Archive for Imperialism

Ain’t No Such Thing As a Superman: Gil Scott Heron, Action Comics, and Global Superpower

Posted in art & music, celebrities, comics, politics, race, racism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2011 by Sunshine Superboy

This weekend, we lost the legendary badass Mr. Gil Scott-Heron at the age of 62.

Gil Scott-Heron was a Jamaican-American composer, musician, poet and author whose writings and recordings provided a vivid, and often stinging, commentary on social injustice and the black American experience; his declamatory singing style, allied to the overtly political content of his work, made him widely recognised as one of the inspirational figures of rap music.

Dude was only 18 when he wrote what is perhaps his best known piece The Revolution Will Not Be Televised– an attack on the mindless and anaesthetising effects of the mass media and a call to arms to the black community:

You will not be able to stay home, brother/
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out/
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip/
Skip out for beer during commercials/
Because the revolution will not be televised

Gil Scott-Heron’s Aint No Such Thing as a Superman

This reminds me of last month’s abdication by DC Comic’s Superman, of his American citizenship in Action Comics #900

The key scene takes place in “The Incident,” a short story in Action Comics #900 written by David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In it, Superman consults with the President’s national security advisor, who is incensed that Superman appeared in Tehran to non-violently support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime, no doubt an analogue for the recent real-life protests in the Middle East. However, since Superman is viewed as an American icon in the DC Universe as well as our own, the Iranian government has construed his actions as the will of the American President, and indeed, an act of war.

Superman replies that it was foolish to think that his actions would not reflect politically on the American government, and that he therefore plans to renounce his American citizenship at the United Nations the next day — and to continue working as a superhero from a more global than national perspective. From a “realistic” standpoint it makes sense; it would indeed be impossible for a nigh-omnipotent being ideologically aligned with America to intercede against injustice beyond American borders without creating enormous political fallout for the U.S. government.

… or within American borders for that matter. The truth is that rather than fighting for justice, Superman has always fought for the American Way, which encompasses a hegemonic cosmology of what exactly counts as ‘justice’ and ‘injustice’. Why did an inter-galactic super-being align himself with an imperialist Superpower in the first place? Oh yeah, he was raised in Kansas and indoctrinated (in the 40s and 50s of all moments!) into a fundamental belief in the supremacy of the American Way, and the perspective that US domestic and foreign policy was totally where its at.

Now while I understand that everyone (left and right) is getting excited (knickers in twist), about Superman’s renunciation of US citizenship, I want us all to think on the analysis of Gil Scott-Heron and keep a few things in mind:

1) The motivation for this move does not stem from a sudden realization that the US is a problematic imperialist power, and should therefore be counter-balanced in some way. Rather, Superman doesn’t want his independent actions to reflect poorly on US diplomacy. He is doing this to aid the State, not to critique it. J Edgar Hoover would have lobbied Superman to do the same thing, if he could, and if we imagine this as some parallel to our very real world, I’d bet Hillary Clinton had something to do with this abdication. Now Superman can show up in the streets of Tehran without his presence being tantamount to a declaration of war.

2) Clark Kent, our grand hero’s alias, remains a US Citizen, and therefore, all of this rhetorical posturing is empty. A super-being with the power to fly and the asylum of a Fortress of Solitude on a stateless continent of ice has little need for citizenship in any event, and certainly needs no assistance to navigate national borders. Beyond this, however, the very real powers of a US Passport, and all the rights associated with American citizenship are fully retained by Our Glorious Hero, so all of his “I’m a global citizen” bullshit is just that. I’d like to see Clark Kent go ex-pat and pursue citizenship in Palestine or Taiwan, or Tibet for that matter, and then Action Comics can claim some sort of political solidarity for what thats worth. What we should be asking ourselves is what is it that Kent’s US Citizenship allows Superman to do, that renouncing it entirely would not?

3) The power, legitimacy, and resource hoarding that once was unflappable behind the seal of American citizenship has dissolved somewhat in the 21st Century. Anyone, including Mulit-national corporation and the US State Department itself, wishing to maintain such command has made strategic shifts to re-brand from “American” to “Global”, “International” or “Worldly”. In the globalized, post-colonial world, power is hard-pressed to get away with much exertion of force or influence without waving some UN, World Bank, IMF, or “coalition” cred- and this is just Superman doing the same.

I won’t pretend for a minute that the editors at DC Comics are as savvy and strategic as all this. In DC’s attempts toward verisimilitude, however, they’ve come marvelously close to capturing the zeitgeist of global power, transforming Superman into just another heuristic for understanding the multi-lateral shifts of imperialist power.

In our own world, then, Scott-Heron remains correct that there ain’t nothing but a superman, afterall, what would an all powerful being need with a US Passport and a stable position in a major media firm in New York City?

Up Up and Awaaaaaaaaaay!
Sunshine Superboy


Your Date with Manifest Destiny

Posted in anthropology, maps, maps & mapping, politics, racism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2009 by Sunshine Superboy

I’m heading to Wisconsin tomorrow, so I won’t be wordpressing for a minute.


Before I run away, however, I want to welcome in my favorite and fraught season of Fall, with a map that- for me- evokes the conflict I have of loving so many things about the place I live, and never forgetting that its stolen land, and that no amount of olympic pride, racial apologists, or seductive farmscapes (cheaper than ever! buy now!) can efface the original sins of the Great North American Occupation.

Autumn in North America is gorgeous and bountiful, but it also revels in the genocide of American Indians (and the collateral decimation of other people of color, and formerly-non-white… ahem “ethnic” Europeans) through rituals like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. I like to read this map of my treacherous/ beloved country with the same ambivalence i feel for my dearest season… restless, deceptive, agitated and utterly beautiful.

May the Wind Be Always at Yr Back,
Sunshine Superboy

Não Era um Pais Pequeno

Posted in anthropology, maps & mapping with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2009 by Sunshine Superboy

Apparently size used to matter.

I’m crossposting this awesome map from the strangers (also see blogroll to yr right) which I somehow missed before boarding a plane to Portugal.

If you couldn’t piece it out, the map is titled “Portugal is not a small country”. Inferiority complex much?

Portugal, on the southwestern periphery of the European continent, is a medium-sized EU member state. Its population clocks in at 11th place out of 27 (10.59 million, in between Belgium’s 10.66 million [10] and the Czech Republic with 10.40 million [12]). Size-wise, it’s a bit further down the list: 13th (at 92.391 km2, between Hungary [12] at 93.030 km2 and Austria [14] at 83.871 km2).

Yet Portugal is loath to think of itself as a small country. Or at least it was, before its overseas empire collapsed. Built up over centuries of exploration, trade and colonisation, the Portuguese Empire once spanned four continents. The jewel in its crown was Brazil, but Portugal lost control over its South American colony in 1822.

By mid-20th century, Portugal still held on to Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome & Principe, Angola, Mozambique, Macao, East Timor and its Indian possessions (Goa, Daman and Diu – three smallish footholds somewhat grandiosely labeled “Estado da India”).

As the legend to this map indicates, all these territories together added up to an area larger than (Continental) Spain, France, the UK (mislabeled “Inglaterra”), Italy and Germany put together, explaining why, as the title claims, Portugal não é um país pequeno. If that sounds a bit defensive and self-justifying, that’s no coincidence.

yrs truly (right) cavorting with a native on a beach in Lisbon province

yr truly (right) cavorting with a native on a beach in Lisbon province

In the early 1970s, Portugal languished under a dictatorship determined to hold on to the vestiges of its former colonial glory. The increasingly costly and impopular wars against freedom fighters in Portuguese Africa eventually led to the overthrow of the regime, in a virtually bloodless military coup in April 1974, the so-called Revolução dos Cravos. This Carnation Revolution would lead to a swift liquidation of Portugal’s overseas assets and ultimately to democracy within Portugal.

Portugal’s African possessions were all granted independence. Indonesia took advantage of the turmoil “back home” to take over East Timor (India had forcibly annexed Goa etcetera in 1961). Only Macao remained in Portuguese hands, until 1999, when mirrorring Hong Kong’s reversion in 1997, it was reintegrated into China. The Azores and Madeira, ethnically and geographically closest to the mother country, are still part of Portugal.

This map was sent in by Nuno D. Alves, who studied it in history class, when studying the pre-revolutionary dictatorship. “It is a propaganda map, suggesting that our country was important. Portugal’s orientation towards its colonies, away from Europe, “was used to justify the isolationism of the regime, and its neutrality in World War II (…) [The map] shows the Portuguese colonies that remained by that time superimposed on a map of Europe, going on to compare surface size with the main European countries. All in all very silly.”

you know what else is silly? (“what superboy?”). contemporary art. sometimes.

enjoying the primitive art of Europe

enjoying the primitive art of Europe

So how was my time in Lisboa? Foi ÓTIMO! Lisboa é uma cidade “feeeesh” (as they would say). It was unfortunate that my time there was so brief, but I know I will return, what with all my lusophone shenanigans.

And now I’m in South Africa. More on that later, eh?

Love from the Ethnographic Present,
Luz-do-Sol Superboy

This Ban(d) is Yr Land

Posted in art & music, maps & mapping, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2009 by Sunshine Superboy

Helloooo! I’m on the road! I’m in the skies! I’m in sweet home Chicago! You know, the purest most all-American city of all G_d’s creation. Its somewhere… oh here:
You know, somewhere barely Northwest of Miami, and south of Winnebago near Kaskaskia-ish. Sweet home Chicagoland!

Really though. Everyone has a boner for Bruce Springsteen all of a sudden, as if he’s been under Iraq a rock since the Born in the USA tour (psst- most americans have never paid any attention to the lyrics of that song and still don’t get it. It can be our secret. I suppose St.Peter told Ronald Regan all about it when he made his way to the pearly pearly. “oops” says Ronnie.) Its a tad irritating for myself and the other Boss-obsessed fanatics out there, especially those of us who didn’t quite catch the SuperBowl (I still don’t know who won, and I’ve got a standing bet going with some friends to see who can go the longest without finding out! Don’t frakking spoil it, guys!). Basically everyone is obsessed with Springsteen’s crotch all of a sudden (hello? there’s been a line with a 30-some-odd year wait over here), just cuz he, as always, revealed to the world what an amazing rocking out badass he is, and millions of people were actually paying attention this time.

Welcome to the glorious land of appreciating musical talent. Yay America! PS, this is the same guy who’s been plugging away (along with others) at resurrecting the political potency of Woody Guthrie and who thinks yr a bunch of imperialist, genocidal jerks. Three cheers for the Boss. Four cheers for his crotch!! And the rest of futbol-lovin’ america? I leave you with this blast from the past, I mean the present, I mean the ever-present legacy of what you think you’re entitled to (see above map) and the horse on which it rode in.

(Srsly though, I actually do love Chicago)

The world is yrs,
~Sunshine Superboy