America as Superhero: Identity, Images, Ideals and Power



According to Daniel Boorstin, ‘ [i]t is only as short step from exaggerating what we can find in the world to exaggerating our power to remake the world. Expecting more novelty than there is, more greatness than there is, and more strangeness than there is, we imagine ourselves masters of a plastic universe. But a world we can shape to our will — or to our extravagant expectations — is a shapeless world.’1 The conviction in the essential malleability of the world is central to the image-centred perception of America’s relations with the outside world. If we think about America’s great comic superheroes, Batman and Superman, they conjure up a multiplicity of images that offer important symbolic and metaphoric power for an understanding of America’s identity vis-à-vis that world; a point not lost upon leaders of America’s promotional state at various moments in its peacetime and wartime history. We can construct a series of antonyms that appear to encapsulate a superhero personality: control and anarchy, legitimacy and illegitimacy, fantasy and reality, good and evil, light and dark, inside and outside, idealism and cynicism, private and public, temporally-fixed and temporally-transcendent.


Foreign Policy Vital Interest American Foreign Policy Covert Action Security Treaty 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Sharrett, Christopher, ‘Batman and the Twilight of the Idols: Al Interview with Frank Miller’ in Pearson, Roberta E. and Uricchio William (ed), The Many Lives of Batman: Critical Approaches to , Superhero and His Media, BFI Publishing, London, 1991, p.44.Google Scholar
  2. 11.
    Spanier, John, American Foreign Policy Since World War II, Holt Reinhart & Winston, New York, 1960, 10th edn. 1985, p.18.Google Scholar
  3. 13.
    Rogin, Michael, Ronald Reagan, The Movie and Other Episodes in Political Demonology, University of California Press, London, 1987, p. 237.Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    Nixon, Richard, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, Arrow, London, 1979, p. 140.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    Kennan, George, ‘Letter’ in New York Times (Magazine), 27 May, 1951, reprinted in Kennan, George, Memoirs 1950–1963, Hutchinson, London, 1973, p.200.Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    Campbell, David, Writing Security — United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity, Manchester University Press, 1992, p. 176.Google Scholar
  7. 21.
    Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam : A History, Penguin, NY, 1985 edn., p.250.Google Scholar
  8. 22.
    The phrase comes from Herman, Edward S. and Chomsky, Noam, Manufacturing Consent, (Pantheon, 1988), Vintage edn., London, 1994.Google Scholar
  9. 23.
    Schlesinger, Arthur, A Thousand Days— John F. Kennedy in the White House, Andre Deutsch, London, 1965, p.86.Google Scholar
  10. 30.
    The Times, London, 20 November 1997, p. 17; Hersh, Seymour M., The Dark Side of Camelot, Little, Brown, New York, 1997.Google Scholar
  11. 31.
    Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam: A History, (1983), Penguin edn., Harmondsworth, 1984, p.527.Google Scholar
  12. 32.
    Fulbright, J. William, The Arrogance of Power, Penguin, NY, 1966, p.20; p. 28; p. 31.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    Safire, William, Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House, Belmont Tower, New York, 1975, p.8.Google Scholar
  14. 36.
    Kissinger, Henry, The White House Years, Weidenfeld& Nicolson & Michael Joseph, London, 1979, pp.56–57.Google Scholar
  15. 43.
    President Jimmy Carter, Address on Foreign Affairs, University of Notre Dame, May 1977 quoted in Carter, Jimmy, Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President, Bantam, NY, 1982, p. 141.Google Scholar
  16. 44.
    Oye, K.A., Rothchild, D., Lieber R.J., (eds), Eagle Entangled: US Foreign Policy in a Complex World, Longman, NY, 1979, p. 21.Google Scholar
  17. 46.
    Quote in Poderetz, Norman, The Present Danger, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1980, p.46.Google Scholar
  18. 47.
    Ulam, Adam, Dangerous Relations : The Soviet Union in World Politics, 1970–1982, OUP, NY, 1983, p. 166.Google Scholar
  19. 48.
    Kreisberg, Paul H. (ed), American Hostages in Iran: The Conduct of a Crisis, CFR/Yale University Press, New Haven, 1985.Google Scholar
  20. 50.
    Shain, Yossi, ‘The Foreign Policy Role of US Diasporas and Its Domestic Consequences’ in Davies, Philip John (ed), Representing and Imagining America, Keele University Press, 1996, p. 107.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Neil Renwick 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Asia-Pacific StudiesThe Nottingham Trent UniversityUK

Personalised recommendations