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Thinking about Journalism with Superman
Unformatted Document Text:  Thinking about Journalism with Superman 13 “Prankster” managed to copyright the alphabet. A Superman historian describes the consequences: “Immediately the nation is thrown into a panic as everyone has to pay the Prankster exorbitant royalties whenever they wish to write something. The Daily Planet is faced with the prospect of going broke; skywriters are suddenly out of work, not to mention typists, librarians, novelists. . . . Civilization teeters on the verge of total collapse because—as even Superman is forced to admit—the Prankster‟s racket seems totally legit. Not until the Prankster breaks the law by trying to kill Clark and Lois can Superman intervene.” 75 In such ways, Superman has been used to think about the dangers of power operating beyond institutional restraints. He also has been used to reflect upon the dangers of operating too comfortably within institutional restraints. The more mainstream post-1940 Superman increasingly became emblematic of the status quo. According to critics, “[Jerry] Siegel‟s original vision of Superman was radically subverted, with a vapid establishmentarian hero substituted in his place”; as a result, “fans of the Man of Steel will find few, if any, examples of their hero exercising his powers to bring about the real and lasting improvement of the human condition.” 76 That is partly due to storytelling imperatives—if Superman brought about real and lasting improvement, there would be nothing left for him to do and no rationale for his continued existence. (“Don‟t ever get involved with something Superman could fix,” a screenwriter once advised Christopher Reeve.) 77 Regardless, Superman has come to represent what Umberto Eco called “a perfect example of civic consciousness, completely split from political consciousness.” 78 He still dispenses justice by responding to a never-ending stream of calamities and dispatching one bad guy after another, but he does little to redress underlying systemic inequities, and thus he upholds the status quo. As one critic has put it, “Superman may be `the

Authors: Ehrlich, Matthew.
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Thinking about Journalism with Superman 13 
“Prankster” managed to copyright the alphabet. A Superman historian describes the 
consequences: “Immediately the nation is thrown into a panic as everyone has to pay the 
Prankster exorbitant royalties whenever they wish to write something. The Daily Planet is faced 
with the prospect of going broke; skywriters are suddenly out of work, not to mention typists, 
librarians, novelists. . . . Civilization teeters on the verge of total collapse because—as even 
Superman is forced to admit—the Prankster‟s racket seems totally legit. Not until the Prankster 
breaks the law by trying to kill Clark and Lois can Superman intervene.”
In such ways, Superman has been used to think about the dangers of power operating 
beyond institutional restraints. He also has been used to reflect upon the dangers of operating too 
comfortably within institutional restraints. The more mainstream post-1940 Superman 
increasingly became emblematic of the status quo. According to critics, “[Jerry] Siegel‟s original 
vision of Superman was radically subverted, with a vapid establishmentarian hero substituted in 
his place”; as a result, “fans of the Man of Steel will find few, if any, examples of their hero 
exercising his powers to bring about the real and lasting improvement of the human condition.”
That is partly due to storytelling imperatives—if Superman brought about real and lasting 
improvement, there would be nothing left for him to do and no rationale for his continued 
existence. (“Don‟t ever get involved with something Superman could fix,” a screenwriter once 
advised Christopher Reeve.)
 Regardless, Superman has come to represent what Umberto Eco 
called “a perfect example of civic consciousness, completely split from political 
 He still dispenses justice by responding to a never-ending stream of calamities 
and dispatching one bad guy after another, but he does little to redress underlying systemic 
inequities, and thus he upholds the status quo. As one critic has put it, “Superman may be `the 

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