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Author Topic: Bush, Al-Qaeda, Iraq, Truth & Justice, and...Superman  (Read 17725 times)
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Aldous
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« on: May 28, 2004, 08:04:12 AM »

Is it purely by chance that the United States is the birthplace of the super-hero?

What is it about the American psyche that drives the United States to travel beyond its own borders to interfere in affairs it deems "un-American"?

Is it an accident that Superman (the first and greatest of the super-heroes) stands for truth, justice, and the American way?

Does that famous statement mean to imply that the American way is synonymous with truth and justice?

When Superman (who ostensibly represents the United States) interferes in someone else's business, is he upholding truth and justice, or is he upholding the American way of life? Is it possible that "truth" and "justice" can mean something quite different to someone from a country other than the United States?
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Brainiac44
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« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2004, 10:59:06 PM »

I don't know but here's my two cents on the take...

(I'm Canadian btw - a Canadian Brainiac...LOL...)

The Americans are people who ACT.  Some people react some others need to pull their act...  If some foreign person invented a prototype magic lamp, someone in the states would go to him and invest in the project.  Canadians would look in awe and most other countries wouldn't even be aware of it.  

You guys don't always do it right but you do it.  If Superman had been "born" in Canada (I know that in theory he has though) and developed, no one would've even given a chance to Siegel & Shuster.  I know I wouldn't have.  I would've invested my dollar on a some milk products and made like 1 penny for every dollar...  

BUT, does Superman come with the territory?  I would guess yes.  First his suit is clearly made to be a pseudo-american flag.  No?  Yes.  Then, Superman always boosts the idealogy of the American Dream.  Basically is:  you can realize all your dreams with hard work.  Sure Superman has powers, ect...but, the main thing that happens when you look at first glance is health, good looks, hair, ect...  He's the kind of guy you would want to represent your country as ambassador, warrior, president, average man - Superman is everything that you want or would want your people to be.  His physical attributs are great but it goes beyond that:  Superman is honest, loyal, peaceloving hard to anger but, when he's pissed, he can beat the crap out of any contender.  Superman is a winner.  We all want to be winners.
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nightwing
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« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2004, 04:01:45 AM »

Aldous, I wrote a very long (and of course brilliant :-)) response, then got an "invalid session" error and lost the whole thing.

But here's the short version:

No it's not by chance that the superhero was invented in America.  In its purest form, the superhero represents America's belief the power of the individual, the common man made uncommon by his or her unique abilities.  As idealized Americans, superheroes are people who make themselves great via hard work, or people to whom chance, fortune or natural ability grant great potential, and they by their virtuous nature manage to realize that potential while staying spiritually "pure" and true to their common man roots.  

These are concepts you didn't historically find in many cultures, where greatness was traditionally reserved for those born into nobility or the upper castes.  The fictional heroes of these cultures were "great" from day one just by virtue of birth, and when they win battles or show courage or wit, it's always pointed out that this was due to the pure blood in their veins (translation: we'll never be as good as them no matter how we try.  But another way to see it is; if they're superior by birth, ie. through no effort of their own, then how is that heroic?).  Robin Hood, the Knights of the Round Table, Odysseus, Tarzan, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro and so on were all noblemen who, if they fought for the common man at all, did so out of noblesse oblige (after all, we poor ignorant rabble can't very well save ourselves, can we?).  Superman, in contrast, was raised on a farm and works a 9-to-5 job.  As Clark Kent, he is a schlub.  He may be something above us on a genetic level, but in his heart and mind he is one of us, or at least wants to be.  No other culture would have bothered adding this element to the legend...they'd have stopped with the cape, the strength and the flying and never added the "weak alter-ego" bit.

In a way, I guess he might have been invented -- with serious variations -- in the Soviet Union as a champion of the Proletariat, but even that seems unlikely since he represents the ability of the individual to outshine his contemporaries.  

Another thing about superheroes is they always know what's right, even if established authority does not.  This notion...that the common man has more sense than his government...would hardly have flown in much of the world, but it's part and parcel of the American mindset.  

As to your other questions, keep in mind Superman was not envisioned as a jingoistic "America First" character from Day One.  Like all comic heroes -- indeed like all Americans -- he got an infusion of patriotism during WWII, and that's when all the eagles and flags etc showed up on covers.  And when the TV show rolled around in 1951, that "American Way" bit was added (nearly 15 years after the character's debut) in part out of the mood of Eisenhower's America but equally to dodge the kind of scrutiny comics were facing in those days as "subversive" materials.  Ultimately even all the flag-waving in the opening credits didn't keep Joe McCarthy's bloodhounds from coming after Robert Shayne (Inspector Henderson) and accusing him of being a Red.  

Contrary to the opinions of a lot of writers who don't get Superman, like Frank Miller, Superman is not a government stooge and he does not get involved in political affairs (to include wars!).  And taken as a whole, the mythos does not revolve around themes of patriotism or jingoism.

You ask if persons in other cultures have other ideas of truth and justice.  Maybe and maybe not.  If a man is accused of a crime he didn't commit, then he will want someone to fight for the truth.  If he is hurt by crime, he will want someone to provide justice for himself and his family.  It doesn't matter where you're from, those are things everyone believes in.  And those are the things Superman gets involved in, not messy and relativistic notions of what form of government is best.

If the "American Way" phrase gives you trouble, then don't think of it in terms of manifest destiny or us showing the rest of the world how to live.  Think of it like this: the American Way, if you live here, means looking out for your neighbor, showing tolerance to those who are different, doing your duty when called, and working to achieve equal justice for all.  Among other things.  We may not always live up to those standards, but they are the American Way.  

To me, this may have been best illustrated on the Superman radio show, where one storyline featured the KKK as villains -- at a time when they were still a formidable terrorist force, mind you -- and revealed their secret codes to a nation of listeners, despite threats made to the producers and sponsors of the show.  And where another storyline had Superman preventing a hate crime against a Jewish rabbi and telling his young fans:

"Remember this as long as you live: Whenever you meet up with anyone who is trying to cause trouble between people -- anyone who tries to tell you that a man can't be a good citizen because he is a Catholic or a Jew, Protestant or what you will -- you can be sure he's a rotten citizen himself and an inhuman being.  Don't ever forget that!"

That, to me, is Superman being an American.  Stand up for what you know is right, and when you see someone doing wrong, call them out.
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Brainiac44
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« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2004, 02:40:08 PM »

But here's the short version:

THIS IS THE SHORT VERSION!?!?!? :shock:


These are concepts you didn't historically find in many cultures, where greatness was traditionally reserved for those born into nobility or the upper castes. The fictional heroes of these cultures were "great" from day one just by virtue of birth, and when they win battles or show courage or wit, it's always pointed out that this was due to the pure blood in their veins (translation: we'll never be as good as them no matter how we try. But another way to see it is; if they're superior by birth, ie. through no effort of their own, then how is that heroic?). Robin Hood, the Knights of the Round Table, Odysseus, Tarzan, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro and so on were all noblemen who, if they fought for the common man at all, did so out of noblesse oblige (after all, we poor ignorant rabble can't very well save ourselves, can we?). Superman, in contrast, was raised on a farm and works a 9-to-5 job. As Clark Kent, he is a schlub. He may be something above us on a genetic level, but in his heart and mind he is one of us, or at least wants to be. No other culture would have bothered adding this element to the legend...they'd have stopped with the cape, the strength and the flying and never added the "weak alter-ego" bit.

BUT THEY HAD A LOT OF HEROES IN OTHER CULTURES - GREEK GOD MYTHOLOGIES, HERCULES, DRAGONS IN CHINA, GODS FROM THE SKY INCA, ROMAN GODS, ECT...  IT "COULD" BE CONSIDERED THE SUPERMAN "ANCESTORS".


Contrary to the opinions of a lot of writers who don't get Superman, like Frank Miller, Superman is not a government stooge and he does not get involved in political affairs (to include wars!). And taken as a whole, the mythos does not revolve around themes of patriotism or jingoism.

SUPERMAN DID GET INVOLVED IN WARS, ECT UNDER SIEGEL AND SHUSTER IN THE EARLY YEARS - WHICH YOU MUST AGREE WAS HIS PUREST FORM.  

OTHER THAN THAT, I AGREE WITH ALL OF YOUR "SHORT" POST...lol...
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nightwing
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« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2004, 08:18:17 PM »

I'm not kidding, that one was short compared to the original!

Yes, Superman got involved in "wars," but again he did it from the point of view of the common man, and not that of an American per se.  Back in issue #1, he dragged two commanding generals to the front lines, plopped them down face to face and said, basically, "You want to fight so bad, you two go at it and whoever lives, wins!" Right there in front of their men, the generals showed their cowardice and made peace.  Which is probably something every dog-face in every war in history would have loved to see happen for real!  This again, to me, is the way the "common man" views war....it's something started by politicians and generals but the ones who end up paying the price are the Joe Schmoes of the world...guys like you and me.

In other words, Superman was "involved" in that war, but he wasn't promoting any ideology other than common sense.

To your other point, yes the Incas, Romans, Greeks, et al had Gods, but you're making my point for me.  Gods are above us...beings who demand our worship if they're to do anything at all for us.  Superheroes are us, albeit us with great powers.

To a degree, they are all Superman's ancestor's.  But none of them would have been as well-recieved in America as Superman, for the reasons I gave before.
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India Ink
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« Reply #5 on: May 31, 2004, 10:47:44 PM »

I think that those on the fringes or just outside of a society are better able to observe, dispassionately, that society--rather than those who are entirely outside (and therefore have a skewed distant opinion) or those who are entirely inside.

Siegel, son of immigrants, a working class Jew and Shuster, transplanted Canadian, also a working class Jew--were distant enough from the centre of American culture to observe it while not being entirely beyond its affects.
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India Ink
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« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2004, 12:20:26 AM »

I'm vehemently opposed to Superman being political. There's no bigger pet peeve I have in comics than writers (and sometimes fans) portraying characters as extensions of their own beliefs. For example, I don't think Superman should ever have a political party (or political ideology) or have controversial beliefs.

Anyway, I think Superman can be compared more to "the American Dream" rather than the Unites States itself. An immigrant who comes to a new home and makes a life for himself. A person who respects both their cultures. In essense, he's a symbol of the hope that America instills in people (particularly immigrants).

Edit: Oh, and I think that the story "Superman takes on The Nazis!" accurately shows what Superman means to America and the world.
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Many people want others to accept their opinions as fact. If enough people accept them as fact then it gives the initial person or persons a feeling of power. This is why people will constantly talk about something they hate—they want others to feel the same way. It matters to them that others perceive things the same way that they do.
Defender
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« Reply #7 on: June 01, 2004, 05:34:23 AM »

America is the last great superpower, and ever since the tail end of World War II has had a reputation as being the John Wayne of Nations, sticking up for what he believes is right, darn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. Like it or lump it you guys are the big dog right now, so it's only natural that people look to America to see what's going to happen next on the world scene.

 I agree with NotSuper on the idea of Superman being politically neutral. While these days I'd see Superman as something of a Liberal (believing in the freedom of individuals to choose the society that works best for them while living in peace with others), by and large he should represent more than just one philosophy, creed or code of a single nation. Superman is a heroic ideal, the kind of person we all secretly wish we could be, that we hope we would be if given those oppurtunities.

 Still, I think the greatest quote about Superman, as an American or an individual, has to have come from (of all people!) Garth Ennis, in his tribute to Archie Goodwin in HITMAN #34.

 In the issue, Superman comes to Gotham City to talk to Batman. He feels doubt because he let an astronaut on a NASA mission to Mars die while saving the others (he wasn't able to see the man pinned beneath a lead radiation shield until just before the reactor exploded. Superman being invulnerable, he made it). He comes across Tommy Monaghan (a telepathic hitman with X-Ray vision and the book's lead) As they talk, he voices his doubts this way:

 " Like I said, I know I can't save everyone. But I also know what I. . .what the idea of Superman means to so many people.
 
 I'm the guy who comes from the sky and helps people. If I'm on the job, everything's going to be all right. And everyone, everyone believes that. Everyone's heard of Superman.

. . .

 There he is, the all-American boy. He's been raised on the Flag, the history, mom's apple pie. . .he's been through the air force and astronaut training, he's risen to the absolute peak of human endeavor, and now he's on his way to fulfill the destiny his country has bestowed, and he's taking all those things he believes in with him.
 
 The things that he is certain of; the shot heard round the world, the Alamo, Custer's last stand, a few marines raising the stars and stripes on Iwo Jima. . .America, the greatest country on God's Earth. . .and Superman. If Superman's there to save him, he needn't be afraid.

 That's what I'm scared everyone believes. The one truth they hold above all else: " No, he can't be everywhere at once, but if he's there for me I'll be safe. "
 
But when the moment came for Colonel James M. Kennedy of the Yeager. . .Superman let him down. "

 Tommy responds:

 " An' you're really going to beat yourself up over that? You're gonna chase this ideal that you yourself know is garbage? This thing you can never live up to?

 Jeez. You're everything that's great about this country and you don't even know it.  "

 " Come again? "

 " Hey, lemme tell you the problem with America, okay?

 This could be the greatest place on Earth. It really could. You got all these different people comin' here to get away from oppression and poverty, all lookin' for a better life.

 But what do they do? They hang on to all the things that got 'em in trouble in the first place. They wanna go on fightin' the same wars an' hatin' the same people they did in the old world.

 They all wanna be Italian or Greek, or Irish or Polish or Russian or African or Vietnamese or Cambodian or whatever. . .so they hang onto alla that. They stick to their own kind, an' everyone stays suspicious of everyone else, an' for what?

 Culture? History? What the hell is that, a bunch of stuff your folks said you hadda believe in all your life? Does that make it real?

 But you, man. You showed 'em how it's done. You're the classic immigrant guy who comes to the States and joins the melting pot.

 It's like you're sayin'--okay, I'm from planet Krypton or wherever, but that's all in the past. I'm startin' over.

 I'm American. What can I do to help? "

 Smiley

 -Def.
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