Cap was always one of the more noble characters in the Marvel Universe. He was the All-American patriot: apple pie, baseball, liberty, Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving Dinner, World War II, and most importantly, the true meaning of freedom. Of all those things, only the last one remains relevant. Steve Rogers personified that idea as Captain America: the Sentinel of Liberty.
Steve Rogers fought the NAZIs in World War II; he fought for America. Then, he was frozen in a sheet of ice and woken up some 60 years later to a culture shock that would severely put into perspective all that he has believed about this country and about himself. Without the luxury of at least a decade’s time in which to absorb the march of progressive change, Steve Rogers had a lot of soul searching ahead of him. What would a man born some time in the 1920’s have thought about gay marriage? African-American suffrage? Abortion? The War in Iraq? The war in Vietnam? MTV? A culture of consumption and commercial excess devoid of intellect and critical thought? After all that had changed, did he believe our America was still worth donning a pair of blue tights over?
Above all else, Steve Rogers was an idealist. For years during World War II he had fought for freedom, but for whom? America? His idea of America was limited to the straight, white, Protestant faces living in Pleasantville with the white picket fence and the shiny new Ford parked right outside. Eventually, however, his motivation would transcend geography and his previously narrow-minded vision of an America that never existed; borders change – people change. But ideas remain the same. His own idealism about freedom would make him come to realize that the notion of “fighting for one’s country” is second only to the noble principles this country is supposed to stand for. His notion of America would come to be inclusive of blacks, migrant workers, homosexuals, Muslims, Atheists, hippies, and single unwed mothers and yet he didn’t even see us in terms of the divisive labels we’ve come to place upon ourselves because his idealism would also open his eyes to our common humanity. Sharing a common humanity he was stripped of all prejudice; only a fierce passion for human rights remained. All that remained was his belief that ALL people are endowed with certain inalienable rights: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Life – He did his superhero thing, stomping ass all over the Red Skull’s henchmen, slapping the shit out of Baron Zemo, kicking Doctor Doom in the nuts.
Liberty – Perhaps no other chapter in his life more clearly defined what Captain America stood for than when he had to stand up to other heroes, former allies turned bitter enemies, to defend liberty. No other chapter demonstrated his principles than when the United States government forced him to stand trial for defending the very ideals America was supposed to stand for. Others may have sacrificed liberty in exchange for the illusion of security, but not Cap. I’d also like to think that he resented the way the word “freedom” was thrown around by neo-cons who only used that word in the economic sense, as if free trade was the same thing as liberty. Steve Rogers was a noble hero; he wouldn’t have bought the idea of selling out our country to corporate interests to line their pockets. He was Ralph Nader-ly that way – uncompromising in his ideals to the point of seeming archaic and irrelevant. But he never lost his conviction. His dedication to the promise of freedom cost him his very life.
The Pursuit of Happiness: In trying to come to grips with the way his country has changed and the way it is being run to the ground, he tried to find personal happiness by learning, slowly, to separate his job from his life – a task that was far easier said than done for somebody so zealous about his country.
What is a world without Captain America like? Only hard core comic book geeks will be pondering that question. Everyone else need only look around. WE don’t have a Captain America. We have prejudice, poverty, cynicism, apathy, despair, intellectual bankruptcy, ignorance, and fear. Sure it’d be nice to have a Captain America around to solve our problems but the truth is we have to be our own Cap. Can we learn to overcome prejudice and embrace new idea, new cultures, a new world – even fight for it? Can we recognize injustice and speak out against it – even if we’re the ones responsible? Can we transcend mere nationalism and embrace the greater idea of liberty for all? Captain America may have been just a fictional comic book character. He may have started out as propaganda, but by the end of his “life” he became a more complex character, making readers re-evaluate what freedom truly means. He personified the virtues of humanism (life, liberty, etc.) and the conviction to stand up for it. Aren’t those ideas just as real?
I remember where I was when the planes struck the Twin Towers. It was freshman year at CCA and I was late for class. I arrived to school only to find that they closed everything – “America was under attack”, I was told. I hopped on the bus and went home as soon as possible, just in time to see the second plane hit the Twin Towers. Even then I framed everything in terms of a comic book – we had entered a place and time where one cleverly diabolical mastermind could cause such massive devastation in such a short period of time. There was a real life Magneto somewhere out there, only he wasn’t a two dimensional caricature with mutant powers. He turned out to be a living, breathing human with a past, a twisted little mind, and a major following.
But that’s not how it would play out afterwards. Long after I got used to the idea that Osama bin Laden had beef with us over our interventions in the Middle East, people were still seeing him as this cartoonish supervillain, a convenient enemy to point the finger at. The biggest danger in dehumanizing your enemy is that you inevitably create the perfect conditions for fear, paranoia, and defeat. In superhero comics, the reason a supervillain is so scary is because he is the embodiment of all that is evil – no further thought is required to know that he is the enemy, and your guy is “the hero”. Dehumanizing people is what created Adolf Hitler in the first place – he turned Jews into villains and he turned himself into a hero. When people lose sight of the humanity of others, they can become your greatest fear and someone to project your hatred on, or they can become a larger than life persona that will inevitably draw people to them, blindly and without question – the names Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and George W. Bush come to mind.
Yes, George W. Bush. I don’t say this in the usual “Bush is Hitler” sense; I only compare the tactics each use in order to accumulate power for themselves. Dehumanizing works both ways – to Muslim fundamentalists, Bush is Darth Vader and Osama bin Laden is the rebel Luke Skywalker. To us, Bush is Captain America and Osama bin Laden is the evil Fu Manchu. I admit I was one of the people drawn into Bush’s speeches to the nation because I fell for that simplistic generalization; all of a sudden, he became the nation’s “superhero” who would fight the forces of evil. But like all illusions, it wore of quickly. I was lucky to have access to alternative points of view and to be surrounded by people who encouraged me to be a critical thinker. I resisted abosorbing everything like a sponge and I began to ask questions and probe deeper into the story rather than accept everything at face value. Superhero comics work the same way; if you read an X-Men comic book and accept it at face value, you’re drawn into the story despite loopholes in logic, reason, and physics. When you probe the same X-Men comic book, you see it for what it is – a silly story with exaggerated characters, nothing more than good old fashioned entertainment. The difference between an X-Men cartoon and the real world, however, should be obvious to anybody with half a brain. We shouldn’t read world events with an uncritical eye and assume everything is exactly the way they say it is. Who is telling you the news? Who benefits from what is being said? Is the story fair and balanced? Is Fox News really a piece of shit excuse for broadcast journalism? There is always a deeper story. (No need to probe deeper into Fox News, however. It’s owned by the arch-conservative Rupert Murdoch and the president was the former media adviser to Richard Nixon. Everything about Fox News is skewered, 100% bullshit).
One of the phrases I truly despise is this idea that – “They hate us for our freedom”. They hate us for our freedom. It’s a nice, convenient little sentence that helps rationalize the war on terrorism (sorry, “terror“). The statement that “they hate us for our freedom” works on that gut level and requires no further explanation or thought on your part. All you have to know is that the Arabs are evil men led by a Muslim version of Doctor Doom, we anger them for the sole reason that we are not Muslims and that they will stop at nothing to see the world praying to Allah in Arabic. That’s all you have to know, now go rest your pretty head on a couch and watch American Idol.
How much do they despise our freedom? How many times has Holland been hit over legalized weed and prostitution? I bet nothing angers a radical Muslim more than a country with legalized prostitution. What about Canada for their socialized health care system? Switzerland? Norway? I bet if I were a Muslim I’d have shit a ton of bricks at the thought of the Swiss and their degenerate practice of secularist direct democracy. I’m surprised that the Swiss haven’t been attacked. So if they hate us for our freedom, then Bush is definitely on the right track. What better way to squash their hatred of us than by systematically removing our own freedoms piece by piece? Let the FCC decide what we want to hear – Muslims hate swear words. Who needs the US Constitution anyway? It was written over 200 years ago and things have changed since then. It’s not like they lived in a time when people wanted to kill them for their freedom.*
Another phrase that makes me gag is when anybody says that our military “fights for our freedom”. Call me crazy, but the last time the US military has ever fought to defend our freedom was about 60 years ago against a madman with an actual army behind him who threatened to cross the Atlantic and invade the US. So how many times has Osama bin Laden and his army tried to invade the US? Were the Iraqis each going to hop on one of those invisible WMDs and re-enact Dr. Strangelove? The only people who have invaded this country are the Mexicans, which doesn’t really count because we were here first. Besides we’re not the ones who destroyed our freedom against illegal, warrant-less phone taps.
OK, I lied. It was this asshole.
But speaking as a Mexican, we don’t really consider him a beaner. He’s what we like to call a pocho. He’s more of a white guy, really.
They say the world has changed dramatically since 9/11. Nevermind that other countries had experienced terrorism as well. It’s only after it happens here when it truly matters. When innocent people die on our property it changes not only the U.S., but the whole world. The world must now change because we say so. Isn’t this one of the reasons “they” hate us in the first place? Are we really THAT self-centered? Are we going to become a part of the world or are we going to continue to pretend that we’re above it? And if we do the latter, how much longer do you think we’ll survive? No matter how many times we tighten up security, mankind has always demonstrated a capcity for ingenuity matched only by the limitless capacity to cause other people harm. Will we continue to remove freedom in the name of security? At what point will it stop? Why does nobody reflect on the REAL reasons we’re hated on so much and do something about that instead? In the movie “Head of State“, Chris Rock runs for president. During the presidential debates he says one of the most profound, yet glaringly obvious things in the movie. It’s a stetement that’s so obvious and true, yet nobody in the media is really thinking about it because we’ve already made up our minds that we’re not the problem. In the movie, the contender for the presidency, Bryan Lewis, accuses Chris Rock’s character of being an “amateur”, to which Chris Rock responds, “You’re right, Vice President Lewis. I am an amateur. When it comes to creating so many enemies that we need billions of dollars to protect ourselves, I am an amateur”. That statement alone made more sense to me than anything Fox News has ever told me.
*Except maybe the British