Can Superman Comics Be Used to Predict Elections?

Posted: May 11, 2012 in Braak, comic books, Politics
Tags: , , ,

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.

  1. Jeff Holland says:

    And how will your project accommodate those months where a World’s Finest-type comic was also being published?

    Margin of error: +/- 1 Batman?

  2. braak says:

    I don’t see a problem counting that as a Superman comic. The fact that some months will have a range of multiple titles will really just serve as an additional metric.

  3. Carl says:

    Yeah, ha ha and all, but guess what asshole? DO THIS RESEARCH, discover a quantifiable correlation, analyze the implications of that correlation, and submit it to a scholarly journal of Sociology? You might find yourself making a pretty penny to lecture about the comics for the rest of your life.

  4. braak says:

    I will do the research. I just need a grant so I can spend the next two years of my life reading Superman comics.

  5. braak says:

    Also, man, what is up with the name-calling?

  6. Carl says:

    Yeah, I’m saying: apply for some grants. Pop-academics is all the rage, right? Like those porn classes that are proliferating at colleges and universities on the west coast or how the number of courses offered in Tolkien quintupled during the years that the movies were out. This is the sweet spot of the golden age of Superhero movies; exploit that shit.

    And oh, the swearing. Isn’t that how fellas talk when they’re being, you know, combative and affirming for masculine dramatic effect? I just assumed that’s what fellas do. Look asshole, you had a brother growing up, you tell me how do it!

  7. braak says:

    I think “sucker” is the appropriate term, here. “Asshole” kind of just makes me feel bad.

  8. Carl says:

    Yes, of course, and it’s common TQP variant (though the appropriate circumstances that necessitate the substitution elude me) “punk sucker.” Dually noted. MAN, I can be such a sucker sometimes.

  9. braak says:

    After I do the Superman study, I will do a study about the appropriate circumstances in which to qualify “suckers” with “punk.”

  10. braak says:

    Also wait, are you crazy? I don’t want to spend two years indexing Superman comics.

  11. Carl says:

    You don’t want to spend two excruciating years of your life examining some minute detail of a subject you love with such exactitude that whatever affection you once had for it is utterly destroyed, making you an expert on a topic you can no longer stand? Psh, you’re no academic.

  12. braak says:

    Yeah, I don’t think there’s any real question about that.

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