Superman was never one of my absolute favorites; but growing up, he was definitely one of the first- if not THE first- superheroes I became aware of. It began with watching after school reruns of “The Adventures of Superman”:
And one of the things that made a lasting impression was the following statement and image:
Like Captain America (my previous blogpost here), an iconic American hero has become a symbol for something other than the embodiment of American exceptionalism:
He's still a firm believer in truth and justice, but the world's foremost superhero is no longer sure he can carry on proudly endorsing the American way. As he approaches his 80th birthday, Superman has made a shock decision: he intends to renounce his US citizenship.
The move, to be announced next week in the 900th edition of Action Comics, comes after a peculiarly topical plot twist: the Man of Steel finds himself being criticised by the White House for joining young Muslims at a rally against the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.
“I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of US policy,” he wearily tells the President's National Security Advisor. “Truth, justice and the American way… It's not enough anymore. The world's too small. Too connected. I intend to speak before the United Nations tomorrow and inform them that I am renouncing my US citizenship.”
Liberal messages in arts and entertainment, including comics, is nothing new; I believe it's been a long-standing tradition. I grew up on Sesame Street and Spiderman comics and it is only in reflection as an adult that I can see where liberal messages were sewn into the fabric of the stories and characters.
The last Superman movie, “Superman Returns”, also did away with “the American Way”. But is this anti-Americanism? Or something else? Are we on the right being too super-sensitive and (mis)reading more into this than is warranted:
Aaaand cue the faux outrage, especially on the right of American politics.
I don't mean to pick on Fox News, but they were braying the loudest. The story, titled “The Incident,” was condemned on “The O'Reilly Factor,” “Fox & Friends” and on “Fox Nation,” where potential presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called it “disturbing.” GOP activist Angie Meyer ranted on Fox that it showed a “blatant lack of patriotism,” that it “belittled” the United States and that it was an “eerie metaphor” for America's apparently low (in her view) standing in the world.
Meanwhile, other media got into the act. Most major newspapers, news broadcasts and online news sites carried a news story, commentary or both. A piece by The Associated Press appeared in many small and mid-size newspapers, including my home base, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn.
While I'm glad the Man of Steel is still important enough to get that kind of coverage, I'm deflated that this non-story is the reason.
the publishers of DC Comics, Jim Lee and Dan DiDio, appear to be concerned at the level of hostility their new edition has generated. They released a statement yesterday arguing that, despite his commitment to an increasingly international outlook, Superman will continue to embody the best of America.
“Superman is a visitor from a distant planet who has long embraced American values. As a character and an icon, he embodies the best of the American Way,” it read. “In a short story in Action Comics 900, Superman announces his intention to put a global focus on his never-ending battle, but he remains, as always, committed to his adopted home and his roots as a Kansas farm boy from Smallville.”
The intent of the writing direction seems to be to make Superman, already acting in a sense as “a citizen of the world” defending the whole of humanity, by shedding his association to American nationalism in a time when some people see it as a liability. President Obama, when he came into office, seemed to think he could accomplish more on the foreign policy front by playing down “American exceptionalism” and apologize to the world for our sins (and more specifically, the sins of the previous 8 years).
Ben Moore of Screen Rant suggests the story may be more complicated (and less significant) than the mere surface act of Superman renouncing his citizenship and a lot of knee-jerk hoopla made over nothing:
Superman, not Clark Kent, stated his plans to renounce his American citizenship Superman, not Clark Kent, stated his plans to renounce his citizenship because he doesn’t want his world-saving/interfering ways to be used against America anymore. This was a back-up story written by David S. Goyer – not a typical comic book writer. This will probably never again be referenced, by Paul Cornell or anyone else at DC. This back-up story might not even be in continuity. ~~~
Now, in my opinion, Superman is unequivocally an American icon. It doesn’t make you conservative or right-wing to believe this, because I’m about as liberal as they come and I believe it. By the same token, I don’t believe this was some leftwing conspiracy for Superman to reject America and all of its values; it would be hard for you to thoroughly examine the issue, the story, what was said by Superman, and come to that conclusion.
So perhaps, to get past anti-American prejudices, Superman felt he had to shed his “Americanism”/iconic image in order to peddle American values abroad? Being American and perceived as an agent of not only American values but of American governmental policy? A liability? So then…. “Stealth Americanism”?!
Shortly after receiving the negative attention and backlash publicity, DC back-pedaled away from the idea that their meal-ticket superhero is in fact renouncing U.S. citizenship:
DC has stated due to the backlash that nothing has changed but the story itself was simply a look at what could be and not what is.
“This short story is just that, it will not be followed up upon. Superman will remain as American as Apple pie.”
I wonder if caving in to negative publicity rather than defending (and clarifying) the intent of the original story is also as “American as apple pie”?
Some of the best sci-fi stories are said to be those which serve as vehicles of social commentary. But I think Ben Moore also brings up a useful point when he writes the following:
After reading this story, my primary thought is this: Comic books creators just need to stop shoehorning real events into their comic books in an effort to make them more “important” like the “real world.” It’s rarely, if ever, done in any interesting or satisfying way and it almost always trivializes the events themselves.
After all, not all writers are profound enough or knowledgeable enough to make astute points of social commentary; especially ones that can be universally regarded as brilliant by those on both sides of the political aisle.
It’s a silly notion to suggest that Superman would go to Tehran and involve himself in the protests in any way whatsoever. Superman is smarter than that. Hell, he’s got an advanced Kryptonian brain – he would know better than to wade into such a delicate situation without a second thought. In the end, the Iranian government doesn’t give-in to the protestors’ demands – an ending we already knew because it happened in real life. Regardless, as Superman’s flying away from Tehran, he spots a protestor reaching out with a flower in hand toward the soldier in front of him. The soldier takes the flower (oh, symbolism!), and Superman takes credit for this small but amazing development – he even brags about it to the National Security Advisor, which is, again, something Superman would never do in a million years.
Superman can only be as brilliant as those who script his lines and his actions.
So why does any of this matter? Why do comic books matter? Well, for one, comics are often introduced to us as children; and so as a medium, they have the potential to indoctrinate/influence/shape impressionable young minds.
For another, comic books are a serious medium of artistic literary expression with a large number of adults who also read them. Like pop culture, like Hollywood entertainment, we are to an extent influenced by what we read and what we expose ourselves to.
Iconic superheroes that have been around for decades like Superman, are also recognized and followed throughout the world. Superman, as a fighter against “evil-doers”, is a hero to people all across the world and not just here in America.
I could be wrong and mistaken, but I see so much of our leftward tilt as a nation as being the product of influence from American pop culture (which I see as dominated by liberal thinking and values).
To this day, the character of Supermancontinues to evolve, reflecting as well as influencing the (liberal) values and beliefs of the times we live in:
While the character has always been a source of fantasy and escapism, he's also had his red boots securely planted in the politics and social undercurrents of the United States and, since his creation in 1938, continually reflected the concerns, worries and aspirations of US society, as well as its position on the global stage.
“The whole idea of Superman is that he is super-immigrant,” explains Dr Chris Murray, lecturer in comic studies at Dundee University. “He is a representation of the immigrant who comes to America and is seen as part of the American dream. In many ways he is part of the way that the American dream is sold to the world. It is stretching things to say Superman has a one-to-one relationship with US foreign policy. But he is certainly an ambassador for American values.” In the 1930s this saw Superman tackle corrupt politicians and slum landlords in the guise of an avenging New Deal protector for the downtrodden masses. During the Second World War and the Cold War he metamorphosed into the alien wing of the US armed services, striding the globe as an arbiter of ultimate moral authority and self-belief who simply could not be challenged.
By the 1980s Superman had evolved once again, growing his hair into a mullet and marrying the ultimate shoulder-padded career woman, Lois Lane, while tackling Islamic terrorists, supernatural beings and his arch-enemy Lex Luthor.
Then things dramatically changed for the last son of Krypton: the Berlin Wall fell and with it Superman's position of global policeman and cheerleader for America. Things went from bad to worse as the US and the UN became humbled in Bosnia, ending any public belief that international power could be so openly exercised. It was only through the horrors of 9/11 that Superman rediscovered himself as the saviour of American values, yet even this was not to last, thanks to Iraq, extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo Bay.
All of which leaves Superman – the character who embodies the American Dream like no other – in a tricky situation: just how do you stand for the 'American Way' when that ideal has been tarnished and is itself being vehemently fought over by a polarised US public?
Tellingly, the answer may lie in a recent edition of the comic, which saw Superman travel to Tehran to take part in a non-violently demonstration against the Iranian regime. Shortly afterwards he renounced his US citizenship because he felt 'truth, justice and the American way [is] not enough any more'.
“The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw this was that the idea of everyone loving Americans or wanting to be American is no longer there – it has changed dramatically in as little as 10 years,” explains New York-based Superman expert Vincent Zurzolo.
“I still think there is a tremendous love for the whole ideal of the American Dream, but because of our policies, many citizens of foreign countries now view us differently.
“In the last Superman movie they also took out 'the American way', so it was just 'truth and justice'. I was tremendously upset by that, both as an American and a comic book fan. Superman is about truth, justice and the American Way. Why is that a dirty word now?”
Whether or not this is a theme that will be continued by Grant Morrison is, as Donald Rumsfeld put it: “a known unknown”. But given the rise of China, the stumbling US economy and the recent death of Osama Bin Laden, it's inevitable that Superman will tackle an array of unfamiliar and previously unseen foes, whether in the guise of a US citizen or someone with a uniquely global passport.
It may even be the case that Superman embraces this universal status to tackle the one dilemma that faces us all and which even he may be powerless to prevent: global warming.
Yes, because the issue of global warming is not a right-left political issue but a unifying rallying call to which we can all answer to, as one big collective, global family of human citizens….[/sarcasm]
….only in the minds of liberal comics writers.
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.