IPA Today

Is It A Bird? Is It A Bloke?

Written by
11 November 2021
Originally appeared in The Spectator Australia

No, it’s bi-sexual Superman!

It is not an accident that Superman has become the quintessential modern hero. Behind perhaps only the crucifix and the golden arches of McDonalds, the big red ‘S’ is among the most recognizable symbol on the planet and is visual shorthand for the morals and virtues of a selfless, dutiful and responsible people in a free society.
So naturally this icon of Western civilisation is under renewed attack by statue-toppling, pop-culture vandals.

The Superman comics published by DC Comics have been a hot topic in the news recently on the back of a woke reinterpretation of the Superman mythos. The man at the forefront is Tom Taylor, an Australian writer no less, who has been gloating that the new man in the red and blue tights and Clark Kent’s son, Jonathan, is now bisexual.

The problem is not the sexual preferences of the character, but the crucial misunderstanding of what Superman represents. Take, for example, Taylor’s tweet: ‘I’ve always said everyone needs heroes and everyone deserves to see themselves in their heroes,’ he stated. ‘Today, #Superman, the strongest superhero on the planet, comes out as bisexual.’

The idea that Superman could only ‘represent’ people that share his physical traits is obviously preposterous. The implication is that for eighty years Superman has only been a hero for straight white men, and others could or should not ‘see themselves’ in him.

By definition Superman is not a hero that can be isolated to one demographic group. His values are those to which anyone should aspire to hold and exhibit. But to devotees of identity politics, the world must be defined by membership of oppressive and oppressed identity groups. A symbol like Superman can’t transcend race or sex because these are barriers which are asserted to be insurmountable.

The logic of what writers like Taylor are saying is dehumanising. Reducing people and ideas to race, sex or sexuality amounts to the abolition of individuality and if accepted, reduces a person’s capacity to enjoy shared values with people that may not look like them. If there are to be no universal ideals that can be understood and appreciated across society, then living together in a shared space is significantly more difficult.

Tom Taylor clearly does not control or own Superman, not even DC Comics can claim that right. The publisher is a mere grain of sand on the beach that is the telecommunications and entertainment conglomerate, AT&T.  So the question should be asked – to what extent are Taylor’s ideological statements on Superman supported by the corporate structure above him? The answer, it is sad to say, would appear to be very supportive indeed.

Christopher F. Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York, obtained internal documents in late October from the AT&T Corporation showing the company had created a racial re-education programme based on the core principles of critical race theory, that promotes the idea that ‘American racism is a uniquely white trait’ and boosts left-wing causes such as ‘reparations’, ‘defund police’ and ‘trans activism’. A source told Rufo that AT&T managers are assessed annually on diversity issues and are mandated to participate in discussion groups, book clubs, mentorship programmes and race education exercises.

AT&T is intended to be a fully integrated entertainment company and you can assume that the ideas that are generated in the publishing division (like comics) are intended to be utilised by its animation, television and film divisions. This is demonstrated in the news reported earlier this year that race essayist Ta Nehisi Coates has been recruited to write the next Superman film featuring a ‘Black Superman’. J.J. Abrams is producing the film but won’t be directing it, as a white man directing a film with a black character is now considered ‘tone deaf’. While Hollywood grapples with how to enforce new forms of segregation, the hope of seeing modern Hollywood ever producing an authentic portrayal of Superman again in the style of Dick Donner’s universally acclaimed 1978 film is slipping further and further away.

What is happening to Superman is not an isolated event. A cursory perusal of modern heroic fiction shows that today’s writers do not have a cohesive idea about what heroism actually means. If objective morality sets a high standard for virtuous behaviour in people, then many writers appear to be more comfortable with finding an alternative standard for heroism. For some, this is because portrayals of heroism shine a light on their own moral shortcomings, and for others, it might be because they are genuinely committed to progressive cultural relativism.

The progressive ideology is not conducive to traditional ideals of heroism. Writers who reject strict standards of right or wrong see virtue in irrelevant factors like possessing external identity characteristics. Since ‘representation’ itself is a virtuous act, a character need only to remain a member of a specific identity group in order to be a progressive ‘hero’. The character’s actions are almost entirely irrelevant.

A society needs heroes. A civilisation that stops telling stories of justice and courage in the fight between good versus evil, especially to the younger generations, will inevitably descend into disorder. The tragedy is that while Superman has pride of place in our modern pantheon, this is not recognised by the media conglomerate which purchased the Superman intellectual property. AT&T should see themselves as custodians of something that matters, but instead sees Superman as little more than an opportunity for moral grandstanding at best, and a tool for extremist ideologues to enforce cultural change at worst.

In a moral sense Superman belongs to us all, a fact which will eventually be recognised in law. Many characters that are kept under corporate lock and key by Mickey Mouse copyright laws will inevitably be freed for use by creators who appreciate their iconic place in our culture. In 2033 the Man of Steel is due to fall into the ‘public domain’ where, even if it doesn’t happen faster than a speeding bullet, an authentic Superman will one day re-emerge.

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Morgan Begg

Morgan Begg is the Director, Legal Rights Program at the Institute of Public Affairs

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