Friday, April 29, 2011

Superman and Citizenship

Our chapter on American citizenship discusses expatriation, the process by which someone ceases to be a citizen. A small number of Americans have renounced their citizenship for tax purposes, an an earlier post noted. And now a different motive is driving a major celebrity to announce plans for expatriation, as Comics Alliance reports:
...Superman announces that he is going to give up his U.S. citizenship. Despite very literally being an alien immigrant, Superman has long been seen as a patriotic symbol of "truth, justice, and the American way," from his embrace of traditional American ideals to the iconic red and blue of his costume. What it means to stand for the "American way" is an increasingly complicated thing, however, both in the real world and in superhero comics, whose storylines have increasingly seemed to mirror current events and deal with moral and political complexities rather than simple black and white morality.

The key scene takes place in "The Incident," a short story in Action Comics #900 written by David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In it, Superman consults with the President's national security advisor, who is incensed that Superman appeared in Tehran to non-violently support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime, no doubt an analogue for the recent real-life protests in the Middle East. However, since Superman is viewed as an American icon in the DC Universe as well as our own, the Iranian government has construed his actions as the will of the American President, and indeed, an act of war.
At The Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last writes:

Heck, what does “citizen of the Universe” even mean? Will Superman now adhere to the Tamaran code of honor? Will he follow the Atlantean system of monarchy? Does he believe in liberté, égalité, fraternité, or sharia? Does he believe in British interventionism or Swiss neutrality? You see where I’m going with this: If Superman doesn’t believe in America, then he doesn’t believe in anything.

Last is not the first to make such a point about citizenship. As our chapter on civic culture notes, James Madison recorded similar comments from Gouverneur Morris at the Constitutional Convention:

As to those philosophical gentlemen, those Citizens of the World as they call themselves, He owned he did not wish to see any of them in our public Councils. He would not trust them. The men who can shake off their attachments to their own Country can never love any other.