Entry from April 30, 2011

Didn’t I always tell you — for instance here and here — that the guy was not to be trusted? Now we learn that Superman is going to renounce his American citizenship and with it any chance of relegation to mere heroism — as opposed to the superheroism he and his many admirers seem to prefer. I wonder if he knows that, even if he does renounce, he’ll still have to pay U.S. taxes for five years? But his motives appear to be idealistic. “I’m tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy,” he says in Action Comics No. 900. “‘Truth, justice and the American Way’ — it’s not enough anymore.”

Laura Hudson of Comics Alliance writes

What it means to stand for the “American way” is an increasingly complicated thing, however, both in the real world and in superhero comics, whose storylines have increasingly seemed to mirror current events and deal with moral and political complexities rather than simple black and white morality. . .It doesn’t seem that he’s abandoning those values, however, only trying to implement them on a larger scale and divorce himself from the political complexities of nationalism. Superman also says that he believes he has been thinking “too small,” that the world is “too connected” for him to limit himself with a purely national identity. As an alien born on another planet, after all, he “can”t help but see the bigger picture.”

Remind you of anyone? Barack Obama seems to have set a fashion for the shame of Americans of world prominence for being only American and who thus try to sell themselves as citizens of the world.

Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard, however, thinks that Superman is making a big mistake. This is because,

in the end, the only truly interesting aspect of Superman’s character is his complete devotion to America. Because it’s this devotion — of which his citizenship is the anchor — that establishes all of his moral limits. Why does this demi-god not rule the earth according to his own will? The only satisfying answer is that he declines to do so because he believes in America and has chosen to be an American citizen first and a super man second.

This is well and patriotically said, but I think mistaken. Superman was always going to subvert “the American way” he was once said to have symbolized because that is in the nature of the “demi-god.” As the Greeks knew, the gods were not heroic but capricious and comic, if often cruel, figures. Fantasy is by its nature disconnected from the ordinary world of men and women. It is equally fantastical to be a superhero and to be without a place with any legitimate demands on our loyalty. The two are, in a way, corollaries.

Writing in today’s London Daily Telegraph about the Royal Wedding, Charles Moore notices something peculiar:

There are other royal weddings — in Spain, or Sweden, or Swaziland — and I am sure they are very nice. But they do not stand for anything much in the eyes of the world. They don’t attract messages of support from the crew in the International Space Station — a particularly surreal touch in yesterday’s reports. They don’t echo in the imagination of humanity. Our one does.

This seems to me a lesson in the basic truth of human nature, also present in the Christian ritual and the Christian building in which the wedding took place, that the only approach we have to the universal is through the particular — and that the illusion of grasping it otherwise will always be mere fantasy.

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