Captain America: the struggle between character and caricature.
I originally started writing this blog post about two days before the now infamous press release by Marvel Comics that Captain America, the Steve Rogers one, was an agent of H.Y.D.R.A. all along. Now, never mind that this is just another example of a desperate comic industry ratings stunt to sell more than 25.000 copies of any given book not headlined by Spider-Man, Batman, or Star Wars, what really surprised me was the public outcry over this fictional character. I’ve had my issues with Captain America in the past and talked about it here or there with people, but many people are heavily attached to the character. What makes Captain America who is is, is really the embodiment of the American Spirit. Cap is, in the words of Brows Held High, not the man who fought in World War 2. He is the man who fought in the World War that Americans wanted to fight. One in which the good guys always won, in which the Americans didn’t arrest hundreds of thousands of Japanese-American citizens, in which we don’t have to talk about the suffering and dying on the front lines. Where the bad guys weren’t also mostly people fighting to survive and for their comrades to survive. And I think it took me a while to come to terms with Captain America.
Joss Whedon was not a revolutionary creator, he was but one of many in a generation of new creators.
When it comes to science fiction television series blended with western and cowboy motifs following an ensemble cast of snarky badasses who go from job to job, throughout a star system on their awesome spaceship with a spin-section, Firefly is my second to most favorite next to Cowboy Bebop. But all joking aside, when Firefly aired in 2003 in the US and when I finally got my hands on the DVD set around the time the movie hit, it was a series that friends of mine got tired of me talking about until I had infected them with the Firefly virus as well.
I loved the stories, the universe it set up, the characters, their motivations, the wonderful soundtrack, it was great. I wondered who the genius was who had created this wonderful show that I had come to adore so much and that was the way I learned about Joss Whedon. Oh, Joss Whedon, what can you say about the man that the internet hasn’t dragged up yet? Well, nothing much. From Buffy to Angel, from Dollhouse to Agents of SHIELD, from Serenity to The Avengers, numerous comic book runs and entire tropes of the likes of “Buffy Speak”, the man certainly has left a mark on pop culture over the last little while. And yet there was always this slight nagging in the back of my mind whenever fans and pop-culture critics praised the man for being the innovator that he was.
It’s been close to a decade now that I have come to contact with the man’s work, I have almost finished dual Anglistics and History Bachelor’s degrees at my university and now find myself in a weird spot where the two fields of study I have chosen for myself in what future historians and grumpy Millennials will call “the Great Uni Rush of 2012” (it’s a German thing, you wouldn’t get it…) have started to let me see the world in two different ways: one in which Joss Whedon was a revolutionary TV creator and one in which he was part of a larger movement, surely talented and even the most mediocre of his work still enjoyable on some levels, but surely not revolutionary.
Believe it or not, but sometimes I actually wanna write about something other than comics. I know, scary thought. So let’s talk about the internet’s favorite past time besides kittens and boobs: conspiracies.
Conspiracies have always fascinated humans. The thought that someone could have come up with a highly complex plan to create a false flag operation to invade a foreign country for its natural resources. And why yes, I am talking about 9/11. But here’s the deal: most of the conspiracy theories that people talk about and believe to be purposefully created are not such events. And the thought that nothing of this event, to stay with the example of 9/11, that at no point the US government was in a position of absolute control, that some demented extremists, who had set their mind to their perverted task, were just able to take two planes and fly them into nerve centers of American life, commerce and defense, that frightens people. Fear. The main reason for the existence of conspiracy theories.
Conspiracy theories are a coping mechanism. I have often heard from people about their fear of the puppet masters, the secret cabal of shadowy figures that meet in some castle high up in the Swiss mountains and decide the destiny of the world. That our existence is dictated by them, that every facet of human society is guided by them, that all the atrocities are explainable, have a reason, that might frighten people, but I believe it also comforts them, thus the reason for the conspiracy to begin with. Because I believe that there is one fear that is greater than the secret cabal of secret world rulers who are really secretive: the idea of no puppet master at all.
Scene from Avengers: Age of Ultron, captioned
This is truly my greatest fear. Imagine for a moment that all of human society is a bus slowly driving towards a ravine, as satirist and comedian Volker Pispers once said, but now imagine that no one is actually driving, yet the bus is still driving towards the edge and we can’t, or rather won’t, do anything about this. The idea of a puppet master, though frightening in its own right, is also comforting because it absolves humanity of both its own fault in current disasters. The current conflict in the Middle East was not caused by short sighted European and American interventionism and terrible reshuffling of the world regardless of ethnic lines during and after the Versailles Peace Treaty, done by people who really hadn’t the faintest idea of what they were doing, it was the puppet masters. 9/11 didn’t happen because of gross negligence on the part of security agencies and terrorists who really set their mind to the task and succeeded to outfox a security apparatus that, until then, was though to keep its populace safe. Better to believe in a puppet master and blame once actions on him, then to realize there are no strings, there have never been strings, and all that happens is random or self-inflicted.
Here is a secret I got to tell those of you who do not believe in social security, free college tuition, unemployment benefits, and the minimum wage: being a socialist does not have to be about being selfish and giving back to the community. No, these programs are, in fact, beautifully shrewd and pragmatic. I love ‘em. Do I do so because I like some bad apples coasting on benefits or because I want to join them? Do I do so because I enjoy a tax money subsidized affordable university education? Maybe. But here is why I think everyone should approve of these welfare programs: because they are so inherently, beautifully selfish. But first a history lesson before everyone thinks I’ve been replaced by a lizard person from the 5th dimension.
The one step program of creating a welfare state: be selfish.
Deep Space Nine is my favorite Star Trek show and the only one I would consider “good” in the same way I would consider any TV show to be actually good. It is also a TV that, at the time of its release and even today, is considered somewhat of a redheaded stepchild in Trek circles. had continuously low ratings when airing besides The Next Generation and even Voyager. Voyager, of all shows, that’s like getting told Lex Luhor’s haircut is better than yours. But I digress. Deep Space Nine has since seen critical re-evaluation and a vocal minority of Trek fans considers themselves to be “Niners” meaning they are exclusively DS9 fans and can’t identify with any of the other Trek shows. And one could easily, at least when writing for this “fascinating” website write here, easily come to the point where one can use Deep Space Nine as a metaphor for Bernie Sanders.
24. Homeland. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Quantico. What do all of these shows have in common? Besides prettier than real secret agents? They all, basically, focus around the idea of counter-terrorism in some way or another. Jack Bauer, Carrie Matheson, Phil Coulson, Alex Parrish, their entire calling in life is to snuff out the latest threat to American interests. Sometimes an Allie may be in danger but, come one, we all know that it’s really all about the good old US of A.
And for a time there, that made sense. It’s become a cliche to say it but 9/11 has really changed everything in the West, and in the US in particular. Not since Pearl Harbor, which wasn’t even on the US mainland, have Americans been attacked at home. The World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, all of them fought in the distance, and in many ways it was impossible to tell it was war at home. 9/11 changed that. Paris and Brussels are changing that right now in Europe. Vulnerability is something even our high powered armies with precision missiles smarter than the average middle schooler, and what not, cannot make us feel safe at a concert or some other big event anymore. So, like always, we took to fiction to cope with this. Jack Bauer can take out two terrorists threats in a day all without sleeping, going to the loo, and reading the Geneva Conventions. Carrie Matheson can track down Not-Bin Laden in a couple of weeks by connecting all the dots. Phil Coulson… does stuff with Not-Mutants. And Nazis. And something is happening on Quantico but that’s not been spoiled by pop cultural osmosis yet so why spoil it here. In real life the big three letter alphabet agencies were not able to protect the citizenry even while happily undermining basic civil rights for privacy and person-hood.