The Mainstream Media Totally Freaks Out Over Superman’s Citizenship
Since ComicsAlliance broke the story last week about Superman (the world's most famous comic book immigrant) renouncing his U.S. citizenship in Action Comics #900, an issue that DC Comics has confirmed to us is officially sold out (with a second printing, cover left, on the way) there was a tsunami-like wave of response to it from the mainstream media the likes of which we've never seen before. There are now over 2,200 comments on the post thanks to links from sites like The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Drudge Report, Time's Techland, Boing Boing and FARK. It then made its way to national television, where it was commented on by both national and international news sources, not to mention Former Arkansas Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
The issue was also discussed on the Fox television show The O'Reilly Factor -- where ComicsAlliance and I were namedropped -- and I personally appeared on Fox and Friends over the weekend to discuss the controversy. (Note: If you can find that clip online, let us know!) Now that it finally seems to be winding down in the face of actually important things happening in the news, we've got a few thoughts on the the brouhaha.
Let me say first that I can understand why the symbolism of Superman renouncing his American citizenship might rub people the wrong way, particularly if the only thing you hear is that sentence without any other context. Unfortunately, this is all too often how both news and politics function: repeating emotionally loaded phrases without any context and then responding to the uproar that it creates.
The O'Reilly Factor references Superman and ComicsAlliance:
The number one misunderstanding that pundits have had about this story is that it represents an insult to or rejection of America and its values, not as a decision to step back from American politics and foreign policy, as Superman more clearly indicates in the comic. Some of you may remember when Captain America stepped back from his patriotic identity in the '70s after becoming disillusioned with the country; that is distinctly not what is happening here. There is no disillusionment, no repudiation of "The American Way" -- a phrase, by the way, that was not initially associated with Superman, and only appeared after America became involved in World War II.
It's also worth noting that while Superman may be symbolically renouncing his national identity, Clark Kent is another matter entirely, and there's absolutely no reason to think that the Daily Planet reporter's citizenship will change in any way. One of the most fundamental tropes of superheroes is the concept that they have a civilian identity, and when they step into their superhero role, they conceal aspects of that personal identity in order to protect themselves and the people around them from the repercussions of their superheroic actions. In a sense, this is exactly what Superman is doing: removing his American identity from his "professional" identity because he is unwilling to compromise U.S. foreign policy or jeopardize the safety of the American people.
As a country, America has struggled again and again with whether or not to intercede in international conflicts and crises, and many times that decision hinges largely on the issues of politics and resources. Regardless of whether or not involving ourselves is the "right thing to do," we must worry about how it could jeopardize us in a larger sense, the political or even economic fallout it could create, and the money, resources, and indeed, American lives it could cost.
As an idealized, nigh-omnipotent superhuman, Superman has none of those limitations, and now, by leaving behind his national affiliation, he has even fewer. It costs him nothing to fly across the world, nothing to throw a hundred tanks into space, and and he cannot be harmed by bullets or Kim Jong-Il shaking his fist in the air. So ultimately the question becomes, why would he do less to help fight injustice across the world, when he could do more?
This decision is a reflection of the fact that those quintessential American ideals of truth, freedom, and justice -- the core of Superman's character -- are much more important to him than the often ugly and compromising business of politics, and that his defense of those principles does not stop suddenly at man-made borders. Although his values have been fundamentally shaped by his American upbringing, he is not blind to the suffering of those who were not lucky enough to be born within American borders, as he was not.
Ultimately, and quite inspirationally, Superman is saying that his need to defend that sense of morality and justice, and do it in a way that doesn't damage or endanger the country he loves, is more important than whatever people might say about him in the polarized world of politics or the court of public opinion, either in his world or our own.
Mike Huckabee on Fox:
"It's part of a bigger trend of Americans almost apologizing for being Americans... When I saw these kids in Arizona, I thought, let's take them to any country of their choosing, drop them off for three weeks, and then come back and ask them after three weeks, would you like to stay here or do you want to come back to America?" [Editor's Note: Like, many students, I lived abroad for over a year and despite still loving America it was pretty freaking sweet.]
The Alyona Show
The Associated Press visits Midtown Comics in Times Square, New York City and talks to actual comic book fans:
A Superman reader: "I think that is what Superman would do. I think he has all of humanity in his heart, rather than a national identity. So I think it's true to character."
Gerry Gladston, co-owner of Midtown Comics: "Superman has always been a global character... He's always acted globally and never actually represented the U.S. government on a regular basis."