For years I've been trying to help people see that popular consumer culture is a form of religion. It offers us a sense of value, identity, and context that traditional religions once provided. Similarly, pop culture has sacred symbols. How do I know this? Because when one of these symbols is altered the faithful will rise to protest the act of irreverence.
The Coca-Cola Company learned this lesson in 1985 when they released New Coke. And earlier this year when Gap changed their logo, hoards of angry white females rioted via social media. Gap relented and the retail deity's image was restored.
The latest victim of pop-culture blasphemy: Superman. Photographs have leaked from the production of Warner Brothers' new film Man of Steel showing actor Henry Cavill wearing a blue Superman suit without red trunks. When the film debuts in 2013 it will be the first time the character is depicted on screen without the red under(over)pants. Nerds are enraged.
The question I have is this: After 73 years of wearing his underwear on the outside, why has Superman decided to hide his Hanes?
I did a little snooping and discovered that when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in the 1930s his design was derived from two sources–science fiction comics and circus strong men. The former gave Superman his blue one-piece uniform (all advanced societies wear one-piece uniforms, it's a Hollywood fact), and the latter his red Speedo. The look has remained largely unchanged for seven decades–including five feature films.
But when Warner Brothers handed the responsibility for penning a new Superman script to Christopher Nolan and David Goyer, the same team behind Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, they wanted to bring the same realism to the Man of Steel they had brought to the Caped Crusader. But the Superman character, unlike Batman, is utterly unrealistic. He's an alien who can fly, repel bullets, and fire lasers from his eyes. If we are to accept all of that, is it really too much to ask a modern audience to believe Superman would wear red underwear over his pants?
Yes, it is.
At least that was the filmmakers' conclusion, so they ditched the drawers. Now fanboys' panties are in a bunch over the decision and they're tearing up chat rooms and message boards about it. Online petitions have even started to pressure Warner Brothers to return the super shorts.
What lessons can we learn from the skirmish over Superman's skivvies? Here are a few thoughts:
ONE: Don't underestimate the power of symbols
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