Since the late 1930s, Superman has been a pop culture icon in American history. As a comic book super hero, Superman has been a “symbol of hope to a struggling nation” (Look Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman) throughout American history. Based on the criteria identified by Jencks who states, “Not only does a rhetorical object express the values. . . ideologies, hopes, fears, religion, [and] social structure,” (qtd. in Burgchardt 608) Superman is clearly an example of a rhetorical object.
As a rhetorical object Superman shares the values and ideologies of the American culture. The character’s strength, humility, and tolerance when acting as both Clark Kent and Superman show his integrity. Although Superman has god like powers he only uses them for the greater good. Superman is a warrior with immense powers like that of Hercules, but unlike the mythological god he is without faults. Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego, is a simple journalist who blends in with the crowd. Superman’s ability to live among humans as one of them shows his compassion for a planet that is not his own.
In the movie Superman and the Mole Men, Superman protects a group of harmless aliens from humans. It’s eye opening in a sense that Superman is the defender of all, no matter the species, which makes Superman a symbol of equality for all. In radio broadcasts Superman fought against the KKK and other hateful groups. This brought attention to real life events in America, and the social movement taking place.
During stressful times throughout American history Superman was portrayed as the ever-helpful super hero from afar. Although not in the front and center of the war, Superman advertised and supported the sale of war bonds and stamps during World War II. Superman could be used to influence Americans into supporting the war. He was also shown as dealing body blows to Hitler and fighting the “Japanazis.” Superman was a patriot for the American citizens during hard times such as WWII and the Great Depression. During the Great Depression comic books were very inexpensive entertainment, and showed Superman fighting local things like urban crime. As any character does, Superman had one weakness, Kryptonite. As Kryptonite was introduced during the early 1940s it showed that even the ultimate superhero could be brought down to his knees, similar to the feeling America felt on December 7, 1941. Although Kryptonite was introduced before Pearl Harbor, it resonated with citizens that even the mighty can fall.
The religion and social structure embodied through the Superman storyline tie into the beliefs that society held. Superman is often compared to Moses and Christ. As a...