Sure, there were winners and losers in the world of politics this week just like any other. But in honor of the theatrical release of Man of Steel we’re going to take a little break from the grind and take a look at the world of politics through the prism of Superman. Superman himself has been a symbol of both conservative and progressive ideologies over the decades. The stalwart of truth, justice, and the American way is currently in the hands of an extremely liberal editorial staff at DC Comics but it hasn’t always been that way.
The character premiered in 1938 and quickly adopted some extremely – radically, even – progressive ideals. He fought for the little guy, using whatever means necessary to stick it to the man. In one of his earliest adventures, he even burned down Metropolis’ worst slums (I swear I am not making this up) so that the slumlords would be forced to build nicer homes for their tenants. Then came World War II and the Man of Steel changed gears to become an nationalistic, patriotic hero who embodied “the American Way”.
So with both sides of the political spectrum owning a legitimate claim to the last son of Krypton, how did the current causes of each side fare in the new film starring the world’s greatest superhero?
Racial Diversity – Mixed bag - There was some pre-release hubbub about casting Perry White as an African-American. Comic book fanboys don’t mind diversity, but they do take exception to diversity for diversity’s sake. Having seen the film, I don’t think anyone will mind for two reasons. One, if Laurence Fishburne agrees to be in your movie you should cast Laurence Fishburne in your movie, even if the script calls for an eight-year-old Chinese girl with pigtails. Second, the Perry White character in the film is so un-Perry White like that the color of his skin is the least objectionable change to the character. I’d be more worried about his earring or the fact that his whole demeanor is softened to the point that he is unrecognizable as the character portrayed in comics, radio, TV, and film over the past 75 years. Considering how similar a live action Perry White (the cantankerous, cigar-chomping Editor-in-Chief who is also the boss of the Superman’s alter ego in his day job) is to J. Jonah Jameson (the cantankerous cigar-chomping Editor-in-Chief who is also the boss of the Spider-man’s alter ego in his day job) I can certainly understand the filmmaker’s wanting to go a different direction with the character. It was done to perfection by J.K. Simmons in the Spider-Man franchise. Any attempts to recreate it would come off as a pale copy. I imagine the thought process was “since we can’t stand up to comparison with Simmons’ Jameson, we’ll go the opposite direction and give the audience something just as good.” Different? Success. Just as good? Not even close.
Gender Diversity – Loser - Jenny Olsen? You’ve got a film with a strong female character (Lois Lane) and you decide to change a beloved fixture in the Superman mythos from a man to a woman? Warner Brothers compounded the boneheaded decision by doing absolutely nothing with the character. Her back story isn’t developed. She contributes nothing — worse than nothing. In one pivotal scene she acts as the damsel in distress, helplessly waiting to be saved by a big, strong man. Fail.
Patriotism / Nationalism – Winner – Superman makes it perfectly clear in the film that he is here to serve and defend the great nation in which he was raised – but he will do so on his own terms. He offense at being spied on by the government may have hit a bit close to home given the recent events but remember that this story was written long before the Obama administration’s dubious activities came to light.
The Religious Right – Winner - The story of Superman has always been rife with Messianic symbolism. Instead of shying away from those undertones, Man of Steel embraces them. This film is something that movie-going Christians can embrace. With one exception…
Innocence – Loser – Warner Brothers knew that they were going to get a PG-13 Rating on what should have been a PG movie because they went a little over the top on the action sequences. Instead of making the film a family-friendly PG-13, the filmmakers deliberately threw in as much foul language as they could justify. This was a win for Hollywood’s ongoing war on innocence.