Just to start out, how many of you know what the symbol on my shirt [captain america’s shield] represents? For those of you who don’t, this is Captain America’s shield. If you aren’t familiar with his shield, I’m sure you’ve heard his name at least once or twice. After all, it seems like a new movie about him comes out every other year, not to mention that his comic books have been running since long before most of our parents where born. To most of us, Captain America is just another kitschy superhero, over-powered and cliched in just the right way to make for a fun action flick. However, behind his bulging muscles and brightly-colored tights is a history of political activism and involvement. From his conception, Captain America has presented and framed issues of civic importance to the American public.
Body 1: Origin
- Set the scene: it’s 1940, Europe is consumed in WWII, Nazi Germany is dominating, Jews are being persecuted, and USA is still isolationist
- Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, a jewish comic writer and artist team, are very disturbed by what is happening, decide to do something about it (Mangels et al. web)
- Captain america is born. First issue features him decked out in stars and stripes, punching hitler in the face.
- Response (1 million copies sold)- it swayed public opinion (readership mostly young people) against war (Bellotto web.). There is some backlash (death threats) from Nazi sympathizers (Wright 36).
- Eventually Cap is adopted by the USA for propaganda after they join the war. Cap fights against the Red Skull, the leader of Hydra, a fictional Nazi terror group.
- Cap was created as a very deliberate political message, meant to influence and sway readers into supporting America’s involvement in WWII.
Body 2: How Captain America is effective as a civic artifact
- First, the writers closely linked the character steve rogers with America and American ideals
- Through super hero name (captain america), occupation (both his secret identity and his hero self work for the US military), costume (basically an american flag), and other little details (his birthday is the fourth of july), the identity of Steve Rogers aka Captain America is made intentionally so people see him as the personification of America.
- They use appeals to american commonplaces like “if you work hard you’ll succeed” (sickly, weak steve rogers does not give up on getting into the army, and eventually does via super soldier serum), or “anyone can be a hero” (steve is literally a skinny art student from brooklyn- he’s as human as you can get, initially).
- Once Captain America is linked with the idea of america, the writers can use him to influence readers about what they think America should do or be through his actions.
- His ‘weapon’ is a shield -> america’s job is to protect and defend, not attack
- In the 40s, it was Captain america punches nazies -> america should enter WWII.
- Cap was used as propaganda- comic books would include ads about how to join “Captain America’s Sentinels of Liberty” and encourage readers to buy war bonds to support war effort. (Mangels et al. web.)
Body 3: Cap more recently
- Since Cap was established in WWII he now has ethos as a symbol for american ideals & people have continued to use him to relay political messages (usually through allegories)
- 70s and 80s Cap accepts black and gay people -> americans should accept black and gay people
- In 70s Cap abandons his identity after Secret Empire scandal reveals american govt as corrupt -> Watergate is not what america stands for
- In 2000s Cap opposes Superhero Registration Act -> Patriot act violates american ideals of freedom and liberty, unamerican.
- In 2010s, Cap as sam wilson supports BLM movement and fights against police brutality -> America should stand behind the BLM movement
In the 1940s, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created a character who grew into an American icon. When Captain America first hit the shelves, it incited Americans against Nazi Germany, and helped bolster support for American involvement in WWII. Through clever costumery, characterization, and writing, Captain America was so thoroughly bound to the idea of America that even now, almost 80 years later, Captain America is seen as a symbol for the very best our country can be. So, next time you watch an Avengers flick or read a Captain America comic, ask yourself this: What message is the good Captain telling me now?