Forget the Incredible Hulk or Superman, it’s Abraham Lincoln who’s quickly turning into pop culture’s favorite superhero.
“He is already the American with perhaps the most astounding, almost mythological, life story,” said James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. Born in a log cabin with a dirt floor, Lincoln reached the nation’s highest office. “I don’t know why you’d need to fictionalize the great American story, but it’s because it’s already so astounding that he has our attention.”
Yet fictionalize we do, as with the new “Lincoln,” which opened in some theaters this past weekend, and with the “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” book-turned-film earlier this year. Filming also has reportedly started on a movie about Lincoln’s early years called “The Green Blade Rises.”
What’s driving the cool-ification of a president who to some represents a dusty character from a high-school history book? Maybe, some experts say, it’s because he was a fascinating man, one who had a humble frontier childhood but who went on to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.
“It’s interesting why it’s taken so long” to create this new version of an actual American hero, says Mark Pohlad, associate professor of art history and architecture at DePaul University and an expert on Lincoln. Pohlad said the 16th president was strong, both politically and physically. “He really did have this reputation for being kind of a (butt-kicker).”
Pohlad guesses that while we deal with economic instability and international strife, perhaps that’s an ideal kind of hero.
“People think, ‘We really need a man of action to lift us out of the doldrums,’” he said. Lincoln’s greatness, partly as a communicator and political negotiator, came at one of the darkest periods in American history. “He was living in the most violent time our country has known.”
The Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln,” which promises to be at least slightly more authentic than the vampire-slaying portrayal, raises historians’ hopes for more attention to the man who often tops lists of the greatest U.S. presidents.
“At least people are starting to think of this history as just not engraved in stone,” Pohlad said, adding that the 200-year anniversary of Lincoln’s birth sort of “came and went quietly in 2009.” The renewed interest is totally welcome, he said. “It takes a minute for the country to say, ‘Oh, yeah. Right. It’s about time we re-examined Lincoln.’”