A great man once said, "Politics is inherently stupid." That great man was me.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Superman Is American

I had the opportunity to see the new Superman movie, Superman Returns on Tuesday night. Although I expected it to take the series on a radical turn to the dramatic a la Batman Begins, it was actually quite a pleasant mix of the dramatic and the comical. Now, before I go any further into my Ebert impression (no one wants that), let me get to my point.

One thing that stuck out like a sore thumb in this movie was when Perry White utters the line, "Does he still stand for Truth, Justice - "

You can fill in the rest. Anyone who's ever had a childhood can. Superman stands for "the American Way." Only that's not what Perry White says next. The full quote is "Does he still stand for Truth, Justice, and all that stuff?" The change was so significantly jarring to me that it took me a while to get back into the movie. Not only was the line made incredibly weaker by the addition of the lamer "and all that stuff," but it raised a question for me - does Superman still stand for the American way?

An article in the Hollywood Reporter expounds on this:

...In the latest film incarnation, scribes Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris sought to downplay Superman's long-standing patriot act. With one brief line uttered by actor Frank Langella, the caped superhero's mission transformed from "truth, justice and the American way" to "truth, justice and all that stuff."

"The world has changed. The world is a different place," Pennsylvania native Harris says. "The truth is he's an alien. He was sent from another planet. He has landed on the planet Earth, and he is here for everybody. He's an international superhero."

In fact, Dougherty and Harris never even considered including "the American way" in their screenplay...They penned their first draft together and intentionally omitted what they considered to be a loaded and antiquated expression.

..."So, you play the movie in a foreign country, and you say, 'What does he stand for? -- truth, justice and the American way.' I think a lot of people's opinions of what the American way means outside of this country are different from what the line actually means (in Superman lore) because they are not the same anymore," Harris says. "And (using that line) would taint the meaning of what he is saying."

No, it wouldn't. Harris and Dougherty had a wonderful opportunity here to be cultural ambassadors of their nation - after all, Superman is the iconic American identity. During the 40's, along with Captain America and others, Superman fought the Nazis on the comic pages and gave America a sense of why it was over in Europe fighting; a sense of what they were striving as a nation to protect. Superman is America, and is how it views itself - idealistic and striving to promote what is right in the world. Harris and Dougherty had an opportunity to use Superman as an ambassador to the rest of the world, to show them what America stands for. But they blew it.

Yes, "the American way" doesn't mean what it did in the 40's. But it still lives on, typified by Rockwell's Four Freedoms, for all Americans. There are few nations upon this earth that hold the rights of the individual sacred above all, and America is surely the most prominent of all among this group. Sure, America has pushed it's weight around to get what it wants from time to time. But it has also done wonderful things: it came to Europe's aid during the Second World War. It's also the most charitable nation on the earth when it comes to foreign aid - just ask the survivors of the great Southeast Asian Tsunami in December of 2004. And it has protected some of the world's weaker nations from aggressors.

Superman is how America views itself - blessed with great fortune and power, and the desire to use them for good. That's the American way. It's just a shame that Harris and Dougherty didn't see it that way.
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