Here’s how the scene played out:
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Superman is one of the most pervasive symbols of American culture, standing for truth, justice, and the American way. One of the most interesting idiosyncrasies is that despite this status as an icon, Superman is really an immigrant in the United States. This angle has been explored in various occasions, and the latest one to do so is the Grounded arc by J. Michael Straczynski and Eddy Barrows, although in a somewhat peculiar and different way. Hit the jump to see more.
Here’s how the scene played out:
(Click the image to see a larger, and readable, version)
First off, let’s start with the most obvious problem with Superman’s argument. He is basically denying asylum to the aliens who are literally escaping “a reign of terror in which all rights were erased”, a place where “anyone could be arrested and sentenced to death for the smallest infraction.” Most modern nations offer asylum seekers protection when escaping from violent and dangerous regimes, and though the United States doesn’t have a squeaky clean record, they also have a program of this kind. The nation itself was based on those fundamentals, on immigration as a mean to escape oppression and tyranny. Hell, if you look right under the Statue of Liberty, it even says “"Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, which sounds exactly like the aliens in this situation. Sending them back would be not only incredibly cruel but it would also mean the very death of these refugees. For such a small group, it would be relatively easy to accommodate them, even if it meant relocating them to another city/state/country.
Or an even better question would be, why didn’t Superman even ask them if he could help fighting back against the tyranny in their home world? Surely, if he didn’t want a huge group of illegal aliens making their way to Earth, the best solution would be to improve the conditions of the planet the aliens came from, so they wouldn’t HAVE to immigrate to Earth at all. JMS may have intentionally done this to mirror the policy of the modern nations I mentioned above, who are more concerned about who is allowed to come into their country rather than in solving the problems that are causing those selfsame masses to try to emigrate to their country. Much like the nations, Superman has the power to solve the problems of these foreign lands. The difference is that Superman does not have to worry about public opinion, unpopular decisions, or election years, and just concentrate on what’s the right thing to do. And I’m pretty sure that in this case, the right thing to do would be to help these poor aliens who are escaping the terrible times that has befallen their homeland, instead of telling them that they can’t stay here. That sounds like something Superman would immediately get involved with, and try his hardest to resolve.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that Superman does not want to get involved in complicated interplanetary conflicts, or whatever excuse, so he must deal with the aliens that are already here. He tells them that they can’t stay there, and the aliens bring up the fact that he is also an alien immigrant, to which Superman replies that his situation was different. Again, JMS might have been mirroring the attitude of older immigrants and subsequent generations in the United States (arguably, most of the population), who usually shun newer waves of immigrations despite themselves or their ancestors having been in similar situations.
The problem is that Superman shouldn’t be having this kind of attitude at all. Historically speaking, Superman wouldn’t care where someone comes from, or what their legal situation happens to be, he would just care about their actions, the goodness of their heart, or the kindness in their soul. One assumes that he does not go up randomly to Martian Manhunter, Mon-El, or one of the other dozens of alien characters that populate United States in the DC universe to ask them for their Green Card. If anything, he would help them to sort it out with the authorities so these aliens could continue their Good Samaritan actions unhindered.
In the end, that is what happens in this situation. Superman allows the aliens to stay under the condition that they use their scientific knowledge to open a medical company. Before that, he asks them what they are giving back to the community, saying that “Every culture that has come through this country has added something to it.” This is a gross misunderstanding of how the melting pot theory works: cultures add “something” to the mix when they are integrated into a society, not as a prerequisite before they even join it. Asking people, immigrants in this case, to provide something as a condition of their legal status is merely akin to asking for tribute, rather than welcoming other cultures. Again, this could be intentional on JMS’ part, to mirror the stance of modern nations who welcome highly skilled professionals to immigrate, and some who often charge enormous fees to even be allowed to apply to enter their country.
Don’t get me wrong, Superman WOULD expect people to contribute to society, to give back to their communities, and to generally help your neighbor. The crucial mistake that JMS makes in his logic is that Superman would ask that of anyone, not just of aliens, and he would not coerce people to do the right thing in order to get something they wanted, in this case, protection. Superman would offer the protection regardless, and he would lead them to the right course of action by example, not by conditions and terms imposed upon them.
Throughout the article, I mentioned several stances in which JMS may have been using Superman as a metaphor for modern nations, and whether that was intentional or not is open to interpretation (and something that perhaps only JMS and the editors will ever truly know). What cannot be argued is that in all of those cases I mentioned, Superman is used as a metaphor for something negative, for the worst of modern immigrational bureaucracy and modern attitudes towards immigrants. This rings false because, historically, Superman is a character that stands for humanity’s best attributes, for the potential of inherent goodness, and as inspiration of what we can be and accomplish. Using him as a metaphor the complete opposite of that would just be plain bad writing.
Immigration is a thorny and complicated issue, and while I don’t mind authors dealing with current events, there is a certain grace and depth that is completely lacking from the way JMS handled it in this story. The way that JMS had Superman approach the issue rang completely false with me, though I understand these may stem from my personal views on the immigration topic, and other people may think different. What did you think of Superman #702? Did you think that the immigration topic was handled properly? Let us know in the comments section below.