Thomas, my seven-year-old son, loves Superman. For the past three years, he has watched the Christopher Reeve Superman movies repeatedly. Like me, he’s especially fond on the very first one.
Last year, my mother bought for him a VHS tape of the 2000 re-issue of the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve. This re-issued version contains some scenes left out of the original release. One of these scenes has established itself as among my very favorite in all of the movies I know.
The scene takes place immediately after Superman first reveals himself to the world – just after he saves Lois Lane from falling to her death from a crashed helicopter – just after he captures a jewel thief and other criminals – just after he prevents Air Force One from crashing.
In the scene, he is in his Fortress of Solitude talking to his father, Jor-El, played by Marlon Brando. Jor-El is disappointed that Superman is revealed to the world but, given that it’s done, he has advice for his son on how to proceed. He immediately advises Superman that he, Superman, must still retain his disguise as Clark Kent.
“Why?” asks Superman.
“The reasons are two,” replies Jor-El thoughtfully. "First, even you cannot serve humanity twenty-four hours a day. Your help would be called for endlessly, even for those tasks which human beings could solve for themselves. It is their habit to abuse their resources in such a way.”
Suppose government did indeed possess superhuman abilities (as too many people seem to believe) — abilities wisely and effectively to fund scientific research, fix minimum wages, fight wars, redistribute wealth, run schools, fund health care, operate a pension plan, and on and on and on.
Would we not still demand too much of this super-creature? Would we not abuse our access to its powers — say, entreating it to police against steroid use by a minuscule portion of the population and, as a consequence, deflectiing it from tackling other problems that are more pressing? Would we feel entitled to pass off our own problems — even our own small problems — onto the extraordinarily-powerful-but-not-quite-almighty state, with the result being that our own individual powers wither and become sub-human?