And all that stuff

Some notes on the Fourth of July….

: I was upset that the new Superman now fights for, in Perry White’s words, “truth, justice, and all that stuff.” Yes, all that stuff that we hold so dear on this day.

Was this a crass business decision in the age of globalism? Was it American self-loathing? Was it a joke?

Yet, of course, the movie is really about the American way. The dramatic theme underlying the action revolves around Lois Lane’s disillusionment with Superman. She wins her Pulitzer prize — as they are won these days — arguing against the use of power with an editorial that announced we don’t need Superman anymore.

But, of course, we do. The question is, who is Superman? Superman himself wonders that and so he goes off for five years to discover not much. And we in America wonder that. We used to see ourselves as the superpower that came to the rescue. But now we’re bungling a war. It is becoming popular to vilify us. And, I’m horrified to say, Americans abroad are starting to masquerade as the nationalistic version of Clark Kent: Canadians.

Yet we live in an age when evil is cartoon-clear. The bad guy today is not some vague and shadowy bunch hiding under beds. The bad guy today is as clearly identifiable as a comic-book villian. Lex Luthor is Bin Laden.

Where is Superman when we need him? He used to be around here somewhere.

: As it turns out, the abandonment of the American way was no accident and no joke. The Hollywood Reporter talks to the screenwriters, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris:

“The world has changed. The world is a different place,” Pennsylvania native Harris says. “The truth is he’s an alien. He was sent from another planet. He has landed on the planet Earth, and he is here for everybody. He’s an international superhero.” . . . .

[T]hey penned their first draft together and intentionally omitted what they considered to be a loaded and antiquated expression. . . .

“We were always hesitant to include the term ‘American way’ because the meaning of that today is somewhat uncertain,” Ohio native Dougherty explains. “The ideal hasn’t changed. I think when people say ‘American way,’ they’re actually talking about what the ‘American way’ meant back in the ’40s and ’50s, which was something more noble and idealistic.”

Which is them saying that we’re not noble now.

While audiences in Dubuque might bristle at Superman’s newfound global agenda, patrons in Dubai likely will find the DC Comics protagonist more palatable. . . .

“So, you play the movie in a foreign country, and you say, ‘What does he stand for? — truth, justice and the American way.’ I think a lot of people’s opinions of what the American way means outside of this country are different from what the line actually means (in Superman lore) because they are not the same anymore,” Harris says. “And (using that line) would taint the meaning of what he is saying.”

The American way now taints movies. Every American should should be insulted that Superman is in such hands as theirs. If you think the American way needs updating and buffing up, what better way to do that than through an idealistic movie? But, no, now being pro-American — even at a time when America is attacked — us politically uncorrect.

: See this interview with Christian Cox, an American living in London, on the BBC web site.

She says the level of anti-Americanism she has experienced “feels like a kind of racism”.

“I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for Americans, or me, I just want people to realise that we are dealing with hatred too.” . . .

Ms Cox, 29, says she has been called, among other things, “terrorist”, “scum”, “low life”, and feels that she is constantly being held to account for the actions of President Bush and for US foreign policy. . . .

“But some people just fly off the handle without even talking to me – it’s as if they had been waiting to run into an American all day to let their feelings out,” she says.

To avoid confrontations she says she lowers her voice on the Underground and in pubs.

But in one incident an older man asked her directly if she was American.

“When I said yes he said: ‘I just want you to know that I think you are the poorest people I have ever met in my life’ – meaning we were low-life.

“I said I was sorry he felt that way, but that I disagreed.”

The man started shouting obscenities at her group. The row developed into a brawl and Ms Cox suffered a black eye as she tried to pull two people apart.

“After that I cried for two days, then booked a flight back to the States. I felt so hated, I needed to be with people who loved me.”

Some friends now advise her to tell people she is Canadian, to deflect potential abuse, an option she calls “sad”.

Yes, it is a form of racism. It’s not cool to announce a dislike of races or religions or nationalities — except, these days, America.

: It’s enough to make us feel German.

Thanks to an accident of junior-high teacher politics (nobody liked the French teacher), I ended up studying German and, as a result, came to visit, enjoy, and do business in Germany. Often when this comes up in conversation in America, there’s an awkward moment when it becomes clear that others think this makes me weird or worse and sometimes I find myself in the position of needing to defend Germans.

But a few weeks ago, when I was in Munich, I heard Americans say that they, like the American in London above, feel the need to hide their nationality for fear of attack or shame. They start saying ‘eh’ and ‘oot.’

At the same time, Germany, which for obvious reasons has tried to avoid pride and patriotism for 60 years, is suddenly rediscovering the swollen chest thanks to the World Cup. They produced a booklet listing 250 reasons to love Germany. They bought ads on my PATH trains saying that we should be friends. They held an adopt-a-German tour.

Yet while I was there, I also went to a movie about the dark days of the Stasi infiltrating friendships and offices and marriages in East Germany, leading to betrayal, imprisonment, and even death. That same is still fresh, still to be grappled with.

Who’s the Supermensch?

: Yesterday, I picked up The Times of London and read an essay — A Call for Clear Thinking — by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch MP who challenged Muslims to join the civilized order. In it, I see more stirring words about freedom than in Superman or any Independence Day picnic. It’s also timely coming just a few days before the first anniversary of the 7/7 bombings in London. She writes:

After the carnage of the terrorist bombings in London on July 7, 2005, Tony Blair defined the situation as a battle of ideas. “Our values will long outlast theirs,” he said, to the silent acquiescence of the world leaders who stood alongside him. “Whatever (the terrorists) do, it is our determination that they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear in this country and in other civilised nations throughout the world.”

By defining this as a battle of values, Blair raised the question: which values are at stake? Those who love freedom know that the open society relies on a few key shared concepts. They believe that all humans are born free, are endowed with reason and have inalienable rights. These governments are checked by the rule of law, so that civil liberties are protected. They ensure freedom of conscience and freedom of expression, and ensure that men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals, are entitled to equal treatment and protection under the law. And these governments have free-trade practices and an open market, and people may spend their recreational time as they wish.

That is what I call truth, justice, and all that stuff. Perhaps she is the Superwoman we’ve been waiting for.

: Yet in our own Congress, our lawmakers do not understand all that stuff. Be very afraid that in multiple votes lately, a majority of both houses has cast off the First Amendment to vote in favor of censorship on our airwaves and for restricting the right to burn the flag. It’s so obvious: by trying to protect the symbol, they defeat what that symbol stands for — the very essence of truth, justice, and the American way.

Happy Fourth.