Despite soaring inflation, nationwide strikes, and coronavirus fatigue, it was a slow news week. As a result, stuff like this gets coverage everywhere from DRUDGE to NPR. According to the latter, “Superman's son comes out as bisexual in a new comic. It's a big deal—sort of.” That’s the headline. There’s no need to read beyond that or see anything other than the picture from the comic that every media outlet used.
This is repertory material for a media still re-running “the War on Christmas” every autumn. Remember when a visibly upset Megyn Kelly said this in 2013? “Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?” I can only imagine how Kelly and her former Fox & Friends reacted to the drawings of a very large, almost dangerously muscular man in spandex kissing another muscular but less alarmingly so man. It’s been eight years, but this is a re-run, and nothing can top Kelly’s performance in that clip.
Dean Cain played Superman on TV in the 1990s, and his criticism was surprisingly astute: “I say they’re bandwagoning… If they had done this 20 years ago, perhaps that would be bold or brave. But brave would be having him fight for the rights of gay people in Iran where they'll throw you off a building for the offense of being gay.” He’s right, and while a gay Superman is no less offensive or surprising than a pot-smoking Superman in the 1960s or a Superman telling kids to “just say no” in the 1980s, it’s not bold or brave, it’s of the moment and marketing du jour to sell yourself as queer. This isn’t Raytheon changing their avatar to rainbows in June, this is a comic book for children and a positive depiction of homosexuality is completely acceptable now. As Cain said, DC and Marvel should’ve done this decades ago.
But I want to bring it back to Santa Claus. Like Superman, he’s fictional. You can “trace” Santa to some “real St. Nicholas” in 1200s Turkey, but do you really think he wore a big red suit with a big white beard and small glasses? What about the reindeer? And so on. Santa probably was inspired by a real person, or several people, just as Superman was created by real people (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster). So you see, Superman, like Santa Claus, is fictional. They’re make believe. Despite the protests and praise of pundits and fans and stunted, latent homophobes, you can do whatever you want with Superman because he doesn’t exist. So the idea of his son kissing another man isn’t “far-fetched,” because he’s already far-fetched. This is Superman. He made the world turn around for Margot Kidder in 1977. I think he can also kiss men.
People are so precious about characters they didn’t create, and it always makes me think of one of Howard Stern’s best rants. A few years ago, the voice actor for Kermit the Frog, the guy that had done it since Jim Henson’s death in 1990, was fired because he refused to perform a certain script, a script where “Kermit lied.” Again, there’s news here: apparently Kermit has a girlfriend now, and her name is Robin. In the “offending” episode, Kermit lied to Robin. This was a bridge too far for the voice actor, the guy that had been given the cushiest, walk-on gig in voice acting history. He must be set for life, but is he worth mentioning? He’s so dumb.
Stern was right: “Anybody who wants to be a puppeteer for a living, the odds of you actually creating a money-generating career are next to nothing. 27 years this guy, all he’s got to do is the voice of Kermit the Frog, now he’s like… trying to debate the merits of the character? Do not lose that job under any circumstances.”
He goes on to list the premises and scenarios he’d accept as the voice actor for Kermit the Frog: “I could do it. ‘Mr. Stern, you’re the new Kermit.’ ‘Thank you. I’ll take that gig, what do I get paid?’ ‘Oh, thousands of dollars for being a fucking dumb frog character.’ ‘Okay, what’s the first script.’ ‘Uh, Kermit blows a guy for crack.’ ‘Okay… blrblrblrblrblrblr—’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘That’s Kermit blowing the guy for crack, I’m right in there.’ ‘…Alright, here’s our second script for the day: Kermit goes to the Make-a-Wish Foundation and slaps a kid with cancer.’ ‘Okay. That sounds plausible. Bad things can happen, even to a frog.’”
Besides “updating” or “reinventing” people that don’t exist, never existed, and whose previous forms are easily accessible, I still don’t understand the widespread aversion to remakes and reinterpretations. Shakespeare can’t be the only artist whose work remains open to complete reinterpretation. Remakes in movies are often bad, but the concept is full of possibilities, and reviving known characters in new situations or forms is still something people get excited about at a psychological level. So instead of braying the same bullshit about “all remakes” being terrible, let’s exploit the psychosexual fears of superhero fans and make the next Spider-Man movie make Querelle look like Gilligan’s Island.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith