When verisimilitude governs everything, including the actions of government, truth yields to legend, and liberty dies in daylight. Welcome, in other words, to the world of the shirtless Viking in face paint, the doctor in drag, and the president in a black face mask. Of the three, the Viking sounds the least dyslexic and looks the most authentic. That this is how we live now, in a purgatory of cosplayers and clowns, is reason to believe “Superman: The Movie” is a documentary and the news is a series of docudramas.
Consider the anatomy of a scene in which fugitives sack the capital and seize the White House, breaking the pillars of the West Wing like the bones of an eagle’s wing until the flag falls and the president surrenders. The conqueror defeats a section of Marines, a squad of police officers, and a score of Secret Service agents. The conqueror is a general with a British accent, heir to the Burning of Washington and the looting of the Capitol. The conqueror is not only a seditious alien, but an alien—a humanoid—from an extinct planet. The conqueror is General Zod.
That this scene from “Superman II” looks more credible than footage from the storming of the Capitol suggests our world is now home to Bizarro and the enemies of truth, justice, and the American way. That the man whose job it is to aerate the word balloons of our national story is Ta-Nehisi Coates is ironic and just all together, because his idea of America is a repudiation of the ideals of America. His job is to write the screenplay for a black Superman.
The time is right—now is the time—to write the next chapter about a tribune of light and a testament of hope. Time may, however, be too complex for Coates to fix, given the laws of physics and the speed of light. By the time Superman’s birth parents receive the light, by the time they see the light, they may choose to die with their son rather than send him to a planet where his first name would be a slur, his middle name a slight, and his last name a snub. The light would show Earth in the time of slavery, from the First Dynasty of Babylon to the Cotton Kingdom of the American South.
The light would also reveal the problem of identity, of the struggle between secrecy as a matter of choice and invisibility as a fact of life. The bigger problem would be understanding—trying to understand how a black man from Kansas could afford to live on a reporter’s salary.
The hardest thing to understand would be a fictional broadsheet, the Daily Planet, where investigative journalism thrives and freelancers do not exist. The newsroom would be a union of wordsmiths, where typeballs resound with the pitch of metal, phones beat to the sound of metal, and the beat—the sound of reporters plying their trade—triggers calls for a round of drinks.
As the paper goes to print, tyranny resumes in silence.
The tyranny of reality emits electromagnetic waves of hate, canceling 7 billion voices with 8 billion screens. Life fades in a fireball of artificial light.