The Lost Lesson of Superman

I’ve been watching the TV show The Office for the first time, and the gut-wrenching slow-motion tragedy of Michael Scott is absolutely why that show is regarded a classic. But the core of Michael’s awkwardness is that he wants to be everyone’s friend.

He sees no difference between his work and personal relationships. He wants everyone to like him (except Toby). He brings his personal life to work, and his professional life home with him. He has no work/life balance, and he’s not even particularly interested in it.

This somehow made me think of Superman.

Clark Kent works at The Daily Planet, not Superman. Superman, or any other hero in the tradition of a secret identity, act not just in the ennobling concept of “protecting the ones you love,” but drawing healthy lines between professional and personal lives.

There’s a reason we call it a “private life,” after all. So please read this public blog where I vomit out my private thoughts about it.

Eroding the Barriers

This is eroding more and more in the era of social media, of course. We’ve become trained attention-seekers, blasting everything to the world outside.

People who work together now connect on social media, regardless if they know they can trust each other. It used to be that people built the trust first,

It introduces the added tension of knowing that people at work can see what you’re up to when you fake a sick day (not that I ever have, mind you). You have to, without fail, be on your best behavior. You have to measure your words, aware that screencaps can be taken out of context and even innocuous statements can be repurposed in bad faith.

None of that excuses truly bad behavior, of course, though I was accused of attempting to do just that when I pointed that out before. It highlighted again how others bring their own baggage to your comments online and create a constant state of tension as insecure rage addicts roam around looking for fights for some perceived social capital.

Heck, the Black Mirror episode Nosedive illustrated that same point. The erasure of the truly private life puts us onstage at all times.

People will eventually start snapping. Maybe they are already.

Even in Fiction

This habit of constant connection has started to affect even our fictional heroes. This makes sense, of course. Our stories reflect our lives so that they remain relatable.

But just because it’s not surprising doesn’t mean it’s not uncomfortable. It’s a reminder that even our escapism won’t allow us to forget that everyone is expected to share everything about their lives at all times.

Disney®©™’s Marvel™®©’s “MCU” movies largely do away with any pretense of secret identities onscreen. Tony Stark is openly Iron Man, Captain America simply is, and so on. The only one of Disney™©®’s Marvel®©™’s The Avengers who has a semblance of separation between aspects of his life is Hawkeye, and that’s pretty much done away with in Disney©™®’s Marvel©®™’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron Goes to Stankonia.

That onscreen privacy mantle goes to Spider-Man now, but even he’s had a habit of revealing his identity through time. It’s only a matter of time for that to catch up to him in the onscreen portrayal.

And Now Superman Has Fallen

Part of the odd modern dynamic created the end of Man of Steel is that Lois already knows who Clark Kent really is when he’s not a dashingly handsome reporter for The Daily Planet.

The erasure of Superman’s secret between him and Lois removes the most important barrier that existed traditionally between his personal and professional lives. Learning that work/life balance was a tremendous lesson for a boy from Kansas – as it was for anyone from anywhere.

It’s also a complicated situation for coworkers to be romantically linked. (Trust me, it’s just a bad idea in general. We all think it’ll be like Jim & Pam from The Office but more likely it’ll end up like Sam & Diane from Cheers in a best case scenario.)

That aspect was further complicated because of the burden Clark knew he’d be passing to Lois if she knew who he was when off-duty. But now he’s kind of an ass for taking a job at The Daily Planet because he could take a job anywhere, and not saddle Lois with holding his secrets for him as well.

I mean, to be honest, Clark Kent would be better positioned as some sort of overnight janitor, a waiter, or a grocery store clerk since his absences during flexible work hours could be minimized, but that’s another story.

And what if they break up? Like, is that even an option for them at this point?

“If we ever break up, it’s going to be REALLY awkward.”

I suppose you could make the case that it’s pretty easy for Superman to quit his day job and just go be Superman. In that case, though, he drops any pretense at being a “normal guy.”

Maybe it gets under my skin because now even Superman can’t have a clear line between his work and personal lives and it’s a reminder that none of us can, now. Does that make things better for us? Does it make it worse?

Well at least there’s still Batman. Maybe.