I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Superman was never an American

The latest attempt by DC to grab a few headlines involves Superman renouncing his US citizenship. I haven't yet read Action Comics 900, the issue this happens in, but my understanding from news reports is that Superman takes a stand in support of Arab rebels that the White House is unhappy with, so Supes goes before the UN to renounce his citizenship since he's tired of having his personal opinions mistaken for official US government policy.

Some conservatives view this as political correctness run amok. Both Mike Huckabee and Glenn Beck have denounced this action as coming from the liberal "blame America" crowd that coddles terrorists and gives comfort to our enemies.

Still, the timing is interesting, in that a poll released yesterday showed that 18% of Americans and 30% of Republicans still don't think that President Obama is an American citizen despite the fact he's released his official birth certificate twice now.

If Superman existed in today's America, he couldn't vote. He couldn't legally get a driver's license or a job. He could never testify in court. He has no birth certificate or any other papers to verify his legal identity. Under classic Superman mythology, Superman has made it public that he's an alien from the planet Krypton. He arrived here in a spaceship that illegally slipped over our borders. He has never, to my knowledge, applied for US resident status under the name "Superman." Under what possible legal argument could Superman be considered an American citizen?

It's also worth noting that, in the Silver Age comic book mythology that I grew up with, Superman was decidedly not a Christian. Instead, he still clung to a few Kryptonian practices, including at least paying lip service to the Krptonian sun-god Rao. "Great Rao!" he'd exclaim when he was astonished. Assuming he was ever caught on tape talking about Rao, don't you think the Christian right would have risen in mass to demand that Superman convert to Christianity? If he didn't, wouldn't his every actions have been suspect to the right wing talkers of the world? If 9-11 had unfolded and Superman hadn't saved the towers and the pentagon because that morning he happened to be busy fighting Brainiac, don't you think that conspiracy theories would have arisen that Superman must have wanted this to happen? Especially if Osama bin Laden then spent the next decade on the loose? You know that the Joseph Farahs and Rush Limbaughs of the world would be fill the airwaves with speculation about where, exactly, this alien's loyalties were placed.

Of course, Superman could try to silence all this talk by revealing that he had a secret identity, with adoptive American parents, and that even though he couldn't reveal his true identity, he could assure us that he was, in fact, an American. The main problem is, Clark Kent is an American purely by fraud. In the current Superman mythology, after Jonathan and Martha Kent find the alien baby in the field, they decide to pass him off as their own child. So, Clark goes to work every day with a social security number issued to him on the basis of a fraudulent birth certificate. The Kent's committed perjury. If Lex Luthor ever found this out, Clark is probably one DNA test away from deportation. And what would the American public think, knowing that aliens are sneaking over our borders to take low wage jobs that real Americans no longer want, like newspaper reporting?

Finally, despite the 1950's era slogan that Superman stood for truth, justice, and the American Way, just how does he actually embody any of these traits?

Truth? Truth is right out the window, since his whole public persona is a carefully constructed lie. Clark Kent spends every minute of his day lying, wearing glasses he doesn't need, slouching his shoulders, pretending to be a klutz with irritable bowel syndrome so he can run off to the bathroom at a moment's notice. But what can you expect, given that his adoptive parents were so adept at lying? They taught him from an early age that deceipt was a virtue. When you and I wanted to make friends as children, we were told, "Just be yourself." When Clark felt lonely and isolated, his folks said, "You can't trust friends. You can't trust anyone. Never let anyone see who you truly are." With this kind of upbringing, we should consider ourselves lucky Clark didn't turn into a serial killer.

Justice? Only if you think vigilante justice is superior to due process. Superman seems to be unable to stop a bank robbery without first punching his way through a wall. Once he's inside the bank, he destroys evidence by melting the robber's gun (conveniently wiping out fingerprints) and ruining all the surveillance tapes by spraying the room with x-rays. You know every bad guy he nabs is back on the streets inside of an hour. And, speaking of x-rays, the citizens of Metropolis must give off more rads than a Japanese power plant, given how frequently Superman scans the city looking for missing kittens and run-away bad guys. If you work at the Daily Planet, and are diagnosed with breast cancer when you're 30 that probably has been caused by Superman's radioactive stares, you have no legal recourse available to you. You can't sue Superman because you don't know his real identity, and he keeps his economic assets hidden from everyone, including the IRS. Where's the justice in that?

The American Way? There is nothing more patriotic than voting, and Superman's not even registered to vote! I don't know that he's ever taken a public position on the merits of capitalism versus communism, but it is noteworthy that he's never taken a dime for his services. He's accepted no corporate sponsorships, and he's never tried to cash in on his fame and powers. He seems to be the living embodiment of the Marxist motto, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." And while Superman does spend a lot of his time fighting extraterrestrials, it's worth noting that the person he spends the majority of his energies trying to bring down is a highly successful businessman who rose from poverty by using his genius, education, and good business sense to become one of the richest men in America. Also, Lex Luthor can show you his birth certificate.

But even more to the point: The premise of America is that the law treats everyone equally. The premise of Superman is that he has the power to be above the law. He uses his powers altruistically, it's true, but if you or I tried to fly a helicopter thirty feet above the main street of Metropolis, we'd have hell to pay with the FAA. Superman does it with impunity. If we tried to drive 80 on the freeway, we get a ticket. The classic Superman didn't even respect the speed limit set by light. If you or I crashed through a skyscraper window, we'd be expected to pay for damages. Superman either fixes things himself, an act of non-union labor performed without building permits or concern about building codes, or, if he does leave behind some sort of cash compensation for damages, the money is coming from unknown source that the IRS would probably really, really want to know about. The American Way is respect for the rule of law. Superman's way is, "I'll do what I want, because, hey, I'm Superman."

Supes, if you're saying adios to America, good riddance. Krypton must have known you'd grow up to be a hyper-violent nincompoop who'd wear his underwear outside his big boy pants when they shot you into space as a baby. Don't let the door snag your cape on the way out.


Gray Rinehart said...

I question whether the Kents committed perjury in the classic sense -- I'm not sure applying for a birth certificate or other document requires making a sworn statement under oath, and I think the "under oath" part is key for perjury. I'm only a barracks lawyer, though, so I could be wrong.

At any rate, very nice work, James! Reminds me thematically of Niven's "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex."


James Maxey said...

Thanks, Gray. Perjury might not be the exact crime here. Since I've never had kids, I don't know what's involved in getting a birth certificate if the birth hasn't been witnessed by doctors. Perhaps I'm wrong, and it is perfectly legal to claim to have given birth to a baby that you actually found in a cornfield. By the way, the golden age Superman didn't have this problem. In his original story, the Kent's took the toddler they found to an orphanage, then adopted him legally. However, this might make Clark legal, but Superman still has some explaining to do.

And thanks for the comparison to the Niven essay. I know it well.

Darkond said...

Hey James. My friend's dad was a storyboard artists for two Superman cartoons. I'll show this to him in the morning. Really 'legit'.

James Maxey said...