Gone. To be gone is my biggest fear. I’m worried that one day I’m here and the next, I’m disappeared—forgotten, unrecognized (not dead), just gone.
As my research into my Great-aunt Glenna starts and stalls, I’ve noticed patterns, the scratching out of somebody’s life. It seems consistent within the years Glenna was growing up in the 1920s and 1930s. What’s worse, nobody seemed to care—not the families of the disappeared, not the neighbors, churchgoers, schools and teachers, not anyone, especially not anyone with any real power.
Last week my husband and I took a road trip to pick up our son from college and bring him home for the summer. Road trips are a place for us to reconnect through podcasts, deep discussions, or an audiobook.
Books on tape (in any form) have always been what cements the small cracks that being grownups and having different lives has done to our friendship over time. Every couple needs metaphoric rubber glue! Ours is audiobooks.
We decided to download an old book on this trip, I mean ancient, from 1933. One in 159 Pulp fictions written by Lester Dent, aka Kenneth Robeson. My husband had grown up reading the sappy, bigger-than-life protagonist, Doc Savage.
Doc Savage is the consummate hero. He is wiser, stronger, faster, and wittier than everybody in the room (in the whole world, actually). Often referred to as the Bronze Man, Savage is described as monochromatic, from his healthy golden tan, perfectly coiffed hair, and copper-colored eyes, to his rippling muscles. He is a force! No man or beast can outsmart, outmaneuver, or out charm the enviable Man of Bronze, especially not the sniveling, weaselly, weak, and misguided antagonists in every story!
Savage is part Superman, as his perfection is almost otherworldly. The man would even steal away to his “Fortress of Solitude” to contemplate life. His deceased father was the one who taught him from the crib everything he needed to know about everything. Sound familiar?
Savage is also a little like Batman, obscenely wealthy, an orphan, a world traveler, and gadget conjurer and enthusiast. He is the leader of a small band of specifically expert vigilantes called “The Fabulous Five,” who come when he calls and help him avenge justice. One could call the group a Justice League, couldn’t they?
Just to be clear, Doc Savage didn’t rip anybody off. He was introduced in 1933, whereas Superman roared through the comic cosmos in 1938, and Batman didn’t start wheeling through city traffic until 1939. Doc came first.
What struck me as ironic while listening to the book was that the original man of steel (or rather, bronze) had been scrubbed out of any connection to other known Superheroes. Superman’s origin story should have started with Doc Savage, same with Batman’s! However, while listening to this Pulp, I was also struck with how badly Doc Savage needed a makeover. He is sexist, biased, and gut-wrenchingly racist.
True to the adage that we do better when we know better (or at least that is the broad hope), this book was another representation of the attitudes and culture of the time.
Doc Savage is the ultimate human, a perfect man, healthy, wise, intelligent, and athletic. He is an example of Social Darwinism. As I understand it (I reserve the right to change this observation once I have gained more information in the future), the difference between Social Darwinism and Eugenics is slight.
With Eugenics, the idea is to erase any DNA responsible for a defect genetically. This is done through breeding—weeding out the bad with an overdose of perfection.
In Social Darwinism, one is born near perfect but can study, exercise, and compete to suppress and surpass any defect, and by default, reign supreme. This is Doc Savage. This was also the philosophy of another humanoid-deity at the time, Charles Lindbergh.
What also struck me as momentarily appropriate (due to my Glenna research) is that in the Doc Savage series, he had a specialized hospital located somewhere in upper New York State, where he deposited bad guys.
Rather than putting villains in the already crowded prison system, Savage developed a procedure to tinker with an evil mind and eradicate all evil tendencies. Salvage turned bad guys into sudden good guys, retaught and rebranded to seek justice for all! How super American of him, right? It seemed all the good Doc had to do was lobotomize and brainwash people. Tada!
Doc Savage embodied the mindset and even hope of society back in the 1930s. Or maybe this is a case of the chicken and the egg thing? Was this Savagery first, or was it born from society’s attitude at the time? I don’t know.
But how much easier would it have been for a husband with a wife who couldn’t get out of bed to believe something could help her? How much hope would the idea of a super hospital be to a mother whose daughter had started seeing phantom fires burning in bushes?
Week after week, newspapers told the adventures of a Superhero with the ability to make changes to the genetically unchangeable—it’s like swallowing a bitter pill with a strawberry milkshake!
And maybe the idea isn’t so far-fetched? Erasing the parts of people that weren’t working, pieces that were making boulder-sized obstacles for anyone connected to said people, might make it worthwhile to disappear them and start all over from scratch, wouldn’t it?
Look at what we’re doing as a society now—we photoshop every dent, every line, and blemish into oblivion. We only post what we want people to believe about us. We show only snippets of our world, not the whole thing. So, aren’t we digitally lobotomize ourselves? I’m guilty of doing it, too!
Going back to Glenna’s day and comparing it with today is valuable. What people did to the vulnerable wasn’t right. But maybe recognizing what led to it is a nudge towards understanding why it might have happened in the first place and how it can be avoided in the future.