In his book, The Hamburger, Josh Ozersky writes, “America is the great icon making nation because it requires (emphasis added) icons more than any other nation. Created whole cloth, peopled by immigrants from China and Peru, and with lithe more than a federal bureaucracy, a half-formed and contested ideology, and a common language to unite them, Americans turned to iconography again and again: first George Washington, and then the Founding Fathers, and then, consecutively, the Flag, the White House, Abe Lincoln in his hat, Robert E. Lee in his uniform, Uncle Same, the Statue of Liberty, the planting of the flag at Iwo Jima . . . the list goes on and on. And to that can be added the exemplars of the American virtue, those Great Men those lives embedded the American Way — cultural heroes like Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Charles Lindberg, and the rest. It is no accident that popular iconography, in the form of advertising, came into is modern form here. In a country as big and vague as America, recognized symbolized were, and are, at a premium.”
What do you think? Does this make sense to you?
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Superman’s representation of America is everlasting because America is continuously the immigration nation. He’s an immigrant, conflicted between keeping his heritage from Krypton and assimilating into his new culture of Earth. Created by two Jewish men in a time of rampant anti-Semitism, it’s no wonder that Superman was their creative outlet. Many people flocking to America, and choosing to make it their new home, share a similar conflict with Superman, and all the worries and stress that come with it. Superman gives immigrant Americans hope by showing them that it is possible to be happily conflicted.
Not only does Superman reflect the origin story of all Americans, he also protects them, and fights for what the country stands for. Growing up in Smallville under the guidance of his father, Superman learned humility, integrity, and to love America. But he felt that Smallville was too closed-minded for him to use his powers, so he left. After moving to Metropolis and fully becoming the Superman we know and love, he began “the never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.” Superman never lies, always does what’s fair, and is an American, so he’s someone we can whole-heartedly support. He believes in America so much that he’s willing to die for it (if he could).
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This Sunday cartoon instantly caught my eye because 1.) We read the quote by Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free 2.) Obama’s State of the Union speech that incorporated immigration reform 3.) My recent trip back to the village my parents immigrated from this past winter break. Its funny to me that this particular artist decided to depict the “anti-immigration” people as 4 white people who are protesting and mocking the what the Statue of Liberty once stood for. Currently, Mr. Obama has an executive order out protecting nearly five million illegal immigrants from deportation and has been trying to get the country together around immigration reform that can work for the long term. Obama’s measure grants temporary legal status to scores of young people or “dreamers” brought to this country by their illegal immigrant parents. Unfortunately, this country has deviated from what Emma Lazarus wrote about in her poem. I agree that some-sort of immigration reform is needed, but we need to continue to be a country accepting of immigrants. On a recent trip back to the village in India my parents grew up in, I realized how lucky I was that I was born in the US. When I see people protesting and advocating deportation in mass numbers, it makes no sense! As a country, it makes sense to allow educated people “yearning” to have a better life be allowed to come into the US. I visited some family back in India and my cousins were telling me how they applied for tourist visas to come visit the US about 9-10 times and have been denied every single time. Its impressive to know that a US passport allows us (US Citizens) access to 174 countries without the need for a visa… And only 38 countries are eligible for visa-free entry into the United States.
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“The myth of Superman asserts with total confidence and a childlike innocence the value of the immigrant in American culture.” Just like so many immigrants came to America in the mid 20th century, Clark was somewhat like an immigrant himself. Clark Kent arrived on a spaceship and landed on earth. He did not know who he was or where he landed. The immigrants were in a completely foreign land. The immigrants were like nomads, never staying in one place for too long.
Superman is the epitome of the American Dream. He can move at lightening speeds. “Superman’s incredible speed allows him to be as close to everywhere at once as it is physically possible to be.” The American need to keep moving suggests the need for adventure.
Clark Kent had to reinvent himself because he did not know who he was or where he came from. He had to make something of himself. Immigrants had to do the same in mid-20th century America. They tried to find work and a home to keep their families on their feet.
Similarly with Clark Kent, Americans had a reality and a fantasy. They lived in reality, which was much less desirable than their yearn to have the ‘American Dream’. The character of Superman and Clark Kent is a duality and is what makes Clark Kent so interesting. The reality is Clark and the fantasy is Superman, with a purpose to save the world.
In the 1930’s we see the emergence of American cartoon characters like Superman with his enormous prominent jaw, a physical feature scarcely seen in any painting or sculpture on earth before that period. Was Superman created to show the idyllic masculine man in mid-20th century America? In the mid-20th century, men went to work and were the breadwinners for their families. They had a lot on their shoulders by being the dominant figure in the family. You could say that a lot of men thought and still think they have to be Superman for their wife. There are even songs written about Superman, even subtly. The Scrubs theme song says, “I’m no Superman.”
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Gary Engle discusses Superman through two different lenses in his article “What Makes Superman So Darned American”: as an adult reader of popular culture, and as a man revisiting his personal, childhood associations. I want to respond to two points of this dual analysis: the Clark Kent identity as assimilation myth and the power of flight as a negation of dislocation.
First, Clark Kent. Engle discusses Kent’s lameness and weakness as a metaphor for Superman’s ability to assimilate into the mainstream, Anglo-protestant culture of Metropolis and America. I think that the Clark Kent identity performs a kind of wish-fulfillment for the reader/audience. Superman may have to hide out as Clark Kent, but underneath his monochrome suit and tie he is wearing his proper, ethnic garb. His strengths are inherited and inherent to him. This is a reassuring message for anyone coming to America from another country- you may have to assimilate on the surface, but underneath your core being and home culture remains intact.
Now to the power of flight. Engle remarks that Superman’s power of flight negates the pain of dislocation, as he is able to be anyplace in the universe almost immediately. I see this power of flight as more of a consolation than a negation or solution to the problem of dislocation. Superman can go anywhere in the universe except home to Krypton, because that has exploded. Many immigrants to America in the early 20th century must have felt this same sense of permanent exile, as they fled civil and world wars, pogroms and genocides. Like the Kent identity, the power of flight is a fantasy created to console the hearts of people who had lost as much as Superman had.
Planet Krypton Explodes
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