Since 1942, Superman’s motto has been “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” That’s no longer the case. In the newly-published Superman: Son of Kal-El #1, the new Superman has a new motto: “Truth, Justice, and a Better World”
The official update to Superman’s slogan was exuberantly reported by virtually every media outlet in existence, as if it were a radical departure for hidebound pop culture, a bold step in bringing progressive values into reactionary Hollywood.
The update to Superman’s motto is simply another act of spoliation by the winners of the culture war.
Spoliation means “incorporating art into a setting culturally or chronologically different from that of its creation.”1 The term derives from Classical Latin word spolium, a singular noun which literally means “the skin or hide stripped from an animal.” The plural, spolia, came into figurative use by Latin writers such as Cicero to refer to plunder, from which we derive the English phrase “the spoils of war.”2 Whenever the Romans conquered a nation, they brought back war trophies as proof of their victory; and so spolia came to designate “building materials and artworks brought from conquered provinces and exhibited in official triumphs.”3 Over time, these materials were reused by conquerors for their own purposes, and so the word spolia came to mean any reused artwork designed to evidence the conquest, triumph, and dominion by the spoliators over those whose art they appropriated.4
In contemporary usage, spoliation is “a practice consisting of a transference of power from the past through a taking over of its cultural expressions and incorporating them into one’s own. The purpose of appropriation [is] to convert the object of appropriation to one’s own purposes; it [is] preceded by finding the most valuable expressions from the past.”5 It is part of an “appropriative loop in which the qualities of the appropriated object are transferred to the appropriator.”6
Spoliation, then, works like this:
A conqueror defeats a rival.
The conqueror identifies the defeated rival’s most valuable cultural expressions (artwork, artifacts, buildings, monuments, stories, etc.).
The conqueror appropriates those expressions and reuses them in its own cultural expressions, thereby transferring power to itself.
Does that process seem familiar? It should.
RTWT AT The Spoliation of Pop Culture from Tree of Woe