The Many (Unauthorized) Faces of Superman

Curator's Note

OK, so fans are able to use material culture in ways that often exceed, even occasionally transgress officially sanctioned uses. Superheroes are rich for these types of re-workings precisely because they are branded commodities marketed as Americana. Here are two of thousands of superhero revisions found on Youtube. I like the first clip because it makes fantasy play – something intended to instill an emotional bond between consumer and brand – into something simultaneously mundane and bizarre. Superheroes playing poker parodies their mythic status and re-imagines otherwise clichéd aspects of their individual story worlds'. Yet, somehow, this doesn't feel particularly transgressive; more like a pastiche of tired stereotypes cleverly rearranged but basically left unquestioned. Oh, right, Batman and Robin are gay… Iron Man's a drunk misogynist… Hulk is stupid and Superman falls easy prey to Kryptonite yet again. Does the pleasure come from playfully rearranging the formula or from reiterating its predictable outcome despite the changed context? The second clip is far more powerful for me. Quite simply, its focus on Filipino American teenagers leisurely playing cut to John Williams' iconic Superman score is both sentimental and unnerving because it seems to effortlessly conflate Americana with a racialized minority too often characterized within popular culture as foreigners no matter how many generations back they trace their ancestry in the US. Race is not erased from this clip, but neither is it rendered strange or ironic in relation to the typically ex-nominated whiteness that Superman embodies. In spite of its nostalgic feel, I suspect it is far more challenging of Superhero lore than the first clip.


* Turns out I was right. While the first clip remains on Youtube, the second has been removed for supposed Copyright infingement due to the use of the John Williams Superman film score without permission.

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