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In the midst of the indomitable covid affair I have been hard pressed to find entertainment that avoids dragging me down into further darkness. It feels like an overwhelming amount of recent television has been dark, gritty, or tragic. In a happier world, in a happier time, that would be fine. Right now I find myself repeatedly checking to see if Brooklyn 99 has a new episode.
What's a man to do? I turned to nostalgia. As a man on the younger edges of generation X, I was just the right age to enjoy the birth and early years of Nick @ Night, Nickelodeon's alternate programming late-night content. If you're not familiar it consisted mostly of TV shows from the 50s and 60s. Classic favorites like Mister Ed, Dragnet, and Get Smart.
Not only are these shows wonderfully wholesome in a way that just isn't seen anymore, they also pluck the strings of nostalgia in just the right way to resonate in my heart. They warm me, comfort, and sooth. They are a cup of tea or a conversation with an old friend. Just what the doctor ordered for social distancing.
I have temporarily acquired a collection of these shows. For the foreseeable future I'll be spending my time here sharing my thoughts and observations on vintage television. What does it have to say to the world of 2020? What should have been left in the past? Just how racist can a wholesome sitcom get? These are all topics we'll traverse together, and much more.
In 1951, George Reeves and Phyllis Coates filmed a 58-minute black-and-white film titled "Superman and the Mole Men". It formed what would become a pilot of sorts for a television show. That show was shelved initially until Kellogg's, the cereal maker, decided to sponsor it as they had done with the Superman radio program. In the autumn of 1952 the show hit the air.
Relatively quickly the show writers learned that their audience consisted primarily of children between six and twelve years. This combined with a protagonist who was completely invulnerable would create a major challenge for the scripts. Plot-lines needed to be simple enough for young children to follow and the hero was difficult to put into direct danger. Thankfully Clark Kent has many idiotic friends to fall into traps for him.
This brings me to my first observation about the show, for which I must offer credit to the great people of the tildeverse IRC network for inspiration and discussion. Talking some of these ideas through with them helped me reach some unusual conclusions.
Lois Lane is insane.
I mean that quite literally. Oxford dictionaries describes someone insane as "in a state of mind which prevents normal perception, behaviour, or social interaction." I will argue that Lois' state of mind displays all three qualities:
prevented normal perception
prevented normal behavior
prevented normal social interaction
In the early episodes of season one, Lois has already displayed an illogical degree of disregard for her own safety. The episode "Rescue" is a prime example. A man has been trapped in a mine after it collapses upon him. Lois is present at the mine, as are other workers. They signal the disaster crew to come help. These are trained men who specialize in this work. Their arrival is imminent. The dangers of an unstable mine have been discussed with her and she has been told clearly to avoid the mine. So what's a Lois Lane to do? That's right, run straight into the mine without equipment or plan. She has to help, after all!
In this case we see a clear demonstration that she does not properly perceive the threat in the situation despite clear communication. She is a city reporter with no background in what to do here. She has no skill to offer and no plan to help, but help she must. Her own importance is disproportionate in her mind.
In the episode "The Secret of Superman," Clark Kent has teamed up with police to set himself up as bait to capture a group of men using a modified truth serum to control people. It is part of a dastardly plan to uncover Superman's true identity. No sooner has Clark feigned capture than Lois is back to her old tricks. She, for her own safety, has a policeman assigned to shadow her as she is a possible subject for abduction. But Clark is in trouble! Again, what's a Lois Lane to do? That's right, something batshit crazy.
Lois slips her police protection and rushes to the scene without backup. Backup she already had, mind you, had she not gone out of her way to lose it. She then rushes headlong into the building to confront the criminals. These men are known to have slipped the mind-controlling poison into the drinks of their targets, and so Lois is not to be fooled. When the dastardly leader offers her a cup of coffee she of course tell him to go to hell! Oh wait... no. This is Lois Lane. She agrees. She's a little parched from all the stealthy sneaking away from her protectors after all. But never fear! She demands to pour the coffee herself. "Fine, fine," says the bad guy, "but what's that over there on the floor? Is that blood?" And as quickly as that, she is distracted and the drug is slipped.
I suppose this article could go into an argument of just how stupid this woman can be, but I digress. Here again she has shown a lack of judgement due to a misperception in her own power and effectiveness. Her behavior is baffling.
In the episode "The Mind Machine" a gangster is on trial. He has kidnapped a scientist working on a machine to help modify the behavior of mentally troubled patients. The gangster has other plans for it, though. He pressures and threatens the doctor until he uses the machine to overwhelm the willpower of those witnesses testifying against him. This long-range mind-control has a terrible side effect, though. It drives the target completely insane, eventually killing them.
Lois is eventually the only witness remaining, and time is running short for Superman to find the machine and stop the men from using it upon Lois. In fact, the way the episode plays out, Superman is not quite in time at all. The machine has already been turned on and is effecting Lois on the stand, though the command is never given that would have overridden her will. Superman manages to stop the men just in time for that to be prevented, and the doctor destroys the machine vowing never to build another. The day is saved and all is well (other than several dead witnesses and a clear case of a mistrial).
But what if Lois didn't get away without consequence? Her behavior following that encounter does mimic to a lesser degree that of the others who have been reprogrammed. Her own lack of understanding could be due to the infernal machine. It's an idea, certainly, and since we have no clear timeline in this series as every episode stands alone in time, this could theoretically represent the beginning of her time with Superman and the origin of her behavior. There's just one bit working against that theory.
Lois has been deeply investigating a kingpin of metropolis (and yes, they do call him "The Kingpin" in the episode, interestingly). That suggests she's been at this for some time. It doesn't square up with the other timelines at play. She wouldn't have that sort of assignment early in her career, and her relationship with Clark would be less developed. I think this scenario is unlikely, and there is another that is far more plausible.
Before we talk about what I believe to be the true origins of Lois' insanity, I want to call attention to some very strange behavior in Superman in this series. In "The Mind Machine", Clark is with a pilot in a small plane flying over the mountains in search of the radar signal given off by the machine so he can pinpoint its location. When the signal is found he learns he is out of time and that Lois is already on the stand. He has to act NOW. So what's a good, upright, Superman to do? That's right... punch the pilot into unconsciousness, flick on the autopilot, and jump out of the plane leaving him to his fate. Later on in the episode that same plane runs out of fuel and Superman swoops in to save it from crashing. Effectively Superman has saved that man from Superman.
Punching his friends until they're unconscious seems to be a trend with him when he needs a bit of privacy. He does the same maneuver to his close friend and investigator, Candy, in "The Stolen Costume". Since his costume was, well, stolen, he had to run in and deal with the bad guys as Clark Kent, revealing his true identity. He couldn't risk his friend seeing who he was, so he was very fast to knock him out.
But what about the bad guys? The man is a blackmailer and wanted a payday. The woman, his accomplice, was much less willing to go down this path but had been pressured into it. Superman won't kill them, they say. Superman doesn't do that. So what's a Superman to do? That's right! He flies them deep into mountainous country and places them on the top of a dangerous peak from which there is no safe way down. "I'll be back with food for you soon," he tells them before flying off. The punishment, as Superman has decided acting as judge & jury, for knowing his identity is that they must live the rest of their lives alone in the frozen wilderness where they can never reach another human soul. It's no surprise the two decide to risk it in a climb down the mountain. Unfortunately for them, the climb was indeed too difficult. In the final scene we learn they have fallen to their deaths. This is clearly a direct result of Superman's forced, life-long imprisonment. He is directly to blame for the deaths of two people.
Honestly it shouldn't shock me one bit. I believe it only took until episode 4 before we found Superman recommending the police beat the truth out of a man during an interrogation.
Truth, justice, and the American way! Probably not what they meant, but it still works.
We return again to Lois Lane. Why is she insane? I posit it is a simple byproduct of her close association with Superman itself which is at fault. His presence has:
inflated her perception of self importance
inflated her perception of her own threat level
removed all sense of consequence
Superman's fascination with Lois Lane brings her again and again into the spotlight of action. Where things that matter occur, Clark is surely there. And with him is Lois. If someone is threatening Superman, Lois is the easiest target. In those rare occasions when Superman is not the focus of activity in Metropolis, she is still a report for a major metropolitan newspaper. Lois Lane is quite literally at the center of EVERYTHING in the city. As a result she perceives herself to be important to everything in the city. It's easy to see why she might think that.
Her understanding of her own threat level is likewise conflated by Superman's presence. When the intrepid reporter storms into the den of thugs and thieves, she isn't afraid. They should be. She's got their number and they're in for it when she gets back to her typewriter. Oh, what's this? They're surrounding her so she can't get to that typewriter. 3...2...1...SUPERMAN!
And that brings us to the final, but most important part. Nothing Lois does has consequences for her. She could quite literally chose to no longer take the elevator down to the ground floor but rather step out the window of the daily planet office and plummet toward the ground. Superman will be there to catch her. She could run into a collapsing mine and Superman will be there. She can confront a deadly doctor with a mind control agent, but why be afraid. This literally always works out for her.
What a lifestyle!
The final bit that caught me off guard when I came to this conclusion was that these symptoms all seemed familiar. Those effects are not just a product of close association with Superman, they describe someone who has a close association with wealth.
Consider the inflated sense of self importance. Consider the inflated sense of power and threat they wield. And then recognize the way consequences vanish magically away with money.
For Lois Lane this was enough to drive her to insanity. Superman's presence in her life:
prevented her normal perception
prevented her normal behavior
prevented her normal social interaction
If this is the textbook definition of insanity, what does that tell us about the wealthy running the world today?
Originally Published 2020-05-17 at:
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