Monday, November 14, 2016

Superman and Batman pitch tolerance…in 1949

On 11/11/16, on Facebook, I shared a poster from the Golden Age of Comics that I'd seen before and had recently been reminded of. It was (quite obviously, and sadly) a response to the presidential election three days earlier.

We have that world-famous immigrant, Superman, telling kids the importance—the imperative—of tolerance. This version is dated 1950, but apparently the poster was first issued the year before and distributed by the Institute for American Democracy. I don't know who those folks were/are, but they sound alright.

Then I tweeted it.

And faster than a speeding bullet, it became my most retweeted (by far) since I joined Twitter in 2011 (1,000+ retweets, 1,200+ likes, 108,000+ impressions and counting). That's more than my 2015 announcement that DC Comics would begin crediting Bill Finger on Batman after 76 years.

Speaking of Batman, he got into the PSA act, too—same year.

The message of the Superman poster is uplifting. But it's also incongruous: Superman is preaching diversity to a fairly homogeneous group. (Even if, as I suspect, one of the kids is gay and another is Jewish.) In seriousness, the poster is both ahead of and a product of its time, a four-color contradiction with its heart in the right place.

Several people on Facebook (as you saw in the tweet above) suggested that DC reissue the poster. It's unsettling (to put it mildly) that its message is still needed in 2016. Of course it'd be but one step in a large, difficult campaign. But every step, however small, can make a difference.

A couple of people of my parents' generation (born in the 1940s) remember seeing the poster hanging in their schools. A number of teachers tweeted that they want to use it in their classrooms now. Some have said self-producing copies would fall under fair use, though I can't verify that.
Reprinting it now would serve at least two positive purposes beyond the primary one:

  • show that mainstream plugs for open-mindedness and acceptance began earlier than some realize
  • remind us that bigotry has plagued us for too long (as distant as 1949 will seem to some, we all know the problem of prejudice in America goes back to the start)

But because the visuals of the poster do not fully reflect the message, I proposed that DC create a diversified update and run it alongside the original. It would make a powerful point and be fun at the same time.

The People of Twitter have proposed that the new version include POC, people with disability, people of other cultures (i.e. one with a hijab), nonbinary people…and even Marvel characters.

To be even more inclusive than that, we could also add a Trump supporter.

Many of Superman's most notable colleagues are also fellow immigrants to America, including Wonder Woman (now an honorary UN ambassador), Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkman. The Justice League of America could more accurately be called the Justice League of All Over.

And Americans sure have embraced THEM.

That said, one tweeter asked if Superman is still relevant to today's kids. Fair question. As someone who's had the privilege of speaking to kids worldwide about the Man of Steel, I'm happy to report the answer is yes. I can't say he is AS popular as he was in 1949, but I can unequivocally say he IS popular.

Superman was so successful so fast in part because he debuted on the cusp between the Great Depression and World War II. He soon came to embody the values of the Greatest Generation. Through his 1940s radio show, he even helped expose and weaken the Ku Klux Klan; see the book by Rick Bowers.

Superman famously fights for truth, justice, and the American way. When done properly, the American way means you take the whole world into account.

It was self-evident in 1949. It is self-evident in 2016.

I remain optimistic about the next generation—and this one.


Unknown said...

It appears that most Millenials raised on the Internet & not watching TV news, are more tolerant of people who are different.

I am hopeful for the future because of them.

Bob Rivard said...

Here is where you go wrong: "When done properly, the American way means you take the whole world into account.". No, the American Way means that anyone who behaves as an American can be an American, regardless of where they come from, what color they are, or what God they believe in. But back then, there would be NO tolerance of accommodation demands. It was clearly expected that you came to America to BECOME American. You obeyed our laws, you learned our language, you never became a public charge, and you took steps to become a good citizen. It is extremely likely that any current incarnation of this poster will invert that message, and instead urge Americans to accept Balkanization, factionalism, illegal immigration and anti-American behavior... in the name of "tolerance".

anon said...

its sad but I think its worse now in 2023 than in 2016. I miss the simpler times