Is Superman A Fascist?

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 6 2013 @ 6:42pm

Richard Cooper worries that “comic-book movies are all about superior beings dominating everybody else”:

SupermanThe main problem is force: sheer physical force, which lies at the heart of the superhero myth, something Steven T.Seagle observed nicely in “It’s a Bird…”, his poignant autobiographical graphic novel about his reluctance to write for a Superman comic, in which he points out that Superman triumphs by being able to move faster and hit harder than everyone else: essentially a fascist concept. … Fascism also relies on people who must be crushed. The Batman films — and indeed the entire Batman mythos — are based on the idea that what criminals really need is a damn good thrashing, because it’s the only language these punks understand. The vicarious thrill in seeing Batman yell “Swear to me!” at some pitiful creep who swears to God he doesn’t know anything is for the nasty-minded child in all of us: an innocent pleasure until you start to think about the politics.

Chris Yogerst is unimpressed by this argument:

This reading of superheroes is common but wrong, a symptom of trying to impose political ideology on a universal, fictional myth. Superheroes do say something about the real world, but it’s something pretty uncontroversial: We want to see good triumph over evil, and “good” in this case means more than just defeating the bad guy—it means handling power responsibly.

The “fascism” metaphor breaks down pretty quickly when you think about it. Most superheroes defeat an evil power but do not retain any power for themselves. They ensure others’ freedom. They rarely deal with the government, and when they do it is with wariness, as in the Iron Man films, where Tony Stark refuses to hand over control of his inventions.

Devin Faraci adds that not all superheroes are alike:

It’s telling that Batman and Superman predate WWII; they both come from an age when little guy America wanted to be seen as tough. The Marvel heroes, though, come from a time when America was trying to juggle its self-image as the underdog with the reality of being the biggest, toughest kid on the block. These heroes were created during the Vietnam War – Iron Man’s first origin is explicitly set in Vietnam – and they reflect the cognitive dissonance we feel as ‘good guys’ who could also wipe out the Earth at a moment’s notice. If anything there’s a discomfort with power and force inherent in the Marvel heroes that is anti-fascist. … [In the X-Men franchise, w]e have the hated mutants working to change society’s view of them, working to remove institutionalized racism and, at the same time, doing it peacefully. The X-Men come into conflict almost exclusively with their own kind, and that conflict is about stopping violence, even when that violence is a reaction to hate. And they’re led by a guy who is so physically unsuperior he can’t even fucking walk.

(Image by Josey Wales)