Sunday, July 09, 2006

Truth, Justice and the American Way

Eureka! I've found a place where my politics and my comics converge!

There’s an interesting (and probably soon to be behind the subscription wall) article in the New York Times about the origins of Superman’s “truth, justice and the American way” slogan that a lot of conservative bloggers and bloviators are up in arms about. (Frank Langella’s Perry White asks “Does he still stand for Truth? Justice? All that stuff?” and O’Reilly and his goon squad have been taking it as a slight to the Republic.) The article acknowledges that as a serial character in several different media, Superman has always been a work in progress, and the slogan has always been changeable: From “a never-ending battle for truth and justice,” it morphed to “truth, tolerance and justice,” to the familiar TJAW in the 50s tv series, and even into “truth, justice and peace” on the old Superfriends show (although the NYT didn’t mention that).

So there’s really no reason to get upset at the loss of the phrase “the American way.” (Although I do have to wince a bit at one of the screenwriters saying that it was omitted so it would play better in foreign markets. Not so much at the admission, but at the acknowledgement that there are far fewer markets that consider the American way a good thing than there were a seven or eight years ago.)

But let’s look at the character for a moment, rather than the symbol. Superman is an immigrant. What’s more, he’s an illegal immigrant, with false papers the Kents somehow obtained for him when he was just an infant. Superman’s origins are well known to the world, and he’s been granted citizenship. Even if he hadn’t, he could certainly be considered a refugee, although since it took so long for Krypton’s status—and even its existence—to come to light, he’d probably be tied up in hellish paperwork. Still, it’s that Kent fellow who’s holding the job. I can’t imagine Bill O’Reilly would appreciate that if he gave it a minute’s thought.

Nonetheless, Superman is here, using his talents, powers and abilities to make his local community of Metropolis and the world as a whole a better place to be—all despite Clark Kent’s illegal status. He’s found a place where he can be everything he can be, and we all benefit from that.

On second thought maybe “the American way” should be in there after all.


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