Truth, Justice, and the American Way

superman

From the “Adventures of Superman” television show

“Truth, justice, and the American way.” The introduction (video) to the 1950s television show “The Adventures of Superman” starring the late George Reeves still sends chills up my spine. I first watched this series as a kid, and while it hasn’t always aged well, given its limited budget and it’s target of six-year-old boys, I still cherish some of its episodes.

But the whole “American way” thing seems to have fallen out of favor, at least in the entertainment industry.

Well, maybe not entirely. This scene (video) from the 2012 film “The Avengers” pretty much says the same thing. The clip is a little short, but the whole thing goes:

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) : Well, I hope I’m the man for the job.

Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) : Oh, you are. Absolutely. Uh… we’ve made some modifications to the uniform. I had a little design input.

Steve Rogers : The uniform? Aren’t the stars and stripes a little… old-fashioned?

Agent Phil Coulson : With everything that’s happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned.

I’ve never kept it a secret that the character of Captain America, including Mr. Evans’ portrayal of Steve Rogers, is personal inspiration for me.

And as schmaltzy and retro as it sounds, so is Mr. Reeves’ role as the Last Son of Krypton.

So why am I talking about this?

Since I still have been “unfollowed” from Mike Glyer’s File 770 online fanzine, I decided to pop in and have a look at what has been going on there lately. I scrolled down past a lot of adverts for various awards and then found Pixel Scroll 10/19/19 Scrollgar, Do We Have Pixel Sign?.

Item #2 has a link to a Seattle Times article titled University may lose Superman papers over Liz Cheney comments dated October 15th, 2019 (updated October 16th). The news blip is short. Here it is reproduced in its entirety:

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — The University of Wyoming could lose the papers of a longtime “Superman” comic book editor after his son took offense to comments by Congresswoman Liz Cheney.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports Hank Weisinger contacted the university’s American Heritage Center Tuesday demanding the return of the collected papers of Mort Weisinger.

The elder Weisinger spent three decades as the story editor of the “Superman” series published by DC Comics Inc.

Hank Weisinger says his action was prompted by comments the Wyoming Republican representative made Monday placing blame for Turkey’s Oct. 9 invasion of Syria on presidential impeachment proceedings by Democrats.

Weisinger says he does not want his father’s papers at a university represented by a member of Congress he perceives as opposing Superman’s values of “truth, justice and the American way.”

“Truth, justice, and the American Way.” What does that even mean anymore?

I don’t know. Oh, I have a pretty good idea of how I understand that phrase as an individual with a certain perspective. I just don’t know how to apply it to an entire nation of diverse human beings with polarized and divisive opinions.

Who is Superman? That is, who is our greatest hero and role model?

He’s changed over time. Back in the day, he was a very American ideal, a national hero in a time when nationalism wasn’t a dirty word. It was a time when not only were you not ashamed of your country and its flag, you were actually proud of them. It was a time when school children stood up in class every morning, put their hands over their hearts, faced the Stars and Stripes, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. While it may have been something of an illusion, it was a time when we felt united as a country, not torn apart as I perceive us today.

I’m pretty sure you can’t say the pledge anymore in school because, you know… offensive. Being offended is now very much in vogue.

And yet people are moving here, often illegally, in droves, hand over fist, because America has something other places don’t. Given the amount of badmouthing America and Americans take from other countries, and even from citizens of this country, I can’t imagine what it is that still draws people to our shores and across our borders.

Well, yes I can. I’m just being snarky.

My Superman, like my Captain America and my Stars and Stripes are a little old fashioned. But I like old fashioned. No, not like the bad things that happened in the bad old days. No, I don’t support lynching of African-Americans, sexual harassment and abuse, people not being allowed to vote because they were women or had the “wrong” skin color.” I agree, those were bad. A lot of things are still bad.

But not everything was or is. In the same Avengers film, Steve Rogers said something else that’s important:

When I went under, the world was at war. I wake up, they say we won. They didn’t say what we lost.

Yes, the passage of time and increased awareness has won us certain freedoms that were historically denied. However, we somehow weren’t allowed to hang on to other values that historically were good and true.

Those values are embodied by fictional comic book characters such as Superman and Captain America. Actor Chris Evans once said something like “Captain America is everything I’ve always wanted to be as a man. He does good for the sake of doing good.”

No nation has ever been perfect. America hasn’t been. It isn’t today. Far from it. But it’s never been about who we are, but what we desire to be. In our own way, we embody the ideals of heroism and courage, of individuality and personal strength being translated into our strength as a collective people.

It hurts me to see this latest argument of real world, social media, news media bickering being washed over the fictional Man of Steel. Other nations and cultures much older than ours have their mythic heroes. We’ve studied them as school children. And while the U.S. has its own historical heroes, we also created comic books, a mythos unique to our culture..

We created Superman and Captain America and a score of other modern legends. They were once children’s stories. Now they are a multi-million dollar industry that audiences can’t get enough of.

Why?

Yes, they’re entertaining, but I suspect in our heart of hearts as a nation…we still need a little old fashioned. Let’s not throw that part of ourselves in the garbage heap.

8 thoughts on “Truth, Justice, and the American Way

    • Could that be due to some shortcoming in the way American history has been presented in schools and elsewhere, George? Perhaps the historic values and goals embedded in that history were devalued or even denigrated? If there is inconsistency or “diversity” in the present, it must have developed during the period since the invention of the comic characters James cited. One might wonder how much those characters reflected their era, or if they intended to challenge their readers to improve it by envisioning its better elements and potential.

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      • So, if American history is laced with injustices, but also outlines the hopes and dreams of “liberty and justice for all”, what should be taught and emphasized? What was the emphasis offered by the Jewish men who introduced us to such comic book heroes as Superman, Green Lantern, and a host of others? Granted that they weren’t trying to teach history, but they were certainly illustrating the positive elements that they perceived in “the American way”.

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      • I think we can acknowledges the injustices, but as I said in my blog post, emphasize that it’s the ideals behind our nation and their greatest fictional heroes that we should all be aspiring to.

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  1. I don’t know where you get the idea the pledge can’t be said in school. It’s said in the public schools around here. And badmouthing America? If “America” is Donald Trump, as he seems to think, that is happening (while others, irrationally and endangering their souls, make up lies for him). But I do agree with you on this, at times anyway: Yes, the passage of time and increased awareness has won us certain freedoms that were historically denied. However, we somehow weren’t allowed to hang on to other values that historically were good and true.

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