Indo col 55:
I can’t remember when I first saw Superman: The Movie. Given that I was three when it first hit cinemas, it seems unlikely it was on the big screen, but it is just one of those films, along with The Neverending Story or A New Hope, that always seemed to be there; on TV on a Saturday afternoon, or on VHS in the living room at a classmate’s birthday party, when I would drift off from the socialising and games just to watch it on my own. I still love everything about it, but as the years have passed it has become less and less about on-screen superhuman strength and more about the real-life struggles of its stars. In May 1995, Christopher Reeve fell from his horse, cracked two vertebrae, and was immediately paralysed from the neck down. Although he never gave up hope that he could find some way to overcome his injuries, he died in 2004.
Margot Kidder, who played Superman’s onscreen soulmate Lois Lane four times, faced a different set of obstacles. After building her career on well regarded horror films and low-budget indie films, she was enjoying the success of the blockbuster Superman franchise when her mental health started to suffer. In the 1990s a car crash that meant she was unable to work for two years, and ended up bankrupt. It was in that time her bipolar disorder became unmanageable. In 1996 she was found hiding under a porch not far from where Superman was filmed. She had been sleeping rough for three days, and her paranoia had forced her to hack off her hair and remove her front teeth to change her appearance. While the incident didn’t end her career – she went on to have roles in TV shows like Smallville – she never grabbed the spotlight like she did in Superman, and became known as much for her mental health advocacy as her on-screen roles. Her death on Monday aged just 69 was another reminder of just how frail our bodies and our minds are, and how there really are no superheroes, no matter how much we wish them into being on the big screen.
Of course, not all heroes wear capes – just look at that recent photo of Waterford councillors lining out in support of the Love Both campaign. The all-male referendum avengers may have looked like they were on a golf trip, or possibly like the class of ‘86 recreating their Confirmation photo, but this was serious business – you can tell by the fact that some of them actually bothered to wear ties, while their 1990s-era ‘smart shoes’ were offset by their 1950s-era beliefs. In the UK they have a collective term for these kind of supermen – gammon. The usage sprang into being after someone created a collage of the angry white middle class middle aged men who kept popping up in the audience of Question Time, demanding to know if and when the UK was going to grow a pair and nuke someone. The anger forced their bulbous faces to grow pink with impotent rage and missile envy, and they became gammon – the face of Brexit Britain, screaming at the TV because of a gay kiss on EastEnders, or because someone wore a headscarf on Channel 4.
Of course, the term isn’t an especially kind one – angry white men just don’t age well – which is perhaps why Toby Perkins MP and some of the more right-leaning members of the press are now claiming that it is racist, an act that many would describe as peak gammon.
But the pink fury of Brexit-focussed episodes of Question Time had nothing on Monday night’s Claire Byrne Live, which showed just how unpleasant the abortion referendum debate has become, and how unnecessary. It was never going to be an easy campaign, but it is becoming increasingly rabid, with accusations of poster theft, lies and obfustication being flung back and forth. And what is it for – were there really this many undecided voters in Ireland, that we needed to engage in such unpleasant combat to win them over? Everyone I know had their mind made up decades ago – all the shouting, clapping and accusations of lying we were subjected to on Monday night were just made me wish that all this was over. I can’t be the only one counting down the days until May 26th so we can try to move past this, just like we will possibly get over the Civil War someday. But then I would say that, as I am Gammonman, an angry, middle class, middle aged male, who occasionally puffs up like a shoulder of pork and shouts at the TV when people whoop and cheer during a debate about life and death.