Last Wednesday an icon fell. Awaiting an arraignment for leading a resistance force against the government's Superhero Registration Act, Captain America was shot in the pages of his eponymous comic book. He was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital. Then the media went a bit nuts.
Major newspapers and television networks began paying attention to comic books. Op/ed pieces appeared all over the Internet. Captain America's death even made its way onto The Colbert Report. Along with an endless string of glorified press releasesÂ--complete with quotes from weepy 45-year-old geeks--a considerable amount of writing emerged contemplating just what it means for the U.S. when a man who runs around in a flag-coloured fetish suit calling himself Captain America gets shot in the back while his hands are bound.
Obviously there's some serious symbolism at play, but no one seems able to figure out exactly what it is. In a recent Los Angeles Times editorial, Jacob Heilbrunn posits Captain America's death signals the failure of the War on Terror and the death of the American dream. In his Huffington Post blog, Ari Emanuel takes things a step further, placing the Bush administration's policies behind the killing. Some conservatives are also claiming Captain America's death represents the degradation of American society due to liberalism. Conservative columnist Michael John McCrae summed up the conservative response most ineloquently.
"In a nation that has been hijacked by liberalism and is being slowly destroyed by democrat-ick [sic] socialism, it is probably importantly symbolic that with the destruction of the Christian Bible and the traditional holidays recognizing the blessings of God; with the elimination of a Constitution that requires strict interpretation and constructionist action to actually work the way the Founders intended; with the spreading of the liberal religions of Darwinism and Global Warming-ism [sic] and with the spreading of immorality through the acceptance of atheism and the homosexual agenda, that Captain America be struck down from a hidden threat on the steps of a court house," he semi-lucidly wrote on The Conservative Voice's website.
Though the intentions of these displays of finger-pointing, name-calling and generally insane ramblings may be noble, they miss the point. People can't figure out what political allegory Marvel was trying to make by killing Captain America simply because they don't know what America is right now, much less what the death of one of its symbols means. The divisiveness and debate his death has produced only illustrates how the U.S. is in the midst of an identity crisis.
Captain America has always been used by Marvel to represent the general consensus in U.S. politics. When created in 1941, he was the ultimate anti-Nazi force. By the time the '70s rolled around, Cap had his hands full exposing Richard Nixon as a corrupt, incompetent ruler. During the Reagan administration in the '80s Captain America joined the majority of his jingoistic countrymen in unabashed nationalism and celebrations of neoconservatism. Today, while Americans decide whether they want to be security-obsessed Christian nationalists or the world's cool big brother, Captain America has no consensus to represent.
When Americans can't even agree on the principles their nation is supposed to uphold, killing off a symbol like Captain America makes perfect sense. Though people might not know what Captain America is supposed to be, they do know that seeing him bleeding to death on courthouse steps means something is a little messed up with their country. Failure to reach an agreement on what it is only adds to the uneasy feeling. Hence the media's reaction.
Ultimately, Captain America's death takes place in the pages of a superhero comic and has fittingly been set up as means to create more opportunities for some serious punching and kicking. This said, Marvel has proven incredibly intelligent in their use of Captain America as a representation of American politics this time around. Instead of the conflicted and confused American, Captain America stayed strong in his convictions and ended up dying because of them. Here it wasn't the character that represented the American political reality, but the media frenzy surrounding his death. The death of Captain America has left U.S. citizens--or the comic book-reading population, at least--with some serious questions to answer. Namely, who they are and what that means.