We need to talk about Captain America.
First, here’s a summary for those of you who aren’t Marvel fans: Captain America has been a comic book superhero since the nineteen-forties. He’s a patriotic supersoldier who fought villains associated with the Axis powers in World War II. He wears red white and blue, and carries a vibranium shield emblazoned with a star. In the Avengers movies, he’s played by Chris Evans.
Captain America’s real name is Steve Rogers. Out of uniform, Steve is boyish, charming, and kind. In uniform, he is brave, selfless, and strong. To four generations of fans, Steve Rogers/Captain America has represented the best of America.
After all, he’s a uniquely American hero.
Enter the Controversy
Recently, in the comic books, Steve Rogers was revealed to be an agent of Hydra, a Nazi-like organization. Marvel recently doubled down on this story line (called Secret Empire) by asking comic book sellers to dress like Hydra agents, right down to that evil Octopus logo.
And as you might imagine, comic book sellers and fans are losing their collective minds. Snopes recently reported what one comic store employee had to say:
They murdered millions and I’m a lesbian whose grandfather was held as a POW by the Nazis during the war, I’m not going to promote this book. I’m not going to glorify something like this so Marvel can make a buck.
Of course people are pissed! Why on earth would a person dress up like a Nazi for fun? And how can Marvel claim that Captain America is an agent of evil? Steve Rogers is as American as apple pie, and America is always one of the good guys!
We don’t buy it!
We don’t accept it!
Returning to America
Can I tell you what it was like to watch the USA from a distance? Painful.
We watched the USA bar immigrants for no reason other than nationality or religion. We watched as citizens and visitors alike were subject to illegal searches and detentions at the border. And we observed as our president continually blamed other countries for our own problems, real or imagined.
Before we got on our flight home, we scrubbed most of our personal data off our laptops and phones. We talked about what might happen if a border agent demanded our passwords. We made sure we had the number of a good civil rights attorney on our phones in case we got separated, interrogated, or detained.
No, we didn’t expect we’d be stopped. We’re boring-ass white people with laptops full of vacation photos. But somewhere along the line, the USA became the kind of country that treats school teachers, tourists, and even our own scientists like criminals. And no, I wasn’t going to make it easy for someone to violate my civil rights.
Fortunately, we passed through customs without any problems. My worry turned into relief, and then into disgust. Somehow, we’d become the kind of country I wouldn’t want to visit.
Let’s talk about how we are the land of the free, while we demand people turn over their passwords at the airport.
Let’s call ourselves the land of opportunity, while blaming immigrants for the problems we’ve been unable to solve.
And let’s talk about how brave we are, while we treat teachers and engineers and little kids as “too scary” to come inside (even for a visit!) because they might blow us up or something.
No. Let’s call America what it is: the land of hypocrisy. We talk big about our American values, but when it comes time to live those values, we don’t.
Our American President
It hurts my heart to write this blog post, but I won’t lie to you. Being back in the USA has been difficult.
Ask yourself this: If America had become so corrupted that we were one of the bad guys, like Hydra, would we even notice? Could we admit it to ourselves? Or would we keep waving the flag, singing the Star-Spangled Banner at baseball games, and believing we’re the good guys because we’re America. Duh!
And as much as our president disgusts me, it would be dishonest to blame him for our sorry state. When I look at our president and the ruling party I see racism, arrogance, ignorance, and tacky bluster. But I see those exact same sins in our culture every day. Don’t you?
To put it another way, President Trump’s worst qualities are America’s worst qualities. And in that way, he’s as American as apple pie.
Just like Steve Rogers used to be.
Saving Steve Rogers
I don’t know where Marvel is headed with Secret Empire. But I can’t be too surprised at the fall of Steve Rogers. Don’t our stories tend to reflect our very real hopes and fears?
Activists are organizing to fight back against America’s corruption. That’s promising, but when I speak to people I know about the state of America, they so often shrug and make a dismissive comment. “It’s terrible, but what can you do? Anyway, I’m sure it will all work out okay in the end…”
That indifference breaks my heart, but I get where it comes from. It’s damn painful to look into the mirror, isn’t it? It’s easier to believe that our problems aren’t as bad as they seem. Meanwhile, the tentacles of corruption are winding around our houses of government, our courts, and perhaps even our own hearts.
I’m not a politician, or a superhero, or even someone who wants to be writing about this topic! But as a storyteller, I know that our stories aren’t merely entertainment. They are maps to our future, and reminders of who we aspire to be. And superhero stories have always taught that what seems hopeless isn’t, if good-hearted people are willing to be brave, and to act.
Somewhere along the line, we forgot that Captain America isn’t a god. He’s a guy from Brooklyn named Steve Rogers, and he became corrupted as humans sometimes do. We believed in the idea of Captain America so strongly that we loved everything he did while wearing our national colors. We didn’t see what he was up to until it was almost too late.
What if Steve needs us to save him, this time? Can we help him remember what Captain America is supposed to be fighting for? And in the process, can we save our country from the Hydra-like threats that threaten to pull us into darkness?
I believe we can, if we remember what America is supposed to be, and if we fight hard to make that into who we are.
One decision at a time.
One interaction at a time.
One phone call to congress at a time.
One vote at a time.
One march at a time.
One act of courage at a time.
One conversation at a time.
When the Cap needs you, are you just going to sit on your ass, blame other people, or make platitudes about how there’s nothing you can do? No! You’re going to make that phone call. You’re going to actively oppose injustice. You’re going to act like a fucking American.
Now let’s get to work.
PS: There are many ways to help America! If you aren’t sure where to start, pick a worthy organization, go to the “get involved” page, and sign up.
SwingLeft (take back the house in 2018)
iCivics (for kids)