Many things are required of a viewer when watching a superhero movie, and the most important of these is a suspension of disbelief, the ability to believe the unbelievable, and forego realism and logic in certain situations for the sake of enjoyment. Flying, turning into a hulking green monster when angry, travelling through time, Aquaman — because of comic books, even the most forgiving of minds is tested on occasion. Suspension of disbelief is key to enjoying comic books and their various adaptations, but sometimes even the silliest of notions has a reader or viewer thinking, “What?”
One of the longest-running impossibilities in superhero lore is Superman’s everyday disguise. Where most superheroes wear a mask to conceal their true identity or go out of their way to remain hidden from society, Superman’s alter-ego, Clark Kent, wears a simple pair of spectacles. It’s so simple and yet so ridiculed in the cultural spectrum. How can a pair of glasses hide the man beneath, especially someone as globally known as the Man of Steel? Well, it seems the idea actually holds some legitimacy, and scientists have recently revealed that a pair of spectacles can actually do an excellent job of masking someone’s looks.
CNN covered the story and detailed how scientists at the University of York conducted a study about the effect of glasses when introduced into a facial recognition environment. The experiment was initially driven by important concerns over border control security, but the findings also revealed that Clark Kent’s disguise is, after all these years of doubt, legitimately plausible.
During the study, 59 participants were shown side-by-side photographs of three different categories, and these included images of people wearing spectacles, images of people not wearing spectacles, and images where one individual is wearing spectacles and the other isn’t. The first two groups provided a general consensus; people identified the people correctly eighty percent of the time. However, when they reverted to the third group, this percentage dropped to 74.
A co-author of the study, Kay Ritchie, explained why this small dip in percentage is actually very crucial to their research.
“A six percent drop in performance may not sound like much, but if you consider the number of people who go through passport control at Atlanta International airport every year – over 100 million last year – a six percent drop in accuracy equates to 6 million misidentifications. We hope this work can be used to inform future policies on face identification, particularly given the discrepancy between different forms of photo ID when it comes to wearing glasses.”
Where the figures actually give Superman an out — you never see Superman and Clark Kent side-by-side for a direct comparison, as per the positive results of the study — it shows that something as simple as a set of glasses can actually work as a disguise. With regard to the Man of Steel and Clark Kent, the researchers would have the final say on the matter.
“While we may still find it hard to believe that the inhabitants of Metropolis are unable to match Clark Kent with the numerous appearances of Superman in newspapers and on television, we can at least understand why Kent has chosen glasses as his aid to anonymity.”
It’s hard to refute scientific research, but despite the evidence, I doubt it will change the minds of some people who see the disguise as a little silly. Some notions in comic books will never fade with time, and this is probably one of them. Still, it’s nice to know that Superman selected a wise choice of disguise.
So Superman’s identity will remain a secret for now. He can live safe in the knowledge that the human brain will always provide him a relatively large safety net, as proven by science. Where this settles the debate on his simple disguise somewhat, its a very similar science to the Playground Gambit, a method that was explained by Tech Times back in February.
Maybe the creators of Superman knew this all along? We’ll never know, but for a popular piece of culture that has earmarked such an iconic character for many years, it’s nice to finally have some answers. The suspension of disbelief will be a little easier going forward.
[Image via Warner Bros. Pictures]