? What is the myth he claims to be recounting? Is it simply that of Superman himself?
Disasters and tragedies, free of myth, are an unavoidable fact, especially in light of what has been happening in Syria. There is nothing wrong with depicting them just as in there is nothing wrong with depicting rape; the issue is context. Snyder can cite ancient myths if he wants to, but what’s more important is that he lives up to the legacy they began. You can give me disaster, but also give me heroes.