Columbia Journalism Review Not Too Keen on Clark Kent, Journalist

"Kent is a befuddled, timid nerd who elevates politeness to the realm of parody"

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Superman's alter-ego Clark Kent was a journalist by trade at The Daily Planet. But he never really cut the mold of your ideal urban beat reporter, notes the Columbia Journalism Review's Michael Meyer:

As portrayed by Christopher Reeve, Kent is a befuddled, timid nerd who elevates politeness to the realm of parody. He says things like “swell” and is constantly pushing his glasses up on his nose or running into things. Socially clueless, he’s also completely devoid of wit despite the “snappy, punchy prose style” that his editor-in-chief claims as a reason for hiring him.

He was kind of a push over wasn't he?

Now if you're wondering why the media ethicists over at CJR are contemplating the journalistic qualifications of comic book heroes, it's all part of Meyer's examination of the role of journalism in Superman (1978) the movie. Meyer sees Superman's decision to disguise himself as a journalist as kind of dig on the Fourth Estate:

If Clark Kent is any help to Superman, it’s as a beard. In other words, Superman took a look around and concluded that the way he could most explicitly not be mistaken for a crusader trying to make a difference for humanity was to write for a major metropolitan newspaper.


But it's ok, says Meryer. Clearly Superman never had the drive to be a committed reporter.

For a guy whose father conveyed to him “the total accumulation of all literature and scientific fact from dozens of other worlds spanning the twenty-eight known galaxies” Superman doesn’t seem to be much of a reporter. Instead, he flies around, throws missiles into outer space, collars criminals.

As an ending note, Meyers says he doubts "anyone’s ever been inspired to be a journalist by Superman." But as Poynter's Jim Romenesko points out, that's not true! Cue the 2003 interview with Editor & Publisher editor Greg Mitchell: "I like to say that I probably came to journalism by comics. …I was probably one of the rare people who wanted to grow up to be Clark Kent instead of Superman."

Hungry for more journalists angsting over Superman's place in their self-image? Check out this journalism professor's offering: "Comic Book Journalists Beyond Clark Kent." He seems to agree with CJR on this one, talking about "comics' often shallow journalist characters--embodied by the milquetoast version of Clark Kent," and noting that recently, more "full-bodied" depictions have popped up.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.