Friday, October 3, 2008

The Negative Superman

The Negative Superman

The Obscene Jester is a pretty interesting performance art blog I read from time to time. While I was catching up on my blog readership yesterday, I came across an intriguing idea in the blog describing a musical art performance.

The blog was talking about Peter Lorre, who inspired the album performed. The blog suggested that the character actor who had been typecast as a villain was an example of a “negative superman,” sharing such ranks with Vincent Prince, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff—the famous somewhat tragic villains of early horror.
The term "negative superman" has the ringing tone of film theory about it, but I haven’t been very successful tracking it down.

Still, it’s a compelling idea—the negative superman. The ubermensch evil one? The archvillain? I think what is perhaps most interesting about the character is the idea that these actors—aging, fallible typecast actors—play these larger than life mustache/cape twirlers.

I suppose for me this idea presents as a duality, a diptych. On one hand, the superhuman, the epic villain—and I suppose I would depart from a Milton-esque Satanic monologue here and maybe list or catalogue actions/narrative. (Maybe I think that’s what makes a villain.) A suggestion for this part: I just began reading an article from Comparative Literature entitled "Negative Comparison in the Literary Narrative Epic" and I see the negative simile, which poets will be familiar with as "describe what is by what it is not" or "what it does by what it does not" as being very potentially helpful here in describing the negative superhero. The formula sets up like this, x is not a, nor b, nor c, x is d.
And then in the second section, you pull back the Wizard of Oz's curtain. No longer a giant floating head, smoke, and thunder, a small, ordinary person is revealed. A person struggling, in the way that Mary Shelley understood: “No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for the happiness, the good he seeks.”
For me, I see this second section something like the movie Ed Wood, where Bela Lugosi becomes a figure of pathos.

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