It’s perhaps unsurprising when a Fox news host misunderstands something simply because it wears red, white, and blue. Last night, Fox News host Neil Cavuto and guests said Wonder Woman had been rendered unpatriotic because her costume in the new movie is red, gold and blue rather than red, white and blue, and that there was “very little reference to America at all” in the movie. Nevermind that Wonder Woman is an Amazonian, not an American — finally, a birth certificate controversy with real meat on its bones!
But what struck me were their passing comments about Captain America, long one of my favorite Marvel heroes and a character launched into new levels of amazing thanks to both the work of Ed Brubaker and the recent Marvel movies, where the character has been played to perfection by Chris Evans. Cavuto said of the movies, “Even Captain America has toned down his patriotic (unintelligible).” Another guest says, “They’re changing that to make money.”
Their fundamental misunderstanding of who and what Captain America is, and in turn what America is, is striking and instructive.
Captain America has rarely, if ever, been presented with the kind of jingoistic patriotism guys like Cavuto demand. That’s not who Captain America is. Never has been, save maybe during WWII, when he was an overt propaganda character created to punch Hitler in the face. He represents the American IDEAL, not the American reality — there is a distinction — and it’s an ideal that the people who are loudest about patriotism often can’t seem to wrap their heads around.
When the film Steve Rogers disobeys orders and rescues a bunch of POWs, he does it because showing humanity to your fellow man is more important than military bean counters, budget watchers and planners saying it’s not worth the cost or effort. That’s a stance people like this would call un-American, and yet I’d argue it’s exactly in line with the American ideal. You know, the one we seem to have a hard time living up to?
When he tells Nick Fury in The Winter Soldier that “this isn’t freedom, this is fear,” he’s making a sharp commentary on the way fear drives modern political agendas and how dangerous that fear can be. It’s a sharp contrast to those who insist that patriotism means waving the flag and shooting at anyone who politicians have dubbed “the enemy.”
Again, this is a stance the Cavutos of the world would call un-American, and yet is there anything MORE American than the idea of calling bullshit on power structures and the people on top of them? The country was BUILT on that.
Captain America represents the America we should have, not the one we do. He’s garbed in red, white, and blue, and for that reason some people make the mistake of thinking he represents the kind of blindly patriotic fervor the most loudly “patriotic” among us demand.
The reality, however, is that when people insist we worship a flag and engage in daily indoctrination rituals like the Pledge, lest we be labeled un-Patriotic if we decline, they’re basically insisting that we act contrary to everything America is about. We’re not built on blind love for red white and blue idols, we’re built on free spirit, free thought, and an inherent duty to question power. THAT is the American ideal. Not flags. Not unquestioning loyalty. Not pushing ourselves in everyone’s face.
Rather, it is “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
That is the American ideal we struggle to uphold but should always strive for, and those are the ideals Captain America has long stood for.
Not that I expect Cavuto and crew to ever understand that.