Friday, June 30, 2006

Superman, the fascist

There is an article at Watching America from the Pakistani press The Nation entitled “America Uses Superman to Promote its Fascist Agenda”. While there are some things in this article I agree with, I do believe the writer is overreacting a bit at the nature of this particular superhero, and forgets, or is ignorant of, the heroic ideal that crosses time and continents.

It may be news to foreign policy Pundits in Islamabad as well as to the majority of readers that Superman, the highly coveted American film hero, is an expression and a creation of fascist minds rooted in a political culture that epitomizes power and the use of force.

Ok, yes, America is big on use of force. Americans are sadly too gung-ho for a smackdown, and the prevailing attitude they are trying to invoke is “you better not mess with us”. While this might grant some security to many of its citizens, there are plenty of us out there who think not all wars should be fought. Superman himself, however, was created to make money, with the added effect of entertaining a few kiddos (and some adults) along the way. He was created in the spirit of many mythic heroes, born of another world, carried off as an infant to protect him from harm.

This is so, as Superman alters the nature of reality and creates a reality of his own, which defies human understanding and logic. He also violates every rule of physics and all scientific principles known to humanity. The notion of Superman is based on the idea of a battle between "good vs. evil," from an exclusively American perspective, where the battle always demonstrates an external threat to American society and its people.

Well, yea. Superman was created as an “American” hero, therefore, he protects American interests, from an American perspective. Why shouldn’t he? If anyone else, in any other country in the world, created a comic superhero, I bet they would protect that country, not America. However, once we get into the idea of good vs. evil things get a bit more interesting. Take World War II, for example. Allies thought they were the good guys. Hitler and his cronies thought they were the good guys. Everyone likes to think that their side is the right side, the good side, the moral side. Is there a definitive answer? Not always. I’d like to think fighting against Hitler was a good thing, but maybe that wasn’t the entirety of the Allied cause. When it comes to the war in Iraq the acknowledgement of right and wrong is a bit murkier. But does all this really apply to Superman?

In the end, obviously, "good" prevails and America is saved. What could be more virtuous than that? Superman is naturally and invariably a white male, handsome, debonair, brave, moral, and kind, potent, exciting, loving, and capable of generating ecstasy at the touch of a finger. And of course, he is in love with a white female equally kind-hearted, devoted, beautiful, loving, noble, pious, pure, and honorable – and together the pair fights the "evil-doers" to ultimate victory for "good," and lives in love and peace thereafter.

Well, not exactly. Superman isn’t even human, remember? And Lois Lane, well it seems she has moved on in this latest film, perhaps. Sure, they are both in appearance white, attractive, cornfed Americans, but let’s be realistic – they were created in a pre-pre-politically correct America. DC Comics is making an effort to make some “modern” changes to their superheroes, so we’ll see what happens. But even so, so what? Do you take umbrage with Alexander the Great, Pericles, Achilles, Heracles, Beowulf, King Arthur – real and imaginary characters that might be said to have the same traits listed above for Superman? Superman follows a tradition of heroic characters in the west that goes back to ancient times. The idea is hardly American.

No wonder then that at the height of Bush's neo-con-manufactured war on the so-called terrorism of Islamic militants, Superman is back with a "bang" in American movie theaters. "Superman Returns," which opens in the United States this week, is receiving knock-out reviews from critics and is winning over audiences as the latest crime-fighting, evil-smashing, and sincere "Man of Steel."

How else would America express its solidarity with the Bush Administration and its faith-oriented politics? Indeed, the concept of Superman can only be explained by unflinching faith - absolute faith that transcends ideas and is based on unshakable convictions and messianic notions that overwhelm the need for analysis. Superman is absolutely unreal, and yet he is admired for the deeds he performs. It all boils down to the promotion of Bush's fascist doctrine, both inside and outside America.

Whoa there doggie. You are completely underestimating (overestimating?) the American movie going public. I can guarantee you that more than likely, 99.9% of the movie going public will not give one thought to President Bush while watching Superman Returns. They aren’t being fooled – the story behind Superman is much older than Bush, it is the heroic tradition, again – but in the case of the new movie, you are dealing with a hero who has perhaps lost his way, no longer needed, and a villain with a personal vendetta against him. Could be an allegory for the current Bush administration and their war on terror? Could it be an allegory of American anti-Islam tendencies? Perhaps. But it could also be an allegory of a thousand stories already told.

Now, the article, which is quite interesting, goes on to talk about Bush’s fascism, religious extremism, and various other issues with the Bush administration. Honestly, I don’t altogether disagree with some of it. This view of Bush from a Pakistani perspective is quite fascinating. But obviously, I take offense at the misuse of Superman, a fictional character who can be different things to different people, a character that continues a long legacy of heroic ideals, a character that is altogether American, but whose roots run as far back as the sands of time, blending with the heroes of the ancient west, and indeed the world over.


St. Caffeine said...

I'm risking self-outing as a geek, but if you're interested in the development of Superman and the super hero character in America you should read Men of Tomorrow. While it touches on many superhero features, it spends a lot of time on the creation of Superman (by two Jewish kids/young men) and the establishment's efforts to screw them out of their $$$.

It's not what I usually read, but it's not bad.

God Bless Superman and America said...

I just don't concern myself what half-baked foreigners think about our country.

Maybe they are just jealous because they couldn't get a green card. Many happy Pakistanis live in the USA and probably quite a few will watch Superman for it's entertainment value, which, by golly, is what America is all about.

Maybe in Pakistan, they can create some sort of alter-superhero who oppresses the common man, and ensures that that propaganda, misogyny and other inequities prevail.

Anonymous said...

God bless Superman? That’s weird… anyway, god bless, you should discuss the theological implications of superman with the author of the article. All this is absolutely ridiculous. Good post, Melusina.


Anonymous said...

And please, my american friends, talking about political correctness, don’t ever change the name of Superman to Superperson.

Viva Portugal!


The SeaWitch said...

What's most ridiculous about the author's article is the fact that Superman is NOT an American creation but a Canadian one. Canadian, Joe Shuster, the artist and Jerry Siegel, the writer sold their comic book hero to DC comics.

Next thing you know, they'll be writing about the fascist American overtones of Winnie the Pooh...another Canadian creation.

Anonymous said...

zardoz says :

ms mel




SouthPark said...

Blame Canada.... Blame Canada...

L-girl said...

Excellent post, Mel! I had the same reaction to that story, although I didn't take the time to think through as clearly as you.

By the way, despite Seawitch's claims, Winnie the Pooh is not a Canadian creation. It's British.

Milne was born in Winnepeg and the name Winnie was inspired by that city (actually the name of a pet bear of a Canadian soldier). However, Milne spent most of his life in England, and the Pooh stories are set in East Sussex, England. There's really nothing Canadian about them.

I love Canada as much as anyone, but Canadians can't take credit for everything! :)