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Why Captain America Is The Best (By Someone Who Hates America)

I hate America.

There, I said it.

Please, don’t take it personally, if that’s possible. I don’t hate Americans—not all of you, anyway. I’m just really not a fan of this bizarre faux-patriotism that you spout at every turn.

To the outside world, it looks really weird. You guys get in an uproar when your flag touches the floor. You champion yourselves as the best in the world at a bunch of sports that nobody else cares about. Every Fourth of July I get a phone call from a drunk American friend who’s belting the Star Spangled Banner as if to say that he’s better than me because he was born on a different continent.

Outside of America, we don’t understand your obsession with your history. We don’t get, for example, why Thanksgiving is a celebration of Native American generosity, rather than an “oops, we stole your country” national embarrassment.

Truth be told, I don’t understand half the stuff you guys are so fixated on as part of your national identity. I’m aware that some of your founding fathers threw some tea into Boston Harbor once, but I’m really not sure why this is still a big deal. I thought you guys prefer coffee anyway.

That said, as much as American self-love is gross and repugnant to me, I absolutely adore Captain America.

It’s a weird paradox, at least at first glance. This hero is essentially the embodiment of everything that makes American annoying on the global stage, and yet I can’t get enough of him.

 

I love the irony that Cap is a blond übermensch who fights Nazis. That’s great. Very few pieces of propaganda manage to perpetuate enemy ideals this well, while claiming to oppose them.

What’s fun about Captain America, though, is how he’s become a symbol for America. In a bad Captain America comic, it’s all just sentimental patriotic nonsense, but in a good book, Cap isn’t just a flag-wearing superhero. He’s a literal metaphor for America.

This makes for some really fun stories. Like when Cap became Nomad, essentially because America lost faith in its President in the wake of Watergate. That’s a fantastic piece of ideology that can’t be overlooked—Captain America is a stand-in for the mood of the nation.

I also love how different writers will use Cap in different ways.

Remember when, in The Winter Soldier, Cap leaked all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files onto the internet? That was ballsy stuff! The Russo Brothers essentially said that Edwards Snowden is an American hero, and that the government is acting like a Nazi death cult in trying to read your Facebook posts!

What other nation has a hero that can be used for such bold statements? And, more importantly, what other country will allow a big budget action movie to subtly criticize its actions.

America might be full of arrogant zealots, but I’ve got to give you points for style.

I remember when Captain America died in the comics, after the fallout from Civil War. This was such a serious news piece that it was included as a bulletin on BBC Radio 4, which is a big deal. The news reporters debated what it must say about the American people in the wake of the Iraq War that Marvel’s writers thought that Cap had to die.

 

His death was perfectly American, too—a mysterious sniper took Cap out as he climbed a flight of court room steps. That’s just brilliant—it really speaks volumes about your country and the very pedestrian internal threats of which you’re most afraid.

(Of course, Cap was only dead for a few months, and it turned out that he was shot by a magical time traveling bullet that was fired by a close friend who was being mind controlled, but hey, it’s comics, let’s overlook a bit of crazy nonsense here and there).

I’m even impressed by the recent Hail Hydra controversy. It’s not insignificant that, at a time when your country was growing increasingly agitated towards race relations, and a powerful, charismatic racist was winning the hearts and minds of older voters across the board, that Marvel decided to run this story.

Captain America, a member of an older generation, became brainwashed by a right wing bigot with a weird skin color, until he firmly believed that a racist, Nazi-inspired movement was worth supporting.

Nick Spencer called the presidential election with more accuracy than any of us could have expected.

 

This latest disappointing political development aside (if it’s any consolation, Brexit has Britain stuck in a bigoted mess right alongside you, America), there’s another reason why Cap is my favorite Avenger.

He’s unwaveringly good.

Part of the reason why the Hydra controversy sparked such a negative reaction this year is that fans have come to expect one thing from Captain America: he’s the nicest, most heroic guy your could ever meet.

In a world filled with antiheroes and dark, gritty reboots, it’s wonderful that, until very recently, America has never lost hope in the existence of genuine good guys.

Cap always does the right thing, for the right reason (Nick Spencer’s comics aside). He stands up for the little guy, gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, and does hard stuff simply because he can’t bring himself to take the easy way out if someone gets hurt as a result.

In many ways, Cap almost feels like a better fit for the DC pantheon than he does for the flawed, relatable heroes of the Marvel universe. After all, his focus on Truth, Justice, and the American Way often has outsiders dismissing him as little more than Marvel’s answer to Superman.

Here’s where things get interesting, though: DC doesn’t like the goodie-two-shoes Superman anymore. The company doesn’t think that a heroic nice guy is relatable—hence the New 52 Superman in the comics, and Zack Snyder’s whiny grump Superman who thinks of helping people as a chore, and isn’t above punching a guy through a wall just for looking at his girlfriend funny.

But Captain America proves DC wrong. There’s still definitely a place for truly heroic characters who are always trying to do the right thing.

What’s great about the MCU in particular is that it takes this concept of Cap as an old-fashioned hero literally. “The world could use a little old-fashioned,” says Coulson in The Avengers, and he’s right.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier proves that a man with old fashioned morals adapting to modern life can be compelling and relatable. In truth, there’s a part in all of us which, just like Cap, wants to do the right thing, but isn’t sure who the bad guys are any more.

The lines aren’t all that clear cut, which is why good guys can end up murky things, as in Civil War, when Cap has to choose between what he feels is morally right, and what has been presented to him as the will of the people. Again, it’s hard to ignore the parallels to our post-truth world.

In this way, Captain America isn’t just reflective of the conflict that’s at the heart of American politics—he also speaks to each and every individual’s confusion over choosing between right and wrong.

This is why Captain America speaks to me. Snark, cynicism, and general British grumpiness aside, I still have a desire to make the world a better place. More so than ever, thanks to recent political developments, I find myself wanting to fight for the little guy, and defend those who need my help.

(It helps that I look like the Before Guy in The First Avenger when I take my shirt off).

 

When I grow up, I want to be Captain America.

Just don’t expect me to wear that stupid costume. Your flag isn’t magic, people. Get over it.


Matthew loffhagen

Matthew Loffhagen

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