BROOKE GLADSTONE: Oh my, whatever happened to the unambiguous beacon of truth that was once the daily paper? It never was, that’s what, not in reality and not even in the imagination. Consider Clark Kent, that mild-mannered moonlighting reporter for The Daily Planet. He regularly covers a public figure with whom he has an intimacy that constitutes a massive conflict of interest. In the latest issue of the Superman comic books, Clark quits his job as a reporter for The Daily Planet and the writers say he’ll become a blogger. Larry Tye is the author of Superman: The High Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero. Welcome back to the show,Larry.
LARRY TYE: Great to be back with you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So this isn’t the first time that Superman quit The Daily Planet, is it?
LARRY TYE: It’s actually the third time that he quit and each time he did it with a flair. In the 1970s, when TV looked like it could displace our daily newspaper, Superman quit and went to work at a company that had bought The Daily Planet called Galaxy Broadcasting. Twenty years later, he did it again, only this time his arch enemy Lex Luthor decided the way to shut up Clark Kent was to buy his newspaper. He fired Superman, and he was out on the street. And now this time, he does it saying that daily journalism had changed. Facts had been replaced by opinions, information was being replaced by entertainment, reporters, he said, had become stenographers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And he goes on, “I am not the only one who believes in the power of the press, the fact that we need to stand up for truth, for justice and yeah, I’m not ashamed to say, the American way.” And then he tries to lead a mutiny, but only one reporter, a very sexy-looking fashion writer, follows him out the door.
LARRY TYE: Yes, very sad.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] You say that reporting is just about the perfect job for an alien from another planet who wants to understand human behavior.
LARRY TYE: It was the perfect outlet, I think, for them to try to humanize your superhero. Superman differed from Batman and Spiderman in one critical way. While with them the real characters were Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker, with Superman the real character was this alien from outer space. And what better way to humanize this human part of him than to have him out there in the street with humanity, watching when people were being beaten up, watching when anything was happening that was newsworthy?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But he wasn’t that great of a reporter, to begin with, was he?
LARRY TYE: He was actually a miserable reporter, to begin with, being beat on every story by Lois Lane. And that was an inspiration to young women who were coming up in journalism, and it was pretty sad if Clark Kent was your role model.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Someone on Twitter named Tom Spurgeon, who runs the website Comicsreporter.com, wrote a tweet that said, quote, “Clark Kent should take really well to blogging, considering he writes mostly about himself without fully disclosing the fact.”
I mean –
LARRY TYE: Ah, I love it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - it’s a good point. I mean, does he really have the moral high ground here?
LARRY TYE: If all he’s gonna do is report on Superman's exploits he can do it as a blogger, and it's the perfect form for him to do it. But if he’s gonna be the reporter that he’s been, then he’s got to do more than sit at his computer as a blogger.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do you mean by that?
LARRY TYE: He didn't just sit at his desk at the paper. He was on the scene, so that Superman could be on the scene. And I hope Clark Kent continues to do that and realize that that's one of the things that’s made him fun and made him a role model for reporters like me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Seriously? [LAUGHS]
Next year is Superman's 75th anniversary. Should we see his rejection of the print medium as a trope in the next movie?
LARRY TYE: Warner Bros. will be releasing next June, the month of Superman's 75th birthday, a movie called “The Man of Steel,” and I think they may be trying to figure out just what role as a reporter Superman ought to be playing. And depending on the reaction to this leaving The Daily Planet, they may decide, based on that, just where to position Clark Kent in terms of his work in the movie.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What's your favorite Superman theme?
LARRY TYE: So my favorite musical theme was the one that John Williams wrote for the Christopher Reeve 1978 “Superman, the Movie.”
I thought it was brilliant.
Do you remember that one?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yes, I do.
LARRY TYE: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Although I’ve found that one that really kept babies from crying was the TV theme [HUMMING] Doo-da-doot, da-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-da-da-doo-doo, da-doot-da-doot-da-doot.
LARRY TYE: You remember the show.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Absolutely.
LARRY TYE: I was an enormous fan of George Reeves. I loved when the crooks would fire the gun at him and bullets would bounce off of him, and then they’d get frustrated and they’d throw the gun at him, and he would duck!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Larry, thanks again.
LARRY TYE: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Larry Tye is the author of Superman: The High Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero.