Wednesday, July 12, 2006

“...and all that stuff.”

James Lileks, on why Superman’s iconic phrase was edited by the script writers from “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” down to a delightful and comically dismissive “Truth, Justice and all that stuff”:

“‘The American Way’ sounds Krypto-fascist. The movie's authors are the usual moderns, serenely above rude jingo pride: ‘We were always hesitant to include the term "American way" because the meaning of that today is somewhat uncertain,’ said co-writer Michael Dougherty. ‘I think when people say "American way," they're actually talking about what the 'American way' meant back in the '40s and '50s, which was something more noble and idealistic.’

“Ah. Well, in the ’40s, the American Way included incinerating German cities, nuking Japan, installing occupying armies and imposing our form of government — all the while referring to the enemy with hurtful ethnic slurs. All this plus forced relocation.”

Lileks makes some additional comments, then gives us some writing like I’d write if I thought more people read my blog and I could write like this:

Do the ’50s get to be cool again? And not Fonzie-cool, but cool in the sense that confidence, optimism, technological progress, increasingly sophisticated mass culture and the rise of the suburb are now seen as fascinating elements of a complex, hopeful era? Well, that's a start.

“But of course that's not what the screenwriter meant. To right-thinking people, the ‘past’ ... was a time where one could say ‘The American Way’ without irony, because they were uninformed, and President Bush hadn't invaded Iraq yet. Nowadays you cannot tout ‘The American Way’ without adding footnotes about slavery and the Philippines war and pre-FDA meat safety and women's suffrage and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Did you know they blocked the fire exits? Women jumped to their deaths. And you think we're something special?

“Well, yes. ...

“Accepting our faults, correcting our wrongs and using the revolutionary founding concepts to improve ourselves further: That's the American way.”

In these pages, occasionally, I write something I’m really proud of. I enjoy most of it – the over-the-top self-righteousness, the earnest and sincere idealism sharpened by a savage sarcasm – but sometimes I’m startled when I go back and look at something. Did I write that? Why, that’s good. Conflict is like that - honestly, it makes me catch my breath. Literally. It just came, and embodies every bit of soul and truth I possess. What Lileks has written here doesn’t move me it that same way, but it’s just as true.

Note to all future Hollywood script writers: It’s never about perfection. It’s always about potential.

Superman, if there were a Superman, and if he had been witness to the mutilation of his motto, would have corrected the mistake. Because Superman isn’t super merely because of his Kryptonic heritage – like all true immigrants, he grafted himself into the American heritage. Superman is super because he fights a never ending battle – a never ending battle – yet he remains optimistic. What is the wellspring of his strength? Physically, it is whatever it is. But morally, it is the glibly dismissed American Way that is the source of his respect for Truth and Justice.

Odd, isn’t it, how the Hollywood script writers so perfectly missed that most obvious of points. It’s almost as if they simply didn’t understand their character at all. Almost as if they don’t quite grasp the concept of Hero, other than as something to help in the telling of a ripping good yarn. But I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know. I do know something about heroes – real heroes. One of the things I know is that they do not apologize for doing right. And they do not dismiss with disrespect the very thing that inspires and motivates them. So, yeah, if Superman had heard the “and all that stuff” part, he would have found a way to remind the big-time MSM elite newspaper editor that he’d glossed over the most important part. Maybe he’d have written an editorial about it, as Clark Kent. It wouldn’t have been published, of course, but that’s part of the never ending battle.

But you remembered it, of course. The phrase, a never ending battle – it’s the part that comes just before all that other stuff: Superman "wages a never ending battle for Truth, Justice and the American Way." I imagine the script writers were too busy looking for irony to notice that. And heroes? A hero is just something they tell made up imaginary stories about. Because there couldn't be such a thing in the real world as a hero. That's just pretend. Here, pass me that joint, will you?


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