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The Great Divorce: Superman and American Foreign PolicyThe Great Divorce: Superman and American Foreign Policy

The Great Divorce: Superman and American Foreign Policy

The influence of popular culture on foreign policy is a subject of long, whisky-driven debate among international relation scholars. You can draw pretty neat parallels between the universe of Star Trek and developments in American foreign policy, like in Grab a Phaser, Ambassador and even, more disturbingly, actual American torture policy and Fox's popularization in the Bauer of suggestion. How we think about foreign policy is usually more driven from the stories we read and watch than the actual practice of international relations. And why shouldn't it be? Most people will never be international relations experts, and it's a big world. Pop representations, dishonest as they may be, give a more comfortable, armchair explanation of our role in the world. "I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of US policy," the character says in a story that sees him flying to a Tehran protest.

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Topics: Foreign Policy
The Great Divorce: Superman and American Foreign Policy April 29, 2011  |  By Robert Joustra
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This morning as groggy-eyed monarchists celebrate Will and Kate's nuptials, a more odious headline is hitting republican rebels south of the border: Superman wants out.

The influence of popular culture on foreign policy is a subject of long, whisky-driven debate among international relation scholars. You can draw pretty neat parallels between the universe of Star Trek and developments in American foreign policy, like in Grab a Phaser, Ambassador and even, more disturbingly, actual American torture policy and Fox's popularization in the Bauer of suggestion. How we think about foreign policy is usually more driven from the stories we read and watch than the actual practice of international relations. And why shouldn't it be? Most people will never be international relations experts, and it's a big world. Pop representations, dishonest as they may be, give a more comfortable, armchair explanation of our role in the world.

But now real life foreign policy is feeding back, hard. Superman is talking about renouncing his citizenship, though how he got it in the first place is a foggy matter at best.

"I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of US policy," the character says in a story that sees him flying to a Tehran protest.

Photo: http://www.comicsalliance.com/2011/04/27/superman-renounces-us-citizenship/


Does it matter what yesterday's icon of American freedom and compassion in the world does in his fictional comic panels? It probably does, if it represents a serious cultural shift in American media and popular sentiment; it definitely does if we read it as the divorce of actual American foreign policy from the idealism of an earlier generation.

Popular culture matters because it shapes the moral imagination of the political community. Superman's renunciation may be more effect than cause, but it is certainly iconic of the cancerous moral malaise at the heart of American foreign policy.

"Truth, justice and the American way—it's not enough anymore" Superman wistfully laments. One wonders what will be.

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