I’ve always heard that you should never meet your heroes because they’ll inevitably fail to live up to your expectations. Actors are particularly notorious to meet because they’re playing characters who are of course different than the people they portray. For every Patrick Stewart and Stephen Fry out there who are incredibly decent human beings, there’s a Mel Gibson and a Kevin Spacey as well. This typecasting is troublesome because I can know this, but still recognize that I’d likely be afraid to meet Lena Headey, mistaking her for Circi Lannister. That’s why it was nice to see Captain America actor Chris Evans stand up against the real-life forces of ignorance tearing our country apart with as much gravitas as the hero he portrays.
I make an effort to think or reference Kanye as little as humanly possible. I don’t know what mental illness or tragic personality causes his trumpian narcissistic outbursts, but he recently sent a tweet out against the thirteenth amendment…you know: the amendment which bans slavery. In a strong field this may be the stupidest thing he’s said. The inevitable backlash which probably fuels him happened as expected, but I was surprised to see Chris Evans chime in:
Evans’ squeezed the frustrations of so many Americans into one perfect, concise, and erudite message. We’re so fed up with stupid, and those who pretend to be stupid as an attempt to gain power over those who genuinely are. Evans’ makes it clear that this is something we’re not standing for anymore, a message that could come straight from the lips of a real Captain America if such a person existed.
For a brief moment when I heard about this, I had the joy of a kid seeing the cookie he left out for Santa reduced to crumbs. I felt like the spirit of Captain America was alive and real in Americans and that felt great. I’ve never forgot that scene in Marvel’s Civil War comic book (which sadly got left out of the movie) where Spiderman is struggling with the fear that he’s on the wrong side. Spidey finds himself on the wrong side of Captain America which is not a place he wants to be.
Cap doesn’t mess around, he throws his shield right at Spidey’s balls. This really disturbs Spiderman, because he knows the sort of person Captain America normally fights and he doesn’t enjoy the realization that he’s betrayed himself and his country.
After that “talk” with Captain America, Spiderman learned his lesson, although I doubt Kanye West will be so wise.
Growing up, I loved Captain America for the same reason that I loved Superman. They both had an uncompromising idealism in truth, justice, and the American way. As I’ve learned just how compromised the American way really is, the more I feel like such symbols are necessary to remind us not who we are, but who we should be. Not like some faith in an imagined deity, but as an artistic expression of who we are at our best. Like that beautiful lady, broken chains at her feet, who holds a lamp to show us the way.
We’re in need of heroes today, but in light of the #MeToo movement, we’ve seen just how many people have failed us. I think we’re less trusting, and for good reason. When Obama ran, he ran on the principle of change, and received unprecedented support. This support turned into disappointment when he not only failed to deliver most of his promises but doubled down on the empire and neoliberal principles that many had supported his claims to fight against. People once again got their hopes up for Bernie Sanders but became frustrated when he seemed to settle into playing defense when many of us feel he should play offense. We’re always going to have disagreements with people, so that’s where an icon can come in handy.
Mythological heroes such as Hercules, Gilgamesh, King Arthur, or Jesus had a power in that they were created by society, not some publishing company who had strict copyright control. Myths are the dreams of civilizations, and a mythological hero could be the person society needed, not who it had. I have heard some good arguments, perhaps fodder for a future post, that myths no longer properly exist in the Western World, and there’s some good evidence for that. If it’s so, perhaps we’re missing the very tool we need to combat the waves of ignorance and intolerance which are flooding over us.
As hip-hop artist Greydon Square observes–and this is a key plot of my graphic novel–populations are controlled through hope or fear. For those of us who see the necessity of a democratic governance, hope is the better option of the two.
A friend of mine recently dropped a comment that America is in a Civil Cold War right now, and I feel that perfectly describes our current state. As I find my relationship with many of my extended family stressed because of their support of racist and divisive policies, I genuinely worry about the connective fibers which bind us. We need to strengthen those bonds with a shared focus not on who we are, but on who we could be. This is why I appreciate Evans’ focus on history, literature, and informed debate. His message, especially coming from an actor who portrays a character meant to symbolize the best of America, is so powerful.