Thursday, September 27, 2007

I Wish I Lived In Smallville

Smallville's Kristin Kreuk
The latest television series to deal with Superman is Smallville. Smallville begins it seventh season tonight. I have watched every episode several times. I have watched as the characters started out as believably cast teen-like characters, and I continue to watch as the same actors attempt to portray college entry age characters - even though their old enough to have earned their Masters degrees.

Kristin Laura Kreuk
Despite any problem I may have with suspending my disbelief when it comes to how the characters have aged so slowly I still find Smallville very entertaining. There is in each Smallville a morality play not always present in other television programs. Clark Kent really does battle dark forces. In the modern age we are asked to believe that there is no good, and that there is no evil. We are asked to substitute subtle shades of good and evil on a continuum.

We live in an age in which the educated, and sophisticated are expected to believe that human actions are never truly good, or never truly evil. We are expected to believe that if only we could see those actions from some greater perspective the most vile would be on the same level as the most sacred.

We live in an age in which a television series can be dedicated to a nice guy serial killer. We live in an age in which children learn that to be a winner in the virtual world of video games they need to be as immoral as possible - they earn points for brutality. These are the lessons of our age. Where then is there room for old fashioned morality? Of good guys triumphing over evil - real evil? Even asking such a question risk being branded a religious zealot at best, or a simpleton at worst.


Smallville's Lana Lang
I guess that's what I find so appealing in Smallville. In Smallville the preps aren't just good looking, and athletic. In Smallville the central characters don't win simply because they are popular and powerful, but instead they grapple with evil, and it is how they triumph over that evil that determines the nature of their character. Clark Kent, his family, and friends win because they find a greater truth, and hang onto it.

In Smallville evil doesn't always come in the form of a superhuman foe, but is delivered in forms far more frightening - the darker side of human nature. Smallville's anti-heroes are often just regular people given the opportunity to run amok. Give an average person power to control their own destiny, and soon that person is no longer happy just controlling their destiny. Smallville shines a light on the frightening truth that in every human being there is great potential to do good, but an equal potential to do evil.

Power corrupts, and greater power ends up corrupting even the most innocent. This is the never ending theme which runs through the entire Superman story, and Smallville has stayed true to its portrayal of Superman.

Smallville has morphed some of its main characters, and even killed a few off over the years, but the most interesting aspect isn't how much the characters have changed, but how dedicated the stories have been to maintaining the dignity of the Superman character. One can see a careful crafting in the various stories. Superman discovers his superpowers slowly, and as he does he also discovers a conflict within himself.

Superman's story is the story of all men and women as they mature, and it also is the story of civilization itself. The Superman myth is very much a modern portrayal of ancient Greek myths which in their time allowed every day people to relate to a greater story about them. Smallville will not ultimately be compared to a science fiction series like Star Trek in the way that Star Trek encapsulated contemporary social issues in every episode, however, Smallville has stood true to itself, and has not violated the vision or the legacy of Superman and the elemental goodness, or the elemental godness, for which for which Superman stands.

Smallville premiered less than a month after the 9-11 terrorist attack. A very real conflict between good and evil was delivered to a frightened America. We were shocked out of our feeling of safety, and looking for both heroes, and villains in order to make sense of our world again. While Smallville is not a deliberate response to 9-11 it has been a cultural accompaniment in an age which needs heroes, and in a society which seeks clearly defined evil.

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