Reclaiming Our Heroes

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I mentioned recently that I had put my Captain America stuff into storage because of recent events in the comics. After a conversation with a friend, I pulled some of it back out…and even added a couple. And put them in this simple, tiny Cap shrine.

Shrine. That’s a fun word. Here’s a definition of it (from the OED): “A place associated with or containing memorabilia of a particular revered person or thing.” And while we’re at it, for revere: “Feel deep respect or admiration for (something).”

So…what’s there to revere about Captain America?

Full disclosure, I haven’t actually read many Captain America comics. I’ve read a few more that feature him as one of many characters, but I’m not by any means an expert on the character. And yet, he has been one of my favorite superheroes and for awhile there was my number one favorite.

When Marvel’s first “Civil War” crossover started, I had just started reading comics regularly and really didn’t know much about any characters beyond the X-Men. That event seemed like a good way to get to know more of them and I also liked that they were tackling “important issues.” Now I mostly think that whole event is a mess and I kind of laugh at how seriously I took it at the time. But one thing stuck with me.

Before reading, I was sure I knew which side I was on. That is, whose side I was on. During the Bush presidency, I had been told by “patriots” over and over that my politics were un-American and that if I was going to criticize the President I should leave the country. I’d been threatened, friends of mine had been physically attacked, and everything about overt American pride was starting to make me sick and suspicious.

Obviously Captain America was going to be terrible and stand for everything the conservatives I knew kept insisting America was, which meant he’d be completely against me and everything I believed. But instead, I found that we were on the same side! (Granted, re-visiting it now the sides in themselves are ridiculous and it mostly reads as Millar making fun of all of us.) I was fascinated by the fact that in comics, the ultimate patriot was more like me and believed that sometimes criticizing and even standing up against the government was a patriotic responsibility.

His portrayal in the movies doesn’t hurt, either. Ultimate good guy Steve Rogers. Hard to have a problem with that.

Since the guy currently writing him in comics decided to make him a Nazi, though, things are a bit different. I’ve seen white supremacists using his image for their social media avatars and I don’t want to share anything with them if I can help it. I’m no longer comfortable having Cap pins on my backpack because I don’t want to seem like I’m supporting his current depiction in any way. My shield t-shirt and costume hoodie are at the bottom of a pile of laundry. All of it just gave me an “ugh” vibe.

But that’s not the Cap I know. America does not belong to xenophobes and hate-mongers, and neither does this character that at his best represents our country’s potential for hope and freedom.

America’s a little scary right now. It’s easy to abandon hope and look for ways to escape until things clear up rather than stay and do the work. But it’s our responsibility to reclaim the things we love about it and make it into the country we know it can be. To bring our best selves forward and create the best version of our country. While I’m still not completely comfortable with the character, for now I’ll keep this little shrine to remind me of that. It’s a small thing, but the way things are now I’ll gladly take these small and ridiculous sources of hope wherever I can find them.

What gives you hope in dark times? What things do you revere that you want to make space for in your life?

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