Weaponized Norman Rockwell (#SFWApro)

That’s how one commenter in this post describes Captain America: “The best way to understand Captain America is that he is ‘weaponized Norman Rockwell.’ And not just the Norman Rockwell who painted Boy Scouts, Santa Claus, and baseball games, but the Norman Rockwell who painted Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, Rosie the Riveter, and little black girls being escorted to desegregated schools by Federal marshals.”
The post itself is a riposte to another article in which Abraham Riesman argues that Captain America is a dull character who’d be more interesting if he were a jerk, “someone still high on ’40s social norms, righteous wartime adrenaline, and super-serum. Would he be the gentle, sensitive man we see in Marvel’s films and comics? It’s certainly possible. But isn’t it more likely — and more interesting to imagine — that we would find him difficult and reactionary? That he’d be uncomfortably macho and out of touch with modern values? In other words: Wouldn’t he be more John McCain than Barack Obama?”
As the riposte points out this makes assumptions about the past that don’t hold up: A 1930s or 1940s New Dealer would be radically left of most of today’s politicians.
Someone from that age might also be shocked that World War II ushered in an era of perpetual war and America being the world’s policeman. From most of what I’ve read, America’s GIs weren’t looking forward to a new war and neither was the country. 1949’s Sands of Iwo Jima shows Marine lifer John Wayne as a screw-up incapable of functioning outside the military, and implies that what America really needs are people who can walk away from the military and back to civilian life, like film protagonist John Agar.
Cap might also be horrified at the ruthlessness with which 21st century America incarcerates people. The 1930s was an era where a lot more people still believed in rehabilitating prisoners than I think do today. A number of mainstream 1930s movies (Boy’s Town, Knock on Any Door) explained a lot of crime with “society’s to blame.”
Of course, it’s just as plausible that Cap could be an American who admired the KKK, supported interning the Japanese or thought of FDR as a class traitor. But contrary to Riesman, this isn’t some automatic result of living in the 1930s or fighting World War II. The Mark Millar version of Cap that Riesman likes isn’t some authentic portrayal of the Greatest Generation, he’s just a dick.
Riesman’s article is just one in the endless stream of “Well Superman/Cap/Supergirl can’t be interesting because he/she is nice.” And that being a thug or a jerk is automatically more interesting or more complex. Not that thugs or jerks can’t make viable heroes, but so can decent human beings. As I think Cap does, when he’s written well.
Besides, as I’ve noted before, Cap has never been written as a historical representation of a 1930s/1940s guy. He’s written to represent the best of America, whether the writer thinks that’s anti-Communism, equal rights or a willingness to question the system.
I do not think making Steve Rogers more of a jerk qualifies.

1 Comment

Filed under Comics, Movies, Politics, Reading

One response to “Weaponized Norman Rockwell (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Heroes and badasses (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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