Supercitizen of the world

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Esther Cepeda
Monday, May 2, 2011
— You know you’re in a different world than the one you grew up in when Superman stops believing in the American way. If you hadn’t heard: The Land of Liberty’s favorite super-powered illegal alien is abandoning his U.S. identity.

According to “The Incident,” a nine-page story included in Action Comics’ 900th issue, Superman declares that he is renouncing his U.S. citizenship because he’s tired of his actions being construed as “instruments of U.S. policy,” thereby putting the nation at risk of retaliation from rogue countries because of his good works.

If you’re not fazed by The Man of Steel giving up his green card—if he even has one, the last son of planet Krypton’s legal status is in dispute among comic book experts who dispute such things—his reasoning gives pause.

After seeing the impact his nonviolent presence at a protest against the Iranian regime has on both the people of Tehran and on U.S. national security, he declares: “Truth, justice, and the American way—it’s not enough anymore.” Superman goes on to explain that the world is too small and too connected to limit his heroism to the United States.

Unspoken in that sentiment is that the U.S. may no longer be the world’s superpower. And while the comic doesn’t explore the topic of American exceptionalism—a term that has recently come to stand for the idea that despite the emerging economic power of other countries, America is still the top nation—it’s obvious that Superman sees his future in being a citizen of the world.

What does it mean when The Man of Tomorrow decides that there are other things that should be considered, if not instead of, then in addition to the “American way’s” promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Might Clark Kent’s alter ego be telling us that outside the United States, life is too often cavalierly squandered and liberty is so far out of reach that Americans’ near single-minded pursuit of personal happiness is no longer relevant in the grand, global scheme of things?

That’s worth considering.

Or you could flip it around and see this comic-book-world development as a sign that the septuagenarian super hero wants Americans to embrace the idea that, ultimately, what is good for the world ends up paying off the most for the United States. That geopolitics is not a zero-sum game, but rather, that all countries would benefit from envisioning a shared future to be worked toward by mighty-powered heroes and common men and women alike.

I like the second one better, and it’s fitting. After all, who more than the recent immigrant holds America’s promise on a pedestal while at the same time wishing that this promise could be spread well beyond its North American borders?

And who better than a farm boy from Smallville, Kan., to prod a country so mired in its own local economic and political woes to start thinking globally?

Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

Last updated: 5:19 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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