Friday, August 01, 2008

What's wrong with Lois Lane?

A while ago, Caleb was running a series of quotes from Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes. There were several thought-provoking ones, but this one especially caught my attention:

What Kent wanted was just that which Superman didn’t want to be bothered with. Kent wanted Lois, Superman didn’t—thus marking the difference between a sissy and a man. A sissy wanted girls who scorned him; a man scorned girls who wanted him. Our cultural opposite of the man who didn’t make out with women has never been the man who did—but rather the man who could if he wanted to, but still didn’t. The ideal of masculine strength, whether Gary Cooper’s, Lil Abner’s, or Superman’s, was for one to be so virile and handsome, to be in such a position of strength, that he need never go near girls. Except to help them. And then get the hell out.
Understanding that I haven't read any more context than what Caleb posted, I couldn't disagree more. Not about our cultural ideals, but about the psychology that created the Clark/Lois/Superman triangle. Feiffer makes Clark sound like he's got a split personality. Is Clark/Superman a sort of Jekyll/Hyde who desperately loves Lois until he takes off his glasses and then doesn't care anymore?

I agree with Feiffer that people are more attractive when they're confident instead of desperate for attention and approval, but that applies to both men and women. Lois Lane didn't like Clark Kent because he went out of his way to make sure she didn't. He had a secret identity to maintain and he intentionally held back whenever he had the opportunity to impress her as Clark.

Lois is sometimes mean to Clark for no reason, but I can't fault her for not being interested in him. In the panels just before the ones I posted above, the big thug demands that Lois dance with him and Clark's response is to suggest that she just do as the man wants. We see him privately cheering her on as she stands up to the bully, but in public he cowers and yells for her not to make things worse. I wonder why she consented to go out with Clark in the first place, but I don't have any doubts about why she leaves.

Why did she go out with him anyway? I can think of only two possible reasons. She was either reluctantly willing to give the poor sap a chance and see if there was something there she wasn't seeing at work, or she was bored and was playing with him. From the way she usually treats him, I've always suspected that she's just playing with him, but what if that's not the case? What if she's giving him his shot here, however half-heartedly she may be doing it. You can't really blame her for not being excited about it. I think that's a valid interpretation and it makes the relationship a lot more interesting. Clark must see some kind of possibility with her. Otherwise why does he pursue her?

Now, let's look at that for a minute. Clark apparently wants Lois to like him, but he wants her to like him as the simpering toadie he pretends to be. As Feiffer observed, whenever he's Superman, he doesn't give Lois the time of day.

Recently, a big deal has been made in the comics about how vulnerable the loved ones of superheroes are to villains. I don't think that's what's going on in Superman's mind though. It's too early in his career and the only villains he fights are common mobsters. There aren't any masterminds. There's no Lex Luthor. As a reporter, Lois gets into way more trouble than she would as Superman's girlfriend.

I think what's going on in Superman's mind is that he's deeply attracted to Lois, but feels that she needs to mellow out a bit. I think he's playing games with her. If he can get her to fall for Clark Kent, that means she's softened to the point that he can start to trust her with his heart and maybe one day his secret. It's really a cruel game though and makes Superman no nicer than Lois.

And I think that's the really interesting thing about this relationship. On one side, you've got Lois who's very tough, but not inhuman. On the other side, you've got Clark, who's not a bad persion either, but finds himself in this weird position where he likes someone he can't trust and he doesn't handle it very well. That makes both of them heavily flawed, but we can still root for them to work out their individual issues and get together as a couple.

And it's much, much better than Clark's just being mentally ill.


Unknown said...

I'd never heard that Feiffer theory before, but you've done a nice job dissecting it here and showing how wrongheaded it really is.

Michael May said...

Thanks. :)


Related Posts with Thumbnails