Thursday, May 19, 2011
The Death of, "The American Way?"
What is to become of Superman? The first comic book superhero, and often considered to be the most dated. When Superman was first introduced in the late '30s, he was a socialist crusader, but when World War II came around, he became the figure of democracy that we know today, standing for, "Truth, Justice, and the American Way." Superman has been a believer in freedom and America since those days, and the cynical times we live in just don't see how any literary character could be so blind to the true nature of politics and America. However, I'd like to argue the true meaning of, "The American Way," in Superman's catchphrase, and hopefully point to the direction in which the Man of Steel should go.
In the 900th issue of Action Comics, writer David Goyer penned a story in which Superman renounces his U.S. citizenship after a fallout with the U.S. government. The intentions of Goyer were to present Superman as a World hero and not simply an American one. However, the backlash to this story shows that Superman renouncing his American citizenship was not the way to go about presenting this idea (as is evidenced by the fact that DC Comics backpedaled saying that this event would not be considered part of the official canon of Superman's saga and just simply be an unrelated short story, showing a huge lack of editorial care on DC's behalf). This is concerning for two reasons. First, this type of thinking changes the character and his outlook that made him famous, and second, because Goyer is the writer of the upcoming Superman movie titled, The Man of Steel.
There have been many critics of Superman's catchphrase over the past few years, one of the biggest examples of these critics' power is when the filmmakers of Superman Returns in 2006 chose not to even say, "The American Way," in the catchphrase, leaving it simply at, "Truth," and, "Justice." There is a cynicism that most Americans harbor towards the United States nowadays (as well as most foreign countries with their anti-American views), and unfortunately our own U.S. History is to blame for this loss of innocence. I mean, no longer do Americans live in Cleaver-bliss, but in post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, post-political scandal after political scandal. Many Americans find it hard to trust in their own government nowadays, but is the government and the policies they enact what makes up, "The American Way?" No.
Back when Superman first started using this catchphrase in World War II, it was seen more as a sign of freedom and an ideal to aspire to, and not a reflection of the U.S. government or their policies. If, "The American Way," is a reflection of the U.S. government, then almost every American would flee America and renounce their citizenship, and no immigrants would be wanting to come here, from their own countries, looking for a better life. To be honest, no American is always 100% in compliance with governmental policy, but if we renounced our citizenship because we didn't trust in our government, we'd all be long gone. Get the picture. "The American Way," has nothing to do with government, but a personal ideology that people still wish to attain.
America was founded based entirely upon the ideas of freedom, the ability to let one's voice be heard, to practice whatever religion they so choose, and the ability to live their life as one wishes. This is, "The American Way." It's an ideal that almost every human being strives for. The fact that it just so happens to be deemed, "The American Way," does not mean it has anything to do with American policy, but the values upon which our country has been known for since its inception. That is what Superman stands for, he stands for the freedom and equality of all people, and if that doesn't make him an American, I don't know what does. So no, Superman should have not renounced his U.S. citizenship, but this still does not solve the problem as to how Superman can be seen as relevant in a World where the majority of the World's countries hate America.
After 9/11, America actually wanted to believe in such a thing as, "The American Way," this idea is not gone, however it has been a decade since and almost completely buried once more. What can the future be for the Big Blue Boy Scout? Relevance is not defined by the tone of the story, realism vs. fantasticism, nor is it defined by where Superman comes from. Superman was raised in America, with American values, that can never change, just how someone from Africa cannot change the fact that they grew up indoctrinated in African culture. Superman will always believe in America, but how he can be seen as a World crusader I think can be found in how the T.V. Show, Smallville portrayed the character of Clark Kent and Superman.
In Smallville, Clark Kent is an American, he believes in American ideology, but he most importantly believes in people above anything else. You see this in real life after a disaster. You see how the World truly stands as one. Whether it be the Japanese earthquake/tsunami, or the tornadoes in the South-Eastern United States, or even 9/11, it is in those times that you see the World as it should be, and as it can be. This is how Superman always sees the World. Yes, he is a U.S. citizen, and there will always be those in the World who resent him for that, but this is also what makes Superman strong. Were he raised somewhere else in the world, would Superman still believe in people above all else? I think he still would, but the fact of the matter is, he wasn't. So, does this mean the phrase, "The American Way," should be obsolete? No.
Superman will always believe in, "The American Way," because if anything, Superman is the greatest optimist the World has ever known. Smallville showed in their tenth and final season, even when the government tried to force the superheroes to register, Clark and the other members of the Justice League put their faith in the people, and the Vigilante Registration Bill was voted down by the people. That freedom and belief in people is, "The American Way." Superman's a patriot, allow him to be, but also allow him to see matters not just through an American lens, but through a Universal lens that wants the betterment for all people. If, "The American Way," gets him into trouble, tough. Superman is the strongest man alive, he can take whatever comes his way, but Superman would never forsake what he believes in, so neither should any of us.