Losing Our (American) Way
The other day I heard on the radio an industrial-edged remake (by a band called Dissturbed) of the 1986 Genesis pop hit, “Land of Confusion.” It brought back a lot of memories – in particular, MTV footage of a Ronnie Reagan puppet running around in a Superman costume while Phil Collins sings, “O Superman where are you now, when everything’s gone wrong somehow … “.
The song was released during the sixth year of Reagan’s presidency, a year that was tough on the old man. After his election in 1980, Reagan had enjoyed several years of wild popularity, making America feel good about itself for the first time since Vietnam, Watergate, and, of course, the Iran hostage crisis. But then details of the Iran-Contra affair broke. The CIA was secretly in bed with Iran, a nation we publicly despised, to funnel guns to Nicaragua – a nation where we sponsored revolution and domestic terrorism. Our brief collective daydream of patriotism and national integrity evaporated. Reagan lost popularity and, as previously noted, was seen on MTV running around in a sagging Superman costume.
Now, I’m not in the habit of plugging contemporary B-movies, but talk about Dèjá Vu. Twenty years after Reagan floundered and his historical legacy was besmirched by scandals and lies, George W. has performed a Republican encore, and a tidal wave of patriotic fervor and optimistic delusion is now dissipating on the rocks of corruption and deceit.
Which brings us back to Superman. Missing in action since 1987, the man of steel reappeared at movie theaters earlier this year in Superman Returns, but with dispiriting twists. He has an illegitimate son. He gets beat up by the bad guys. He doesn’t get the girl. And Perry White, alter-ego Clark Kent’s editor, perhaps presciently heralds our approaching reality check when he poses an interesting question: Does Superman still stand for “truth, justice, and all that stuff?”
White’s query was not received well. Fox pseudo-News blowhard Bill O’Reilly immediately pounced on this subtle deviation from Superman’s original “Truth, justice, and the American way” maxim, taking the film’s creators to task for what he perceived as an underhanded slight to his vision of Americana. He condemned the movie for bowing to the potential contempt of international viewers and worrying about worldwide profit margins more than grandiose patriotic statements.
Obviously, O’Reilly doesn’t get it. If you’re billed as the strongest, noblest, most upright superhero on the entire planet, a guy who is incapable of telling a lie, it’s impossible to align yourself with the United States. There was a time when truth, justice, and the American way were part of the same ideal – the United States as far-reaching symbol, inspiring beacon, and tireless defender of freedom. But, unfortunately, we no longer meet those criteria. We may not have met them for decades, but the last six years surely flushed our last vestiges of moral greatness down the tubes.
These days, we resemble Lex Luthor more than Superman. Justice no longer matters, and we don’t tell the truth, even to ourselves. We’re not about saving the world or helping those less fortunate than us. We’re about bending the world to our benefit and taking advantage of those less fortunate than us. Only a neocon ideologist like O’Reilly could reconcile these inconsistencies and find fault with the Superman Returns creators for distancing the man of steel from this obvious farce. And, like others of his paranoidal, Fox-hole ilk, O’Reilly predictably relegates editor Perry White, Clark Kent, and Superman to the ranks of anti-American operatives of the liberal bogeymedia.
Meanwhile, America has returned to the mindset it had during the twilight of Reagan’s tenure. We are once again a “Land of Confusion.” Another American president is being sucked into an insidious black hole created by his own administration’s malfeasance – and we’re scared to think about what’s next.
The Fox Network, which debuted in 1986, is now the most trusted source of news bias in the country. Charles E. Allen, an agent who was formally reprimanded by the director of the CIA for refusing to comply with an internal investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal, is now the chief intelligence officer at the Department of Homeland Security. John Negroponte, the ex-U.S. ambassador to Honduras who helped set up the nefarious Iran-Contra quid pro quo, is now George W.’s national intelligence director. And Robert Gates, deputy director of the CIA during the Iran-Contra affair, has now been tapped to help us tap-dance out of Iraq. There’s even talk of getting back into bed with Iran. It’s like an Iran-Contra reunion tour.
America may be the world’s only remaining superpower, but political kakistocracy (government by the least qualified) is historical kryptonite. And if we can’t stop this cycle of disgrace, what’s left of our national glory may disappear faster than a speeding bullet.
E. R. Bills is a Fort Worth freelance writer.