This week I wrote up an article regarding someone’s petition to take down a Metacritic datapoint, and by extension a (not terribly) negative Rolling Stone review, of Ariana Grande’s latest album. I found the idea of wiping out an opinion, an expression of free speech and freedom of the press, utterly abhorrent. I said, “Voice your opinion in an op-ed piece but do not attempt to rewrite things just to fit your preferred narrative.”
Two days later Marvel Comics announces that in their latest series Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, outs himself as a sleeper agent of Hydra, a longtime proxy for the Nazi regime in the series. My first thought was, “Undo that! Rewrite that! Take that down! How dare they…right before Memorial Day!” I am a critic and, by nature, a bit of a hypocrite.
I’ve since repented of this visceral reaction. Marvel is well within their rights to do whatever they please with their characters, and I don’t have to spend any money on it (and won’t). This won’t change my opinion that this was a huge mistake, a slap in the emotional face, and a negative mark for Marvel which I thought, up to this point, had something really unique and singular going.
Let’s backtrack. First appearing in 1941 for obvious reasons, Captain America was both a morale booster during World War II and a response to the future DC Comics’ Superman. Superman embodied the all-American character: an immigrant by birth, he adopted the colors and the national spirit of his new home. Captain America was different in that he was the blue-eyed American boy, thin and weak but filled with national pride and responsibility. Steve Rogers gave himself over to the scientists to attempt to create a better being, someone who would rise to be a protector of the American way. In this you have the classic sacrifice narrative which, clearly, was meant to parallel the sacrifice of soldiers giving up their home existences, probably their well-being both mentally and physically, and possibly their very lives.
Cap was the constant, trustworthy, vigilant. If we rank the eras of our likes by our comic book stand-ins, Spider Man starts as the hero we are, the nerdy kid with something better inside. Captain America is the person we become when that inside ideal comes out.
Marvel’s had tremendous relatively recent success with adapting the Steve Rogers Captain America to the screen, and I think a lot of that comes from that desire on the part of the public — during unstable and uncertain times — to have a steady, unwavering hero that still embodies that America, an America that today feels so distant and mythological (and may be more fantasy that we know, with the past not burdened or exposed by the 24 hour news-cycle reminding us of every sin).
I wouldn’t call myself a hyper-patriotic guy. I’m proud of my country and, sure, I am proud to be an American even if I hate that Lee Greenwood song. And I do have lines that I draw mentally between our freedoms and simple decorum and respect. For instance, I understand the anger and concept behind someone burning the American flag, but I don’t condone it. The flag is not a religious object, but to me if you are protesting for the betterment of the nation, you wouldn’t burn the object that would be your standard if things were how you wanted them to be. At the same time, I get equally incensed when some yahoo flaps his American flag in the wind behind his 4X4 spewmobile, ripping it to shreds as he goes muddin’; or when someone thinks it is really cool to make a t-shirt and shorts combo out of the flag because it shows the French that we may be tourists, but we’re American tourists, dammit.
I see no differentiation of disrespect between burning a flag or making Dazzy Duks out of them, running The Stars and Stripes up Bunghole Avenue. (Again: hypocrite. The character of Captain America wears a version of the American flag too. I get it.) We don’t have many icons we can say still have untarnished meaning behind them. Some will argue that the flag is well beyond tarnished. But then, that’s our fault for not living up to the benchmarks we initially set for ourselves, isn’t it?
Perhaps lifting a comic character to such unsustainable heights is a problem. A creation of men, in part to inspire but also to make money (I’m not that naive to think it was all patriotic magnanimity), Steve Rogers doesn’t actually exist, much like Peter Pan or Winnie The Pooh. Why I should get worked up over this comic book character assassination is beyond me. Even so, I’ve compartmentalized this as just an irrational attachment to fiction, and still it bothers me.
My original premise stands. As an American, I condone the speech of those that I do not agree with, or the ideas that I outright despise, because I don’t believe in trouncing on the hard-fought rights and freedoms that were gained in blood. Even thought I initially thought, “Marvel has to retract this!”, the fact is that they don’t and shouldn’t and — for me — this is a test. If I actually believe half of what I say I believe, I can’t turn around and demand this comic book company undo something just because I don’t like what they said. Real Americans respect the rights of others to say things we don’t agree with or like, and the thought of Steve Rogers, Captain America, being evil is that very test: do I just wear this like a fashion statement or do I respect it and honor what it represents?
That said, Captain America is kinda dead to me.
P.S. The universe is totally a jerk. Word to your mother.