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Monday, June 7, 2010

Edition23: Variety

Was Superman A Jew?
Jane Paulick/DW
On their way into the Jewish Museum in Berlin, visitors these days will find themselves passing a sculpture entitled "Even Superheroes Have Bad Days." Superman appears to have crash-landed headfirst into the pavement. He might have ended up on a Berlin street, but where did Superman come from? It's a question the exhibition inside the museum sets out to answer.

Conceived in cooperation with the Museum of Art and History of Judaism in Paris and the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, the show traces the roots of comics, and demonstrates how the industry was built from the ground up by the children of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

"Superman is a Jew"
If anyone was not aware that cartoon characters across the board - from Spiderman to X-Men and the Fantastic Four - all had Jewish creators, the curators have certainly spelled out their message: The show provides ample evidence that the history of Jewish comic artists is nothing less than the history of comic art.

In many cases, the Jewish origins of the early comic strip characters are instantly apparent. One obvious example is Milt Gross, who in the 1920s wrote comics for the daily broadsheet New York World in a Yiddish-inflected English and often reworked well-known fairytales - such as "Nize ferry-tail from Elledin witt de wanderful lemp."

But by the 1930s, the era of the superhero had dawned. The writers might have still been Jewish - even if they did Americanize their names, such as Batman's inventor Robert Kahn, who become Bob Kane - but there was nothing overtly Jewish about these lantern-jawed characters. Nonetheless, as the exhibition shows, the Nazis were often the enemy.

Assimilation fantasies
A host of scholars over the years have pointed out that the core of Superman's persona is indeed that of the immigrant. Originally, he is a "starchild," placed by his parents on a rocket and shipped alone across millions of light-years to earth as the only survivor on the eve of the planet Krypton's destruction.

Although the exhibition shows rather than tells, Anne Helene Hoog echoed this theory at the press conference, when she said that superheroes were often depicted as outsiders who, with an immigrant's deep patriotism, battle to save their adopted country from an outside threat.

"It wasn't Krypton that Superman came from; it was the planet Minsk or Lodz or Vilna or Warsaw," wrote another popular US cartoonist Jules Feiffer in a 1996 essay for The New York Times Magazine called "The Minsk Theory of Krypton."

Did We Used Wrong Word For 99 Years?
Those who swear by the dictionary for uses of words may need to cross check as the meaning explained in the bible of lexicon may not be error free.

The error may be slight, but it's an error nonetheless, said Stephen Hughes, a physicist with Queensland University of Technology, who spotted a 99-year-old mistake in the Oxford English Dictionary. Hughes claims he has discovered that the dictionary's definition of the word 'siphon' has been incorrect since 1911.

The definition in the Oxford dictionary and many other dictionaries stated that atmospheric pressure was the force behind a siphon. But in fact it is the force of gravity at work. 'It is gravity that moved the fluid in a siphon, with the water in the longer downward arm pulling the water up the shorter arm,' Hughes was quoted as saying by The Sydney Morning Herald.

Hughes alerted the dictionary's revision team, which had just completed revising words beginning with the letter 'R'. 'I thought, 'Oh good, just in time,' because S is next,' he said. The dictionary's review team has agreed to re-examine the definition.

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