I Really Wanted to Like Smallville, Part 2: I’ll Be Watching You

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In my previous article on why I finally gave up on Smallville shortly into the third season, I focused on how irritated I am by the show consistently making its female lead a plot device, rather than a person. Pretty Perfect Princess Lana Lang may be irritating, but Noble Stalker Clark Kent is creepy.

Part of the running plot of Smallville revolves around Clark’s “secret” love for Lana (secret only from her, of course). This is a common enough event during adolescence, and a part of the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman mythos, which shapes much of Smallville’s premise.

How does Clark act out his unspoken love for Lana? By saving her from mutants on a weekly basis, of course, but also by watching her through his telescope without her knowledge. By investigating anyone new that enters Lana’s life, sometimes by breaking and entering into their homes. By occasionally beating the crap out of people who threaten her, sometimes indirectly resulting in their deaths.

By watching Lana change clothes in the locker room using his x-ray vision.

Not all of these are common stalker behaviors, but most stalkers aren’t Kryptonians. But the show consistently tells us that Clark’s love for Lana is pure, not the dangerous obsession of her other five (as of episode 303) stalkers. After all, he only threatens her personal safety when he is under the influence of red Kryptonite. Or magic. Or when he’s possessed. So, only four or five times a year does Lana have to worry about Clark possibly killing her. (Not that she ever worries about anyone killing her, but that was the last article.)

He only used his superpowers to look at her naked because he loves her, you see.

Comments

  1. spmsmith says

    If you kept up with later seasons, you could come up with an entire blog’s worth of entries on how the series-arching decree that Lana Lang = Perfection resulted in a lot of OOC behaviour from Clark (and every other character on the show), and how difficult it is for some to reconcile him with the Superman they grew up with.

    And if you haven’t watched past Season 3’s “Extinction”, then you’ve missed “Lois Lane” altogether. Ah, if there’s anything worse than having Clark’s first girlfriend be the epitome of so-called perfection in the eyes of every single major character, it’s demoting an early feminist icon to the level of T&A and being the butt of bad jokes. Her boyfriend in an early Season 6 episode, after an incident where she makes a fool of herself in front of some political bigwig, tells her that maybe she’s better off not speaking for the rest of the night. Seriously, if you don’t like Lana? The writing for Lois will make your blood boil.

  2. Purtek says

    He only used his superpowers to look at her naked because he loves her, you see.

    The destructive power of this trope knows no bounds. I really don’t know when (if ever) writers are going to figure out that there’s a not-at-all fine line between “charmingly devoted and loyal” and “terrifyingly boundary-violating”. It’s worse when the female characters end up “swept off their feet” because of it, or when friend characters tell the stalking guy that being “persistent” will show the object of his affection that he really, really means it (think Studio 60). Oh, and add to that the suggestion that being invasive and overprotective is anything other than infantalizing control-freak behaviour and watch me get really mad.

    I have some off-topic questions on the Superman mythos I wanted to get into with you, but it’s way beside the point of this post…if I can dig up your email address from the site, I’ll take it there.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    Not all of these are common stalker behaviors, but

    …if anyone did any of them to me, and I knew it, I’d get a restraining order.

    Stalking should always be regarded as a sign of extreme emotional disturbance. It indicates that the person thinks there are no boundaries between you. The more they get away with, the more likely they are to escalate until you find they’ve let themselves into your home or something.

    I know we all know this, but I can’t help but go all PSA when I recall how as a young girl I occasionally entertained the thought that stalking would be romantic because I’d seen one too many shows or movies where it turned out lovey-dovey instead of “and then he turned the gun on himself”.

  4. Patrick says

    On Smallville, Clark enters into people’s houses all the time, usually causing property damage to get inside. This really drives me up a wall because one of the things that distunguishes Superman as a hero that that he works within the law, not outside as Batman does. (Batman, of course, loves breaking and entering.)

  5. says

    Maybe this “young” Clark Kent just hasn’t gotten to that point where he respects and works within the law. I think, in part, some of these issues are a translation problem from when the original Superman was conceptualized–the U.S. was in the grips of the Depression in the early 1930s and when Superman was originally conceived, he was intended to represent a return to morals following the “moraless” Roaring Twenties. I have issues with this younger, teenaged Clark Kent/Superman for many of the same reasons that Patrick has expressed–Clark seems to have little respect for boundaries. Never/rarely is he punished (aside from not getting the girl) for his misdeeds (i.e. breaking the law, ookily spying on Lana) but rather is encouraged; those who “know” who he is slap him on the back and tell him what a good job he’s done and the girl makes google eyes at him. What may have been endearing in the original comic book (and I would argue that originally, Clark Kent would never have spied on his lady love) has become creepy indeed. I wonder, too, sometimes, if we’re supposed to interpret these intrusions and impulsive moments as “aww shucks, he’s a teen” moments and thus excuse them…

  6. MaggieCat says

    After all, he only threatens her personal safety when he is under the influence of red Kryptonite. Or magic. Or when he’s possessed.

    I know I said this somewhere around here, but I can’t for the life of me remember where so I’ll repeat myself- from a storytelling perspective, I understand the appeal of the whole red kryptonite/possession/magically uninhibited/et al stunts. Particularly when working with the Superman mythos, since he’s always been such a goody two shoes, I can see what they’re going for with the id vs. superego implications. But the writers seem completely unaware that it makes Clark look like a sociopath.

    Take Martha’s recent assertion that the red kryptonite doesn’t make him do things that are completely out of character but just lowers his inhibitions (meaning on some level he wants to do those vaguely and not-so-vaguely criminal acts), and compare that to the martyr routine he has going on the rest of the time (the “I’m a danger to everyone around me” part in particular). (Yes I know he has legitimate reasons to be concerned. He does not have to whine about it 24/7 though.) I can’t help but begin to expect a psychotic multiple personality disorder style break. Sane, healthy people have learned to integrate those aspects of their personalities. Stalking is the least of his problems, which is so sad.

    (Not that he isn’t in ample company. For the hell of it I counted, and in just under 6 seasons Lana has been stalked 12 times by 10 different people, not including Clark. This doesn’t include all of the times she’s been kidnapped, involved in a hostage situation, or single attacks.)

    And if there was any lingering doubt about this show not understanding the implications of stalking- in season 4 Clark married his stalker from season 3. Of course then she was murdered after which he apparently forgot she ever existed, which brings me back full circle to my “sociopath” point.

  7. S. A. Bonasi says

    MaggieCat –

    You mentioned that in the forums, in the Supernatural thread.

    Concerning what you said, my problem with the “I’m a danger to everyone around me!” is that Clark never actually does anything about it but whine. I feel like it comes from the same vein as “Clark’s stalking is totally different than everyone else’s stalking!” Like the episode “Crimson”, which is a prime example of both. Clark gets held to a different standard – and it’s not a higher one.

  8. Patrick says

    I have some off-topic questions on the Superman mythos I wanted to get into with you, but it’s way beside the point of this post…if I can dig up your email address from the site, I’ll take it there.

    I’m always interested in talking about superheroes. :)

    While not directly related to the show’s gender issues, Smallville’s forgiveness of Clark’s flaws was especially egregious with the two-parter opening of Season 3 – after Clark runs away to Metropolis, he spends three months wearing a red Kryptonite ring and living a life of crime. By day, he robs banks, and by night, he spends stolen money like water and goes to clubs. But here’s the big kicker – he keeps having to remove the red Kryptonite ring every few days, and goes back to normal, whereupon he of course feels guilty for what he did. And what does he do then, with an awareness of how, under the red K’s influence, he hurt people, destroyed property, and stole thousands of dollars, and would do so again if he put the ring back on? He puts the ring back on. Repeatedly. For THREE MONTHS.

    And once he’s finally come to his senses and come back home? Everything is okay, because he called the police and told them where the money he stole was.

    Um… 1) isn’t the money ALL OVER METROPLIS? He was shown spending it willy-nilly. It’s not like it was all in a duffel bag untouched. 2) That’s right folks! If you commit crime, all you have to do to make amends is anonymously own up to it. You don’t need to turn yourself in.

    What’s really disgusting about this is that, unlike the previous times that Clark was exposed to red Kryptonite, he did it this time deliberately. Repeatedly. The producers can hardly claim that he wasn’t responsible for his actions while under the red K, because he did it with full knowledge of what it would do to him.

    This isn’t Clark Kent of Earth-1, or even of Earth-2. This is the Clark Kent of Earth-3 who goes on to become Ultraman and form the Crime Syndicate of America.

  9. Purtek says

    There seems to be this message that Smallville expects us to forgive Superman because he’s Superman, and therefore by definition, you know, super. The premise of Smallville could have been really interesting if they had explored Clark Kent struggling with teenage issues of lust/love and learning how to express it, as well as the non-gender aspects of feeling conflicted about the limitations of the law before growing into his adult superhero persona. But as is, we’re supposed to forgive, nay, even like this future Ultraman.

    I’m always interested in talking about superheroes.

    And I would have sent you something already if I weren’t apparently a moron when it comes to finding contact info on this site (am I missing something really obvious?). Try me at sarahshulist[at]yahoo[dot]ca to start something off.

  10. SunlessNick says

    There seems to be this message that Smallville expects us to forgive Superman because he’s Superman, and therefore by definition, you know, super. - Purtek

    Perhaps because he’s defined as good (except when he’s hit by the red stuff). And they forget that good should mean “doesn’t stalk that girl” rather than “doesn’t count when he stalks that girl.”

  11. Patrick says

    Perhaps because he’s defined as good (except when he’s hit by the red stuff). And they forget that good should mean “doesn’t stalk that girl” rather than “doesn’t count when he stalks that girl.”

    Exactly. They seem to think that what Clark does is right because he is moral, failing to udnerstand that it is the other way around – Clark is moral because he does what is right. At least, outside of Smallville.

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