THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN
Recently I watched my son play his first rugby match. It was meant to be football, but after eight years of unsuccessfully indoctrinating him in the beautiful game, it was time for a change. With football, not only was the natural skill absent, so too was any apparent bond with the sport. Rugby might be different, I thought: more primal and direct, less reliant on dexterity and innate proficiency. And so it proved. He ran haphazardly but determinedly; he tackled recklessly; he even scored a clumsy and utterly elating last-minute try, a reward for his dogged pursuit of the ball.
But seriously, who did I think I was? How condescending! There was me, half encouraging, half pitying this novice boy’s gutsy attempt to impose himself on a game he didn’t understand. The subtext of our conversations beforehand had been: “Don’t worry son, one day you’ll be like me.” But watching him that afternoon, I realised that one day I was all too like him.
Whatever sport I played as a kid, I never possessed the aptitude or confidence that comes with inherent talent. I didn’t have the next pass in my head, or the courage to make the break, or the presence to choose the smarter option. Instead, I ran haphazardly and persevered until eventually I became not too bad at all. Not great, but half-decent. I understand now that this is what I should have been teaching the boy, rather than allowing him to compare himself unfavourably to the kids for whom all this comes instinctively.
These feelings came into focus when editing two profiles in this issue. Kilian Jornet, the preternaturally gifted athlete who ran (ran!) up Everest in 17 hours, is the kind of man who turns us all into boys. We cannot compare, so do we just watch in awe? Or do we try and learn, lest we accept deference as defeat? It’s a question I haven’t yet answered. Meanwhile, Henry Cavill, aka Superman, operates in a world in which true performance doesn’t matter so long as you look good in a tight outfit. Yet rather than rely on CGI, stunt doubles and studio trickery, the Jersey boy threw himself into the study of martial arts. It wasn’t his natural environment; he could have faked it if he wanted. But he battled and persevered. He became more than decent. I think it’s a salutary lesson.