Thursday, April 28, 2011

Should Superman be a free agent?

In Action 900, Superman informs the national security adviser that he plans to renounce his American citizenship. He decided to take this action after catching flack from the administration for supporting pro-democracy protests in Iran. In a bit of cross-over from the real world, the Obama administration was roundly criticized for not supporting the Iranian protesters. Even though his action was on his own initiative, Superman's support was taken as a sign of US policy.

This is a tricky question. It openly rejects the idea of "Truth, justice and the American Way" following the last movie, "Truth, justice, and all that." The American way is no longer good enough for this citizen of the world. But where to go from there?

This question has real-world parallels. As I write this, former President Carter is engaged in negotiations in Korea. Granted he cannot move mountains but his stature as former president his presence implies official authority. Similarly, Jesse Jackson has engaged in private negotiations with foreign governments.

Since Superman is going to inform the UN, presumably he plans on submitting himself to UN control. Will this be the General Assembly or the Security Council? The General Assembly includes Iran, Libya, Syria, and Liberia. Does Superman really plan on limiting himself to actions that this assembly sanctions? The Security Council is little better. Both Russia and China are permanent members who practice human rights abuse. Russia tends to support Iran and would certainly have vetoed and actions against its government by Superman.

In fact, nearly every nation in the UN would be leery of letting Superman support the overthrow of a recognized government. the reason that NATO is acting in Libya is that the UN refused to become involved (Russia again). This underscores the problem that the governments of the world do not necessarily represent the peoples of the world. Most of the 3rd world is ruled by corrupt governments. Superman could find himself supporting dictators rather than upholding liberty.

What if Superman gave up all citizenship and asked the UN to just trust him to do the right thing? In the movie Superman 4 The Quest for Peace, Superman decided on his own that the world needed nuclear disarmament. Personally, I found that scary. Superman is not infallible. What if he decided on his own that nuclear power was bad and took it upon himself to destroy all nuclear reactors? That would cut off power to millions. It is the arbitrariness that is scary. We would have to hope that a free-agent Superman would do the right thing but the "right thing" is often a complex subject. Where would he draw the line? Personally I find the idea of someone with unlimited power and no accountability to be scary. Personally, I prefer omnipotent beings to be responsible to elected leaders even ones I didn't vote for.

The easiest thing is to avoid policy issues altogether. That is what Superman traditionally did. If you limit yourself to defending the Earth, preventing natural disasters, and upholding the law (mainly in Metropolis) then no one will complain. But he went beyond that which is what brought us to this point. This is probably an issue that comic books should avoid.

In some ways this is just DC catching up with issues Marvel confronted decades ago. Their heroes have been accountable to their governments or treated as outlaws. Truly free agents like the Silver Surfer were treated as menaces.

One final question - what happens to Clark Kent? It seems hypocritical for Superman to renounce his citizenship but then get it back by putting on a pair of glasses and combing is hair differently.

No comments: