Can Superman Comics Be Used to Predict Elections?
It’s taken for granted that the artifacts of our culture are barometers for the zeitgeist, but just how true is it? Are Superman’s portrayals in the comics indicative of changing national attitudes towards power, criminality, and patriotism? Is Superman’s popularity as a character directly correspondent with social conservatism, or a liberal foreign policy?
Superman, as a character, has been published in one comic book form or another continuously since his first appearance in Action Comics #1 in 1938 — that is an appearance of at least once a month, often more (if we include appearances in comics like Superboy and Justice League of America). If the character of Superman really CAN be used as a cultural barometer, then his regular appearances over the last seventy-four years ought to provide a highly granular examination into the vagaries of American culture.
My proposal then, is this: my team will look at every piece of Superman-related media published since 1938. Superman’s appearance will be cataloged according to two demographic dimension: Time (broken down by month) and Range (comic book sales as a percentage of the reading population of the United States; where possible, a city-by-city comparison will also be considered), and the following FOUR Character Indices:
The Power Index (An aggregate index combining the power of Superman’s obstacles [ranging from "man with a gun" to "omnipotent space monster"] and the powers Superman uses to stop them [from "punching" to "super-ventroliquism" to "turning the earth backwards on its axis"]
The Isolationist Index (An index evaluating the scope of Superman’s adversaries according to the threat they represent: local, American, global; this index will be further affected by Superman’s espoused attitudes towards patriotism [i.e., "Truth, Justice, and the American Way," as opposed to "I am a citizen of the world."]
The Reformation Index (An index indicating Superman’s either avowed or implicit attitudes to his treatment of villains: from the implicit requirement that a villain must necessarily be destroyed, to one which implies that time in prison will be necessary but ineffective, to one which implies that time in prison will reform a villain, to one which causes Superman to successfully undertake reformation himself)
The Multicultural Index (An index indicating Superman’s treatment of the depth of character of supposed villains, with “born bad” on one side to “misunderstood and requiring help” on the other).
These six dimensions will be coordinated in a “constellation graph”, a three-dimensional space in which Time and Range are represented by the X & Y axes, the Power Index is represented by the Z axis, and the Isolationist, Reformation, and Multicultural Indices are represented by C, M, and Y color values ranging from 0 to 100. The color values will yield a “Black” portrayal of Superman as wholly Isolationist, Cynical, and Closed-minded, and a “White” portrayal of Superman as Global, Optimistic, and Open-Minded. Since the combinations of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow all yield unique color combinations, a variety of different scales can be expressed simultaneously.
Finally, data will be collected from Federal elections, collected on a per-year basis: Representatives, Senators, and the Presidency. Candidates will be rated on an index of “Conservative” to “Liberal” on three separate scales: Social Issues, Economic Issues, and Foreign Policy Issues, rather than simply “Republican” or “Democrat” (this is to control for shifting attitudes towards individual policies). These indices can be plotted in the constellation, to see whether or not Superman’s popularity, and attitudes towards his powers and character, has an predictive value in determining the outcome of elections.
For this proposal to work, I will need $100,000 and access to DC / Time Warner’s entire media archive, thank you.