Saturday, April 30, 2011

Knowledge-base Tool Kit: The Convenient "Illegal Alien"

Many of us in our formative years, or else at some point in our adulthood, have become familiar with the mythical super-human personality known as Superman, amongst a number of other fictional characters with extraordinary strength and/or supernatural powers. The character was reportedly conceived in the early 30s by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, themselves immediate descendants of Jewish immigrants. Superman's first comic publication appearance is said to have occurred in 1938, in an Action Comics No.1. The so-called Superman had soon gained quite a following in American society and other corners of the globe, and had become something of a cultural icon in the U.S.that is to say, a symbol of the United States of America. Photo stills or renditions of this super-human figure with either the American flag in the background, or the figure holding the American flag, had subsequently become a common sight in this country (U.S.A.). Even the popular Superman movies of the late seventies and eighties, which have somewhat immortalized Christopher Reevewho played the alter-egos of the super-hero, elements of this jingoism can be detected, like for instance, in Superman's now familiar lines of; “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. This phenomenon had not been lost on observers, like Timothy Aaron Pevey for instance, who reportedly said as follows in his work, From Superman to Superbland: The Man of Steel's Popular Decline Among Postmodern Youth: "an immigrant figure whose desire was to fit into American culture as an American".

As observed elsewhere, perhaps the immigrant heritage of Superman's creators had played into this aspiration of the super-hero figureas an immigrant, "to be as American as any other". The same has certainly been said with respect to other immigrants in the U.S., either by individuals within immigrant communities or by institutionally-assigned and/or self-assigned advocates for immigrants. The only difference here of course, is that the mythical super-hero's tacit "pledge of allegiance" is readily and warmly welcomed in almost all, if not all, quarters of American citizenry, while living and breathing immigrants are often compelled to repeatedly and painstakingly prove their "pledge of allegiance" before they can gain acceptance in any considerable way. This whole affair might not be all that extraordinarily interesting, had Superman been a "legal" immigrant for starters!

As recent as April of this year, as soon as word got out that Superman "Renounces US Citizenship", reactionary elements of American mass mediawho would otherwise balk at "illegal aliens", were literally the first to rush to protesting the very idea that Superman would break with his "patriotic ways", and this would not mark the first time such protests around the super-hero filtered into the American media either. When the more recent Superman movie, titled "Superman Returns" came out, the main criticism it was immediately greeted with, primarily in right-wing commentary outlets, was that Superman appears to be shedding his "American-ness". Much had been made about the "doing away with the American flag" in the movie, for example. No talking head is perhaps as virulent in his/her anti-immigrant banter, generally justified under the cover of anti "illegal" immigrant, as Fox News' Bill O' Reilly, yet he was amongst the most vocal in protesting the news of "renunciation of American citizenship" by Superman. Here it mattered not, that Superman's character is literally an "illegal alien" in every sense of the word! He reportedly came from outside of planet earth [i.e. planet Krypton], and arrived in American territory without paper work, caged in shuttle as a toddler. Superman had no birth certificate, which would certify his citizenship in the U.S.; yet no fuss is made about his birth certificate. He is not only an "alien" in terms of U.S. citizenry, but he is also literally alien to the entire planet; this notwithstanding, the usual anti-immigrant reactionaries have also been the most ardent defenders of his "citizenship" and role as an "American icon". Do these radical right-wing ideologues not see the irony in virulently defending the idea of an "illegal alien" embodying American projection, i.e. an "American icon", all the while bashing members of the human race and natives of planet earth, as "illegal aliens"?!

No doubt, the super-human strength and protagonist qualities that Superman is endowed with have earned him a special place in American culture. The protagonist qualities that make him appealing are also the same ones that tacitly render him a liberal-minded figure, i.e. fighting for human rights and defending it against those who violently abuse it, and even pushing for total and unconditional destruction of global stockpiles of nuclear arsenal, for instance. Ironically, those who are ardent defenders of the systematic violation of these very protagonist qualities, whether domestically or internationally, are the same personalities bent on ferociously defending the idea of Superman's role as an "American symbol", and while they may publicly balk at the very notion, given its implicit charge of "racism", the idea of generally portraying Supermanan extraterrestrial alien no lessas a "white" humanoid personality, kind of helps in this defensiveness of protecting the illusion of Superman as an American symbol, in effect rendering the fictitious superhero a convenient "illegal Alien".

*Subject to modification or updates in the future.

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