Saturday, 18 January 2014

Fable #1: Mensch and the Other Kind of Mensch

This is from 1942. And yet somehow, World War Two managed to last another three years.

In 1899, the radical French journalist Georges Clemenceau summoned the Gods of the Twentieth Century by mistake.

His newspaper had exposed the Dreyfus Affair, which saw the military frame a Jewish army captain for a crime of treason committed by a decidedly non-Jewish major. (The real traitor was called Esterhazy, a name John le Carré later used as a decoy.) This might sound like a typical example of nineteenth-century injustice / race-baiting, if it weren't for the repercussions, most particularly its role in inspiring Jewish writer Theodor Herzl to make the defining argument for modern Zionism. But during Clemenceau's war against antisemitic, pro-establishment French nationalism, he praised both the whistle-blowing of intelligence officer George Picquart and the campaigning of Dreyfus' brother, declaring: "All the world knows that Colonel Picquart is a hero. But if Colonel Picquart is a hero, Mathieu Dreyfus is a super-hero!"

The words have been spoken. They can't be un-spoken.

In the same era, anti-Jewish movements in Eastern and Northern Europe were causing mass-migrations to the US. By the 1930s, the children of two typical Jewish immigrant families were living in Ohio. With the world of their ancestors gone, they'd been raised to exploit every talent they had while adopting a mild-mannered facade of all-American Protestantism. So it was that Siegel and Shuster created Superman, who's now been "passing" as one of the goyim for over 75 years. Much has been written on the primal Jewishness of Clark Kent, and the ongoing Jewishness of comic-books in general (Stan Lieber became Stan Lee, and don't pretend Peter Parker would've been so angsty if he hadn't been devised by someone with Jewish parents). Inevitably, many have noted the irony of "Übermensch" being co-opted by - shall we say - the sort of people who were responsible for the pogroms in the first place. However...

...we might, symbolically, assume that Clemenceau made his comment at the exact moment Krypton exploded. And that this is why superheroes ended up being attracted to our planet rather than any other.

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