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Thursday, June 18, 2015

The "American Way" -- Learning Lessons From the Man of Steel

As a kid, I used to watch episodes of the series "The Adventures of Superman" on black and white television. From 1952 to 1958, George Reeves played Clark Kent/Superman, the Man of Steel who battled crooks, gangsters, and other villains in the fictional city of Metropolis. Of course, the show was based on the legendary comic book series published by National Comics Publications which date back to 1938.

Each episode started with the music of the "Superman Theme" and this stirring narration:

"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! ("Look! Up in the sky!" "It's a bird!" "It's a plane!" "It's Superman!")...

"Yes, it's Superman... strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman... who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!"

What American kid didn't love this show that proved to us that truth and justice prevailed in the United States. As children, we learned many a civics lesson from Superman, and we believed in the promised land of equality and justice not for a few, but for all.

Perhaps, then it was a black and white world not only in relation to the television screen but also in the absolute division between good and bad behavior. Superman used to speak straight to us in simple terms that helped mold our concept of being good, responsible citizens. It may have been a fictional show, but we kids believed.

Consider this message from the Man of Steel:

"Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul I swear... until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice become the reality we all share... I’ll never stop fighting. Ever."

When you grew up with parents from what Tom Brokaw called "the Greatest Generation," they constantly reinforced "Superman values" in your life. Time and time again, your parents made sure to chaperone your activities, preach important ethics, monitor your whereabouts, and discipline you when necessary. Being a kid in the 1950s, you understood the need for positive beliefs and important ideals that would eventually mold your being as a positive, loving person. After all, Superman wouldn't have it any other way, and he could defeat all evil.

Truth and justice are synonymous in that one cannot function properly without the other. When either becomes skewed or falsely manipulated, there is no longer "an American Way." And, the most insidious manipulation occurs when those in places of trust betray us. For example, when a doctor, a judge, a lawyer, a policeman, or a politician soils the system, humans suffer terrible consequences. As Jim Croce so aptly put it in his song: "You don't tug on Superman's cape." In essence, Croce means you simply do not smear the basics of freedom.

But, what has become of our Superman belief system now when we find ourselves battling with villains within the very elements we are supposed to respect and to honor? I believe it simply goes to hell. Those capable of standing up against inequality and injustice face overwhelming odds because many wrong ideals are so firmly engrained in the system that the abuse is passé. Freedom is not as treasured by common people as is manipulation and control of the masses by those in power. Even those good individuals in the system are indifferent to the sins of their associates.

I have never grown up. I admit it. At age 64, I still, in many respects, believe in the power and might of the fictional Superman, an incredible being who defends the lofty vision of the American way of life. The poor, the needy, the underprivileged, the ignored -- all of these folks need to find the spirit to fight their own "never-ending battles," and they need to discover ways in which to do so with honest love and determination that will not fail to disrupt the unfair power structure that has a boot on their necks.

I remember how reserved and meek Clark Kent appeared, but I also remember how Superman, his alter-ego, defeated evil with his strength and stamina. Isn't a real-life hero like that? Most of them I have ever known are able to deal with situations on two levels -- reservation and unwavering lionhearted courage.

We need to be able to discern the kryptonite of injustice that threatens our free existence and we need to be determined to stand up against it at all costs. The "talk" is cheap, but the Superman "walk" requires great expense -- mainly the expense of untold time and peaceful effort.

"Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice
and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress."


--Martin Luther King, Jr.


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