Position on Poynter list: #23 
Watched it with: Dr. Nichole Bogarosh, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Whitworth University

YouTube cover art for the original Superman Trailer

Superman premiered in 1978, featuring Christopher Reeve as the titular Man of Steel. It opened to largely positive reviews, especially for Reeve and the blend of seriousness and whimsy he brought to the role. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Film Editing, Sound and Original Score for the always-impressive John WIlliams

I watched this movie with my friend and Whitworth colleague, Dr. Nichole Bogarosh. Dr. Bogarosh is a pop culture expert with a research focus on representation of gender, race, ethnicity, ability and sexual identity – which meant we had a lot to talk about. 

E: Ok, so let’s start with the obvious question: Is Superman a journalism movie? 

N: My short answer to that question? No. The time any of our characters – Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Clark Kent, or Perry White – spend on screen actually doing anything related to journalism is much too minimal to truly qualify this movie as a “journalism movie.”  

The longer answer? No, but maybe that is informative in its own way. You and I both teach the Media & Society course at Whitworth and share an assignment in common from that course (with slight modifications) where we have students look at films that feature a depiction of media professionals. I find it interesting when students choose a film that has characters who are journalists (or other media professionals for that matter), but the plot doesn’t focus on their career, as audience members are still learning something about the profession; however, they are less conscious of this learning and the depictions are often less accurate. It can be just as instructive to look at non-journalism movies to see how journalists are being portrayed.  

With that said, most individuals are not in a class, having someone help them process these messages and practice media literacy skills by critically thinking about these portrayals, so classifying this as a journalism movie can be detrimental. Someone could see this as a definitive example of journalism and come away with very little understanding of the profession. I feel like I could go on and on here, but I want to hear your answer to that question, and I am also curious about your thoughts on the character of Lois Lane in general in the film, especially given the fact that the film was made during a decade that began with women journalists making up only around 22% of daily newspaper journalists (Nieman Reports). 

E: I’ll be honest, wee little Erica seeing Superman for the first time thought Lois Lane was the coolest. The first scene, when she is clearly reporting on hard news at a major daily newspaper, has always stuck with me.  

And I shared her irritation when Clark got a plum assignment because he treats his editor with respect, has “snappy” prose and is a quick typist. But rather quickly, the character of Lois shifts from confident professional to swooning supporting character who recites bad poetry and writes fawning stories about the hero. And then comes her “death” during the earthquake caused by Lex Luthor’s evil scheme. Do you think this qualifies as “fridging?”   

N: I do. Superman is motivated like never before by her death and his powers manifest in ways that were inconceivable prior to that point in time as a direct result of his desire to rewrite history. Others have died, including his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, and yet the motivation to explore his powers to the extent that he is able to reverse time does not happen till the “woman he loves” dies, and the incident that causes her death is a direct result of the scheme put into motion by Lex Luther, as you mentioned. Regardless of the fact that, because of his powers, Superman is essentially able to reverse her death, Lois Lane does die in what a pretty classic example of fridging!  

This is truly disappointing, especially as I also think of Lois Lane as rather an iconic feminist character; however, I associate her more closely with other media products from after this film. As you know, this was my first time watching this movie, and as I watched, I could not help but think of the many other iterations of Lois Lane and Superman that have existed in film and television. Do you think that any of the other versions of these characters and the associated stories have been more worthy of being considered good examples of the depiction of journalism/journalists in film? What would be your favorite Superman and Lois story with that criteria? 

E: Now THAT’s a good question. Most depictions of Superman and Lois Lane have focused on their love story, but oddly enough, some of the very earliest and the most recent have also done an excellent job of showing Lois as a committed journalist who cares deeply for her craft. Noel Niell’s portrayal of Lane in the late 1940s was sharp and she was clearly not fooled by “Clark Kent.” Fun fact – Niell’s father was a newspaper editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, so perhaps the role came a little more naturally.  

And the recent animated “My Adventures of Superman” shows a young Lois Lane focused on turning her internship at the Daily Planet into bylines and a career. Here, it’s Superman who is infatuated to the point of distraction. And I have to love this series’s decision to create “The League of Lois Lanes.” 

Realizing Lois as a character in her own right, important to Superman’s story but with one of her own that’s worth telling, makes the overall narrative that much stronger.  

Ok, let’s pivot back to the fact that this is a “journalism movie” list with one last question – why is Superman on this list and not any of the Spiderman movies? After all, Peter Parker is a photojournalist and J. Jonah Jameson is an old-school editor at The Daily Bugle. Thoughts? 

N: Interesting question…before I get to that though, I do have to say that I really kind of love that your top example of journalism in the Superman universe and depiction of Lois Lane comes from television, because that is immediately where my mind went when I answered my question to you for myself. The more modern television versions of the story seem, by and large, to put much more focus on the career of journalism and on Lois. I am particularly impressed by the latest live-action version on the now largely defunct CW network, “Superman and Lois”, which kept Lois’ career front and center. Her work moves the plot forward and she is often the more interesting hero in the story.  

Back to your question! I wonder if the Spider-Man films are not on the list because Peter is a photojournalist and people don’t often think of that category of journalists when presented simply with the term journalist?  I’d venture a guess that the stereotypical idea of a journalist in most people’s minds is very focused on the idea of a writer. It probably doesn’t help that, unlike in the Superman films, you do not have both of your leads working at the newspaper, and Peter’s work takes even more of a backseat in most of the films than it does in the Superman film (as hard to believe as that is!). The Flash story also features a main character, Iris West, who is a journalist, but has not found much success on the big screen yet and has not heavily featured the Iris character at the movies. (This past summer’s “The Flash” grossed just over $271 million worldwide according to Box Office Mojo. It is rumored to have not even broken even for Warner Brothers.) I wonder if audiences would look at this character as more in line with the journalism ideas they associate with the Superman films if the same level of exposure was there?  

E: That’s an intriguing take. As our media environment continues to get even more multimodal and as communication itself continues to embrace the visual, perhaps Peter Parker will get his journalism movie moment. 

Much of this 1978 classic has held up well. Some of it, not so much. Closing with the thing we both found hilarious as we enjoyed this version of the Man of Steel: