Commonplace
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Publick Occurrences 2.0

January 18, 2009

Power and Responsibility: What Barack Obama Learned from Peter Parker

Filed under: Obama Administration,Political culture,Popular culture,Presidency — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 11:48 pm

We’re all aware that this is a huge moment in the social history of the presidency — first African-American president, first president born after 1960, etc. — but it’s also an interesting moment in the cultural history of the presidency. Doubtless most readers have seen the publicity about Barack Obama’s appearance in the current issue of Amazing Spider-Man, which Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada described as a “shout-out back” to a president-elect who was outed as a former comic collector some time ago. [Read some of the key panels here.] What we didn’t know was that the idiom of the comics our generation (“X ” or Jones or whatever) grew up with had become part of his political language. Actually, I suspected as much, but today we have proof.

My wife noticed the following in what was billed as Obama’s inauguration letter to his daughters, published in this morning’s Sunday newspaper supplement, Parade Magazine.

“I want every child to understand that the blessings these brave Americans fight for are not free-that with the great privilege of being a citizen of this nation comes great responsibility.”

This is a paraphrase of Spider-Man’s motto — “With great power comes great responsbility” first presented in Spidey’s origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15 [see below] and repeated frequently thereafter. It was the guiding philosophy not only for Peter, who gave up his career to stay home and help, er, organize his community, but for the whole Marvel superhero line.  Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, the X-Men and the rest regularly fought right-wing demagogues, racists, neo-Nazis, war profiteers, and colonialists along with the Green Goblin and Doctor Doom, who come to think of it were good enemies for a liberal hero, too, an irresponsible businessman and an unreconstructed monarchist, respectively.

Sure that “responsibility” line was in the movie, too, but I feel quite certain that Obama first read it in the original. And he also may not be the only member of his generation to pick up some of his liberal ideas from the House of Ideas [one of Stan Lee's many nick-names for his company]. One idea in particular was that a decent person or nation had a duty to do something with whatever gifts it had been given — freedom, a sharp mind, spider-powers, a nuclear arsenal, or whatever — besides showing off.  I do believe today was the first time Parade Magazine ever choked me up.

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Common-Place Politics Issue Heads to the Archives

Filed under: Common-Place — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 5:24 pm

Beyond the Valley of the Founders,” the Common-Place Politics Issue that tookup quite a bit of the last half of my 2008, has just been sent to the C-P archives by the first issue of 2009. Never fear, however, the politics is still available to read and comment on, and remains eternally relevant. We are not even done with the “Myths of the Lost Atlantis” series yet! Readers just discovering this blog should be particularly sure to go back and look the Politics Issue .

This is also a good moment to express our gratitude to outgoing Common-Place editor Ed Gray, whose efficiency, editorial skill and astounding patience and diplomacy in dealing with troublesome authors and guest editors has really kept this unique enterprise going the last 5 years. I am sure he is already enjoying his greatly-reduced email load.

Common-Place editor and blogger in Milan, celebrating completion of Common-Place Politics Issue conferring on Thomas Paine.
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