07 January 2010

Somebody save me

by Frank Turk

Well, Phil filled in on Wednesday for me at the last minute as I didn’t have an hour to draft a post – even though I had a great idea for a post. Thank God, but I am gainfully employed and busy as the new year begins; that means I’ll prolly not be blogging as much as I would like.

Whether that’s good news for you or not is another post entirely.

Anyway, Santa was exceptionally generous this year as he and his elves all pitched in an bought me Seasons 1-7 of Smallville. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this show, it’s a soap opera, OK? 24 is also a soap opera, so I don’t want to hear it from the complainers about my taste: you enjoy the blowing up and the weird relational psychology your way, and I’ll enjoy it in my own comic book enhanced and informed way.

Smallville, for the uninformed, is the reimagining of the life of Clark Kent (Tom Welling) as a teen who has not yet adopted the blue-and-red tights and the big red “S” – a sort of new backstory for the Man of Steel. In the old days, of course, Superman was Superboy before he was a mild-manner reporter for the Daily Planet, but it’s also important to remember that comic books are neither literature not scripture, so their revision to a current cultural idiom is inevitable – and you folks are bright enough to make the application there.

Anyway, my splendiferous wife and I have been watching Smallville every night for the last 10 days and have gotten through Season 2 with the exception of episode 16 due to a DVD player issue (long story; sorry I brought it up), and frankly we’re lovin’ it. It has spawned many an interesting discussion about honesty, relationship, and what it means to be a hero.

You know: the conventional wisdom when you watch Superman is that (not to mix mythologies here, but it totally works) with great power comes great responsibility. That comes out a lot in Smallville as Clark is a teen who can stop a runaway bus without getting a scratch and set fire to, well, anything at 100 paces with his heat vision – being raised by a farmer and his wife to be honest, serious, grateful, hardworking, and kind. The big red flag of course is that they are also teaching him to lie about who he really is – in their own mind, for his protection.

Clark isn’t really Joe Farmboy. He’s the last son of Krypton, and our yellow sun makes him, well, not much less than an angel.

The conventional wisdom is that Clark has to constantly struggle with his choices – does he choose to be a hero and save everyone he sees who is in danger, or does Clark (as we might say from this blog) Make it his ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind his own business and to work with his hands, so that his daily life may win the respect of others and so that he will not be dependent on anybody? Can Clark lead a normal life? What would “normal” look like there?

It seems like a classic dilemma, and it gets manifest all over the place in Smallville in Clark’s relationships (in the first 3 seasons) with Lana and Chloe (Don’t spoil the rest for me) not just because he has to lie to them about “who he is”, but because he’s always running away to do this or that, or he’s getting victimized by Red Kryptonite, or whatever. And I’ll be honest: I get it. I totally get that struggle here because Clark is trying to figure out if he should save the world or something much more, um, human. It seems like a very straightforward comic book dilemma

Except my wife didn’t grow up reading comic books.

So we’re talking about Clark & his teen angst, and I explain all this to my wife. And she says to me, “well, you don’t have that problem.”

Well, duh: I don’t have super speed or invulnerable skin, either. If I did it would be a whole different story – literally.

“That’s not what I mean. You don’t struggle with the problem of whether to save the whole world or save your family. You choose your family – because that’s what you’re supposed to do.”

Yeah, uh. I hate it when she does this. But she’s completely right.

You know: Eph 5 is the guiding principle in our house. Because of Christ, be subject to one another; wives love your husbands and be subject to them; husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.

When Christ loved the church, he didn’t have to decide whether he was going to use his literal Godhood to cure every sick person and tear down every false temple and idol: he used his Godhood to save us. And that’s the model of the husband to the wife: save her.

You husband: you save her.

The alleged moral dilemma in Superman is no dilemma at all – it’s a ruse. As much as we might enjoy watching Clark do all that stuff, and wonder why he doesn’t just tell Lana and Chloe since he told Pete Ross (you know: seriously), the truth is that we know what the right thing to do is. And we don’t need a big red “S” to do it: we just need to love.

Which, btw, is not subject to Kryptonite of any color.


Tom said...

A fair warning: I used to love me some Smallville. I have seasons 1-5. But I will say that as the seasons progress, people lose more clothes, and the screen steams up a bit more. Guess they felt they had to boost the ratings a bit. I had to stop watching somewhere in season 4, I think.

Just so you know!


Nash Equilibrium said...

Thought-provoking. And also, I now know what Smallville is about; always wondered about that but I'm not much of a TV watcher at all.

Maybe we should produce a series called Nazareth about the teen life of Jesus? Just kidding of course.

DJP said...

Yeah, but 24's a soap-opera for men.


JackW said...

Gee, that was super Frank.

SandMan said...

Yeah, but 24's a soap-opera for men.

Ouch! And the ref takes away a point. ;-)

Good reminder about my priority (singular) as a husband. Thanks, Frank.

FX Turk said...

TM --

I have seen an episode here and there over the years, and as I and driven to read spoilers I see the story-lines devolving away from what makes seasons 1-3 interesting, which is actually the relationships which make Clark Superman contrasted against the relationships which make Lex, well, Lex.

I'll probably blog more about this as an aside through the rest of the year.

FX Turk said...

DJP --

That's a distinction without a difference.

DJP said...

If I wanted to Frank your meta, I'd ask, "There's no difference between men and women?"

But I don't... so I won't.


Nash Equilibrium said...

Hey, if there can actually be a "Bourne Identity Study Bible," then why can't there be a "Smallville Study Bible" ?

Jason and Jodee said...

Frank –

I'm not a Smallville watcher but I got thinking about your red flagging of Clark’s identity as a lie. It seems as though there are times when not giving full disclosure for a larger purpose is okay. I have in mind sending missionaries to China within TESOL programs. Those folks are teaching English, but that’s not the real reason for their presence in the country. Is that an acceptable partial disclosure, or are we getting to a very black side of a gray area?

busdriver4jesus said...

I'm probably throwing myself into the lion's den, but I am profoundly disappointed that a writer on this blog would squander hours watching a pointless, eternally bankrupt soap opera, and then write about it. Do we really think Christ would spend His time this way? I really look up to those who have devoted themselves to the study of Scripture, and I would envy you the opportunity to attend bible college or seminary, if it wasn't a sin. And please don't take my comment in a "holier than thou" way": I also, on a recurring basis, waste my time on seemingly innocent, worthless pursuits that will bear no eternal fruit. But these are things we should be ashamed of, not justify with loose Scriptural analogies and any plea to being "culturally relevant" (not that you have done this, but by others I have talked about this with who were waiting in the lion's den for me!). The positive commands of Scripture I am thinking of are II Cor 10:5, Eph 5:16, and Php 4:8. I really am making an attempt to speak the truth in love and "consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works", not nitpick over every imagined or real shortcoming. May God bless our whole-hearted pursuit of Him.

Solameanie said...

Excellent post, Frank.

John said...

Great word Frank. I have only seen snatches of Smallville, but loved the interpersonal conflict - and the application you put up here really hits the nail hard. I can't wait to -
wait there's a Bourne Identity study Bible?
I must have that...

FX Turk said...

Jason/Jodee --

I'm on the fence about the comparison you're making. It's certainly in Clark's best personal interest to hide his abilities and his identity -- no question.

Does it actually serve a greater purpose to do so? In once sense, it serves the purposes of his Kryptonian father, Jor-El. In another sense, it serves the interests of Jonathan and martha Kent. In another sense, it doesn't really protect Chloe and Lana and Lex from getting caught up in the drama of Clark's super-poweredness -- they are ignorant victims of being Clark's friends most of the time, suffering both as hostages to leverage Clark and as people frankly and rightly upset by Clark's apparent lack of concern for interpersonal commitments.

I understand why he doesn't tell the truth. I can't make a case that he actually improves the lot of himself or the people around him by obscuring the truth all the time.

FX Turk said...


I apologize for having a life where I spend time with my wife and kids talking about the views of the world as expressed in popular entertainment and how they apply to our real lives, and then sharing those insights (such as they are) with the readers of this blog.

Sorry to have wasted your time, and mine.

FX Turk said...

John --

it's actually the Bourne-Again Identity study bible, TESIVM (today's English Standard International Version Message), published by Ecumania Press.

Available at Family Christian.

SandMan said...

@ Frank

You mean you don't live in Blogland feverishly working on posts so that anonymous commenters can find fault in anything you say? What? You have a "real" life, and enjoy down time with your real family... and then redeem that time by filtering what you see with a Biblical worldview? And then redeem it further by sharing insights with the rest of us?


Nash Equilibrium said...

Oh wow. Truth is stranger than fiction:

This is very close to the Bourne Identity Study Bible

Rob Bailey said...

we had to cut back on some things this year. direct tv was one of them. but we borrowed the smallville series from sis. we've been watching it for about two months now. fun stuff.

Matt Waymeyer said...

Back in 1940, Ronald Reagan married his first wife, an actress named Jane Wyman, and for several years they lived the glamorous life of a Hollywood couple. Then, in 1947, Reagan was elected president of the Screen Actor’s Guild where he became involved with union negotiations and began to resist underground communist organizations that were infiltrating the film industry. This marked the beginning of Reagan’s lifelong battle against communism.

According to historians, Reagan became so preoccupied with his fight against communism that his marriage suffered severely. He became emotionally detached and aloof and neglected his wife Jane to such an extent that eventually she divorced him. A short time after the divorce, a melancholy Reagan said something very profound: “Maybe I should have let someone else save the world and saved my own home.”

Anonymous said...

One thing about losing a parent when a child - it provided me with a proper perspective as to priorities.

~Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
~Mark said...

Now THIS post is contextualization I can get behind. Great message and it didn't get lost.


It also didn't make make focus on Smallville either, and it didn't try to find the Gospel IN Smallville. It made me focus on the Scriptural truth you shared with your wife.

Or the other way around. ;)

donsands said...

I tried to watch Smallville, but could get into it.

I did receive all 4 episodes of Superman on DVD from my daughter fro Christmas.

I have watch I & II so far.

What was interesting to ponder was in #2, when he gave up his power for Lois Lane. And I think she regretted it from the get go. But then he realized he had down the bad thing when he saw the 3 bad super dudes. Well 2 dudes, 1 dudess.

Nice post BTW. You have a tremendous gift of putting words together. And good exhortion for us husbands.

PS I'm gonna have to endure watching Superman III & IV.

CGrim said...

I love Smallville, but one of my biggest gripes with the writing is that too often, the plot thickens simply because two characters neglect to explain themselves.

The writers manage to make a turn a simple "oops, I forgot to mention..." into 40 minutes of mistrust, broken hearts, etc.

CGrim said...

Also, I'm probably the only person who liked Pete's character and was sad to see him go. Oh well. :(

FX Turk said...

The one who needed a permanent place in Smallville was Ryan. His two-episode saga was too little, and too soon.

And I just don't get it: Clark will tell Pete, but not Lana? Not Chloe? That doesn't make a lick of sense.

And you're exactly rightm Grim: speak the next obvious sentence, and not only do we avoid Lana weeping stupidly, but we also get a much more interesting story than the weak, tortured romantic tale which runs along side the exploding stuff and feats of superhuman strength.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I'm a Green Acres man myself.

NewManNoggs said...

Thanks Frank - a very welcome exhortation. I really needed to hear that today.

It's hard to imagine that someone as smart as you could spend so much time in front of the idiot box (I like to call it the devil's looking glass).


FX Turk said...

Imagine what I'd be like if I read three books a week.

I mean books, not comic books.

David Regier said...

I think Challies reads a different book with each eye.

Like, ambi-ocular.

Nathan said...

I really like the idea of "Nazareth" raised by stratagem.

Surely we're not the only ones who wonder what Jesus was like pre-public ministry...

CR said...

24 is not a soap-opera. It's action and suspense.

I tried watching Smallville a few times since I love comic-book heroes but just couldn't get behind it. It's not so much that it's a soap opera for women or men. It's more like teenage young-college age show. Kinda like 90201 and Melrose Place. I know that women of whatever age like that stuff, but with guys, it's usually the younger ones that watch that stuff.

The show at least had some nice music and pretty women.

Missy said...

I am about to pass out from excitement. Doing my daily check of one of my favorite blogs and finding a post about my all-time favorite show. I love it. Too much. Thank you, Frank. Thank you a whole lot. I hope you enjoy all the seasons. Keep in mind season 7 was during the writers' strike and is the low point. Eight was better and nine is pretty amazing so far.

CR said...

Jason and Jodee,

The missionaries in China are under no biblical obligation to tell why they're there in China any more than Rahab was under obligation to tell the authorities where the Israelite spies were or Corrie ten Boom was obligated to tell the Nazis where she was hiding some of the Jews. It would have been wicked for Corrie ten Boom not to lie and tell the Nazis where she was hiding the Jews or for Rahab to turn in the spies to the authorities.

The secret police in China send their spies to seminaries to spy on who the church is sending to their country. No doubt they send spies to these ESL programs. It most certainly is an acceptable partial disclosure on their part or in some of the cases above, "lie."

FX Turk said...

I love it that the guys who watch 24 will not call it a soap opera.

And GI Joe is not a doll.

Anonymous said...

Hi Frank, many happy returns for the new year..and yes well Superboy has gone a bit weird on us in the form of "Smallllville.
My wife thinks its to "new agey" so I dont get to watch it, instead we get to watch Oprah, which in Africa is now two seasons behind ( we have not seen the Michael jackson tribute). Now there is another "superhero" gone wrong. What is it with huamnity looking for a saviour other than Jesus?

Hope all your problems in the new year remain little ones.
South Africa.

FX Turk said...

R&R --

Smallville definitely doesn't have a Christian worldview, so as I say the rest of what I have to say here let's remember that I don't think there's anything particularly and explicitly biblical about what happens on that show.

I tagged this post "PostModernism" because I think that's the right worldview expressed there -- not "New Age". In one sense, everything has a cause in Smallville -- and the two main "causers" are the Luthor family and the meteor rocks. But the problem is that you can't really tell overall what is causing what because the narrative is so fragmented and atomized.

For example: in the first three seasons, is Lex a guy trying to reform his past -- or is he a guy who is simply trying to improve his future by leveraging his experience? Does he really envy and respect Clark and want to learn from him -- or is he trying to mentor and "adopt" Clark because he sees Clark as a worthy minion (or more generously, an ally)? What about Lex's relationship with his father -- is Lionel a sociopath for whom people are only a means to an end, or is he a man hardened by experience and power to a pure utilitarian view of every situation, including the father/son relationship?

The moral ambiguity, even in the Kent family, is startling. The intentional complexity from the writers by making every character's likes and dislikes its own valid moral platform is extremely confusing. If we write off the Luthor family as simply the worst example of the problem of moral ambiguity, what about Chloe? Her high horse is that Clark keeps everything secret from her, and is unwilling to return her affections, but she herself is perhaps the largest keeper of secrets in Smallville -- as Lionel finds out in the beginning of season 3. Her cache of intel on people affected by the meteor rocks runs deep and wide -- and almost no one knows the scope of her investigation. So is it right to keep secrets? Is it right to dig them up -- even if it causes others to be hurt?

If one's going to run down this particular guilty pleasure, my suggestion is that one run it down for its actual faults -- which are all postModern in origin, not due to some disembodied metaphysics. I'd really respect anyone who rejected this show for it's worldview because if you don't watch it carefully, it can easily suck you in.

The Squirrel said...

"And GI Joe is not a doll."

Action figure, Turk! Action figure!

tsk tsk


FX Turk said...

Squirrel --

uh huh. That's why you can match all his excessories item by item to any Barbie assortment.

Just because his accessories are guns and bombs rather than brushes and purses doesn't mean he's not a doll.

Tom Austin said...

Nathan - I don't know why the Bible leaves out those years (with one intriguing exception), but that sort of thing is what you often find in pagan legends - Hercules strangling serpents while still in his cradle and the like. I think Jesus' developmental details might distract us from the message that is the real point of the Gospels.

CR said...

Next thing Frank will be telling us was that Babylon 5 was a comedy-drama soap opera.

Julius Mickel said...

wow! hey busdriver4jesus,
I'll apologize for the two sarcastically harsh comments (MArk Driscoll style) given to you,
Why are such comments tolerated? Your blog, my blog, if it's under the banner of Christ then it's His rules, not ours: if we are in the body of Christ why can't we respond accordingly???

Julius Mickel said...

Seriously, we all could use some purging from what we have been exposed to.
Even the best talks using the best biblical critique over entertainment can't eradicate some of the baggage such entertainment leaves. We are certainly able to be desensitized and tempted in more areas then we can realize.
If any would argue such a point, then how many would suggest watching "PORN" in order to confront a worldview?

Aaron said...

But Frank, GIJOE are only like three inches tall!!

P.S. I'm moving on to Halo dolls. My wife caught me coveting the lego type version of the Halo vehicles that I purchased as a Christmas gift for my friend's son.