The Death of Printed Press Could Spell Trouble for Superman

It is no secret that printed media has slowly been dying for the past few years; a slow and progressive death in a conflict of textile fulfillment and information efficiency. The ramifications of this digital conversion of our collective medias has been discussed ad nauseum in the hopes of figuring out how our culture will inevitably evolve on a sociological standpoint.  The printed news has been overlooked in favor of websites and blogs. Books and comics are delineated to an e-reader friendly format. All these changes to how we interact with our textile media can be analyzed and deconstructed, but has anyone thought about how these changes affect how we perceive one of the most iconic figures in comics?

With the changing of printed news to digital format we could one day see a shift in how the world views Superman and it is all because of Clark Kent.

We all know the story of the news reporter from Smallville, Kansas who is secretly the world’s greatest hero.  We know how he had a desire for journalism when he was young because it was a means to fight for justice with one’s words. Even when Clark moved to Metropolis he utilized the affectations of old news journalism to gather information (when he wasn’t using his powers to gain a slight edge). In All Star Superman it was even noted that Clark prefers to write with pen and pad in shorthand, effectively making him an analog individual adapting to an increasing technological community. So why would the conversion to digital media reflect on Superman and Clark?

Because how we react to and influence various forms of media reflects on who we are. We react to the content in media. We react to the forms of media we prefer. We react to how we create media. The evolution of humanity’s interaction with different medias has reflected onto how society reacts to the idea of Superman in such profound ways that it is one of the major reasons why so much of modern culture either loves or loathes him in comparison to his former popularity.

Now, most would probably think that the digital conversion of comics would be what affects how people would view Superman the most. After all, Superman is a comic character and if the medium he is portrayed in changes shouldn’t our means of interacting with his stories and also our perceptions? In theory that is true, but Superman would still be effectively the same individual he has always been at his core because Clark wouldn’t have to change to be portrayed in a digital format.

What we know of traditional journalism is the idea of a collection of reporters within the same building, competing and collaborating on various articles to provide the news in a timely manner to the populace on a daily basis. We have a sense of community and camaraderie with that environment, which reflects well on Superman through merit of Clark’s interaction with these people. We get a sense that he is trying to connect with the world as he investigates it. It isn’t about being just Superman but understanding the people whom he may have felt himself grow distant from upon realizing his powers. He gets to be around the people in the office and make friends and research through analogous means in traditional journalism.

With the current blogosphere-centric news reporting, however, we do not need our reporters to connect. They do not need to move from their homes. They have all their resources available through some digital medium that increases efficiency but takes away from that personal connection reporters would have to one another. While the effects this would have on our perceptions of Clark and Superman would be minimum at this point in time we would need to consider how we might perceive him in the future. We know Clark is trained in the traditional means of journalism and like other reporters is having to adapt.  In the future, as his personal history slides further down the time line, we may think of Clark as someone who has always been trained in this new brand of journalism and would alienate himself from the world without intending to. He would simply be alienated simply through the merit of how his job operates. How do you think that would affect Superman? He has a Fortress of Solitude for his thoughts, but wouldn’t that become redundant if the entirety of the world was a Fortress of Solitude because he knew the world as an isolated thing. The only human interaction he would conceivably have would be in his rural environment growing up, but Metropolis is still the home we associate with him and look at as the molding ground for his adult personality while Smallville is where he formed the core of his morals and beliefs.

Personally, I am simply curious to see how things will progress. I know that when Clark was first introduced he was popular and began the era of super-hero comics as we know them today. When television came around and changed the transference of information, we would see the progressive rise and then fall of Superman’s popularity over time as the material on television grew and printed news became slightly more obsolete. As the internet has made the news more obsolete, even through the sake of having individuals becoming journalists without any credentials, we see a rampant cynicism towards Superman that I am not sure will go away for a while. It is difficult, after all, to change a character whose history is in analogue while we transition to a digital age. That is why I am curious, because the death of printed media will be the first sign of things to change for the Man of Tomorrow, as he will either need to evolve into something we might not recognize  or remain a man caught in the past.

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Chance Thulin is a Missouri State University graduate of English marching on the forefronts of pop culture. He writes in hopes to spread the meanings and interpretations of comic books, graphic novels, and film to the masses. He is a dedicated fan of good fiction, and subscribes to both unconventional and profound writers such as Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. For several years, Chance Thulin has trained his analytical eye towards the mountains of material published by the market powerhouses, Marvel and DC, soldiering through while appreciating diamonds in the rough as well as the more prominent names in the industry. And he really really really likes Superman.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael Egan says:

    Maybe I’m simplifying this too much… The comic shop owners that I talk to tell me that Superman readership has been declining for years. I would attribute this to the changing interest in the larger society for a nostalgic view of the 50s and nostalgia in general.

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