Captain America: A Metric of Who We Were and Are
I just came back from seeing Captain America: Civil War and I must say I was impressed. But rather than go on with yet another article of high praise for the movie and review, I thought I critique something more specific that spoke to me and how that is reflective of society at large. I am speaking of course of the icon, Captain America, himself.
Out Of Time
Truthfully, I was never an Avengers fanboy, always read the “X” comics back in the day (X-men, New mutants, X-force... etc). However, I was always was aware of who Cap was in general: a World War Two super soldier who was frozen in ice and revived decades later to become one of the founders of the Avengers. And the Marvel movies did an awesome job of bringing the character to life, but here's why it was so interesting.
Being a Rip Van Winkle, Cap represented a particular era of what American society saw itself as and the ideals it believed in. Freedom, yes, but also work and sacrifice for the greater good with no compromise. Even in the movies, he comes across as old-fashioned, even if bad ass. Sort of like a kick ass grandpa who never stopped kicking ass and looked the part to do it. More so than the comics, the movies introduced the character into a time where many of those social mores are gone or have radically changed from the 1940's. Black and white has been replaced by grey. Values of brotherhood and sacrifice for higher goals has been taken over by doing what's best for yourself first. And there wasn't a trace of the cynism that became part of us after the 1970's. The three Captain America movies serve as a clash of how America was then with what America is now, and is that a good or bad?
Civil War puts one aspect up front and center in particular and that was how people look at collateral damage and unintended deaths. It's historically accurate that during the World War, loss of civilian lives caught in the way of the fighting was considered an unavoidable but necessary evil (unless it happened to their own people of course). Breaking a few eggs to make an omelet absolutely applies here and Cap mentions this when speaking about a scenario where some civilians were accidentally killed during an Avengers' mission in Africa gone horribly wrong. While the world and some of his comrades were caught up in shock and dismay, Captain America took in the losses, reflected and mourned briefly, and continued the perceived mission. He's a WW two veteran after all. He has seen whole cities bombed out to rid Europe of Nazi rule, let alone a single building.
And this is where he conflicts with the world around him, who bluntly state that such ethics, even in war time are no unacceptable and no longer tolerated, eloquently stated I might add by the character of King T'challa during a UN meeting. Everything is now micro manage,compromise and working within the system to preserve the peaceful-if -imperfect status quo. This is conflict reflected today within American society between those who feel we are over reacting to every little word an insult, and those who feel that no longer trust such accountability.
Thus Captain America becomes a sort of judge of the the modern world: you're lacking a morale compass, too caught up in distractions not heavy enough to damage the world at large, and crippled by agendas and bureaucratic red tape.
This leads to the other contrast of the American eras: clear and focused strong will. Cap is a fictional character who doesn't give a fuck if you think his values are out of place or insult him for it. He will do what needs to be done and deal with the rest as it comes. This was very much an American mentality that was rooted from the struggles of daily life during the 1930's Great Depression, and continued through a war on two sides of the world against enemies considered to be truly evil and not just offensive. Stop complaining and get it done: end of story.
Now of course, all of that is a flawed self-perspective, ignoring the rampant and underlying prejudices and many other social inadequacies of the times, but that was how we Americans saw ourselves. Even the ones on the receiving end of the injustices, who believed that fighting the war for ideals that did nothing for them, accepted this mantra.
On the opposing moral side, one death is not just a blink of an eye, but is enough to question an entire mission or campaign. Laws and restrictions are put into place to prevent the one or few injustices in order to preserve the status quo or new Pax Romana we are trying to create. And you never trust those laws or such lofty ideals anyway because so much of it has turned out to be bullshit. Better to get what you can and be happy.
A National Foil
There are many Americans today that feel that being unable to say what you feel because its offensive and politically incorrect and can cost you your job is going too far. Suck it up and move on. And the other side who feels that those values don't appreciate individual lives and freedoms enough! So much so that they rather say ignore and move on, rather than eradicate that injustice. And there are equally many Americans who feel we need to be more caring because of the injustices that may happen if we don't and to deal with a world that largely now resents the upfront American values now seen as arrogance rather than helping the world. These are the social questions and issues that a character like Captain America raises. Who were we? Who are we, and where should we be going? I don't think that is an answer anyone has truly yet.