Wednesday, February 22, 2012

MitchWords: Part Five

I still believe in heroes.

It sounds better coming out of the mouth of Samuel L. Jackson. Of course, most things sound better when he says it, especially if it's peppered with expletives and about reptiles on an aircraft.

The Super Bowl was the other week. I think. Time has a way of eluding me. Such is the curse of a Wednesday Theologian. Or maybe that's the curse of a Time Lord. I don't know. Never mind.

Anyway, Super Bowl. Some sporting event frequently interrupted by high priced commercials trying to sell their product by tapping into the cultural zeitgeist of America. And apparently American culture is founded on automobiles and beer.

Trailers for upcoming blockbuster movies also join the ranks of these commercials. In recent years this has often including movies based on comic book properties, thanks to the comic book movie renaissance ushered in by 1998's Blade.  This year, we got an awesome advertisement for Marvel's The Avengers. And like I said at the beginning, Samuel L. Jackson still believes in heroes.  And so do I.

The other day I saw a young girl in a Superman sweatshirt a couple sizes too big run out of a toy aisle. She was brandishing a Captain America mask and shield located in that aisle. She ran past me and in one smooth movement jumped to a stop, pivoted around, and raised her shield to boldly face whatever evils danced alive within her imagination.

Maybe you think such a scene would be sweet, endearing, or adorable. Sure, it was all those things, but I also found it incredibly inspiring.

There's still a social stigma about comic books as some inferior form of children's literature that is still unacceptable for consumption by children. Maybe, we hope, some day this little girl will graduate from reading about Captain America to reading "real" books. I, however, hope that doesn't happen. Why?

Because someone who reads comics about Captain America may read something like this:

Doesn't matter what the press says. Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.
This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences.
When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world --
-- "No, you move."
- Amazing Spider-Man #537
by J. Michael Straczynski and Ron Garney

Yeah, you're not going to find something like that in Twilight.

Of course, just because the little girl was wearing a Cap mask doesn't mean she actually reads Captain America comics, or any comics at all. But with the movie and the upcoming Avengers film, the character has been highlighted in the cultural consciousness. At the very least, that little girl is aware of the character and all that he represents.

She's aware of the hero. I hope she believes in him.

But Captain America is just a fictional comic book hero, why would anyone believe in that? Well, what else do we have to believe in these days?

Let's go back to the Super Bowl commercials. Cars and beer, right? That's what America is built upon. Well, yes, that and myth. Myths and stories fuel our imagination, creativity, and even our values. The architects of the myths of the American 20th century were the writers and artists of the comic book industry.

They don't get a Super Bowl commercial, though. Blockbuster movies based on their creations do, however, which is a testament to the viability and influence of their ideas.

Does Captain America exist? Do Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and Green Lantern actually exist? Not in our reality. But men and women have been telling stories about them since before I was born, and hopefully they will still be telling stories after I'm long gone. So how can I possibly say I'm real and these characters are not?

You may think it's silly for a grown man to read stories about Superman. I believe in Superman. I believe a man can fly. Do you think that's silly? Do you feel sorry for me?

I believe a man can fly and all the hope and inspiration that entails.

I believe a man can fly. I feel sorry for you if you don't.

Superman stands for "truth, justice, and the American way." Watch the news. Do any of the politicians begging for your votes stand for that? Sometimes in this world, in this "reality," there's just not much left to believe in.

So do this one thing for me. Believe the story. Believe the fiction.

Believe in heroes.

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