Truth, Justice and the American Way

The Society gathered for the sixth time this semester to consider: Resolved: Superman is a better hero than Batman. Mr. Benjamin Mazzara (COL ’15) of Connecticut keynoted on the affirmation with, making his induction, Mr. Christopher Grocki (MSB ’17) of New York. Ms. Caroline Egan (COL ’15) of New York keynoted on the negation with, making his induction, Mr. Philip Ma (SFS ’17) of New York.

Mr. Grocki first defined heroism as the promotion of public good and justice according to three criteria: motives, methods and result. Retelling the heroes’ background stories, he contrasted Superman’s pure social obligation and Batman’s personal grudges as their driving motives. With a side note to roast the privileged, he then drew a line between Superman’s non-violent vision in curing crimes and Batman’s endless fighting in individual cases. What’s more, while Batman needs the Batman identity as a “surrogate to take out his rage,” Superman shows true altruism giving up a much-preferred ordinary life. Setting himself up as an example, Superman is the better hero who “[acts] with the right reason”.

Mr. Ma objected to this reductionist characterization of Batman as an avenger, pointing to his voluntary choice of “the most difficult and heroic path” when bereaved of his parents and tempted to kill. While the “immigrant” Superman inherits his power and belittles non-conformists, the “self-made” Batman proves the strength of humanity taking risks and overcoming fear. Dealing with criminals, Batman also exercises supreme self-restraint handing them to the justice system for rehabilitation, standing at the “pinnacle of nobility and humility.” As “humanity resolves its own inner turmoil,” Superman fights evil versions of himself, but Batman fights himself.

Forestalling a popularity contest or a bucket debate, Mr. Mazzara (in his unquestionable Superman gear) asked the question “What do heroes do for society?” According to him, true heroes like King or Gandhi inspire humanity to do things they otherwise would not do in a non-violent manner. Similarly, Superman purges the corruptness in all of us as an “ultimate pacifist,” reserving violence as the last resort. Not just willing to sacrifice himself fighting stronger enemies, he also builds infrastructure and cure cancer — we can ask no more than that from this “hick from Kansas living on reporter’s salaries.” The perfect and simple Superman, who inspires people to excel, is our ideal choice of protector.

But Ms. Egan saw more to the “God-like, not God” Superman who conveys good ole’ American values and the vengeful “Great Detective” Batman. Recognizing the world as flawed but changeable, Batman sought to advance human goods.  Though breakable, he “continues to fight every single day of his life” in his cowl alongside Wayne enterprise, and he never “doles out his own type of justice”. While Superman fights passively for retributive justice, the unrecognized Batman directs his anger to making something new.

Mr. Weiner conceded that Batman inspires fear as our “last line of defense.” But he pointed out that Superman, as a better role model, overcomes fear and assures us that “justice will not break you, but stop you”. Mr. Patrick Musgrave, however, found Superman violating Christian teaching by drawing attention to himself “flying around in the sun.” He preferred the Batman who “labors in shadows.” Calling Jesus Christ a superhero, President Whelan equates hero with hope. But “playing the villain,” Batman destroys hope. Forbidden to make those arguments reserved for playgrounds and Martin’s, Mr. Dinneen found it hard to compare the universal hero of the light and the Gotham hero of the darkness – he suggested abstention.

But Mr. Greco picked up the criterion of impact and defined Superman as a symbol of dignity who sees hope and fundamental goodness in humanity. We, as a community, need Superman to save us from “a sense of worthlessness.” Vice President Thanki immediately rebuked that Superman only has “faith in himself” when he does everything to protect humanity. But Batman, without immorality or invincibility as a human, harbors “hope in everyone who could be Batman.”  Mr. Jawad Pullin (COL ’18) then discounted everything Batman stands for because he is a “billionaire” with a financial interest in Gotham city. In contrast, Superman is the genuine hero who stands for “truth, justice and the American way.” “I am Batman. We are all Batman,” Ms. Sarah Griffin (SFS ’18) declared, because we are born not with supernatural powers, but with adversity and pain.

Reminding us of the different scales in two stories, Mr. Fletcher asserted that Batman inspires fear in everyone because he never communicates his self-given moral code to the public. In comparison, Superman showed his face as a public persona and an example to follow. But according to Mr. Kendrick, Superman “[struggles] against his power” while Batman exerts himself to the limit of his ability as an “ideal of self-actualization”. Seeking vengeance with a righteous anger, Batman teaches us that “evil is real” and that people are to be blamed for their crimes. Referencing Alexander the Great and Napoleon, Mr. Mouch reiterated inspiration as the most important force on earth. He could better envision Superman encouraging young Football players that “We are not superheroes but we aspire towards that.” Our NHS in residence, Mr. Wang credited Batman for both preventing and curing the society’s cancer from within, “immersing himself in the mud of humanity” instead of simply defending humanity.

Having exalted Batman in light of his childhood tragedy, human limits and worthy foes, Mr. Naft turned the table around, positing that “Superman doesn’t need a dead family member” to be a hero – he becomes a hero because “it is the right thing to do.” With the example of Macbeth, Ms. Coccia countered that we have to feel pain and lost before we can understand what it means to be a human. Having experienced the tempting dark side of humanity, Batman still chose to fight. So he understood the shared humanity in criminals when he told Joker “I could have been you,” and he fought within the system to reform them.

Flipping a coin, Mr. Perez-Reyes echoed the classic line “I believe in Harvey Dent,” claiming that “we cannot live on fear alone.” Despite Harvey Dent’s fell, his positive vision in changing the system by working from within remains intact. Mr. Wilson responded that Superman is no Harvey Dent because he rules absolute and unquestionable. Batman, in contrast, provides us with no vision and creates a space for the dirty work of politics and for us to be Harvey Dent. Mr. Edgar contested that Superman’s simplicity in beating up bad guys who are “obviously bad” is what makes him so great. While Batman derives his image from the complex and privileged Greek heroes, Superman represents simple values from his simple origin as an immigrant kid and son of farmers — he resembles our simple lives.

Ms. Christensen called this simplicity an idealized justice that downplays self-sacrifice because Superman’s unlimited strength makes him impossible to follow. Batman, however, advocates for a realistic justice, a choice between ourselves and others, when he does what must be done to protect those he loves. Mr. Schafer rebuked that while Batman is forced to overcome the temptation of chaos and pure evil, Superman is forced to overcome the temptation of Christ because “all will be [his] if [he] just takes it.”

Reclaiming the podium, Ms. Egan reminded us that the heroes in our lives are just like Batman: anonymous, breakable, fallible and challenged. Besides, Batman cannot smash as many building as Superman does – letting Metropolis crumble for truth, justice and the American way. We are not to forget about America’s urban community who have to learn the hard way about justice. (Though perhaps on Valentine’s Day, all is fair in Love and War.) Finally, Ms. Egan saw the optimism for a better world embodied in the Batman costume as Batman works in the shadows everyday he is alive to advance public good and justice.

Calm in the Superman way, Mr. Mazzara dismissed property damages as miniscule in comparison with the danger of absolute obliteration in Superman’s world. He also found Batman not relatable for those without a trust fund, a butler or a pair of parents murdered. Asserting that biology doesn’t change personality, he argued that Superman grows up on earth and understands humanity without imposing on anyone. What’s more, Superman faces the adversity of human emotions as he goes out to cure the world of cancer. Thus Mr. Mazzara urged us “not [to] make him an other to disservice him.”

Mr. Ma acutely pointed out that Superman is never tempted to conquer the world with his endless powers because “it is the lust for power that corrupts.” But as a flawed being, Batman inspires us to overcome the darkest periods of our lives and be better. Just as King and Ghandi, Batman fights against adversity and chooses the right path – thus lies his true heroism. Mr. Grocki contested that Superman, as the true hero, operates in his own system with his own cross to bear – his superpowers. Despite his paternal attitudes helping people correct their behaviors, Superman is not just patient but also “operating on a higher playing field.” He ended by asking the question “who I want to fight with?

The Society then voted to award Merrick points to the five most eloquent speakers that night:

  • Ms. Egan – 1 point
  • Mr. Mouch – 2 points
  • Mr. Mazzara – 3 points
  • Ms. Christensen – 4 points
  • Ms. Coccia – 5 points

And this brings the Merrick totals to:

  1. Ms. Coccia – 15 points
  2. Mr. Wilson  – 11 points
  3. Ms. Egan – 8 points
  4. Ms. Christensen – 7 points
  5. Mr. Dinneen – 5 points
  6. Mr. Edgar & Mr. Mazzara & Mr. Perez-Reyes – 3 points
  7. Mr. Patrick Musgrave & Mr. Mouch – 2 points
  8. Mr. Young – 1 point

With a vote of 38-2-25, this resolution is negated to the joy of Batman fans! But most importantly, we welcomed into the Society two excellent sophomores from the Empire State. Huzzah for a not-at-all-silly Superhero debate and another induction night!


Xinlan Hu

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