Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto: Man and Superman
There’s a popular bumper sticker you might have seen: “If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher.”
Here’s another one for you: “If You’re Reading Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto, Thank Superman.”
I was born in 1953, in New York City. I don’t remember a time we didn’t have a TV set in our living room. I watched cartoons. I watched Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. But my favorite TV show was by far the 1952-1958 TV series, Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves.
What made Superman super was his super powers. He had super strength. Bullets bounced off him. He had X-Ray vision. But the super power I cared about most was that Superman could fly. He didn’t need an airplane or a helicopter. He didn’t need wings. He could just jump up and keep on going — as high as he wanted to, as far as he wanted to — defying gravity, and propelling himself to whatever destination he chose, faster than a speeding bullet — which for a speeding rifle bullet gets Superman to supersonic speeds.
Adventures of Superman stopped producing new episodes when I was five years old, and the possibility of a new season died with George Reeves in 1959. But the end of the TV show didn’t cut me off from my Superman habit, since a walk to the corner candy store had already revealed to me that there were Superman comic books, and other comic books in which Superman appeared as a character: Superboy, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Action Comics, Justice League of America, and others.
By the time I got to kindergarten I was already a proficient reader, although my vocabulary tended to be populated by words you didn’t find in Fun With Dick and Jane, like “invulnerable,” “stratospheric,” and “telepathic.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but before I was a year old a German-born psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham had written a book called Seduction of the Innocent, which argued that comic books corrupted youth and promoted juvenile delinquency. Beginning a few weeks after my first birthday, a subcommittee of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee — led by Republican New York Senator Robert Hendrickson and Democratic Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver — held hearings to investigate claims that “crime” and “horror” comic books caused good kids to go bad. One of the witnesses was William Gaines, publisher of E.C. Comics, which published comic books in the genres of science fiction, military, satire, crime, and horror. The committee were really only interested in the last two genres, which they considered the most graphic and lurid.
The result of Wertham’s campaign and the Senate hearings was a stirred up mob demanding censorship of comic books. The comic-book publishing industry did what any businessmen do when faced with the threat of government restrictions — they chained themselves first. The Comics Code was born which turned comic books, for the time I was reading them, largely into infantile pap — books like Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, and Archie. That was fine when I was a baby just learning how to read. But by the time I was a teenager and discovered real science-fiction and fantasy in the library, I had outgrown these dumbed down comic-book stories and stopped buying them.
What I didn’t know until it was much too late for me was that if I had switched from DC comics — which published Superman — to Marvel Comics — which published Spider-Man and X-Men — I would have encountered the subversive Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, who were finding ways to get around the Comics Code with plot-lines and character development competitive with the science-fiction and fantasy books I was reading by Robert A. Heinlein and C.S. Lewis.
Meanwhile, I became a fan of William Gaines anyway, since he had moved on to publish the most iconic humor magazine of my youth, Mad Magazine.
But why was Superman so important to me?
Psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote of the collective unconscious and archetypes which are universal to the thoughts of all human beings. Building on this, Joseph Campbell wrote of universal myths and of a spiritual “force” that bound all of us together. This “force” eventually found its way into the mythology created by a young filmmaker, George Lucas, who used it as the centerpiece of Star Wars.
But the idea behind Superman is firmly embedded in our culture, going back to the Genesis story which begins Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: a story that tells us our race was created to be immortals who fell to a mortal life on earth as we know it today. The primary Western religions don’t just tell us what we lost; they promise us a New Eden, or Paradise, or Heaven, in which we get back what we lost.
Superman is the Jungian archetype embedded in our unconscious of what we were and are supposed to be again.
For many years I flew, like Superman, in my dreams, thinking they were only dreams. But even as dreams these were experiences as important to me as anything that happened to me when I was “awake.”
Then, I learned that some of these flying dreams could arise to a level of self-consciousness called “lucidity.”
I began to realize that, since I couldn’t fly while I was awake, if I was flying it meant I had to be dreaming. But if I knew I was dreaming then I wasn’t dreaming anymore — and if I didn’t wake up right away, it gave me a measure of conscious control of where I was flying.
Eventually this conscious control allowed me to fly to places and see things that I could remember when I woke up. And, by checking details on Yahoo and Google of what I had seen while “dreaming,” I found I could sometimes verify that what I saw while “asleep” was real.
Dreams had turned into astral travel or Out-of-Body projections.
At least while I was asleep — and no longer chained by my material body and the earth’s pull on it — I had become Superman.
And how great a liberation is that?
Next in Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto is Chapter XII: Escape Artists
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.
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