Reclaiming Kal-El From Kanye: That Feeling isn’t Superman, It’s Lex Luthor or Bizarro
I would like to preface this with, I am a card-carrying social justice warrior (SJW). I believe that we are involved in a cultural war onset by what bell hooks call “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” Oh to be a nerd with a cause.
This was inspired by recent events and Hip Hop artist Kanye West’s visit to the Donald Trump White House accompanied by Hall of Famer and actor Jim Brown. In his manic soliloquy, he rants incoherently about mass incarceration, education, industry, American jobs, his admiration of Trump and his own mental health. The whole thing frustrates me with but I’m writing this because he said that his red Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat, made him feel like Superman.
Hold up. Superman? Kal El? Clark Kent?
Let’s take a step back.
Why are we talking about Kanye?
I am a diehard fan of first three albums by Kanye. They are musical masterpieces and essential files in the wider Hip Hop historical catalog. And of course, he’s a prolific producer with many hits under his belt, from the start, producing classic tracks for Jay-Z on the Blueprint and the Black Album. 808’s and Heartbreaks was a departure from his earlier work, as the auto-tune distorts his voice exemplifying the disruption in his personal life. The list goes on of other hits he’s done with Nas, Eminem, Common, Cam’ron, Alicia Keys, and many others. But after the death of his mother and end of his engagement to his longtime girlfriend, Alexis Phifer, Kanye was never the same. Not that we didn’t know he had a bit of an ego issue in his early days. So big, he probably thought Beyonce’s “Ego” was about him and that’s why he thought he needed to come to her rescue against Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
Mr. West Goes to Washington
On Thursday, October 11, 2018, Kanye West was in the White House to meet with Trump and Jim Brown to have lunch and talk about God knows what initially but it eventually spirals into what his friend, Dave Chappelle called a “manic episode.” Other artists and friends were not as kind in their reactions on Twitter.
Rant heard round the world
In his rant, West says that Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, “Didn’t make me feel like a guy,” but the MAGA hat, “It gives me power.” Coming from a man who made a song called Power, it confuses me to no end. When did Kanye lose his power? What happened to the Kanye that thought he was a god? Why does he need Trump and his hat to be powerful? He then credits Trump with his renewed strength, “You made a Superman cape for me.” Apparently because Trump just “goes and gets it done.” But what exactly has DT done but piss off all our allies and become friends with former foreign enemies?
Superficially, Superman is relatively impervious to harm. West suggests that a MAGA hat, makes him bulletproof, safe from harm, and imbued with similar abilities as Superman. I could go on to talk about toxic masculinity and how an obsession with physical attributes not only discounts Superman’s intellect but discounts West’s own intellect. Does he really believe that Trump is bringing more jobs to the industry? Does he really believe that he has plans to resolve police killings of unarmed Black people? Does he really believe that welfare is really the issue that plagues all of Black America? Is a physical feeling of masculine energy and strength enough to overlook the inconsistencies in Trump’s message and deeds? Doesn’t sound like Superman to me, sounds more like Bizarro, the failed clone of Superman whose language and motor skills are usually off kilter. We might be in the Bizarro world, where every day is Opposite Day.
Is Trump really ‘Ye’s hero?
As Kanye goes on his diatribe, Trump, as well as Jim Brown too, sit silently and smile and are somewhat speechless at the incident. “That’s quite something. He’s a smart cookie.” is Trump’s only response. As West embraces Trump, the image is definitely not Superman-esque. CBR reported that the money hungry, corporate xenophobe version of Lex Luthor was introduced in 1986 with John Byrne’s Man of Steel series and Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography, and is based, in part, on our current resident of the White House, Donald Trump. This is now Kanye’s hero. He even says that Trump is on his “hero’s journey,” a reference to the Joseph Campbell book, “A Hero with a Thousand Faces.” The book details the common threads of the hero’s journey that can be strewn across multiple myths, legends, and folklore. (Check out how Rick & Morty creator Dan Harmon applies the concepts from the book on episodes of his hit show). But Trump is a hero with what cause and for whom? Happily admitting to sexual assault, hiring cabinet and bureau heads with no experience and dismantling the infrastructure of our government, hiring a lying accused rapist to the Supreme Court, contributing to the dissolution of protections for LGBTQ+ folks, slashing the budget for educational programs, and ridiculing people with disabilities are just a few of Trump’s favorite things.
I’m caping for Superman
The first superhero, Superman, also known as Clark Kent or by his birth name, Kal-El, was rocketed from his dying planet Krypton to live and prosper. Kal was found by a loving couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent, who raised him with care, a high moral fortitude, and a love for all human beings on Earth. Now after 80 years in print, radio serials, television, movies, action figures, and as one of the most recognizable fictional characters on the planet, there have been many iterations of the character but many of his virtues still ring true. Superman makes up the moral backbone of what we all should believe and stand for. He is the epitome of justice, a pillar of truth, and a beacon of hope. Some might even say he’s a socialist. Grant Morrison in his book, “Supergods” says of Supes:
“He was brave. He was clever. He never gave up and he never let anyone down. He stood up for the weak and knew how to see off bullies of all kinds. He couldn’t be hurt or killed by the bad guys, hard as they might try. He didn’t get sick. He was fiercely loyal to his friends and to his adopted world. He was Apollo, the sun god, the unbeatable supreme self, the personal greatness of which we all know we’re capable.”
While he is powerful, this is not all of who he is and what he represents. At least not to me.
Who is Superman?
Not to mention if we did deeper, Kal-El was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jewish men who were imminently disgusted by the war in Europe and wanted to counter Nietzsche’s and later Hitler’s idea of ubermensch with a superman of their own. But he wouldn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, he would have black hair and he would be All-American. Many of the early issues of Superman, saw him fighting Nazis. In Superman, issue# 18 where some Nazis from the Izan Athletic Club (Nazi backward) puts on a mock rally revealed to be a real one. Supes manages to break it up by figuring out they are real Nazis trying to stage a coup. If we think about some of Trump’s supporters, we have some sympathizers to the idea of white superiority and the right to own this country and others.
For Clark Kent, who set the superhero standard for the secret identity, is the true identity of Superman. Morrison defines Clark as “…the soul, the transcendent element in the Superman equation. Clark Kent is what made him endure.” Kanye might mistake himself for the original Clark as Morrison describes, “…misunderstood, put-upon, denied respect in spite of his obvious talents as a newspaperman at Metropolis’s Daily Planet.” But what set Clark apart is that his secret is that he is truly Clark. He is sensitive, he is intelligent, a seeker of truth, and a values-driven leader. Bruce, Diana, Wally, Hal, and every other hero in the DC Universe looks to him for guidance and gives him the respect he is due, not because of his strength but because he is a conscientious spokesman for the side of right. Clark has the capacity to love and be loved and is one of the few heroes to have had a successful marriage (in different iterations with Lois). Even with Batman admitting that he is more human than all of us.
Given all of that, I don’t think that Kal would take too kindly to Trump or to Kanye’s hat.
My purpose here is to examine some of the problematic issues here in contrast to a commingling of my child and adult sensibilities. Let me be clear, that while I am very critical of Kanye, his hat, and his hero. I want to be clear, again, I am a fan of his past music and I think he is need of help for his mental health issues. I can also hear now the counterpoints to me “kicking another Black man when he’s down” or being a “bully” for his because his views are different. Couldn’t be further from the truth. I am open to varying perspectives about the world around me, and in some cases willing to change my opinion if presented with reasonable facts but I don’t see how any can defend his incomplete or overly simplistic and often nonsensical take on the real trauma, inequity, and madness going on in the world, perpetuated by none other than his buddy Donald J. Trump. I also know some might contend with me caping for Superman at all because he’s white and “obviously” a model for white saviors and white supremacy. Again, I go to the fundamental nature of what Superman represents and the marginalized history from which he emerges. Foundations, origins, and intentions do matter. I know there were some folks clamoring for a Black Superman, I am actually not opposed. The Earth-23 Superman, Calvin Ellis might be interesting or even Milestone’s Icon, if those issues ever get resolved. But trust me, if we do get one, ya boy ‘Ye is not it.