Why What Happens to Captain America Matters

In the latest of several “controversial” moves, Marvel Comics has apparently decided to ‘reveal’ that Captain America is actually a Hydra (Nazi) agent. Yes, that Captain America: Steve Rogers, the most morally upright hero in the Marvel universe, the leader of the Avengers, the symbol of everything great about America, beloved by millions of fans. Turns out he was working for the Nazis all along.

Hear that? That’s the sound of Marvel comics spitting on their fans, kicking them in the crotch, and then laughing in their face, daring them to do anything about it.

(Incidentally, ‘controversial’ is a most useful term. It allows the perpetrator of idiotic and insulting ideas to get out ahead of the criticism and imply that what he’s done is simply a matter on which people may disagree: though of course, sensible people will agree with him and only reactionary idiots will disagree. In any case, he’s ‘started a conversation’ and so deserves applause for being an offensive asshole).

Did I mention that this same issue apparently (I haven’t read it and am going by screenshots and a summary posted here)  features Red Skull recruiting new Hydra Agents by…making entirely justifiable points about the European refugee crisis?

I believe that writers engage in a pact with their readers. There are rules to follow: things that simply are not done. Laws of Art, so to speak. You can sucker-punch them in the stomach, but you can’t kick them in the crotch. You can do things that are emotionally wrenching, but you can’t laugh at them for ever being such rubes to like your work in the first place, and you certainly can’t expect them to like it when you do.

The ending of Captain America: Civil War was an example of the former. It was enough to break a fan’s heart and leave you slightly shocked at what has happened to the characters you love. But the characters are still themselves and the writers have played fair. No law has been broken.

This, on the other hand, this is just evil. It doesn’t just violate the law; it’s the equivalent of taking your child’s favorite toy and gleefully destroying it in front of him to illustrate a point about the current election.

You might be thinking “okay, ‘evil’ is a little strong. After all, this is just a comic book. Ultimately, it’s a pretty trivial thing.”

Well, yes, it is a trivial thing, and I don’t use the term ‘evil’ lightly. I’m not one of those people who think that ruining a storyline with an idiotic plot twist or cancelling a successful series before you even find out how it ends is a crime against humanity. Heck, I don’t even read comics, though I am a fan of the world and the characters. (I’m too anal to read comics: if I wanted to read, say, Captain America comics, I would have to start at the very beginning and read up to the present).

But the triviality of it is precisely what makes it important, because it is in such things that the real mindset of these people is revealed. Someone might be hesitant to claim that anyone who is concerned about millions of Muslims flooding Europe is literally a Nazi is less hesitant to put their words into the mouth of a fictional character who is a Nazi. Nick Spencer, the man who produced this offal, might not care to claim in public that he believes America is an essentially evil nation, but by turning Captain America into a Nazi, he’s essentially saying that in the oblique language of literature.

You see, fiction and art and “pop culture” in general are the weak spots in the dam of civilization. They are the points where the flood of chaos and barbarism can most easily work its way through and subvert the whole structure. And they are weak precisely because they are trivial: because most people don’t pay attention to them, or think it worth protesting when writers slip in a poisonous idea.

But that’s the danger. These things have a great influence on the mind. When you see an idea or a phrase or a belief associated with evil in fiction, your natural response is to distance yourself from it, unless it’s a firmly held belief in your own mind. Not many people would say “well, I don’t like Christians because I’ve seen movies where Christians are the bad guys,” but the association “Christians = self-righteous hypocrites” is cultivated and reinforced by works of fiction that allow the association. Never undervalue what a man learns when he isn’t trying to learn anything, because that’s when his defenses will be weakest.

The point isn’t that certain ideas or associations should be banned from fiction (i.e. “never have a Christian bad guy”). I emphatically do not believe that. The point is that we shouldn’t dismiss an evil idea because it’s expressed through a trivial medium. That’s often its favorite means of doing so. If you want to poison a lot of people, you don’t put the cyanide in a fine fillet mignon. You put it in candy and pass it out on Halloween.

Turning Captain America into a Nazi is evil. Taking a character who was created to serve as the embodiment of everything good and righteous about America, to be a moral paradigm for readers to aspire to, and revealing that he was a villain all the time just to get cheap publicity and gratify the writer’s personal political obsessions is tantamount to a broadside assault on the idea of virtue itself. Destroying something good and pure and innocent, like a comic character designed to model the best his country has to offer is, to my mind, the very definition of evil. You can challenge a character like that, you can even compromise him, but to yank the rug out from under him and grind him into the mud like this is just shocking and repellant.

I doubt this particular incident will cause much real harm: it’s too blatant and readers are already too furious over it (not to mention that, for some reason comic-book readership has been steeply declining in recent years. With winning stories like this, I can’t imagine why). But it certainly shows an intention to harm, which is the greater part of evil. Clearly the desire here is to say to readers “America and Nazism are basically the same thing, and anyone who claims to stand for freedom and justice and right is a self-righteous hypocrite trying to control you. Avoid anything that smacks of self-sacrifice or objective truth or liberty and turn to self-indulgence and the self-centered disinterestedness in your fellow man that goes by the name of ‘tolerance.’”

At least, that’s the message I get from this move. Possibly I’m wrong and this is just a cheap attempt to grab some publicity by violating a beloved piece of American culture and then preening yourself for doing so. It’s still evil, only now it’s the evil of someone so self-obsessed that he doesn’t even comprehend the idea of conveying a message: he just wants to be able to think of himself as an enlightened, daring fellow and be able to see his name in the newspapers defending his brilliant move against the uneducated morons who failed to appreciate his cleverness because they just wanted a well-constructed adventure featuring their favorite character; not a grotesque political tract in which something they love is ripped apart and desecrated before their eyes.

Our culture today is black and growing blacker. It’s a polluted river that flows thick with the raw sewage spewed from diseased minds, and it will remain that way as long as we’re reluctant to point out how vile it is because we think it’s too trivial to mention. It doesn’t matter what happens to some river, or whether the water is filthy or not.

But it does matter, because most of us drink from that water.

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5 thoughts on “Why What Happens to Captain America Matters

  1. “You see, fiction and art and ‘pop culture’ in general are the weak spots in the dam of civilization. They are the points where the flood of chaos and barbarism can most easily work its way through and subvert the whole structure. And they are weak precisely because they are trivial: because most people don’t pay attention to them, or think it worth protesting when writers slip in a poisonous idea.”

    It’s nice to see someone who gets this very important point. There are constant attacks on the cultural mosaic, and the inclination by a lot of people is to say, “Oh, this is just one instance of [insert outlandish stunt here]” or, “You’re making too big of a deal out of this.” Meanwhile, the drip, drip, drip of attacks keep coming and over time the mosaic is completely transformed. The change was so slow as to be almost imperceptible, but it was happening all along…

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  2. Sarah Hoyt has mentioned something like this in her blog.

    https://accordingtohoyt.com/2014/06/19/the-roll-and-flail/

    When a magazine business is failing, principally because it has turned from telling good stories to telling stories that bring social justice, it rolls hard left and does some crazy stuff before it dies.

    What I am saying is that Nick Spencer is twisting Captain America inside out as a means of virtue signalling to his fellow leftists – that way, when he goes down, he can always get another job with those fellow leftists. After all, it isn’t his storytelling that is winning him worship.

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  3. As a pointless aside which you would know if you took the time to read Captain America comics from the beginning to the current; Captain America’s father has long been portrayed as an alcoholic who beat his wife off and on while drinking with her and these things are considered likely explanations for why he was a frail youth with a host of physical maladies who yete strove to serve his country any way he could.
    Such people as his father were called ‘drunkards’ in his time and only ‘alcoholic’ in ours; it’s only after he was thawed out and had experience with Tony Stark, known alcoholic, that he realized what was going on.

    In all other such things you are absolutely correct. It’s just that Nick Spencer didn’t devise that little portion.

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  4. Well-written and I heartily agree.

    The problem of pervasive leftism in pop-culture lies in the same vein as “narrative journalism.” Many media creators are liberal and have an agenda to push. Truth and decency are secondary to getting their views out there in as favorable a light as possible.

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