Monday, September 12, 2011

Working Man Superman or Hipster Superman?

Young people these days... respect for history.

I've now read a few articles wherein reviewers or the reader described Superman as a "hipster" in the new Action Comics #1.  Apparently the wardrobe of jeans, t-shirt and work-shoes is being taken by younger readers than myself as intentional code for Superman having been into saving the day since before that went mainstream and got lame.

Here and here for a couple of examples.*

look at this F'ing hipster
This is, of course, the third or fourth or fifth go-round in a year where folks freaked the heck out over Superman not appearing as the regular old Superman they're used to (and which had become a party pinata of derision).

1)  Superman: Earth One - remember the "hoodie controversy"?  Wherein it was suggested that the young Clark Kent (was he even 21?) wearing a hoodie was clearly emulating Edward from Twilight and had gone "emo"?  Le sigh.
2)  The image above, revealing Superman's new look for the start of Action Comics, which nobody at the time referred to as "hipster" but as "whut?"  Truthfully, I thought the image was symbolic and was surprised when it became the actual look for issue #1.
3)  When DC revealed the new costume for upcoming issues of Superman without the red underwear and kids looking at the image fixated on the fact that the costume design had detail around the knee and proceeded to freak out that Superman supposedly had knee pads (he doesn't.  They literally saw it wrong.).
4)  The new movie costume, which is a significant departure from the comics.
5)  And now... Superman: Hipster

Its a curious bit of what I am inclined to believe are different readings by different generations looking at the same totems.  Absolutely nothing about jeans, t-shirt and durable work shoes says "hipster" to me (if Superman had an ironic mustache and Kanye sunglasses, we could have that discussion).  Instead, I see "working class joe" or "the worker", which is what I assume anyone of my generation or older would conclude, and something that, it occurs to me, younger readers may have few media-created images or references to draw upon.

You guys didn't know The Boss's entire career has been entirely one long, sarcastic remark?

The working-class hero is, perhaps, forgotten in modern media, in TV and film.  I don't think even cops get to do the "casual look" all that often anymore.  Odd, in a country where people regularly show up at restaurants and shopping looking for all the world like they were completely shocked to find themselves out of bed and at the store.

But I'm taking the jeans, boots and shirt as the common-sense outfitting of a kid without much money looking for something durable to wear while he gets shot by cops and jumps around the city.  And, I might add, the sort of practical wear that was the sign of people who worked with their hands from World War II until, apparently, very recently.

Jeans and t-shirt?  Hipster?

When it comes to calling someone a hipster, its never a positive thing.  I get that the current population group to denigrate is no longer jocks for a generation that prizes mastery of trivial information above physical prowess, but hipsters - those cooler-than-cool folks who can claim they were listening to Arcade Fire when that first EP came out, not when you found out about them about six months before Neon Bible came out (and they were just total d**ks about it when mentioned you liked Arcade Fire, too) - screw those guys!

If street cred is high currency, then you need a way to deflate the guys who were there first, and  get that there's a certain wardrobe, and I'm only casually aware of the nuance, what with me being in my increasingly late-mid-30's.  Thus, I think the ubiquity of hipster-antipathy is something much more powerful with the kids than it is with myself.  But it seems an odd dismissal of the character, especially as a bad read.  And obviously a common read as I'm starting to see the "hipster" bit online.

gah!  hipsters!
I'm not surprised people are finding weird ways to read things into Superman, I guess.  The character is more an icon than a character to 99.9% of the population, and not one that most people really take the time to consider. But:  Farmer's child from Kansas. In the big city. Fighting for the little guy.

Put on your thinking caps, people.

What's surprising to me is how obvious the look is from my perspective (to the point where I thought the whole "common man" theme was a bit on the nose - but no longer), and that we may have actually moved into a generation that doesn't actually know what people who work for a living look like.  Unless those people are wearing a visor with "McDonald's" printed on the front.

What do hard-scrabble kids even look like these days that jeans, t-shirt and boots draw the accusation of being an overly wrought "look" intended to be worn with irony?  And, I honestly believe, Morales and Morrison intended exactly the opposite.

WPA murals of the 1930's in the US captured the plight of that era's hipsters in vivid imagery
Is this Superman supposedly living his rock and roll lifestyle on his parents' credit card?  As the Bleeding Cool reviewer suggested: sitting in Starbucks and, I guess, judging people for not wearing the right jeans?  Mocking you for listening to new MGMT but not getting in early on that rare stuff?

Its just bizarre to me that (a) a t-shirt and jeans is seen with such disdain, I guess in a world where you can dress yourself anyway you like, and (b) that's the reading the kids are taking away from the story they just read.

I knew we might be in a spot of trouble when Morrison effused about a "Springsteen" Superman.  Grant, buddy, Springsteen isn't even what these kids' parents listen to.  Thunder Road is going to baffle them.  The rock star as voice of the working man ideal died out the first time a champage glass was raised in a hip-hop video.

I am getting so, so old.  Luckily, I'm old sort of like Morrison, I guess.

The downside is that I have memories of reading comics as a kid and into my 20's and just sort of chuckling over how these middle-aged guys writing comics interpreted youth culture.  Everything from the New Mutaants at the arcade to Superman's mullet (and how they dressed Clark in everyday-wear at the time.  It was...  awful.  Remember those "jock pants" in the 90's?  With all the colors?  And tank tops?  Yes, they totally went there.  With the mullet.  This is why I never read 90's Superman.  It's too painful..).  And now I'm on the other side of the fence, with only an inkling of an idea of what the kids are up to, gathered from walking through the lobby of the library where I work.

I tell you this much, I'm a lot more self-conscious about the fact I show up in jeans and Rockports for work most days.

*I confess I found the Bleeding Cool review frustrating as the reader misidentifies or mischaracterizes what's happening in scenes she describes (to the point that I have to doubt either her objectivity or her reading comprehension) and projects a whole lot there that isn't on the page, inadvertently revealing more about her personal insecurities than she delivers a useful write-up.  Frankly, I'm surprised they ran her review.


Mikey said...

I'm surprised that anyone criticized Superman's t-shirt/jeans look of being "hipster." I thought it was pretty clear that Morrison/Morales were trying to give Superman a John Henry, work-ready look.

I think in the end, some people will criticize any minor change that occurs to Superman, and label it with whatever they think will be most offensive at the time. Although I'd love to be accused of dressing like a hipster...

Jake Shore said...

I don't get it. This just reinforces my contention that everyone under the age of 25 is a complete idiot.

I mean, seriously, to have so great a lack of perspective is mind-boggling. These kids probably don't know a single person who does blue collar work. I hope this is representative of only a fraction of the population. If not, I weep for the future.

I have been somewhat skeptical of the working class hero approach, but at least I get it.

The League said...

Hey fellas. Sorry I was out of pocket all day.

Mikey, I tend to agree. People are very strange about changes to Superman or, more particularly, their interpretations or impressions of Superman, even if unfounded. I think people learn about Superman so early, sometimes seeing change is hard. Like (I'm making this up, but...) seeing Coke change their packaging to bright green or something, or seeing them move The Beverly Hillbillies to space for a season or something. Its just very jarring.

But we all bring our own baggage to comics (or TV or movies). I've said it here recently, but I don't think it will be the comics themselves that drive me away from comics, but it may be my sheer fatigue from watching the kids grapple badly with the material from a generational perspective that doesn't match my own, and it seems to grow larger every month.

Mikey said...

@The League - I agree, readers are very strange about changes to Superman. Then again, DC editorial itself has been in the past notoriously stringent about how Superman has been allowed to be portrayed.

Speaking of which, have you ever head the famous Superman/swing set editorial decision? Here's Mike Allred talking about it:

Fast forward to 21:55. It's an awesome story. :)

The League said...

Wow. Yeah, sometimes it really seems that the Levitz regime, Carlin, et al., may have done more harm than good to the character by "protecting" him during that era. I think Morrison's All Star really freed up what was acceptable.

Its interesting to hear the "no swing set" rule as it seems that in the mid-00's, they apparently let people show Superman crying and that was suddenly every cover.

JAL said...

Superman produces results, he can't possibly be a hipster.