Why Captain America Reminds Me Never to Give Up

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Promotional image for the 2014 film “Captain America: Winter Solder.”

After all the you’re a racist if you don’t believe Colin Kaepernick gave up everything to be Nike’s “Just Do It” 30th anniversary spokesperson garbage a few days ago, I decided I needed to unwind and experience something to restore my spirit. So I again chose to dust off the DVD and watch the 2014 film Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Why, you ask?

I can’t find the quote online, but I recall that actor Chris Evans, who plays “Cap” in the Marvel movies, said something like “Captain America does good for the sake of doing good. He’s everything I’ve ever wanted to be as a man.”

That’s probably not exact, but I’m betting it’s pretty close.

In the film, he says stuff like:

I know I’m asking a lot. But the price of freedom is high. It always has been. And it’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it. But I’m willing to bet I’m not.

And…

Yeah, we compromised. Sometimes in ways that made us not sleep so well. But we did it so the people could be free. This isn’t freedom, this is fear.

He didn’t act ashamed of America and, after all, the guy’s uniform is basically the American flag (I’d like to see someone try to stomp on or burn it while Rogers was wearing it). Steve Rogers is a living reminder why it’s okay to still believe that our nation is made up of people who do good and want to be even better.

Cap’s loyal to his friends, even when he doesn’t always trust them, like Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) or Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), or even when they’re trying to kill him like Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

Bucky. you’ve known me your entire life. Your name is James Buchanan Barnes…I’m not gonna fight you. You’re my friend…Then finish it. ‘Cause I’m with you ’til the end of the line.

He inspires the best in people. When Steve and Natasha are on the run from SHIELD/Hydra, they turn to a person Rogers had just met a few days before, veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). Realizing that the two needed a lot more than just a place to lay low, he volunteers to go back into action as the Falcon, saying:

Captain America needs my help. There’s no better reason to get back in.

Sam didn’t interrogate Steve about his belief system, his thoughts on race, feminism, the LBGTQ+ community, or anything else, and frankly, given that Rogers was born in 1918, frozen solid in 1945, and then thawed out in 2011, skipping over almost 70 years of history, he’s bound to have retained some pretty “old-fashioned” values.

There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.

-Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) from the 2012 film The Avengers.

But the Captain America who inspires and restores me is only the Captain America in the movies, and in the old comic books I read when I was a kid and a young adult. Today, Marvel, in its infinite stupidity, has turned him into a Nazi, and even Mashable thinks that’s going way too far. Of course Mashable writer Aliza Weinberger sees it only one way:

People are getting hurt, and Marvel is giving the Alt-Right neo-Nazis of 2017 a co-opted symbol for their hate. A symbol who used to stand for the acceptance and freedoms of America is now going to end up tattooed on the arm of a guy who wants to kill me for being who I am.

I don’t see it just that way, although I suppose Weinberger has a point (and I can see it because my wife and children are Jewish). However, I suspect Marvel’s real motivation was to take the clearest symbol of America as good that survived the World War Two era, and drag a positive sense of pride in our nation through the mud, essentially stating that America is Nazi Germany.

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Image from Marvel comics

My negative response to that thought and the language that would follow can’t be strong enough to express my displeasure, which is why Marvel as a comic book publisher lost its luster and abandoned its glory days a long time ago. Actually, so did DC Comics back in 2011 when they decided to have Superman renounce his American citizenship (at some point in the past, the worlds greatest “resident alien” was granted citizenship in the U.S.).

A few days ago, the author at The Armchair Commentary wrote an article called Dictating the conditions of freedom, which essentially said it’s racist to disagree with Nike’s choice of Colin Kaepernick as their spokesperson.

Actually, if you go to her “About” page, she turns out to be very interesting:

I am a person who enjoys living my life. I’m a person who tries to have compassion for others. I try to live my beliefs. I like to think and solve problems. I like to laugh. I’m random. I love to travel. I like food. I don’t like labels, but I understand their value. Some of my labels are: Jesus-follower. Wife. Mother. Teacher/Preacher. Wannabe Revivalist. Thinker. African-American. Innovator.

She’s also written, Why We Need to Discuss Race, The White Man’s Religion: How white Christians can pursue racial reconciliation, and What I want my white friends and family to understand this Black History Month. Yes, reading this makes me uncomfortable.

But I guess that’s the point. Like Cap said, “The price of freedom is high,” but we don’t have freedom in America unless everyone is free. That includes free to say some pretty uncomfortable things. I’m sure the author at “The Armchair Commentary” has good reasons to remain anonymous on the internet, given that the web can be a pretty nasty place. It allows us to communicate with people we might not otherwise know about, but it also gives anyone with an ax to grind the ability to reach out and hack away at you in many terrible ways.

Captain America is my “go to guy” to help me remember that being white, male, old, straight, conservative, Christian, and American doesn’t automatically make me a monster. Technically, the fictional Captain America is all of those things, and at least in the movies and decades old comic books, no one gives him heck about it (Okay, I haven’t seen the latest “Avengers” movie or “The Black Panther,” so I don’t know about Cap’s current portrayal in the cinema). Cap does good for the sake of doing good, and I can wrap myself in that like a warm blanket and stay there all day long.

Except that’s not what Cap would do.

In the “Winter Soldier” movie, there’s a point where Hydra operative Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo) orders a technician to launch the three Project Insight helicarriers which, once they reach 3,000 feet, will start automatically killing millions of innocent people, anyone who could stand in Hydra’s way.

Now this tech isn’t a hero, super or otherwise. He’s just an ordinary guy (with one heck of a security clearance if he’s working for SHIELD), who is terrified and who has a gun to his head. But even facing all that, his response is (I can’t find the exact quote online, so I’ll have to wing it – and I can’t find the actor’s name either):

I won’t. Captain’s orders.”

Of course Agent 13/”Kate” (Emily VanCamp) blows it by not immediately shooting Rumlow, but that’s besides the point. The point is that Captain America can inspire ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He’s the ultimate American hero in the movies and he was in the comic books before Marvel’s creative team went completely off the rails.

While kissing Natasha made him feel uncomfortable, he would never hide from anything authentically difficult and avoid doing what’s right. When I started writing this blog post in my head, it had a different ending, but I almost always process thoughts and feelings through the keyboard, so it’s moving in another direction.

It’s important to do the right thing, even when it’s uncomfortable, even when you don’t want to. But doing what’s right and being who you are should never make you doubt yourself or cause you believe you are less than worthy. Other people can make you feel bad only if you let them.

That said, there will always be people who will believe I’m a racist because I’m white, breathing, choose to exercise free will, and express my opinions publicly. I don’t experience myself as a racist, but I can’t help other people’s perceptions, nor can I let them destroy my spirit. Is there racism, sexism, and a whole lot of other “isms” in America and the world today? Yes, of course. Does that make me a bad person or America a bad country? No, I don’t believe it does. Captain America isn’t a symbol of America as it is or was, he’s a symbol of the ideal America, who we are at our best and what we can be if we embrace that ideal. Cap is the goal we all strive for, the person we are all working to become.

There are no perfect people in the world, and there never has been a perfect nation. Actually, there is one person who never sinned (was perfect, if not in the eyes of 21st century progressives, in God’s eyes, which is somewhat more important). The transliteration of his Hebrew name is Yeshua, but most people know him as Jesus. He’s also someone who did good for the sake of doing good, and even though he was tempted (Most Christians are going to disagree with me here, but the temptation wouldn’t have been critical to his mission unless he was really tempted and could have chosen to fail), he chose instead the more difficult path, to do good, and even to die rather than take the easy way out.

The metaphysical ramifications of his death and resurrection are too complex to discuss in this forum, and I usually save such topics for my religious blog. However, there’s a reason why I post a quote from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin here every morning, and I put the same quote on Facebook (because even one of my liberal, atheist friends on Facebook likes them).

I do so to show that a person can be religious without being evil. I also read and post his quotes because they’re inspirational to me as well (I know, I’m a very weird Christian).

In the end, if you believe yourself to be a good person, then you have to do good, and that means facing difficult decisions and doing difficult things. But it also means you don’t have to do it alone. People need heroes, even old people like me. Captain America is my hero. I hesitate to say that Jesus is my hero, because really he’s so much more (again, the full explanation exceeds the scope of this online platform), but he is an inspiration, not just to the Jews as their first-born son and coming King of the literal nation if Israel, but to the rest of us, the people of the nations, ordinary human beings who are called to do extraordinary things, at least occasionally.

So Captain America, the ideal, will always be my hero, and the (fictional) person I’ll go to so I can remember that I can be better than I am right now. Jesus is the author of my faith and a reminder that no matter how dim the world becomes, there is always a light, and it will start shining brighter as the world continues to grow darker.

That’s why, no matter how much I doubt myself sometimes, I can never give up or lose hope.

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Captain America (Chris Evans) in the 2012 film “The Avengers.”

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5 thoughts on “Why Captain America Reminds Me Never to Give Up

  1. I used to read all of the Marvel and DC comics when I was a kid and teenager. But I’ve outgrown the superhero genre a long time ago and rarely go see any of the Marvel or DC blockbuster movies. I guess that’s why I’m so cynical, especially these days.

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    • I think this is why old guys have grandchildren (not that we have any control over when our children reproduce). I went and saw the Ant-Man and the Wasp movie with my nine-year-old grandson some weeks back. The “Ant-Man” series isn’t as dark as some of the other superhero movies, and with comedian Paul Rudd in the title roll, there are plenty of laughs for “kids of all ages.”

      I suppose I chose a fictional character as my hero because real life people are…people. In other words, flawed human beings. Sooner or later, no matter how good you think a person is, they’ll fail, occasionally very tragically. But by holding up an ideal and aiming for that, even if you miss or never quite make it, you still improved something about you (I’m using the generic “you” here).

      Unfortunately, my experience with traditional Christianity is that you’ve always got to have the right answer, you can’t struggle with moral decisions, and have to be perfect (not that any Christian is) rather than being a work in progress. Having a Jewish interpretation of my faith, I realize that there’s no such thing as an “all or nothing” religion, doing some good is better than doing no good because you feel emotionally or morally paralyzed, and life is something you wrestle with, not necessarily win, at least not in the short run. African-American science fiction writer Steven Barnes recently wrote on this blog, “Philosophy is asking ‘what is true.’ Politics is asking ‘how can I win’.” I suppose theology, like philosophy, is asking the same question, but once asked, the quest is not to discover the answer per se, but to live out the answer, however imperfectly. I know the internet is supposed to be all about winning, but what if we could change that to all about meaning?

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  2. Well, yeah. I think “traditional” (really not traditional but majority) Christianity has become more about politics. It’s a waste. (That’s not new, but it’s different from say the 1960s and ’70s in my experience.) It doesn’t help that Christianity is now primarily called “Evagelical” (and this involved criticizing what was actually traditional back then); we have constant fresh droves of people who are so-to-speak “fresh off the boat” and following their political leaders as if this is how they will get to heaven or the way to tell themselves they’re okay now (or good).

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    • You, more than most, should know how I understand my faith and that I have about as much in common with Evangelicals and Fundamentalists as Andy Warhol would have had in common with John MacArthur. So, within the actual context of my blog post, what are you saying?

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  3. I think I said it, given what I said was in response to a post by you in this column. But given the importance you place in comics, I’ll say I remember enjoying some lines by Captain America in a movie this decade (I don’t remember the name of the movie, it wasn’t the latest). And due to your nudging, I’ve linked over to an article by someone else — she’s right to say a lot of white people think they should define “terms” for liberation of black people. I like that she said Kaepernick shouldn’t have to choose his blackness but did in the sense that some people chose it for him when he knelt. So, now that I think about it (the hodge-podge of topics under one heading here), is there supposed to be a connection between not liking Captain America (your hero) and Colin exercising his rights?

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