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Thinking about Journalism with Superman
Unformatted Document Text:  Thinking about Journalism with Superman 1 Thinking about Journalism with Superman Professor Matthew C. Ehrlich Department of Journalism University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 119 Gregory Hall, 810 S. Wright St. Urbana IL 61801 USA ## email not listed ## 217-333-1365 ABSTRACT: Superman is an icon of American popular culture. However, although Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent reports for a daily newspaper, the role that journalism plays in the Superman mythology has not received the degree of systematic analysis that it deserves. This paper uses Superman in its various incarnations in comics, radio, movies, and television as a way of thinking critically about real-world journalism’s complex and contradictory relationship to truth, justice, and the American way. Superman is an icon of American popular culture—variously described as being “better known than the president of the United States [and] more familiar to school children than Abraham Lincoln,” a “triumphant mixture of marketing and imagination, familiar all around the world and re-created for generation after generation,” an “ideal, a hope and a dream, the fantasy of millions,” and a symbol of “our universal longing for perfection, for wisdom and power used in service of the human race.” 1 As such, the character offers “clues to hopes and tensions within the current American consciousness,” including the “tensions between our mythic values and the requirements of a democratic society.” 2 This paper uses Superman as a way of thinking about journalism, following the tradition of cultural and critical studies that uses media artifacts as tools “to size up the shape, character, and direction of society itself.” 3 Superman‟s alter ego Clark Kent is of course a reporter for a daily newspaper (and at times for TV news as well), and many of his closest friends and colleagues are also journalists. However, although many scholars have analyzed the Superman mythology, not so many have systematically analyzed what it might say about the real-world

Authors: Ehrlich, Matthew.
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Thinking about Journalism with Superman 1 
 
 
Thinking about Journalism with Superman 
Professor Matthew C. Ehrlich 
Department of Journalism 
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 
119 Gregory Hall, 810 S. Wright St. 
Urbana IL 61801 USA 
 217-333-1365 
 
 
ABSTRACT: Superman is an icon of American popular culture. However, although 
Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent reports for a daily newspaper, the role that journalism plays in 
the Superman mythology has not received the degree of systematic analysis that it deserves. This 
paper uses Superman in its various incarnations in comics, radio, movies, and television as a 
way of thinking critically about real-world journalism’s complex and contradictory relationship 
to truth, justice, and the American way. 
Superman is an icon of American popular culture—variously described as being “better 
known than the president of the United States [and] more familiar to school children than 
Abraham Lincoln,” a “triumphant mixture of marketing and imagination, familiar all around the 
world and re-created for generation after generation,” an “ideal, a hope and a dream, the fantasy 
of millions,” and a symbol of “our universal longing for perfection, for wisdom and power used 
in service of the human race.”
1
 As such, the character offers “clues to hopes and tensions within 
the current American consciousness,” including the “tensions between our mythic values and the 
requirements of a democratic society.”
2
 
 
This paper uses Superman as a way of thinking about journalism, following the tradition 
of cultural and critical studies that uses media artifacts as tools “to size up the shape, character, 
and direction of society itself.”
3
 Superman‟s alter ego Clark Kent is of course a reporter for a 
daily newspaper (and at times for TV news as well), and many of his closest friends and 
colleagues are also journalists. However, although many scholars have analyzed the Superman 
mythology, not so many have systematically analyzed what it might say about the real-world 


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