Big Love, Smallville, and Messianic Fiction
The spring of 2011 marks the finale of two television series that have been keeping me company for several years, each of which I feel a little misty at the thought of letting go of. Beware, traveler: herein lie spoilers for Big Love and Smallville.
The protagonists of the two programs hardly seem similar, at a passing glance. Big Love's Bill Henrickson is a fundamentalist Mormon polygamist, a family man, and an entrepreneur. Smallville's favorite son, Clark Kent, is a monogamist of undetermined Protestant stock, single, and searching for the right career.
But scratch the surface a little (with Kryptonite, if you must), and it's easy to see how the two characters have more than a passing resemblance to one another. Even beyond generalities one could draw regarding each program's implicit statements about the American Dream, for example, each continuity's set of thematic elements mirrors the other so well, in fact, you'd think the writing teams were each cribbing from the Aarne-Thompson Tale Type Index. (And heck, if one subscribes to the Campbellian monomyth theory, as does your humble host, the popular wisdom is that we're all cribbing from it, all the time, simply by being part of our own culture.)
The Secret Identity
Both Bill Henrickson and Clark Kent protect double lives, secret identities. The lies and deception that these two men, each of whom purports to rely on values such as honesty and forthrightness, are born of their iconoclastic and idiosyncratic natures. Bill is forced to hide his family life away from the American and mainstream Mormon publics that will castigate him for his lifestyle choices, while Clark must obfuscate not only his abilities, but his very species, in order to lead a normal life and to facilitate helping others.