In the 900th edition of Action Comics, published April 27, Superman says, “‘Truth, Justice, and the American way’ isn’t enough anymore. I’m tired of having my actions construed as instruments of US policy, which is why I intend to speak before the United Nations tomorrow and inform them that I am renouncing my U.S. citizenship.”
The United States is a God blessed nation where every year more than 1 million people try to “break in”—by either crossing our borders without authorization or overstaying the terms of a visa—in order to live here and pursue their own American dream of freedom and opportunity.
Many of those who enter illegally risk life and limb to do so, by walking for days through the dessert or swimming ashore from a tanker. Another 13 million or more apply for the “green card” lottery which provides an opportunity for one million people—who would not otherwise qualify to apply to immigrate—to legally immigrate to the U.S. Of these, approximately half are able to complete the process.
Superman may not value his U.S. citizenship, but it is coveted by hundreds of millions of people from around the world.
When I was a child growing up in the 1950s, my neighborhood pals and I would play Superman and Lois Lane. The little boys went around with bath towel capes pinned to their shirts with giant diaper safety pins, and the little girls raided our mothers’ closets for high heels and pocketbooks so we could enact being newspaper reporter Lois Lane.
As youngsters we didn’t understand the Cold War, but we were drilled how to hide under our desks in case the Midwest somehow managed to be attacked by a nuclear bomb, we said the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of the school day, and even as we watched Superman on black and white televisions, we knew that he was red, white and blue, through and through. We grew up with dads who had gone off to fight in World War II and in Korea and we grew up believing in an America that was the land of the free and the home of the brave.
We also watched as the nation buried an assassinated president and as the Civil Rights movement removed—brick-by-brick— the walls of segregation which barred black American citizens from full participation in schools, jobs, housing, public accommodations and the body politic.
Our generation dared to ask questions and to join in protests against our government’s actions in Vietnam. We grew to understand that government was not always right and that even presidents were not above the law as we witnessed the Watergate scandal and the resignation of Richard Nixon.
Many were sullied and grew cynical about the system. Turning their anger toward America they deconstructed the histories and myths that underpinned our national identity, and they used a critical-theory lens through which to view and sit in judgment of the country from its inception.
Some dropped out and have never plugged back in politically.
Others of us have refused to throw out the baby with the bath water and have committed ourselves to the ideals of American exceptionalism a concept perhaps first acknowledged n 1831 by Alex de Tocqueville in his book American Democracy, “The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one.”
Since its founding, American has not been without error, but as the founders wrote in the Preamble to our Constitution, their purpose was to found “a more perfect Union” than they had been ruled by. They were humble and human enough to know that they were not forming a perfect or utopian nation. In addition the preamble set forth the goal of the uniting states to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
As a kid growing up, this sounded a lot like the words the announcer used to introduce the show “fighting a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.”
First introduced to America in 1938 as a comic book hero, Superman was from the planet Krypton. He told Lois he had come to “fight a never ending battle for truth and justice.” In 1940, a syndicated Superman serial drama was on the radio, and by 1941 Superman became a movie star.
On the radio, the Superman tagline was expanded to “…truth, justice and the American Way” between 1942 and 1944. The following year the introduction became “Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” The words “the American way” returned during the Cold War in the introduction to the Adventures of Superman television series which ran from 1952 to 1958.
Superman’s popularity waned during the turbulent 60s and early 70s as America soldiers fought in Vietnam and war protesters demonstrated on American streets. However, in 1978 the late Christopher Reeve, in the role of Superman, told Lois Lane, played by Margot Kidder, “I’m here to fight for truth, justice and the American way.” This was the first time Superman actually spoke these words.
But 28 years later in the 2006 Superman Returns—staring Norwalk, Iowa native Brandon Routh as Superman—newspaper editor Perry White barked at his reporters to find out if Superman “still believes in truth, justice and . . . all that stuff.”
All that stuff?
It was obvious that this incarnation of Superman was a more liberal, progressive super hero who rejected a sense of American nationalism. So it comes as little surprise that Superman is now being co-opted even further by those with an anti-American agenda to renounce his citizenship in a nation where millions are lined up hoping to navigate the legal gauntlet to immigrate.
In a future edition of the chronicles of Superman—perhaps number 901—I hope a new writer, artist and editor will restore Superman’s adopted nationality and his personal dignity.
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