On 4/21/06 I received the following e-mail:
I get your newsletter and have written you several emails. I thought I'd tell you about a vintage Superman cartoon I just saw on the net which had a storyline that disturbed me, and which I thought you would also find disturbing.
It starts with a Native American man arriving at City Hall to make the point that Manhattan island was stolen from, and thus was owed to the Native American people. The people he makes this announcement to say they are not sure this is the correct way of thinking about it, but the Native American man leaves determined to do something about it. The people he talks to comment that they are a bit shocked.
(You have to remember this is the 1930's so it's a bit dated, but still disturbingly similar to present-day reactions, I think).
So the Native American man proceeds to be cast as a villain who has a secret machine which he uses to initiate earthquakes that will level the city so that he can start it anew under Native American leadership. But of course Superman stops him before it's too late. The last scene is Clark Kent on a ferry with Lois Lane saying how great it is that Manhattan is "back to normal" again. It's called "Electric Earthquake" if you're interested in checking it out.
I heard that the concept of Superman is based on the Wagnerian/Nietschian concept of the Aryan protypical "Ubermann" which was an idea implicit in the Nazi propaganda, and I saw the cartoon as communicating a similar, although not as simister, message. What do you think?
Take care, Laura
>> I thought I'd tell you about a vintage Superman cartoon I just saw on the net which had a storyline that disturbed me, and which I thought you would also find disturbing. <<
Interesting. I recently saw several of those vintage Superman cartoons on DVD, but not this particular one. They were pretty good overall, especially considering how old they were.
>> So the Native American man proceeds to be cast as a villain who has a secret machine which he uses to initiate earthquakes that will level the city so that he can start it anew under Native American leadership. <<
I don't mind if Natives are occasionally the villain. In reality, not all Indians are wise or moral or sane. But this was probably the only Native to appear in these cartoons, so it's a shame he was atypical rather than typical.
>> I heard that the concept of Superman is based on the Wagnerian/Nietschian concept of the Aryan protypical "Ubermann" which was an idea implicit in the Nazi propaganda, and I saw the cartoon as communicating a similar, although not as simister, message. What do you think? <<
I agree. Superman rarely lifts a finger to help Indians or minorities or Third World people. He protects the property and lifestyle of rich white Americans, but only saves poor people from floods or earthquakes. For more on this point, see:Adolf Hitler: A True American Giving Up PEACE ON EARTH
The discussion continues (4/24/06)....
Actually, there was supposedly another vintage Superman cartoon that did not portray Native Americans as villainous. Perhaps you could find it.
Also, a point I was making was that, in a sense, the "villain" here was not so much of a villain, in that he was making a rather good point about how Manhattan was deceptively stolen from the Natives, that they had a right to be upset. I was pointing out how the story seemed to be twisting this whole thing around to make us focus on the wrongdoing of the Native, rather than on his original point of the wrongdoing of the colonists. I.E., at the end, Clark Kent says "Isn't it great that things are back to normal?" (thus perpetuating idea of normalcy as domination by non-native culture).
Right. The Indian's motives were good, but his plan wasn't the best way of achieving his goal. Especially not with Superman around. <g>
Judge for yourself
Here's some more info on the cartoon. First, the basics. Note that you can view and download the cartoon from this site:
Superman: Electric Earthquake (1942)
A mad scientist attempts to blow up Manhattan. Lois Lane investigates and Superman saves the day. Animation by Steve Muffati and Arnold Gillespie, story by Seymour Kneitel and Isadore Sparber, music by Sammy Timberg. Produced in 1942.
Director: Dave Fleischer
Producer: Max Fleischer
Production Company: Paramount Pictures, Action Comics & Superman Magazine
Two reviews posted on the site:
Reviewer: George_Kaplan — 5 out of 5 stars — September 29, 2005
Subject: Best of these Fleischer Superman cartoons
This is for my money the most entertaining of these old Superman cartoons. Really fascinating because of its Native American villain, who terrorizes Manhattan (not yet Metropolis) in order to get the land back for "my people." The white folks at the Daily Planet call his belated desire to decolonize Manhattan "fantastic" and "ridiculous." By having us side with Superman, flying white guy from another planet, as he defeats this villain, the cartoon reaffirms & naturalizes the "right" of white Americans to possess land appropriated from Native Americans by previous generations of white Americans. Interesting stuff.
Reviewer: Gman — 5 out of 5 stars — July 25, 2005
Subject: An Alien Vs. The Indigneous
What I like about these Fleischer Supermans is that he is animated as a super man. There's a real feeling of weight and strain behind each feat. Objects do not "feel" like styrofoam as in some recent CGed super hero live action films. I would say these are greatest film incarnation of the character, in my humble opinion. All deserve 5 stars.
What is interesting to note about this one specifically is that the antagonist, while a Native American, is not the Hollywood stereotype nor a Tonto-like "noble savage". He's evil but he's a genius....he's an evil genius...on par with a Lex Luthor or Joker. Perhaps a backhanded progress but nevertheless progress for Hollywood (Yes, I know it was made in Miami).
Gee..all he wanted was Manhattan...he has a point...wasn't like he was trying to take over the world. ;)
My comments after viewing the cartoon:
The unnamed villain wears a business suit and a scientist's uniform, but his face, hair, and voice all imply he's an Indian. Yet nothing is said about this. After the man makes his demands at the Daily Planet, the cartoon becomes a pure thriller with no psychological or cultural motivations.
He has an impressive underwater headquarters. But if he had that much money, why not buy back (part of) Manhattan? Or open a newspaper and print the truth himself? With his electricity-generating machine, he could've sold power to Con Ed and made a fortune.
He's clearly a brilliant scientist, but also a ruthless psychopath. His electric earthquakes" may have killed hundreds or thousands (we see buildings breaking apart), and he thinks nothing of letting Lois drown or dropping dynamite on her.
The whole scenario is absurd if you think about it. He must've spent years building his underwater facility. Then he spent 20 seconds at the Daily Planet ordering them to print his demands. What if they had said yes? "Gee, I didn't expect that. Thanks...I'll dismantle my multimillion-dollar earthquake generator now"?
Nevertheless, his plan might've worked if not for Superman. But what did he think Superman would do when he saw his city tumbling down? Ignore the problem? Attacking Manhattan without a contingency plan to deal with Superman was pure folly.
In short, this villain is an odd mix of mad scientist and savage Indian. On the one hand, he seems ignorant of journalism, politics, and superheroics—as if he'd been transplanted from pre-Columbian times. On the other hand, he's a scientific genius whose inventions rival those of Lex Luthor. The cartoon is simultaneously progressive (first Indian scientist? First Indian in a suit?) and regressive (an Indian so evil he'd destroy a city of several million to get revenge).
Unlike the above reviewers, I'd give this cartoon about a 7.0 of 10 (maybe three stars out of five). The animation was lovely, the Indian threat was curious, but the plot was unbelievable even by cartoon standards.
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