The Myth of Blue

Superman is the only great American mythological character. He’s entered the lexicon like no other. Considering the amount of songs written about Superman, that alone puts him ahead of most mythic characters. Not John Henry, not Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill, not even his comicbook counterparts Batman and Spiderman have as deep mythical qualities as the Man of Steel and one reason for this (among many) is his blueness.

Unlike Batman’s costume, Superman’s costume is sacred. They’ve tinkered with it in the past to the detriment of the character, but he resists the faux realism of the current Batman movies. Batman has been demythologized with the steady removal of blue from his costume, but Superman remains, to the embarrassment of Hollywood, true blue.

Myths demand blue from Babe the Blue Ox, to the Smurfs to the Na’vi of Avatar.

*   *   *

The modern English word blue comes from Middle English bleu or blewe, from Old French bleu, bleve, blöe, a word of Germanic origin (Frankish or possibly Old High German blāo, “blue”). The root of all these variations is Proto-Germanic blǣwaz, from Proto-Indo-European *bhlāw-, *bhlēw- “light-coloured, yellow, grey, blue”, from *bhel- “to shine, be light or bright”, also the root of Old Norse blār and the modern Icelandic blár, and the Scandinavian word blå, which can also refer to other non blue colours. Also related is the English word blee meaning “colour, complexion”. via

You can get anywhere with the word for blue. The ancient Greeks lacked a distinct word for blue, revealed in Homer’s preference for the epithet “wine dark” to describe the sea. He also used the word kyanos, from which we get cyan, to describe Hector’s hair, but unless Hector was an early devotee of the punk movement we cannot translate that word blue.

That Blue is a cognate with blond, yellow, gray black, and even the word blank. Other words derived from the root *bhel- include bleach, bleak,blind, blink, blank, blush, blaze, flame, fulminate, flagrant and  phlegm.


*   *   *

As you know, I’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating. Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well drawn. But the mythology . . . the mythology is not only great, it’s unique.

Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak, he’s unsure of himself, he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

-Bill, from Kill Bill vol.2

*   *   *

Campbell McGrath describes Blueberries:

“ordinary citizens/ in crisp blue suits”

and

“edible bullets”

*   *   *

Blue is a calming color. People are more comfortable in Walmart than in Target for this reason. In fact, sometimes people are too comfortable in Walmart. In Target people zip around, shoppers are the arrows the bullseye intends.

You can see the differences with their mottos. Walmart’s “Always Low Prices” is comforting, homey, whereas Target’s “Expect More, Pay Less” is bold and demanding. Ditto for the bolder colored Home Depot with one of the best mottos in the commercial world, “You Can Do It, We Can Help”. Contrast it with the motto of their blue competitor Lowe’s “Let’s Build Something Together” (a downgrade from their previous though still bluelike: “Improving Home Improvement”).

There are no fastfood companies of any great worth using predominantly blue. The closest is Captain D’s which is the most sit-down-y of fastfood restaurants (slogan: “You’re Always Welcome Aboard”).

*   *   *

Blue Moon

Tonight
this hillbilly moon, thick and smug
in a gauze yellow tent-dress,
commands the sky she says
this is my sky don’t you forget now
she says you can call me Blue

just because she’s happened back.
There’s a chirr in the pond, the rustle
of water spangles amove with turtle;
over here a crane’s ugly stepsister
hectors an interloping hare.
Life’s abuzz with drama
and we haven’t spoken in months–
the silence as bricky between us
as between Matisse’s two girls
jaundiced and country-song blue
over a plate of desultory eggs.
Let me say exactly what happened:
over sunnysides up you crooned
I won’t wrack the end with clichés
there’s nothing can be done

as smug as this comeback moon.
And now she’s out, twitching
her hips across this sky, saying Girl
you have got to let go
.
I say Moon, what happens happens
once in a blue backlit June
.

Geri Doran


*   *   *

See my other essays :

Sex and Capitalism
Hats and Humility

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