Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Superman's Adventures in Academia

Man of Steel Memories Part 4

As I wrote in my first Superman birthday post, the Man of Steel is largely to blame for my fascination with the United States, a fascination that made choosing a degree quite simple. There really was a course called American Studies? I couldn't believe it! There was also an inevitability about who I'd choose to focus my third-year dissertation on.

The imaginatively titled Superman: An American Icon In Context investigated why the character had endured in continual production for than 60 years in so many mediums. Last night I read the introduction, conclusion and skimmed through the rest of the 25,000 plus words, and was pleased to see that it's a pretty interesting study of how (and why) the Superman character adapted to appeal to the American psyche throughout most of the 20th century.

The character started out as a New Deal saviour of the oppressed. There's not a super-villain in sight in the early comics; most of Superman's foes were exploitative industrialists or corrupt politicians. By World War II he'd quickly become a propaganda tool, punishing Nazis or the Japanese in comics and cartoons like the one below from 1942.

By the time Christoper Reeve started wearing his pants over his tights in the late 70s and 80s, after the turmoil of Vietnam and Nixon, Superman had become the perfect hero for Reagan's America. Those films, like Ronnie, are incredibly nostalgic and patriotic.

I think Superman's longevity and how he's always been so tied up in the way America sees itself is why I remain obsessed with the character. Are there any other fictional characters who've beaten up Hitler, gone into the ring with Muhammed Ali or 'acted' alongside Jerry Seinfeld? Didn't think so.

Related Posts

Carnival Saloon: Superman - all of my Man of Steel posts

Related Links

Comic Coverage: Superman @ 70 - blogger who is loving this anniversary

Next time: A case of mistaken identity


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