Apr 29, 2011

Superman questions the American way


Some Superman fans want the Man-of-Steel to remain resolutely American in an uncomplicated defender-of-the-American-way fashion. The same caped patriot defending the same set of values more or less - even though we live in a world that is more complex, more transnational and interconnected, requiring an updated set of responses.

It offends them that their iconic hero is thinking twice... thinking in an unpatriotic manner in the view of some... not content to remain superglued to a world view that has more in common with the Reagan era.

What offends them most of all is that Supes, in his current incarnation courtesy of Action Comics, is threatening to renounce his American citizenship. His decision is sparked by a dressing down he receives from an American national security adviser for showing up at a protest in Tehran. Supes was there to support the demonstrators. In the eyes of the government of Iran he is an agent of the US and his attendance at the demo nothing less than an act of war.


"I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of US policy..." then adds - "Truth, justice and the American way... it's not enough any more."

superman,dc comics

The conservative outrage is typically myopic, best illustrated by this paragraph from a Jonathan Last article in the Weekly Standard:

...in the end, the only truly interesting aspect of Superman’s character is his complete devotion to America. Because it’s this devotion—of which his citizenship is the anchor—that establishes all of his moral limits. Why does this demi-god not rule the earth according to his own will? The only satisfying answer is that he declines to do so because he believes in America and has chosen to be an American citizen first and a super man second.

There is no higher calling or incentive for establishing "moral limits" than "devotion to America"... really? This type of Glenn Beckian propaganda is so bereft of reason it is almost a faith-based conceit.

It may come as news to some people but there are inspirational values that transcend the American way - values that are universal if you will. But a lot of Americans do get that and Superman/Clark Kent isn't suddenly an-enemy-of-America because he has the backbone to voice a few objections. Isn't that what being American is supposed to be about?

It is entirely appropriate at this juncture in history that Supes is showing signs of discontent with a narrowly defined identikit. This doesn't mean that he is a traitor, it just means that he doesn't appreciate being co-opted by a view of the world he doesn't entirely buy.

That he talks in terms of renouncing his citizenship in front of the UN is a road too far for fans with conservative leanings. Not surprising really since many remain enamored of a retro vision of America, compounded with nostalgia and misty eyed musings. It's a vision that is out-of-touch in an America that is increasingly diverse and yeah - complicated. But whether it is Superman or Oprah or anyone else who rocks the boat, the solution for some is to seek for lost context in the crawl space of history.

Maybe they will start demanding Supes' birth certificate. Start questioning his citizenship. If he was born on Krypton - is there proof of naturalization? Has anyone actually seen his naturalization papers? Maybe Supes was an alien agent to begin with. Siding with America just to show "America" up in the end. There is no limit to the paranoia in some areas of the conspiracy addled American right.

If the evolution of the superhero suggests that maybe he is becoming more sensitized, more principled, less reflexively patriotic while no less American... is this is a bad thing? In the eyes of some people, nothing short of a comic-disaster.

For more on this story link also to - Guardian - Toronto Star - Comics Alliance