A man in an ill fitting Superman suit sits deep in thought amid the trappings of a Valentine's Day party, or perhaps a Las Vegas style review. He is lit from two directions: hot artificial light strikes him from within the room, and gray-dawn from the window. He lacks the musculature, the virility, the confidence, or the hair of a surrogate superhero. His shadow of a beard, his wrinkled costume, his folded hands, and his fatigue suggest that this masquerade has gone on too long.
Superheros were born in the 1930's as a reaction to the frustration and impotence of the Great Depression. They were wholesome figures then, but their incarnations today seem to have a darkside and to be familiar with despair.
This week marks the one hundredth birthday of Ronald Reagan. It also marks the destabilization of Egypt, an American ally. The Obama administration lagged about a day behind events before calling for Hosni Mubarak's removal. The truth is, we are helpless to chart a course there because we are unsure of our welcome. Unlike Reagan standing at the Berlin Wall, there are no easy adversaries for us to denounce, no crowds cheering us on, and no mission for a Superman.
Reagan's legend has grown since his passing. Not only are his mental lapses forgotten, but his willingness to compromise and to raise taxes have been wiped clean from his popular perception. It's not important; there is no harm in remembering him fondly. But we should not so mythologize him, (or Teddy Roosevelt, for that matter), that we blind ourselves to the nuances and paradoxes of our own time.
Untitled (Superman); Steven Assael, 2006. Click on the picture for a closer look.
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