On this, the 4th of July, I usually wear my Captain America t-shirt, because reasons. This year, as I sat around with family and friends, eating charred meat I thought about my shirt and the character it represents and suddenly, unexpectedly, the irony set in.
I was thinking of the Avengers, or more specifically the four “core” members that built the foundation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For those that aren’t familiar, the founding members of the Avengers in the film universe are Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America. Sure, to a lesser extent, Black Widow and Hawkeye were founders too, but they didn’t get their own solo movies. Black Widow will get hers, but that’s not really part of my point. I want to look at the four founders individually and what they represent.
Iron Man came first. Tony Stark. Tony has a brilliant, inventive mind and can create technology that we mere mortals can only dream of. He’s also deeply narcissistic, arrogant, and brash. He loves the sound of his own voice and he always thinks he’s right, especially when he isn’t. He thinks fast, but talks faster and often puts his foot in his mouth or into some shit because he often doesn’t think before he speaks or acts.
Next we have The Incredible Hulk. Bruce Banner. Again, we have a brilliant scientific mind. Seven PhDs in various scientific disciplines. But when the “other guy” comes out he is mindlessly violent. He smashes first and asks questions later. He is one of the strongest and most dangerous beings in the world. Each time Bruce recovers from one of the episodes as the other guy, he is tortured and haunted by it. He loses control and destroys and then flagellates himself over the collateral damage he leaves in his wake.
Thor is more refined, to be sure but also arrogant, and self important, similar to Iron Man. The main difference is that Thor’s arrogance would place him apart and above everyone else in his own eyes. He seems to judge from an ivory tower at times, whereas Iron Man would rather revel in his accomplishments and hear everyone sing his praises. This aloofness seems to come from his father, who - it bears mentioning - can often be cold. Thor is always striving to win his father’s approval, which many of us can identify with.
To summarize, we have the arrogant narcissist playboy, the guilt-ridden rage monster, and the aloof rich kid with a daddy complex.
Then there is Steve Rogers. Captain America. The boy scout. He will always do what is right, no matter the cost. He has not a selfish bone in his body and not a demon to speak of. He’s handsome and strong and squeaky clean. He would rather pilot a plane directly into the ocean than see any innocent lives lost. This is where that irony I mentioned earlier comes in. I would suggest that the other three deeply flawed members of the original Avengers squad, with their flaws and demons, are more like America than the man who bears the “A” on his forehead and the star-spangled onesie.
Are we a selfless nation of do-gooders? I don’t see the evidence to say so. We charge into other countries, make demands, provoke trade wars, shut our doors to refugees, and detain the tired, poor, huddled masses at our borders. We separate these would-be immigrants from their children. We ingratiate dictators. We find it acceptable that three people in this country own fully half of all the wealth to be had in this country. Yes, you read that correctly. The three richest private citizens in this nation control half of all the buying power possible here. All the while people starve on our streets. People go without access to medical care and mental health care. The education system is slowly falling apart from lack of care and children are shot and killed in our schools on a sickeningly regular basis.
But believe it or not, this is also the hopeful portion of this piece. I think Captain America is what we American’s aspire to be. Deep down we really do understand that we are more like the other, less-polished Avengers. We are self-important. We do smash without thinking and regret it later. We do look down on the world from on high. As a culture we are guilty of all this. We are riddled with cultural demons that haunt us daily. And yet, we want to be the brave and charming savior. We want to believe that we can only do good and believe that we will only do just that. And I kind of love that about us. Oh, I could do without the arrogant mistakes or raging blunders or haughty judgements. Certainly. But I love that we wish we were Steve Rogers. We wish that we were the best of us.
So, on this day of celebration of the birth of our nation, let’s think of Captain America and the good guys we want to be. Let’s think of how we can leave the world better than we found it. How we can fight the good fight and serve the greater good. How can we better serve and protect our neighbors (on both the local and international levels). Even if that isn’t who we really are, it could be. It should be. The metaphor breaks down here. There’s no quirky, German doctor to give us a super soldier serum like Steve got to become The Captain. We just need to get up off our asses and do the work.