I’m Canadian, born and raised. I’ve been aware of the concept of the United States of America perhaps for as long as I have read comic books. Perhaps it was from these illustrated adventures that I learned what I came to understand as the American ideal. The world of comics were a perfect vehicle for storytellers that have taught generations of kids that America represents a force for good in the world. In fact, we learned that truth and justice weren’t only good ideas; comic books, and specifically Superman taught us that these were the American way.
Superman has been referred to as the “All-American hero from the planet Krypton” and some Canadians are aware that one of his creators Joe Shuster hailed from Toronto. Yet, perhaps as Canadian kids, we held special affinity to this “All-American” as one of our own. Indeed, the Man of Steel was a foreign force for good in a land of people that believed in the same.
Shuster and Superman’s other creator Jerry Siegal first penned our hero in June 1938 when America, and indeed the world, were facing an uncertain future dealing with a force that sought to erode liberty around the globe. It is not unreasonable to suggest that Superman was born out of the idealism that Americans (and via Shuster, Canadians) saw in themselves during that dark time.
However, during the movie, Jimmy Olsen and Daily Planet boss Perry White proclaim that Superman represents “Truth, Justice” and, and… it’s lost. It was a subtle omission but for true fans of Superman we could only infer that the screenwriters were editorializing that Truth and Justice were no longer the American way. In fact, “America” as a concept is so strikingly missing from the film that we see nary a flag nor hear a mention of the country. This stands in stark contrast to the original Superman movies in which our hero straightens out the Stars and Stripes on the moon. In 1938 and in the 1980s, America sought to project its image upon the world. In 2006, American filmmakers can barely mutter the nation’s name. For a kid who grew up equating what Superman represented to the idealism of what America represented to the world, it left a pit in my stomach.
America has certainly become polarized in its politics and unity in partisanship is hardly a prerequisite for a solid and strong democracy; however, it is a tragedy if the country has stopped believing in itself. Because it is America’s idealism (along with truth and justice) that are its way. While I’m not American, I do believe in the nation’s ideals, yet it saddens me when it appears that the guardians of Superman’s legacy no longer do.
UPDATE: Erik Lundegaard gives us some more information in the June 30th edition of the New York Times (in an article which strikes upon some of the main points that I did here), Ludegaard tells us that the phrase “Truth, Justice and the American Way” actually originated in the 1950s in the television series. It was first uttered by Superman himself in the first “Superman” movie starring Christopher Reeves.
h/t to Cherniak for the NYTimes link and for writing about our common favourite superhero as well!