Saturday, 27 July 2013

An Immigrant's Take On Australia's Immigration Policies

"What if I had arrived to this country by boat?" asks Bharat Ramakrishna, a fellow Indian immigrant to Australia. (He's way more Australian than I am, by the way - I still say "arrive in" and "chat with", not "arrive to" and "chat to").

Bharat's plea for greater compassion and understanding is impassioned and the piece is well-written, but I can't agree with him. My own journey to Australia was rocky and littered with initial disappointment, but although I was determined to make it in the end, I never once considered the option of taking a boat and just landing up. This doesn't mean I don't empathise with refugees fleeing brutal regimes to save their lives. I do empathise, and quite strongly at that (I'm a regular donor to Amnesty International and add my signature to many humanitarian campaigns). It only means that I think people like Bharat are unable or unwilling to acknowledge the phenomenon of economic migrants posing as refugees to take unfair advantage of an advanced society's humaneness. As an economic migrant myself, I believe I have some locus standi to speak about that.

My story

I was taken by the idea of migrating to Australia in the early nineties when I saw a few friends and colleagues leaving India. One of them explained Australian migration to me in very simple and evocative US-centric terms (since most people with my background were more familiar with the journey of the Indian migrant to the US): "It's like a green card that you get before you travel."

The information on the brochure available at the Australian consulate in Mumbai was quite clear about the criteria for skilled migrants. As an IT professional, I would need to demonstrate either a recognised IT-related degree plus 3 years of post-qualification work experience in IT, or 8 years of IT experience if I didn't have an IT degree (the latter was a lot more dicey in its chances of success). I also needed to demonstrate adequate English-language skills and be of a certain age (the younger I was, the more points I would score.)

While I was young (under 30) with fluent English, I fell between two stools on the qualification and experience criteria. I had graduated from IIT Madras (which is an institute recognised in Australia), but my degree was in Civil Engineering, not Computer Science. So that clearly did not qualify. I had completed (and stood 3rd in) a one-year Post-Graduate Diploma in Software Technology from the well-known (well known in Mumbai at least) NCST (now called C-DAC), but this was not a university degree. If that did not suffice, I also had an MBA from the reputed IIM Ahmedabad, where I had taken a few Information Systems electives related to management, such as Management Information Systems (MIS) and Decision Support Systems (DSS). Again, while the institute is a recognised one in Australia, a "Systems MBA" was not likely to cut it as an IT degree. Finally, I had 4 years of experience in IT, which was more than the 3 years required for IT degree holders but well short of the 8 years required of those without an IT degree.

I decided to take the chance and apply for permanent residency as a skilled migrant anyway, because I hoped the persons reviewing my application would see that while I fell short in some areas, I had made up for them in others.

Alas, when the response came less than a month later, I had been rejected. My first attempt at migrating to Australia thus came to a bitter end. This was in 1991.

And here is another interesting side story. When some of my friends learnt of my rejection, they offered a kind of "sour grapes" consolation: "Australia is a racist country. They want only white people." [This image of Australia persists in India to this day, and the student attacks of 2009-2010 have not helped.]

But that convenient explanation did not wash with me. I knew that I didn't quite qualify, and the assessor had pointed that out. I thought the assessor's comments were actually quite respectful and fair. The door had been shut (in my face, as my friends would have it), but I was also told how it could be opened again if I was really keen. I needed to somehow acquire an IT degree and put in the required 3 years of post-qualification work experience.

I was really keen. And so I applied for study leave, without pay, from my employer (CMC Ltd, whose alumni unanimously have fond memories of its warm and people-friendly culture) and went back to school. CMC's management was kind enough to give me a letter of sponsorship to enable me to enter IIT again (in its Kanpur campus this time) and do a masters degree in computer science. Three semesters later (and with my bank balance at zero), I had met Australia's first criterion. I had an IT-related degree from a recognised university. This was at the end of 1993, a little over two years since my rejection.

I rejoined CMC and stayed there another year. Then I got a job with a bank in Dubai and left India in early 1995. I was married by then. By 1997, after two years in Dubai, I had met Australia's second criterion. I had 3 years of post-qualification work experience in IT.

I applied a second time for permanent residency as a skilled migrant, with my wife as the secondary applicant (as a non-Australian chartered accountant, she may not have qualified on her own).

This time, our application was accepted.

It proved to me that Australia was a fair country where "what you see is what you get". The rules are clear and reasonable, and are applied impartially. [After 15 years in the country, my views have only been reinforced.]

So we finally got our much-coveted "green card" before we travelled to Australia. This was in early 1998. Our arrival here was with a valid resident visa and therefore completely kosher. No people smugglers were involved and no boat journey was required. The plane ride was comfortable and our adjustment very smooth (with initial help from old friends from India now settled in Sydney).

Best of all, I had the satisfaction that I had gone about the process the "right" way. As a bonus, I had a masters degree in computer science from an IIT, something to be proud of in its own right.

The Immigration Debate in Australia

Let's return to the issue of "boat people" raised by Bharat's article, which is extremely emotive in Australia today. Those who oppose the entry of boat people make several arguments. Some say boat people are "queue jumpers" who unfairly take places away from other refugees who follow the process and apply from refugee camps abroad. Some believe Australia's resources are stretched and the arrival of immigrants will put an increased burden on public systems. Yet others are suspicious of foreigners who may not be able to integrate into Australian society, going by the experience with some migrants who are already here. All of these points are valid to some degree, but these arguments are also decried by their opponents as racism and xenophobia.

On the other side of this debate are those like Bharat Ramakrishna who argue for a more humane Australia that welcomes asylum seekers and treats them well, instead of cruelly turning them away. Their opponents call them naive, bleeding-heart liberals.

Where do I stand in this debate? Being an economic migrant myself, I viscerally understand the motivations of one, and I can readily see how different I am from a refugee who is fleeing persecution. All talk about "boat people" and "asylum seekers" fails to distinguish between these two groups of people (refugees and economic migrants), and this failure makes any subsequent debate pointless. We really need to start from an understanding of the dichotomy between these two groups of asylum seekers.

The humanitarian argument should only apply to refugees. With economic migrants, the conversation ought to be more businesslike. These people are not in danger of their lives. Neither are they being persecuted. Yes, they probably aren't enjoying as high a quality of life in their countries as they would enjoy if they were living in Australia. It's understandable why they would like to migrate. But Australia is quite justified in asking these people what they can do for the country in return for a berth here. If they can't offer something Australia wants, there's no deal. Let's not get sentimental about it. There's nothing "cruel" about turning away economic migrants who don't have something useful to offer to Australia. Australia is, by any objective measure, the best country in the world to live in, not just one of the best. Out of the world's 7 billion people, I'm sure more than 6 billion would jump at the chance to live here, including many from the so-called First World. Obviously, it isn't possible to indulge them all.

And so the discussion has to turn to how we distinguish between genuine refugees and "mere" economic migrants. Remember that we wouldn't even be having this debate if economic migrants were honest enough not to hide their motives.

The root cause of the immigration problem is when economic migrants pretend to be refugees in order to tap into humanitarian sentiment, instead of taking their honest chances with a businesslike assessment of their suitability.

We cannot complain that our systems are not perfect, because individuals are not perfect. The other debate going on at this time in Australia is that of a "boot camp" for unemployed youth who want to receive unemployment assistance. Again, we wouldn't even be having this debate if people were honest enough to apply for assistance only when they were genuinely unemployed, and to notify the government as soon as they had secured alternative employment. Dole packages could be quite generous and easy to obtain if everyone was honest. But people are not, in general, honest. That's why social security is often seen as a heartless system. To keep out the dishonest, whether we're talking about immigration or unemployment assistance, systems must develop bureaucratic features that then inconvenience honest and deserving people.

Then there is the real issue of limited resources. There are 45 million genuine refugees in the world today, and even with the best of intentions, Australia and other advanced societies cannot accommodate them all. A massive influx of people (even deserving ones) can lead to the collapse of systems. This is worsened by undeserving people (economic migrants) abusing the system. This is why it is not possible to keep the gates open to all and remain blind to who is coming in. An open gate is a temptation to everyone to enter.

As a child growing up in India, I used to be greatly saddened by the sight of beggars at temples and other public places we visited. It can be quite heart-wrenching to see a baby carried by a child not much older, and the guilt can be quite intense when you're eating and these children appear before you, gesturing towards their mouths and stomachs. 

Be steel, my heart

It is not that these people are not poor, but they have also mastered the art of milking sentiment. Give a coin to a single beggar, and you will regret it instantly. You will be besieged by a throng of others, all with arms outstretched and pleading piteously. A few such incidents, and you will inure yourself to saying a stern no to every beggar you come across. It is not that one is cruel, but one learns to protect oneself. If beggars did not aggressively besiege kind-hearted tourists to the point of making them regret their kindness, I guarantee they would see a lot more charity overall.

Individuals are not only not perfect, they are also too smart for their own good.

Whether it's aggressive beggars in India, dole-bludgers in Australia or economic migrants posing as refugees, the issue is the same - cynical people who abuse a humane system, overwhelm limited resources and end up hardening the hearts of even the well-meaning and generous, thereby causing needless suffering and pain to the genuinely needy.

Sugar kept on a table attracts ants. It's a law of nature. So what do we normally do? We take the sugar off the table altogether. But then even those who need it often have to go without. We need a system that is less of a blunt instrument.

This is why I like the Rudd government's "PNG Solution", as I wrote before. It provides a means of distinguishing between genuine refugees and economic migrants. PNG (Papua New Guinea) is no paradise, but to genuine refugees, it's better than the alternative, so they will still come. But PNG is a turn-off to economic migrants, so if the scheme is executed without loopholes, they will almost certainly stop coming. Is it a perfect system? No it's not, because genuine refugees are going to be greatly inconvenienced, perhaps even endangered in a different way, by being resettled in PNG.

But as long as individuals are imperfect, no system can be perfect. Bharat Ramakrishna and others of his kind are obviously humane and warm individuals (and I can only wish for more of them in our society), but their prescription of undiscriminating welcome to all comers is unworkable.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Rudd Takes Wind Out Of Abbott's Sails, May Even Stop Boats

If posed as a logic puzzle, Kevin Rudd's solution to Australia's problem of boat people is brilliant. Under this scheme, no asylum seeker who comes to Australia by boat without a visa will ever be able to settle in Australia. They will instead be sent to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for processing, and resettled there. That's that.

Why is this solution at least theoretically brilliant?

There are two groups of people scrambling onto rickety boats to come to Australia, putting their own lives at risk and creating feelings of guilt among humanitarian Australians.

There are the people persecuted in their home countries and whose lives are in danger, who desperately need to flee their countries just to stay alive. They're generally acknowledged to be genuine refugees. There are international laws to safeguard their rights, and as a signatory to those international laws, Australia is duty-bound to accept a certain proportion of them. It would be unconscionable to turn them away.

Then there are the people who are in no danger of persecution or death in their home countries, but who perceive a chance of a better life abroad. These people are commonly called "economic migrants". There is no international law that recognises their aspirations as a fundamental human right, and no obligation on any country's part to indulge their dreams. Any migration arrangement has to be transactional and mutually beneficial, such as Australia's Skilled Migration program.

The whole problem is trying to weed out economic migrants from the hordes of people turning up in boats at Australian shores, so that genuine refugees may be considered. The problem is popularly termed "queue-jumping", but it's more basic than that. It's not that some deserving people are being served out of turn, ahead of other deserving people. It's that undeserving people are being served in the first place.

What Kevin Rudd's solution has done is change the rules of the game so genuine asylum seekers select themselves, and mere economic migrants select themselves out. As a shibboleth, it's brilliant.

What do refugees want? Safety, wherever they can find it.
What do economic migrants want? The opportunity to live in a developed country (not in a less developed one).

Let's face it, out of the world's 7 billion people, at least 6 billion would jump at the chance to live in Australia, including many from the so-called First World. Australia is far and away the best place in the world to live, bar none. And so Australia's international commitment to accept refugees has become "sugar on the table" that attracts hordes of others who face no danger or persecution in their home countries, but who simply think it would be a great idea to resettle in this paradise and don't mind the risks of a boat journey. The number of Sinhalese (not Tamil) asylum seekers is an example of this, because Sinhalese are the dominant group in Sri Lanka and face no persecution there.

As long as an Australian visa was seen as the only way to grant safety to refugees, there was no way to distinguish between the two groups of asylum seekers. But by offering safety in a third country and simultaneously ruling out the possibility of living in Australia, a wedge has been neatly driven between these two groups. The genuine refugees will still arrive, and will receive the safety from persecution that they crave and deserve. The economic migrants will have to turn away from the boats and explore other options, because their objectives will no longer be met.

While the scheme is brilliant as an abstract logical problem, I have some concerns about it in practice.

1. From Australia's point of view, the deal with PNG should have been locked in for at least 5 years. Making it renewable every year not only gives PNG too much negotiating advantage, the uncertainty it generates will keep the people-smugglers in business by letting them play on the hopes of economic migrants.

2. From PNG's point of view, this scheme sows the seeds of future ethnic strife. Australia is doing to PNG what the British did to Fiji by importing Indian labour into the island. The tensions between ethnic Fijians and Indians continues to this day, and it doesn't take too much imagination to see what would happen when PNG natives interact more frequently with, and compete with, people from Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere. I don't know if PNG has really thought this through.

3. Getting other countries in the region to "share Australia's burden" is a great idea, but while Indonesia is a good candidate as a destination country, New Zealand is not. NZ is like Australia in its attractiveness to economic migrants. Adding New Zealand to the list of countries that agree to resettle boat people "puts the sugar back on the table".

Whether Rudd's scheme will succeed in stopping the boats remains to be seen. But I'm fairly certain it has torpedoed Abbott's election campaign. And that is unbridled goodness.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Another Step Closer To Orwell's World

George Orwell made famous his parody of a totalitarian state with this slogan:

"War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength."

I had a good chuckle over it when I read it years ago, thinking it to be ridiculous and over-the-top. I thought Orwell was merely exaggerating to make a point.

Unfortunately, it was no exaggeration. Thanks to the War on Terror, we now have an Orwellian slogan for our own age: "Violation of Privacy is Security". It's amazing how many people have bought into this lie.

Here comes another one. The state of New South Wales in Australia has an anti-discrimination law that makes it unlawful for education authorities to refuse admission to, or expel, a student for being gay, lesbian or transgender. Significantly, private schools and colleges are explicitly exempt from this law. Now, there are private schools and private schools, but the ones that are most relevant when talking about discrimination against LGBT people are religious schools, because no other schools have an ideological opposition to differentness in sexual orientation.

Here's what is breathtaking about this drama. When the exemption loophole is sought to be eliminated, Christian schools have opposed it on the grounds that their freedom of religion is being violated!

Most private schools have a religious ethos, they stand for something, and if these exemptions were removed that would break down the ability of these schools to maintain whatever their particular ethos is. - Laurie Scandrett, chief executive of the Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation
In other words, "our religion is bigoted and demonises fellow human beings, but if you try to get us to be civilised, that is a violation of our freedom to discriminate against people and harass them".

The words in which this argument is couched sound reasonable. Quoting from the article, "Ian Baker, acting executive director of the NSW Catholic Education Commission, said the fact that so few, if any, cases of students being expelled were widely known was testament to the fact schools tended to treat such students with sensitivity." But the counter-arguments are telling: "Justin Koonin, from the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said he questioned why schools wanted the laws if they did not use them. ''It's not just that the student can be expelled, they can be discriminated against within the school environment, and the school doesn't have to do anything about it.'' "

This chutzpah on the part of organised religion astonishes me. Can't they hear their own hypocrisy and bigotry coming through in what they're saying?

I'm not terribly worried, though, because these people are on the losing side of history. The churches will lose the argument, because society is already beginning to accept LGBT people as equal human beings, disregarding the teachings of organised religion on what constitutes acceptable sexual behaviour. 

In the meantime, George Orwell might be interested to know that we now have a second slogan for our time: "Discrimination is Freedom of Religion".

Monday, 1 July 2013

Critiquing The Superman Movies

(Some spoilers ahead.)

There are some standard ways to retell a classic story. One of them is to stay faithful to the vision of its original author(s). Another is to retell it using a secondary character as protagonist. Yet another is to explore variations on the core theme, such as reinterpreting the story to be in tune with modern times or with a different cultural context.

For example, the recent movie 'Bride and Prejudice' explored an interesting Indian-themed variation on Jane Austen's classic novel. Reinterpretations tend to offend the purists/literalists but excite those who grasp the spirit of a work and love to see it explored from many new angles.

Superman is a classic story that has been retold a number of times since it first appeared in print in the 1930s.

The Superman comics have been exploring various angles of the story for decades. Among my favourites was the angle of how the presence of a superman in our midst has emasculated humanity, reducing us to passive victims who wait to be rescued instead of helping ourselves. It is only Superman's temporary absence in that retelling that helps people become self-reliant again.

In this post, I'm going to restrict myself to the movie interpretations of Superman.

If you refer back to my decoding of the Superman meme, you will recall that it is about the immigrant to America who adopts the values of his new country and realises his great potential even as he helps those around him. Everything in Superman is an allegory, so a moviemaker needs to approach the story with care, lest they unwittingly violate one of its key elements. There is also the opposite risk of retelling the story without contributing any fresh angles to it, making it a boring repetition rather than a retelling.

The first Superman movie (1978) did a number of things right. It got the character right, which is the most important thing. Christopher Reeve was Superman to a T. More importantly, he was the quintessential Clark Kent, who is the person Superman really is at heart, - gentle and considerate, seemingly bumbling but slyly competent. The movie also got the character of his foster-parents right, especially Jonathan Kent, because they embody the values that he imbibes. And it got the atmosphere of Metropolis right, with both its energy and its brusque, somewhat uncaring culture. As the audience, we huddle behind Clark Kent, wanting both to protect him and to be protected.

But 1978's Superman got a few things wrong, too. Margot Kidder's Lois Lane was more irritating than plucky. The time-travel bit was exciting, but a bit embarrassing to explain to those not already sold on Superman. However, the worst thing the movie did was to say the unsayable about Metropolis.

Superman's Metropolis is meant to represent the big city, nothing more. Everyone acknowledges with a nudge and a wink that Metropolis is really New York City (just as Batman's icy, windy, gangster-ridden Gotham City is probably Chicago), but it is part of the lore that one must never actually utter those words! When the moviemakers got Superman to take Lois on a short trip out from her apartment to fly past the Statue of Liberty, they shouted it out like a drunk at a genteel party. They destroyed a carefully-maintained allegorical reference and left me disgusted. It is remotely plausible that other cities could also have yellow taxicabs, but the Statue of Liberty? That really ruined it for me.

The worst scene in the 1978 movie - By depicting the allegorical Metropolis as nothing more than New York City, the moviemakers drove a green Kryptonite dagger through the heart of the Superman fable

Superman II and III continued with the tradition quite ably, and I liked both of them. The second movie brought back the old Kryptonian villain General Zod, who lightened his villainy with the number of droll things that he had to say, wittingly or otherwise. [It's part of the Superman ethos, even in the comics, that the main character is himself humourless, but that there's plenty of humour thanks to supporting characters.] "So this is Planet Houston" remains one of my favourite chuckle-inducing quotations.

The core premise of Superman II was what would happen if Superman lost (or voluntarily gave up) his superpowers. Although he did get them back in the end, the premise caused him to be humanised to an even greater extent. The scene where he is thoroughly beaten in a bar fight and is shocked to see his own blood is the emotional high point of this movie.

The third movie explored what would happen if Superman were to lose his goodness while retaining his superpowers. It was a chilling sight to see an unshaven Superman getting drunk in a bar, distorting a mirror with his heat vision and breaking bottles by flicking nuts at them. And when good finally triumphed over evil, it was in the form of the Clark Kent persona in civilian clothes who succeeded in vanquishing his evil costumed side. That scene proved that Superman really is Clark Kent, rather than the other way around. Richard Pryor's presence also ensured that this movie was more comic than either of its predecessors.

Superman IV was so terrible and forgettable that I won't waste any space describing it. It was clear that the moviemakers wanted to flog the franchise for what it was worth, and it showed. Thankfully, that effort sank without a trace. I have it in my collection, but only because I like to collect full sets.

After a long period punctuated only by TV serials ("Smallville", "Lois and Clark"), Superman hit the big screen again with "Superman Returns" in 2006. Although panned by many critics, this was a really good movie in my opinion. It explored another, later aspect to Superman's life, and it did it without disturbing the core meme. I especially loved the treatment of some new angles to the superhero. One was the mystery of the paternity of Lois Lane's son, which was resolved quite dramatically in a late scene. Another was a new allegory of Superman as Jesus Christ, who has been sent by his father (Jor-El, of course) to save humanity. I confess I had goose-bumps when I saw the scene of Superman suspended high above the Earth, arms outstretched like Christ on the cross, hearing the cacophony of anguished cries from the millions of distressed souls below. As he told Lois, "I hear everything". The meme of Superman as Christlike saviour was a beautiful one, and it even appealed to an agnostic/atheist like me. In contrast, there was a short and somewhat disturbing view of Superman as stalker, although he shows that he has the restraint to stay away. I also liked the relationship between Superman and Richard (Lois Lane's current partner), which is strangely unpunctuated by jealousy. Both men are united in their devotion to Lois. "Superman Returns" was a promise of the many new ways in which this classic fable could be respun. Long after I saw the movie, I remain haunted by the scenes of vast expanses of beautiful green ocean.

But then, 2013's "Man of Steel" landed with a clumsy thud. After the retellings of the Batman and Spider-man stories in recent years (which only seem to get better and better), this was such an awful disappointment. Apart from giving General Zod a semi-noble motive, the movie added nothing new to our understanding of the Superman story. Even the theme of alienness and aloneness has been dealt with in so many unrelated works that it seems boring when attempted for the first time in Superman.

The movie had one clever line. On Clark Kent's first day at The Daily Planet, Lois greets him with, "Welcome to the Planet". Unfortunately, that was the only clever part of a deadeningly boring movie.

There was also a very touching conversation that brought out the nobility of Superman, and this was when Lois tracks him down.

Lois Lane: I figured if I turned over enough stones you'd eventually find me. Where are you from? What are you doing here? Let me tell your story.
Clark Kent: What if I don't want my story told?
Lois Lane: It's going to come out eventually. Somebody's going to get a photograph or figure out where you live.
Clark Kent: Well, then I'll just disappear again.
Lois Lane: The only way you could disappear for good is to stop helping altogether and I sense that's not an option for you.

That last line brought tears to my eyes. That's who Superman is! He can't stop helping people even if it affects him.

But apart from those two sparks of brilliance, "Man of Steel" serves as a useful reminder that no amount of special effects magic will help a movie with a weak storyline. The violence and destruction put me off totally. Superman's story is a noble one, and doesn't deserve to be reduced to an extended street brawl. [And we really should stop destroying buildings wholesale with every superhero movie. Between DC Comics and Marvel Comics, Manhattan will soon be reduced to rubble.]

The movie also broke a very critical element of the meme. Superman does not kill even his worst enemies. While it may be argued that General Zod left him no choice, a good moviemaker would not put our hero in that no-win situation. From the time he first appeared to us, his hands have been unstained by anyone's blood. A pity that run had to come to an end in 2013. Poor show, Zack Snyder.

I would suggest other angles for future Superman movies, all based on acceptable variations to the core meme of the talented and assimilated immigrant.

1. What if Krypton was like China or Vietnam rather than Europe? Many American immigrants today are Asian rather than Caucasian, so that may be an interesting angle. What if Confucian values inform Superman's approach to life? [Interestingly, Dean Cain (who played Superman in the TV Series "Lois and Clark") is part Japanese, so an Asian-looking Superman wouldn't be such a novelty.]

2. Immigration to the New World doesn't have to mean America. Australia is part of the New World too. Australia's Smallville would be Alice Springs, and its Metropolis either Sydney or Melbourne. (They should just take care to hide the Opera House and Harbour Bridge when they show Superman flying around.) There are plenty of traditional Aussie values that an immigrant should imbibe, and egalitarianism would fit very nicely with Superman's character. I'm already chuckling in anticipation of the dry Australian humour in such a movie.

3. What if the culture clash between immigrant and host society is too big to ignore? The phenomenon of home-grown terror in Western countries shows that not all immigrants assimilate successfully. Some, even those born in the new country, tend to identify more with what they believe to be the values of the old. In "Man of Steel", Superman comes close to making a political statement by bringing down a surveillance drone that was trying to track his movements. There is scope for a very edgy and controversial Superman that tackles the political hot-button topics of the day - government surveillance and the often misguided War on Terror.

4. There is a term used by Generation Z - "O.P." for "over-powered". Superman is simply too powerful to be interesting. A good story requires a challenge, and a superhero who is invulnerable, has super-strength, can fly at super-speed, see through objects, heat and freeze things with his eyes and super-breath, is a bit of a let-down in the challenge department. Just as "Man of Steel" toned down the garish outfit, perhaps a future variant could feature a hero with his powers scaled back a bit. Give the villains a chance, in other words.

5. For someone with such formidable powers, Clark Kent seems to attract bullies like flies to honey. How does he even manage it? Differentness accounts for part of the reason, but a person has to actively exude diffidence to attract the vultures. It's probably not enough to carry a movie by itself, but it would be interesting for the bullying theme to be tackled as part of some larger story.

6. Superman has all kinds of physical superpowers, but there is no indication that his intelligence is significantly above average. A more cerebral, less physical Superman could be another variant. The Sherlock Holmes of two recent movies (played by Robert Downey Jr) was turned into an unrecognisable action figure. Hollywood should atone with a Superman who thinks and solves clues to get his villain. It's time for a match against Brainiac.