Watching Superman, I was able to see the connections we talked about in class between the Superman mythos and the other icons we talked about. There was definitely the same level of tension between conflicting ideas of American identity. What struck me most was the sense of displacement in the movie. Superman is always a stranger in a place he’s decided to call home. First, he’s sent by his father away from his doomed home planet, alone and bound for a strange new environment that shares very little with the culture he comes from. When his parents are discussing their decision to send him to earth, his mother expresses anxiety that earth is too foreign, and that Kal-El will never be able to adapt to life there. His father, on the other hand, stresses that his son will be able to look convincingly human. In other words, Jor-el is convinced his son will be able to assimilate and thrive on earth, despite the fact that both parents agree that Superman will never “be one of them”.
This relates back to the American stories of immigration we talked about in class earlier, and that were referenced in Gary Engle’s “What Makes Superman So Darned American”. The fact that Krypton is then destroyed means that Superman can never go back to his place of origin, and that his past life would doom him, as well as his planet. This, Engle writes, is reminiscent of the experiences of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the 20th century, for whom acknowledging their own culture made assimilation impossible. This cements the fact that he has to keep moving forward, facing the future and not dwelling on the past. This is consistent with the idea that America is a place of reinvention, where past identities can be discarded. However, it’s also a place in which old identities are unsustainable, much as one might want to hold onto them. Superman has no access to his Kryptonian heritage once on earth. This emphasis on the present and the future can be both celebrated and condemned; it’s one of those contradictions that colors our perceptions of our country. At once, America represents freedom from the past, and somewhere from which it can never be accessed.