Dr. Liz Locke
Revised Draft #3
November 6, 2012
Truth, Justice, and Common Ground: Lessons from Heroes on How to Get Along
After centuries of independence, political polarization, and international war, it’s hard to resolve what exactly America stands for these days. We’ve turned our nation into a moral authority, fighting wars constantly in the name of peace, occupying foreign nations for the sake of freedom, democracy, and independence. There is a conflict with the boundaries we set for the sake of defending our own rights. Our inner conflict makes its way to our fiction, in our myths. William G. Doty explains that myths model possibilities for citizens (28). In our case, mythical superheroes show us our possibilities. Superheroes reflect our own values; they show us at our very best and our very worst. As Jeph Loeb and Tom Morris state in Superheroes and Philosophy, “We believe that the stories of these characters embody our deepest hopes and fears, as well as our highest aspirations, and that they can help us deal with our worst nightmares. They chart out questions we’ll all have to face in the future. And they shed new light on our present condition.” (2). Two such superheroes, Batman and Superman, shed light on our dissonance and disagreement. They fight crime, sometimes even together, but have very different methods and beliefs regarding their missions. In America, we have similar polarization; sometimes we believe we simply have to do what is necessary, sometimes we believe in second chances and that we should help everyone we possibly can. After we realize this dissonance and that these two heroes illustrate different values for America, we must realize that despite their differences, Batman and Superman still provide certain common benefits. We should look to these heroes’ example to find our own common ground, those beliefs we share that are the American Way: due process, safety, democracy, property, and the right to choose one’s own destiny.
Before we go onto find the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight’s common ground, we have to look at their differences and where they come from ideologically before we bring them together. Frank Miller, writer of The Dark Knight Returns, outlines the differences and the distance between these two characters nicely. “Bruce [Wayne] has been one who enforces order in the world, and believes that entropy is the natural state of existence….Superman believes order is the norm.” (Comic). There is a strong difference as well in what they believe about man’s sufficiency. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) exposes us to the philosophy of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Superman follows a more liberal philosophy of lifting up everyone himself. The belief in the world’s natural state and how one responds is what creates these two superheroes’ concepts: Batman fights in a city full of desperate criminals who need to pick themselves up, and struggle to learn to do it. Superman fights in a world where, when Superman can come to your aid, you don’t have to pick yourselves up. Paradigms affect not only superhero character qualities, but also affect how we choose our own politics. We often have difficulty deciding between using drastic measures against bloodthirsty criminals and having optimism about reforming people who can change into productive members of society. For example, after September 11, 2001, Cinnamon Stillwell took a sharp right turn in her politics. “She embraced gun rights for the first time, drawn to the ‘idea of self-preservation in perilous times’” (Dixit). Stilwell’s worldview and opinions radically changed. She started seeing a world in jeopardy, a world where the lawful and the good were in the minority and threatened. The most important part of Stilwell’s story is that everyone can have their minds changed this way. With heroes like Superman and Batman, we have...
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Dark Knight, The. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Christian Bale and Keith Leger. Warner Bros., 2008. DVD.
Dixit, Jay. “Ideological Animal, The”. Psychology Today. January 1, 2007. Web. July 22, 2012.
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