Considering the current furor over the Confederate battle flag, African-American church burnings occurring across the south, a possible resurgence of Klan groups and other ongoing problems across America, I was reminded of this series of shows and thought perhaps it might be apropos to take a quick look. Yes, I’ve actually written about this series-within-a-series before, but it’s been long enough ago that I figured you all wouldn’t mind an expanded revisit.
Long time readers will know that I have a special love for Old Time Radio shows. As a matter of fact, I used to run a regular weekly feature here that focused on these shows. During that run I wrote a couple of posts that focused on or featured episodes of the Adventures of Superman radio show which ran roughly and in various formats from 1940 to 1952.
In 1946, the show was running in the afternoon as daily 15 minute broadcasts, and was sponsored by Kellogg’s cereal, specifically Kellogg’s Pep. Of course, running so many episodes, the show was continuously looking for new antagonists to pit its titular hero against. It was during this period that the producers were approached by journalist and human rights activist Stetson Kennedy to help expose the activities of the Ku Klux Klan.
Though many of his claims of infiltrating the KKK have since fallen into dispute, at the time, Kennedy was known for his biting expose’s of that organization and of the Jim Crow laws of the south. Kennedy’s idea was that with him providing information that he had gleaned by investigating the organization, including details of their secret rituals and codewords, the show could use this information to help demystify the organization and make it less appealing through ridicule, an idea which the producers were quick to embrace.
Thus, in June of 1946, The Adventures of Superman began a sixteen part serial (the show at that time basically consisted of various arcs which would run for roughly two to four weeks and then would move on to a different story) which became known as “The Clan of the Fiery Cross”. Here’s a description of the beginning of the series from a review on the Superman Homepage, written by James Lantz:
Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen are taking a cab on a sunny afternoon in Metropolis. Clark is covering a story for the Daily Planet, and Jimmy is going to baseball practice for the Unity House team in which he manages. Two boys, Tommy Lee and Chuck Riggs, are fighting when Jimmy arrives. Chuck has been acting like a sore loser since Tommy, who just moved into the neighborhood, replaced him as number one pitcher on the squad. During practice, Chuck crowds the home plate and gets hit in the head by a ball thrown by Tommy. Chuck believes Tommy did it on purpose, and Jimmy is forced to remove the former from the team because of his attitude toward Tommy.
Chuck has just returned home to find his Uncle Matt waiting for him. The boy tells him of the incident with Tommy. Knowing Tommy’s father Doctor Wan Lee, an Asian American, was promoted to the Metropolis Health Department as a bacteriologist, Matt gets an idea. He makes his nephew believe that Tommy beaned him on purpose and invites the boy to a secret meeting of what he calls “true Americans.” Matt Riggs has every intention of making Tommy Lee and Jimmy Olsen pay for humiliating Chuck.
Matt is now donning a white robe with a blue scorpion design and hood. He then takes Chuck to a secluded place where a wooden cross burns. Other similarly dressed men are in the area. Uncle Mack reveals that he’s the leader of The Clan of the Fiery Cross. Chuck is coached into saying that Tommy Lee was trying to kill him in order to keep his position on the Unity House baseball team. Chuck says that this will help Lee’s people take over America. The first phase of the Grand Scorpion Uncle Matt’s plan is now in place. Now, The Clan of the Fiery Cross can cleanse the country of those that are not “True Americans.”
Obviously, once Clark learns of the Clan’s activities from Jimmy, it’s not long before he (and thereby Superman, too) is actively investigating the goings on of the group. What happens after that? Well, I’ll just let you listen and find out for yourselves. Here’s a YouTube playlist that should let you listen to all sixteen parts of the serial one after the other.
So how was this series-within-the-series received? Well, according to Wikipedia, “Reportedly, Klan leaders denounced the show and called for a boycott of Kellogg’s products. However, the story arc earned spectacular ratings and the food company stood by its support of the show.” Also, reports are that it did, to some extent, have the desired effect, and according to a story in a then-current issue of The New Republic, the trivialization of the Klan’s rituals and codewords was perceived to have had a negative impact on Klan recruiting and membership.
So what do you think? How much should characters like Superman be taking on real-world problems like the KKK? Do you think they have the potential to help the situation. or do they instead trivialize them? Of course, in a way the question is somewhat moot since there really are no shows like the Adventures of Superman on the airwaves today, even considering the rising number of comic-book based shows and movies, but still I think the topic is worthy of consideration and would love to see some debate of it either in the comments below or on the DMM Facebook page, so let me know what you think.