Friday, April 29, 2011

Superman: Truth, Justice, and Renounced Citizenship

"I intend to speak before the United Nations tomorrow and inform them that I am renouncing my U.S. citizenship. I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy," Suprman says in the monumental Action Comics #900.

" 'Truth, justice and the American way' -- it's not enough anymore."

Words spoken by a man who has long stood as the emblem of our basic morals despite the fact that he's a fictional character. I think it would be safe to say a lot of people admire Superman or Captain America more than they admire some of the most seasoned politicians of our country. In fact, I would say I am one of those individuals.

I think what's so nice about these characters, or any strong well written, well conceived hero for that matter, is that they represent the pinnacle of our morals. Regardless of specific belief, I think many of us can agree on the fact that, in our lives, we strive to be good people. We're living for something greater than ourselves in the regard that we value the lives of others and we wish to be viewed in a positive light, that our actions would dictate the quality of our person, the idea that when we die, we hope our peers look back on our lives with fond memories, not with hatred or disdain.

And of course, this is why fiction, in my opinion, will last forever. It can give us, if even for the briefest of moments, a chance to escape to a place where we are standing in the boots of a God, and it is with our benevolent hands that we attempt to shape the world into one of peace, one in which people like us would hope to live, would hope to pass on to our children, to all generations of the future.

Superman is so highly regarded, especially in his striving for good, but also for the ultimate power he possesses. Though I like to think most people would wish to be Superman, to emulate his good intentions, I fear too many wish to be him solely for his abilities, to fly, to leap tall buildings in a single bound, to move at speeds faster than a speeding bullet, and to, when needed, destroy.

As much as Superman is a savior, he is also a weapon. And how many of us pine to place our hands on the hilt of that sword? If Superman is on your team, you win. End of story.

And though I think countless Americans would be outraged to hear him utter such words as, "'Truth, Justice, The American way' -- it's not enough anymore." People need to begin to come into the understanding that superiority is but a fleeting desire. It's not to say that Superman doesn't play on our team any longer, but is to say that wherever there are cries of injustice, that is where you will find him. This is why he is not simply an American icon, but a Worldly icon.

Because it is so impossible for actual nations to follow through on such ideals, it is essential for a fictional character such as he to do so. It is as I have said I believed; world peace is impossible, but world peace is not the goal. It is never surrendering in the fight for world peace, that is the goal. Never giving up.

This idea also stretches beyond the notion that, by renouncing citizenship, by saying you fight not just for one country but for the entire world, you are some sort of traitor. There is a vast difference between believing in superiority, and actually acting on it. This is why it's so easy to allow our governments to make these decisions for us. How many of us could be handed the gun to take the life of the man you're told is the enemy? Quite a few I'm sure, but before the trigger is pulled, the last thought in his mind is his superiority over you. Who, then, is right?

It's an impossible mountain to climb. Nothing so drives us as the desire to be better than the next man. But I would argue that there is one simple truth about life, and that is that it ends. It doesn't matter how much more superior we are, how much greater our nation is than the next, at some point, it all comes to an end. So the question becomes, and the question I think Superman is proposing to us, why not make the most of that time by fighting for all men, women, and children regardless of creed, color, or social position? Because the second truth of life is that when all humans bleed, they bleed red. Not red, white, and blue.

I am an American. That is my nationality. I don't waltz around claiming I'm Italian, Russian, English, Irish, Scottish, American. This is my country and I love it dearly. But the world does not exist within my country, my country exists within the world. And though I am proud to be such a man, I am also aware that national pride is not something only we can possess, or that the pride of Americans is greater than the national joys of other countrymen. People have the right to be proud of the country they live in, to be happy in their lives. It is not our unalienable rights as Americans, but our unalienable rights are human beings. "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" is not ours and ours alone, but is something we should strive to communicate as a universal right.

Superman stands for truth and justice, and because of this, he stands for the defense of mankind's unalienable rights. And when we are told to love our neighbor, that does not end at state lines, on East or West coasts, North or South borders. It crosses party lines, dissolves social structures, and means we break down doors when fire erupts inside our neighbor's home.

Superman is not America. Just as much as you or I are not America. We cannot be our country. We have a government to attempt to do such things. We can only ever be representatives of what our country stands for. And when unrest breaks out in foreign lands such as Egypt, Libya, Syria, or Iran, it is not our duty to stoke the flames, but to douse them, and not merely with water, but with good will. We are always looking to spread political beliefs to nations in need, but perhaps this is a poor strategy. Instead we should be seeking to spread the knowledge that, like us, like you, and I, as human beings, they are capable of achieving and receiving the same rights as we claim.

Though I am a real person, I know my voice could never be as strong or powerful or universal as Superman's. And the writers who voice him are able to take such a mythological being as he and use him as their mouth piece. And today that mouth speaks, and says something I have found myself saying many times when the weight of the world pressed down upon us, when the judgments of others become harsher and harsher, and that is this, we cannot be one of the world, but one in the world, not one by the world, but one for the world.

Superman is not an American to begin with. He is an alien. And for him to choose this nation as his home is a great honor, and like the aliens that populate our country today, we are only happy to have them if they are willing to be our tools.

Today Superman says, "I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy." Superman does not fight for the rights that others tell him are true, but for the rights that he holds self evident. We need no men to tell us who we are or what we believe, that is something only we can do. And though some may fight for evil, they are in the minority.

This is not subversive communication or an attempt to destroy national pride, but a communication of the truths I hold to be self evident. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If I married myself to the idea that those are solely American dreams, I would be segregating others from myself. There are many other nations dear to my heart, the people of them are closer to me than I could ever imagine, my family. And to say I believed that simply living in this country makes me better than them is foolish. Cut me and I bleed red, cut them and you will see the same.

The same.

Superman is an ever changing character, the representation of the pinnacle of our moral compass, and for him to limit himself to standing for one country is to say that when push came to shove, he would turn a blind eye to the hatred occurring in other nations, to the burning towers of fear that many foreign dictators are trying to build. But what he stands for, at its core, is not unchanging. Truth and Justice. Though our countries may turn blind eyes to such things, we should not. And though we may not be able to fight for the people with our hands, we can continue to fight for them with our hearts. Superman, being fictional, is able to figuratively do both. He can travel places to be present. As I feel was beautifully written in the film Superman Returns, he says to Lois Lane, "Listen, what do you hear? I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one."

He does not say America needs a savior. The world does. I am not the only one who needs a savior, we all do.

So should this renouncement of his citizenship discourage you, take a step back. This is a big leap for a fictional character, for someone with so much on the line, whom the world expects so much from. But how often do fictional characters inspire us to do great things? I am a fan of Superman because of what he stands for. And in his decision to do this, I stand with him, not because I want to dismember my own country, but because more than I love America, I love the World. And more than I love Americans, I love all the humans of that World. As does he, as do most of us when we stop to think about it.

Superman is not turning his back on our country, but opening his arms to the world to be an example that perhaps it is time we do the same. He knows at the end of his time we may not have found world peace, but we can say that at least we stopped at nothing fighting for it. He is not required to live up to any expectations we may have of him, as he is his own individual, just like you and I. And just like you and I, He is not one of us, but one with us, not one by us, but one for us. What more can you ask a Super Man to be?


  1. George Reeves was raised in Pasadena, California, and educated at Pasadena Junior College. He was a skilled amateur boxer and musician. He interned as an actor at the famed Pasadena Playhouse, and was discovered there. He was cast as Stuart Tarleton in Gone with the Wind (1939). Over the next ten years he was contracted to Warners, Fox and Paramount. He achieved near-stardom as the male lead in So Proudly We Hail! (1943), but war service interrupted his career, and after he returned it never regained the same level. While in the Army Air Corps he appeared on Broadway in "Winged Victory", then made training films. Career difficulties after the war led him to move to New York for live television. It was television where he achieved the kind of fame that had eluded him in films, as he was cast in the lead of the now-iconic "Adventures of Superman" (1952). He got a few film roles, but he was mostly typecast as Superman, and other acting jobs soon dried up. His career had slid to the point where he was considering an attempt at exhibition wrestling when he committed suicide by shooting himself. Controversy still surrounds his death, due mainly to the fact of his longtime affair with Toni Lanier (aka Toni Mannix), the wife of MGM executive E.J. Mannix. Many of Reeves' friends and colleagues didn't believe that he had committed suicide but that his death was related to the Mannix situation. However, no credible evidence has ever been produced to support that contention