American Icons: Superman [Studio 360]

Originally broadcast July 6, 2006, one month after Superman Returns and rebroadcast May 31, 2013, one month before Man of Steel.

Studio 360 is a public radio program about the arts and culture hosted by Kurt Andersen and produced by Public Radio International and WNYC. If you enjoy documentaries, insight, commentary, or Superman, this is a must listen. You don’t have to agree with everything presented, and some parts are given only a cursory analysis, but the production is slick, high quality, transitions beautifully, tackles a gamut of thought-provoking topics, and features Bryan Singer, Margot Kidder, Brandon Routh, Jules Feiffer, Art Spiegelman, Michael Chabon, Howard Jacobson, just to name a few!

For those who love food for thought and Superman this was a delight to listen to.

The substance of the show is about 50 minutes and provides endless prompts for discussion, analysis, etc. Literally entire books have been written around the topics which this show can only touch upon. Nonetheless, I’ll do my best to briefly summarize a few of the ideas touched upon recalled from my morning commute. Most of the segments transition seamlessly so it isn’t always a case of discrete topics, but comes off almost as a stream of consciousness.

In this program, they touch upon:

  • Superman’s Jewish parallels and origins
  • Superman as a product of shy, nerdy, nebbish young men afraid of girls
  • Superman as a product of Martin Siegel’s murder in an armed robbery
  • Superman’s popularity allowing Siegel and Shuster to mature and get girls
  • Siegel wanting Superman to grow up too, reveal his secret to Lois to proceed as partners, but axed by DC as upsetting the successful formula
  • The conflict between DC and Siegel and Shuster
  • Superman’s constant evolution and multimedia explosion
  • Superman the musical as satire and inner monologue
  • The romance and love triangle
  • Comics as mere research & development for the films
  • Bryan Singer who didn’t read the comics but was enamored with Superman The Movie
  • Singer pitching relationships as something unsurmountable to Superman
  • Interpreting the triangle as masochistic because of the willful acceptance of humiliation and pain
  • Kidder’s performance as informed by real-life: monosyllabic with crushes and bossy with mere buddies
  • The appeal and purpose of Clark Kent
  • Jules Feiffer’s essay and proposal, the inspiration for the Kill Bill monologue
  • Superman’s duality as the Western film archetype of the law-abider and lawless strongman, see The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  • Why is Clark Kent a journalist?
  • The historical context, ethics, and nobility of journalism, and Siegel’s desire to be a journalist
  • Discussion of the costume in film, the logo, and the shield
  • Comparing and contrasting the shield and the swastika
  • Superman as a Fascist ideal, Fascism, and absolute power

Even if you’re a longtime fan of Superman, you’ll probably find something new, surprising, or interesting within this, despite much of it being familiar. For an overview it is still professionally produced, well-researched by going to interesting sources, and peppered with appropriate audio. Give it a listen!

Studio 360 – American Icons: Superman

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