Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Bisexual Superman: Woke America’s Hero

America is undergoing a very different Cultural Revolution than China's new conservative one
Screen Shot 2021-10-11 at 11.17.47 AM

At this point, they’re just trolling me:

The comic book industry has worked to increase LGBTQ+ representation in recent years, and DC is taking a major step forward in 2021. IGN can exclusively reveal that the current Superman, Jon Kent, is coming out as bisexual in the upcoming Superman: Son of Kal-El #5.

For those not up to date on the current DC line, Jon officially inherited the mantle of Superman from his father following the events of the Future State crossover. While Action Comics explores Clark Kent’s adventures off-world, the recently launched Superman: Son of Kal-El focuses on the 17-year-old Jon as he grapples with the biggest responsibility of his young life. But at least he has someone new to share that life with.

Fans of the series probably won’t be surprised to learn Jon is entering into a relationship with Jay Nakamura, a hacktivist who idolizes Jon’s mother Lois and has already lent his new friend a helping hand. And as this image [above] shows, the two friends will become something more when they share their first kiss in issue #5.

Remember this summer, when Robin (of “Batman” fame) came out as bisexual? 

Who asked for this? Who asked for superheroes to have sex lives, or gay sex lives? What does it mean that the ideological colonization of the superhero genre, the modern mythology of our times, means that transgressive sexual desire is now a definitive characteristic of our pop culture god figures? Like it or not, Superman’s identity has been bound up with America’s for coming up on century. From a 2013 USA Today story about Superman’s 75th anniversary:

“I’m from Kansas. It’s about as American as it gets.”

Superman (Henry Cavill) tells a couple of confrontational soldiers about his Midwestern upbringing — by way of the doomed planet Krypton — in director Zack Snyder’s new Man of Steel (opening wide Friday). He’s also giving moviegoers a little history lesson on the fact that he’s been arguably this country’s most iconic superhero for the past 75 years.

“For me, he’s that perfect mix of Americana,” Snyder says. “I really tried to do The Right Stuff-meets-Norman Rockwell with a strong dose of angst and ‘who am I and where do I belong?’ “

Searching for identity is a very human concept, for sure. But what makes Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent the ultimate American hero is that he has reflected our culture and society, ever since his first appearance in DC Comics’ Action Comics No. 1, cover-dated June 1938. And his crash-landing in a cornfield as a baby and being raised by two Kansas farmers is, in a way, the story of the American immigrant.

In American popular culture, Superman is the ultimate bearer of heroic virtue. Now that virtue includes sexual desire for a man. For better or for worse, that’s what America is in 2021.

With that in mind, you have to read this great N.S. Lyons piece about the most influential person you’ve never heard of: Wang Huning, the intellectual guru behind the last three Chinese presidents, including the mighty Xi Jinping. Lyons says that Wang is behind Xi’s current moralist crackdown. Check this out:

Also in 1988, Wang—having risen with unprecedented speed to become Fudan’s youngest full professor at age 30—won a coveted scholarship (facilitated by the American Political Science Association) to spend six months in the United States as a visiting scholar. Profoundly curious about America, Wang took full advantage, wandering about the country like a sort of latter-day Chinese Alexis de Tocqueville, visiting more than 30 cities and nearly 20 universities.

What he found deeply disturbed him, permanently shifting his view of the West and the consequences of its ideas.

Wang recorded his observations in a memoir that would become his most famous work: the 1991 book America Against America. In it, he marvels at homeless encampments in the streets of Washington DC, out-of-control drug crime in poor black neighborhoods in New York and San Francisco, and corporations that seemed to have fused themselves to and taken over responsibilities of government. Eventually, he concludes that America faces an “unstoppable undercurrent of crisis” produced by its societal contradictions, including between rich and poor, white and black, democratic and oligarchic power, egalitarianism and class privilege, individual rights and collective responsibilities, cultural traditions and the solvent of liquid modernity.

But while Americans can, he says, perceive that they are faced with “intricate social and cultural problems,” they “tend to think of them as scientific and technological problems” to be solved separately. This gets them nowhere, he argues, because their problems are in fact all inextricably interlinked and have the same root cause: a radical, nihilistic individualism at the heart of modern American liberalism.

“The real cell of society in the United States is the individual,” he finds. This is so because the cell most foundational (per Aristotle) to society, “the family, has disintegrated.” Meanwhile, in the American system, “everything has a dual nature, and the glamour of high commodification abounds. Human flesh, sex, knowledge, politics, power, and law can all become the target of commodification.” This “commodification, in many ways, corrupts society and leads to a number of serious social problems.” In the end, “the American economic system has created human loneliness” as its foremost product, along with spectacular inequality. As a result, “nihilism has become the American way, which is a fatal shock to cultural development and the American spirit.”

Moreover, he says that the “American spirit is facing serious challenges” from new ideational competitors. Reflecting on the universities he visited and quoting approvingly from Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, he notes a growing tension between Enlightenment liberal rationalism and a “younger generation [that] is ignorant of traditional Western values” and actively rejects its cultural inheritance. “If the value system collapses,” he wonders, “how can the social system be sustained?”

Ultimately, he argues, when faced with critical social issues like drug addiction, America’s atomized, deracinated, and dispirited society has found itself with “an insurmountable problem” because it no longer has any coherent conceptual grounds from which to mount any resistance.

Once idealistic about America, at the start of 1989 the young Wang returned to China and, promoted to Dean of Fudan’s International Politics Department, became a leading opponent of liberalization.

Lyons writes that today, when Chinese people look to the United States, they don’t see a beacon of hope, but rather what Wang saw on his visit: a decadent society that appears to lack the means to reverse its own decline. Here’s the thing — and what really makes Lyons’s essay worth reading: China’s rapid wealth gain has brought to it many of the same problems that Wang saw in America:

So while Americans have today given up the old dream of liberalizing China, they should maybe look a little closer. It’s true that China never remotely liberalized—if you consider liberalism to be all about democratic elections, a free press, and respect for human rights. But many political thinkers would argue there is more to a comprehensive definition of modern liberalism than that. Instead, they would identify liberalism’s essential telos as being the liberation of the individual from all limiting ties of place, tradition, religion, associations, and relationships, along with all the material limits of nature, in pursuit of the radical autonomy of the modern “consumer.”

From this perspective, China has been thoroughly liberalized, and the picture of what’s happening to Chinese society begins to look far more like Wang’s nightmare of a liberal culture consumed by nihilistic individualism and commodification.

Lyons reports that Wang has prevailed upon Xi Jinping to crack down on China’s cultural liberalism. Hence:

And it’s why celebrities like Zhao Wei have been disappearing, why Chinese minors have been banned from playing the “spiritual opium” of video games for more than three hours per week, why LGBT groups have been scrubbed from the internet, and why abortion restrictions have been significantly tightened. As one nationalist article promoted across state media explained, if the liberal West’s “tittytainment strategy” is allowed to succeed in causing China’s “young generation lose their toughness and virility then we will fall…just like the Soviet Union did.” The purpose of Xi’s “profound transformation” is to ensure that “the cultural market will no longer be a paradise for sissy stars, and news and public opinion will no longer be in a position of worshipping Western culture.”

“Tittytainment strategy.” Um, wow.

Read it all. 

Some critics in China are likening the new campaign to the return of the Cultural Revolution. Wokeness in America as hegemonic left-wing illiberalism is our own Cultural Revolution. It is surely very, very significant that the two most powerful nations in the world are undergoing opposite top-down cultural revolutions simultaneously.

Harvard sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman’s classic work Family And Civilization said that the collapse of the Greek and the Roman empires had to do with the collapse of the social forces that formed families. In the book, Zimmerman said that rampant divorce and homosexuality are not causes of those empires’ collapse, but rather symptoms of the loss of a sense of family as core to civilization’s purpose. When a civilization stops giving birth to its future, and ceases to understand why it’s important to do so, it’s in trouble. This is a global crisis of the industrialized world, the collapse in fertility. It seems that Xi and leaders like Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban — all three leading countries in demographic crisis — are fighting back in part by banning materials urging queerness on children and minors. It is understandable that they would want to stand against propaganda that advocates the practical collapse of family-formation schemes, and to some extent, I don’t blame them. But reading Lyons’s essay, in light of Zimmerman’s analysis, makes me suspect that these leaders are treating symptoms as the disease.

Intuitively, the question seems to me to be this: Can societies without religion reproduce themselves over the long run? 




Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now