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                            Ursinus College
Digital Commons @ Ursinus College
	4-27-2015
It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's...Cultural Anxiety? Using Detective Comics' Three Biggest Heroes to Identify and Explore Cultural Anxieties as Depicted Through Television
	Jonathan Vander Lugt
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Ursinus College
Digital Commons @ Ursinus College

Media and Communication Studies Honors Papers Student Research

4-27-2015

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's...Cultural Anxiety? Using
Detective Comics' Three Biggest Heroes to Identify
and Explore Cultural Anxieties as Depicted
Through Television
Jonathan Vander Lugt
Ursinus College, [email protected]

Adviser: Tony Nadler

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Recommended Citation
Vander Lugt, Jonathan, "It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's...Cultural Anxiety? Using Detective Comics' Three Biggest Heroes to Identify and
Explore Cultural Anxieties as Depicted Through Television" (2015). Media and Communication Studies Honors Papers. 4.
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It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…cultural anxiety?

Using Detective Comics’ three biggest heroes to identify and explore cultural anxieties as

depicted through television









Submitted to the Faculty of Ursinus College in fulfillment of the requirements for Honors in the

Media and Communication Studies Department



Jon Vander Lugt



Adviser: Dr. Tony Nadler

April 27, 2015

Page 50

49



I touched on this toward the end of my discussion about Lana, and this is where some of

Jameson’s criticism about mass culture becomes relevant. Again, for Jameson, mass culture

exists as a way to spread an ideology via fantasy by speaking to cultural concerns without doing

so in a way that facilitates any legitimate cultural change. Here, that ideology would be stories

that depict a strong, rebuilding America, America as being culturally superior, and ones that

show women as victims. The fantasy is one that many can relate to—everyone, at some point,

had to go through the generally awkward time that is adolescence and it’s comforting to see that

even Superman had the same problems. America’s strongest hero went through teenage

heartbreak, puberty, and fought with his parents too.
10

It makes the solutions for national

concerns I mention in the paragraph above particularly easy to convey.

That’s not to say that Smallville is a wholly-negative television show, or even that the

creators intended to promote they myth of American superiority. Still, it’s important to keep in

mind what the show is telling us while we watch it. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the on-and-off

love story between Clark and Lana and lose sight of some of the broader things that the show has

to say. If nothing else, this chapter shows that even teenaged superhero soap operas can tell us

about what’s going on in the world around us—even if we have to use a little bit of x-ray vision

to find it.

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���������������������������������������� �������������������
1
In the DC Comics continuity, anyway. Stan Lee built an empire off of the teenaged struggles of Spider-Man for

Marvel Comics.
2
Save for fleeting scenes in Batman Begins.

3
There was actually a short-lived television series, The Adventures of Superboy, released in the 80s following the

conclusion of the line of Superman films starring Christopher Reeve. The show found lukewarm reception (hence

just four seasons) as it was basically Superman in costume fighting villains, but a bit younger.
4
I ended on an episode featuring the death of Clark’s father (as examining father-son relationships was one of the

original points of inquiry for this chapter). Jonathan’s death could easily be seen as a turning point in the series, both

for Clark as a person and for the overall plot of the show. This essay really only looks at the first half of a decade-

long series, so companion work looking at the final five or so seasons would suit it nicely.
5
Outside of super speed, strength, and general invulnerability; he appears to have been born with those skills.

6
How a spaceship, of all things, was not found less than a hundred feet off of a highway in the 13 years following

the meteor shower is beyond me, but the term “willing suspension of disbelief” exists for a reason, especially in a

show about a super-powered hormonal alien.
7
The parallels between Jesus Christ and Clark at various points in the show serve to support this.

8
The fact that the way she is best introduced as “Clark’s recurring love interest” is telling of her role in and of itself.

9
This is even referenced during an episode in season three. In an interesting turn on the one of the show’s typical

episode structures, Lana ends up saving Clark.
10

I’m sure that the generally very physically attractive cast played a large role in this as well.�

Page 100

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National Institute of Mental Health & U.S. Center for Mental Health Services (2001).

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returning-to-cartoon-network-s-schedule-but-there-s-a-catch.html

Schuster, M., Stein, B., Jaycox, L., Collins, R., Marshall, G., Elliott, M., . . . Berry, S. (2001). A

National Survey of Stress Reactions after the September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks. New

England Journal of Medicine, 345(20), 1507-1512.

Spigel, L. (2004). Entertainment Wars: Television Culture After 9/11. American Quarterly,56(2),

235-270.

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Winterbach, H. (2006). Heroes and superheroes: From myth to the American comic book. South

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