Monday, February 11, 2013

Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero

If the title of Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero interests you, buy it. Fair warning: Jason Dittmer wrote me while he was writing it and asked some smart questions about Captain Confederacy, so I'm undoubtedly a bit biased, but so what?

I found a curious review of the book at Captain Nowhere - Reason.com. Noah Berlatsky says:

It's hard to square that thesis with the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger, where American identity ends up meaning something rather different than truth or justice or the nation-state. Specifically, it means nostalgia. Though it is set in World War II, the enemy in the movie is not the Nazis, who Cap never fights. The villain is the international organization known as Hydra. Its leader, the Red Skull, rants about a future with "no flags"—a future that the film strongly suggests is our own world. In the closing scene Cap, who has slept in suspended animation and awoken in the present, stands lost in Times Square bathed in the light of flickering neon signs promoting, as Jason Michelitch puts it, "the multinational corporate network that has birthed this very movie." Here the nationalist superhero is not a validation of the nation-state. He's a hopeless relic, half-heartedly reprising his patriotic schtick at the command of the very forces he would like to believe that he's fighting.
I don't know what movie Berlatsky was watching. The Red Skull and Hydra were clearly Hitler's heirs who had to be stopped by the literal embodiment of American ideals. Their technology was not for sale to the highest bidder as it would've been in a story that was anticipating our corporate world; The Red Skull was simply seeking good old fashioned world domination. I love the movie, but it's as jingoistic at its heart as the first issue of Captain America that appeared in 1941—it's simply much more sophisticated jingoism.

Berlatsky also has an odd notion of story structure: Captain America: The First Avenger is the first part of a story that continues in The Avengers; no more meaning should be put on its last scenes than one would put on the conclusion of The Fellowship of the Ring. The potency of the name, "Captain America", was recognized by Hollywood: in countries where US imperialism is still a sensitive subject, the movie was simply called The First Avenger.


Recommended: Jason Dittmer responds to Captain Nowhere at The Hooded Utilitarian.

ETA: Relevant in my head, though it may not be in yours: Bufus comments on During the Cold War, did the Soviets have their own James Bond character in the media? A hero who fought the capitalist pigs of the West for the good of Mother Russia.