Every year, Columbus Day dredges up the same controversies. Was Christopher Columbus a great exploratory hero or a genocidal colonialist? Should he and/or his discovery of America be celebrated or not? Should he even be credited with that discovery, or should that honor go to Leif Erickson?
For my part, I do believe great feats of human achievement are worth celebrating, even those performed by horribly flawed human beings. And the practical impact of the achievement should be given due regard. Even if Erickson was technically first, was Columbus’s rediscovery more impactful for humanity?
That being said, there is nothing wrong with pointing out the failings of great achievers. Perhaps in the past, we needed to gloss over the defects of historical heroes. Maybe to have something pure to live up to, we needed a rose-tinted, legendary view of the major chieftains and pioneers of our tribes.
But we don't need to do that anymore. We have Superman now.
And by this, I don't mean the "Superman" that movie director Zack Snyder tried (and ultimately failed) to foist on the public in Man of Steel, Batman Vs. Superman, and Justice League. I mean the essential Superman: the elements of the best-told Superman stories that rang true and stuck in our psyches, in spite of the efforts of his copyright holders at Warner Bros. to drag his cape through the mud.
I don't mean some conflicted, reluctant figure wracked with guilt over continuous and catastrophic failures. I mean the confident, psychologically and morally integrated paragon of humanity who is powerful, clever, and brave enough to successfully avert catastrophe without compromising his principles.
"Ah," you may object, "but Columbus was real and Superman isn't. And Snyder's is more realistic than the iconic Superman." To which I answer: so?
Heroes don't need to be real, or even realistic, to perform their psychological function. They don't even need to offer humanly attainable standards of virtue and excellence. They only need to present ideals (of moral character, of physical health and efficacy, etc) for us to aspire toward.
What we really need to celebrate is a Superman Day.