Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Superman & the Mole Men; Comic Relief: "Black Like Lois"


 Originally posted on 8/10/2009 on 

Superman and the Mole Men
Superman and the Mole Men (also known as The Unknown People) was a feature-length movie (dir. by Lee Sholem) that was later re-edited into two episodes for the TV show. The plot revolves around three little visitors from the center of the earth’s core, whose lives are disturbed by an oil rig that has drilled deep into the earth. 
When the little mole men (ignore the zippers on the back of their costumes) come up from their habitat to explore the desert, the townspeople become frightened because they are “different.” A mob (led by a bully) forms, and the three are nearly lynched. 
Racial allegory or justification for segregation?
Of course, the film has been read as a reaction to the Cold War Communist “scare” (and Cold War-era movies), but it can also be read as an allegorical reading of race relations and mob mentality, with Superman, of course, as the voice of reason. The little mole men mean no harm, and after witnessing the evil and hatred and intolerance of humankind, they return to their own world at the center of the earth.
SSo the question I have is: is the film a progressive, forward-thinking allegory on the dangers of mob mentality and a plea for racial "tolerance," or is it instead suggesting that we would all get along we were to remain in our separate spheres, i.e., a justification for continued segregation? I encourage you to watch the film and think about it. I encourage you to watch the film and think about it. 
YouTube has the entire film in segments. Here's the first.



 
Comic Relief

 Okay, I was going to wait a while to start discussing my childhood obsession with all things “Super”—as in Superman, but I CANNOT resist the following segue from the discussion of being “black like somebody” without mentioning that DC Comics’ fictional Lois Lane did her own Black Like Me experiment at the height of the Black Power Movement, called “I Am Curious (Black).” This comic came out in 1970, when DC and Co. were being “relevant” as they explored social issues like racism, sexism, poverty, and prison reform. 

I found it many years ago, while browsing in Forbidden Planet, a regular haunt when I lived in the East Village. I still have my copy, protected in a plastic cover. It is one of the most famous of all DC comic books—with a quick perusal of the Internet, you can probably find and read all the panels on line.
Those of an earlier generation might find the provocative title quite amusing, as it is based on a 1960s Swedish “art” film (read: nudie) called I Am Curious (Yellow)—which had its own sequel, I Am Curious (Blue). I, of course, was ignorant about that "adult" stuff—I just loved Superman!
The George Reeves Superman series was my favorite television show when I was a kid. It came on in endless reruns throughout my early childhood. My siblings might say that my viewing bordered on obsession. I had a 6-foot Superman poster on my bedroom wall, a Superman coffee mug (years before I ever began to drink coffee), and all manner of Superman comic books (Superman, Action Comics, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Superfamily). I played “Superman” with my G.I. Joes (yes, I had G.I. Joes—no surprise there) and my Jane West doll.
Although I have seen every episode of the television show ever filmed, my favorites were the first couple of seasons of the show, when the emphasis was on crime and mystery, before it turned into a “superhero” kiddie-type of program, with less serious episodes and light comic elements.
The series was much darker in the early episodes—very much B-movie tough guy stuff. These episodes also had the benefit of the superior Lois Lane character, portrayed by actress Phyllis Coates. The early episodes were filled with gangsters, suicide, megalomania, murder, savage beatings and a cynical, dark attitude. I have the first season on DVD and, every time I watch it, I am surprised at the level of violence and pessimism the shows contain. 

I remember when I first found out that Superman actor George Reeves had committed suicide. If I had just seen the first season of the show, I wouldn’t have been surprised—he is a far different actor than in the later seasons. One rumor I remember was that he had taken an overdose of LSD, thought he really could fly, jumped out of a window, and fallen to his death.
Years later, I found out the truth—that he had died of a gunshot wound, perhaps by a mistress or maybe by his own hand. The question was, though, was it murder or suicide? I couldn’t imagine Superman killing himself, and I resisted believing it for a long time. How could he? He was “super,” and he was a hero. It wasn’t until the release in 2006 of Hollywoodland, starring Ben Affleck, that I finally felt a sense of closure regarding Reeves’s death. The scenario presented in that film seemed much closer to the truth than any of the others. Ben Affleck’s* very affecting performance is worth seeing—he is well-cast, and gives an incredibly moving portrayal of an actor trapped in an image he couldn’t escape.
*Also REALLY worth seeing is Gone Baby Gone, which Ben Affleck directed (in addition to co-writing the screenplay). Deep Baby Deep.

16 comments:

rvice said...

Well….. Due to the different culture, the distinction between races will always be in society. In reference to the superman movie, I believe that this episode showed the poor tolerance that people possesses when facing something completely distinct from them. Anything that violates the emotional stability of people will immediately be rejected. Unfortunately, we see in that episode that the creatures were judge base on their appearance. The ignorant people reacted with violence due to their lack of reasoning. We must understand that reason must first be put into action before making any judgments.

Professor R. Williams said...

Great response, Ricardo!

Elvin Ames said...

The Movie of Superman shows the ignorance of the mob mentality and fear of something different breeds an angry pack mentality. Similar to whites who turned into angry crowds herding together to lynch a black man for looking at a white woman back in the early 1900's reason, common sense and share decency are buried by the broken shovels of the mob.
Superman stands as the moral voice of reason seeking justice. He may represent America standing tall on its ideals against the injustices of the time which was segregation. The Civil Rights movement began on December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give a white man her seat. There was a lot of tension between blacks & whites at that time also a the persecution of Jews by Hitler and Nazi Germany. At least that's what I believe.

Elvin Ames

IMHOMOH said...

The part that mostly captured my attention in the superman movie was when the doctor told the superman that the hurt mole man seem to have the same biological composition as themselves. the major cause of discrimination is that everybody are swift to judge from the outside appearance without looking at the inside. it is so unfortunate that, like it was in the movie, only few in the community realize this fact. After watching this episode, i thought that is is completely ignorant for one to agree to what other people believe to be good or bad, in the society today, no one really act according to their initiatives, every body do what other people does, because they are scared of what might happen or what other people might say if they act according to what they believe is right, in other words, the society induces discrimination thought into its citizens. even if at all there are wise ones, they are minor and are overshadowed by the ignorance of majority.

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