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In 1942 when winning WWII was a grave concern, the Superman radio show debuted Superman’s goal of fighting “the never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.” Recently, Americans have indulged a passion for all things super hero, but do we retain the same enthusiasm for Superman’s values? As we watch the current confounding behaviors in our federal government, the question is as serious as it was when we weren’t at all certain we could win WWII.
Without attempting to be philosophical, I wonder how we define “truth” today. For some, “truth” seems to be any story people will accept and swallow. How were the Russians able to spread exaggerated digital lies during the last presidential campaign? People were willing to believe anything negative about someone—or whole groups—they didn’t like. Even today, journalists are being attacked physically and legally for asking direct questions about facts (what happened…EXACTLY). Edward R. Murrow was a journalist famous for insisting on accuracy, but do we hold his standards for our own news? Awards for excellence in broadcast journalism are given in Murrow’s name each year (happily for Coloradans, KUSA-TV in Denver won this year’s local award). Are we impressed? How many care if their news is truth rather than what they want to hear?
As politicians seek to manipulate the judiciary to be an arm of political power, we begin to wonder what the word “justice” means to our society. How many will stand up for “the right thing” if it decreases their control over others? Perhaps tellingly, when I wrote the word “justice” in Google, I received clothing ads, access to a French electronic music duo, and several songs before I reached a definition: “righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness to uphold the justice of a cause.” Has our society generally abandoned the idea of separating right from wrong in favor of attention to shopping and entertainment? I think the answer is no, but I’m an optimist.
Finally, what is the “American way” today and who defends it? Perhaps this is a question for the majority of Americans to answer. When we were fighting Nazis, we had an idea of what beliefs should have separated us from them, but are we still defending the ideals we placed in the mouth of Superman? After the war, Superman switched to fighting for tolerance. Where have we gone from there?
The Internet allows us to customize nearly every experience to our personal taste: clothes, entertainment, and information. We don’t have to read news that makes us think or tells us we’ve made a mistake. We can keep the illusion that we’re perpetually right—that revenge is preferable to fighting for truth and justice, that what’s good for “me” is the prime objective. Perhaps Deadpool is a better representative of us than the old Superman, after all. What do you think?