Kit reviewed Captain America: Steve Rogers #7 this week (check his review here). He also had a few thoughts about how the story reflects the current political climate in the wake of this week’s election.
Spoilers for the current Captain America story are included
Captain America always has been and always will be a political story. From his original conception of pro-American propaganda during World War 2, to his stance on civil rights and personal freedoms during Civil War and the times he has given up the role of Captain America due to the state of American politics. In my view, this is still entirely the case. I would clarify though, that this is only my reading into and what I took from the comic (Captain America: Steve Rogers #7). It may well not be the original intention of writer Nick Spencer to include such a political message in this story, but if that is the case I would argue Barthes’ Death of the Author theory applies (the idea that whatever the reader reads into a story is valid, whatever the intentions of the author).
It is entirely my belief that Steve Rogers’ current conversion to Hydra is representative of the political climate in the US, UK and large parts of Europe. He is the embodiment of what America should be, and now ideologically he’s a fascist. The fact he’s still working with SHIELD and with the governments of the west against the more blatant fascism of the Red Skull really brings home the point that the current ideals of the west have lurched to the far-right. If he was standing by the Skull, laughing manically it would be a more traditional mind control story, but no, this is the story of western ideology being rewritten to support the political far right.
One of the things that cut a bit close to the bone was the Red Skull’s speech itself. It is not that far removed from what we hear some political leaders say these days. He simply takes it one step further, not just ‘blame the existing establishments for your suffering’ or ‘blame those who are different’ he’s simply added one or two more steps to reach the point of ‘we must tear them down’. This is why this story is important. It is reflecting the current political mood of populist and charismatic leaders acting as if they’re above the existing establishments and by extension the law, hijacking the narrative to say that it’s those who are different to use that are to blame for our misfortune, despite the fact they face the same struggles we do and while pointing to some parts of the establishment glossing over the fact that they themselves are embedded into other parts of it.
There is sometimes a strange idea that fiction and entertainment should remain politically neutral. That has never been the case. It exists to give us a medium to explore ideas and make sense of them. To show us what is happening and make us think about it.
The thing is, reading this story I have no doubt that soon enough his history will be corrected and Steve will be his good old liberally minded self again. And, if like me you think that way and you’ve been despairing at recent political events, it’s worth remembering that this is not the first, and will not be the last time that it will feel like the world is going to shit, that ignorance, prejudice, discrimination and every ugly aspect of society is on the rise. Every time that has happened though, the world has turned, not without pain, but equality, empathy, compassion and kindness haven’t gone away before and aren’t going to go away now, especially if we stand up for what we believe in and try to understand why someone who thinks otherwise does so.
This story will then be seen, if anyone ever looks back at it, as a reflection of what was happening during 2016, something comics can do so incredibly well. From Steve Rogers punching Hitler, to Iron Man fighting Communists and even Captain Planet telling kids to stay in school and pick up their litter. I consider this to be an ugly year, maybe next year and the year after will be too, but the only good thing about a bad year is that thanks to time being linear it ends. Then we’ll move on and away from it and look back at 2016 and simply wonder “what the fuck” or finally prove that up until then David Bowie was the one holding the fabric of reality together.