We return to our lessons on Geek Anthropology after a hiatus due to moving home. I’m back with a hot potato! Superman’s layered identity, a child from two worlds. When we take a look at Superman, we always think of him as Superman and Clark Kent while forgetting that he is from Krypton and Kansas. So, what is Superman’s layered identity telling us? Is he an example of someone who belongs to more than one community? Is his personality revealing to us anything else than just hints of his personality?
Let’s remember a bit about Superman first. He was born in Krypton and sent away by his parents to Earth to save him. So, he is a super baby, with super strength when he arrives on planet Earth. However, he isn’t raised with Kryptonian standards, but by the Kents, his adoptive parents, who happen to be from a small town in Kansas.
Superman’s original name, the Kryptonian one, is Kal-el. He was loved by his parents, but they had to send him away because the planet was in danger. Kal-el was adopted by the Kents and was given the name of Clark. So, Superman has three different identities: Clark, the boy from Kansas; Kal-el, the alien from Krypton; and Superman, the savior of Earth.
When Superman achieved puberty, all the superpowers started to flourish. And so, his human dad gave him two pieces of advice: to help those in need and save lives, and to hide his superpowers so the rest won’t fear him.
While he was with his parents, the Kents, Clark was only Clark and Kal-el. But when he moved to Metropolis, he became his alter-ego, Superman.
Superman has a double identity due to his origins: he is an alien, and yet he is an earthling. Many people who belong to two different cultures feel the tear apart, or the double identity, all of them in their own ways. Superman just happens to be an example of that: Clark and Kal-el are the same people. However, they might feel in a collision from time to time. Clark has had a very Kansas-like education, but even if he might feel integrated within his environment, his superpowers just remind him of how alien he is. Think for a while about gifted children who are way more intelligent than their mates their same age. They either hide it to be able to fit in the group, or parents send them to special schools where they can show up all their capabilities. If other children feel that they’re different, these kids might meet some bullying. So we can see in the case of Superman. Clark does not show up, and is quite clumsy so that he can fit in! His nature is constantly reminding him how alien he is!
So Clark is a clumsy version of himself. Or, said in better words, what Kal-el thinks a human is. So, Clark is a disaster! Since he is so clumsy, he can be adequately powerful with his alter-ego: Superman. But, from where does the simplistic morality that Superman has about good and evil? From Krypton? Or from Kansas?
His education and his environment look like the means from which his personality developed, rather than the genes. True, his nature reminds him that he is alien, that he is Kal-el, but his education has given him a simple morality, a compass by which he can develop his alter-ego. His parents are farmers from Kansas, so they might have had simple views that Clark took in easily. He was a loving child, and since he was the only child, it’s natural that he wants to maintain the status quo. Usually, younger-borns are those who challenge the status quo within the family because their position and status in it aren’t that clear. However, this is not always the case.
It looks like he is a sweet guy because of his family and his education. And since the Klarks are quite simple, so he envisions the world and a morality that is also quite simple (and quite naïve at times).
While his nature as a Kryptonian reminds him that, in showing it fully, he won’t be fuly accepted within the community (very much like gifted children); his simplicity makes of him quite predictable, and so he can finally fit it. [Maybe this is a way to let humans know that he is not a threat.]
Remember that I said that Clark is the version of the human Superman, or at least, what he thinks humans are? So, Superman’s simple morality and predictability are just a way to make people comfortable with his superpowers. Because his morals are simple, humans let him run free and save the planet. If the alien had been too complicated to understand, they then would feel nervous and make everything possible to stop him.
So, Superman’s layered personality makes of him a complex character. He shares experiences with gifted children, but also with people who belong to two or more different cultures or communities. While his nature reminds him of his origins, the Kents gave him his humanity and the key to being almost accepted on Earth as another earthling. This does not erase negative views that Superman has about us. We only need to take a look at Clark going up and down Metropolis.
Want to know more about Superman’s personality? Give The Psychology of Superheroes : An Unauthorized Exploration a go!