Thursday, July 13, 2006

Why Superman is a reactionary fuck

Six reasons

  1. Superman is the embodiment of brute, unthinking force. Impenetrable, invincible, flawlessly strong - his overwhelming military might is bound up inextricably with a fascistic moral virtue of perfection.
  2. When you are invincible you do not need to think. Be like Superman work hard, don't think.
  3. When you are a god - ordinary moral rules do not apply. He encapsulates the "no casualties" airwar where you inflict devastating force upon the enemy. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Oh no - it's a bunker buster!
  4. For Superman nothing is a challenge - big deal 'invincible man unharmed by bullet'. Why doesn't he pick on someone his own size? He is the monster truck of superheroes.
  5. Superman deprives ordinary people of their agency. We are reduced to helpless victims in need of saving. My hero.
  6. If only we could all be as patriotic as Superman we'd all have super powers.

Would things have been different if Superman had been a Communist? Click here to find out


Ed said...

Nice pants though.

stroppybird said...


Have to disagree, he is very badly dressed.

badmatthew said...

Superman's origins are distinctly located in New Deal America - less fascist, more reform from above. And a distinctly anti-fascist character in WW2. I think his superpowers should be considered in the light of Feuerbach's analysis of religion as alienation: hey, he fights the bad guys in the way that we all want to.

Jim Jay said...

Good good good matthew.

Can I raise a point - I know that the New Deal is held up as one of the most progressive things an American Government has ever done but... it's still reactionary no?

The New Deal is the mid 30's, a time of the grossest government racism, strike breaking, red baiting, et al. The New Deal was part of the economic policy of a racist and reactionary government.

There are also arguments that the New Deal was not THAT dissimilar to what was happening in Nazi Germany. I think those arguments are very interesting.

Jim Jay said...

Secondly, he fights the baddies in a way we would all love to.

All superheroes have this I guess. But to say Superheores are like religion does not seem to be a terribly strong argument against them being reactionary... no?

AN said...

Surely the New Deal was only "reactionary" if you hold that all activities and policies of capitalist governments are reactionary?
Some policies - such as the New deal - are beneficial to the working class, even though carried out by a government ruling in the interests of capital.
The comparisaons with facsist germany are very superficial, not least because the NAZIS had in fact no equevelent of the New deal. My reading suggests that economic policy was rather aimless under Hitler, but with an obvious thrust towards reamament.
In contrast the new deal helped hundreds of thousands of working people.

Jim Jay said...

Surely the New Deal was only "reactionary" if you hold that all activities and policies of capitalist governments are reactionary?

Unless of course you have the position outlined in my post (which you may have read) that is - the New Deal was part of the economic policy of a government that was going hell for leather to destroy trade unionism and any ability of workers to protect themselves and their conditions.

The Nazis provided mass employment schemes and improved the conditions of many workers - particularly through holiday schemes and other peripheral stuff - but no one argues these were good things because in the context this was an anti-working class government and over all living conditions went down.

The US government in the 30's was not a friend of working people and it is within that context that the New Deal has to be seen - the general living conditions of US workers in the 30's was one of deep pockets of horrendous poverty - which was reinforced by government policy.

There have been other governments of capitalist societies that have done reactionary things but I would not characterise as reactionary - like the Labour 45 government.

It was imperialist, it created the UK nuclear capability, et al - but on the whole was one that created a good number of institutions that were of benefit to working people.

The overall record of the two governments clearly shows a qualitative difference.

BadMatthew said...

Jim - I don't know where you get your ideas about New Deal America from, but they aren't good history! To get the optimistic spirit of the New Deal read The Grapes of Wrath (or catch the great film by the great but reactionary director John Ford). The government run farm settlement where the Joad's find temporary refuge is what the New Deal was meant to be about - at least in an ideal version. Of course it was never that ideal, but the attempt to create jobs by government intervention were important.
There is a comparison to Nazi Germany - both can be seen as applications of Keynesian economic theories to reduce unemployment by demand management, both getting under way before Keynes published the full version of his economic ideas. Nazi Germany did it by militarization and things like building the autobahns, and on the basis of smashing the unions and much else. The New Deal didn't quite work - it provided a space of optimism, but there were new waves of recession in the later '30s and unemployment rose to huge levels again in the late '30s. It was only World War Two and the creation of a mass army and hugely efficient military economy that mass unemployment was ended in the US. But the New Deal period gave space for unions to organise: the CIO was built in this period, and of course there were massive class battles - but to put it in the terms Jim did is a long way from being accurate. Of course there are dangers in taking on-balance progressive policies that were really designed to save capitalism from itself as being totally progressive - The CPUSA made that mistake an aligned themselves with Roosevelt totally the shifts that came with the onset of WW2 in Europe.But at the same time the New Deal saw the construction of a progressive liberal-left political alliance. Much of the direction of rightwing politics in the US, including McCarthyism was about smashing this 'New Deal coalition'. I don't think you can understand American politics without understanding all this!

AN said...

jim - just becasue I don't agree with you doesn't mean i haven't read what you have written or that I have misunderstood it. Your views are based upon a misreading of the new deal.

The idea that "new dealism" was a form of facsism was used in the USA during the 1920s and 1930s to attack left reformist's like Huey P Long, who laid the framework for New Deal by the fantastic achievements in Oklahoma in using state levell power to combat poverty and inequality.

Matthew has pointed out that your views of the New Deal are a bit inaccurate, and I am especially perplexed by your view that the Democrats had a "economic policy of a government that was going hell for leather to destroy trade unionism and any ability of workers to protect themselves and their conditions."
In fact in 1935 the government passed the National Labour relations Act that gave the right to organise, and forced bosses to recognise unions. Att the beginning of thr new deal most US workers were unorganised, or in craft unions, the 1930s saw the explosion of industrial unionism, as much helped as hindered by the government.

In contrast in 1934 the Nazis enacted the regulation of national labour, that banned trade unionism, and introduced imposed contracts on wages and conditions.

But i also think you have misunderstood the role of the holiday schemes etc in facsist germany. the schemes run by Kraft durch Freude were only available to a hand picked minority, and were used as a propaganda opportunity. In reality the holiday schemes run before the nazis came to power by the SPD and KPD were better and more extensive, and nazi provision was a step backards.

AN said...

And mathew, just out of interest, mu understanding is the CPUSA actually changed their position. Under the third period they were adamnatly opposed to new Dealism in Oklahoma, saying that Huey p Long was too right wing.
then they later supported Roosevelt in his refusal to implement Long's "share our wealth plan" saying it was too left wing!

AN said...

Anyway - back to the main thesis. Fraid I don't agree.

Superman is not perfect, therein lies his tragedy, that he is also the vulnerable Clark Kent.

Superman does not embody unthinking strength - he is an investigative journalist n a campaigning liberal newspaper.

Superman is not portrayed as being above the law or ordinary morality. The "casualty of war" is that by being Superman he can never win Lois as Kent.

Clark Kent is a small town son of a poor working family, and his main enemy is a capitalist corporartion run by Lex Luther. he could be read as a metaphor?

Except during the second world war, Superman has never been particularly patriotic, except as embodying the idea of decent working Americans. There has always been a degree to which Superman has righted injustce perpetrated by Americans on ASmericans. Indeed DC comics felt the need to create Captain America during WW2 specifically to be more patriotic than Superman.

Jim Jay said...

Kent is a disguise and retains all the powers of Superman and is not 'vulnerable'. He often wins Lois, so that's not much of a curse.

Superman embodies the American dream - he arrives in the US as an immigrant with nothing and becomes the most powerful man in America and is so identifiably american and has often been pictured with the flag - protecting the country from enemies within and without.

The small town plays a huge role in creating a specific vision of what America is - respectable, christian, hard working, white - all the 'virtues' SM personifies.

A minor point - he is a hack reporter who never breaks stories - Lois is the real journalist.

In any sensible version of SM Lex Luther would be the hero - battling with wits and ideas against an immovable, unstobbable force.