John Ostrander: Displaced
One of the brilliant moves that Stan Lee made in the early issues of The Avengers was to bring Captain America from the 40s into what was then the modern day. He had Cap frozen in ice from the end of WWII until he was thawed out. Cap hadn’t aged, Stan didn’t bring a new guy into the costume, this was the same Steve Rogers and he became a man out of time. A hero of one era moved to a time when just about everyone he knew was dead. And the world as he knew it was gone.
They repeated that idea in the Captain America movie and picked up on it in this year’s Avengers movie blockbuster. I think that it’s Nick Fury who notes that, for Cap, World War II was not decades ago – it was just a few weeks. The society, for good and bad, is not the same, the values aren’t the same, so where does Steve Rogers, Captain America, fit in? Does he fit in?
Most of America is celebrating the Fourth of July this weekend, even though the real Fourth isn’t for a few days. We celebrate the birth of our nation that was, as Abraham Lincoln said, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal.” That was the United States I believed in when I was young. Now? These days I find myself identifying more and more with that Steve Rogers who came out of hibernation to a whole new nation.
Maybe it’s just creeping old cootism; I’m 63, I grew up in the Fifties and came of age in the 60s. Maybe it’s just this election cycle with its hideous negativism and polarization. Maybe it’s the rise of this new era of Robber Barons. Maybe it’s this continuing recession (depression?) that drags on and on. Maybe it’s just me, where I am and how I feel right now, as I write this.
I remember a country where different political parties and even groups within those parties could argue and disagree, perhaps vehemently, but still could come together and do things for the good of the country and its citizens. The political game wasn’t the be-all and end-all of the process. When the concept of compromise wasn’t “do it my way.” When political dogma wasn’t the rule; when ideology wasn’t engraved on tablets of stone. No one person had the answers; by working together, by compromise, a better answer could be reached.
I remember when corporations were corporate citizens and not multinational conglomerates that were landless nations in their own right. When the CEOs and CFOs operated these companies to the benefit of the stockholders and those who were employed there instead of making sure their executive bonuses increased whether the company prospered or not.
I remember when there wasn’t such a great divide between the wealthy and the poor or even the wealthy and the middle class. Hell, I remember a strong and prosperous middle class. I remember a time when a parent could expect that their children could rise and do better than they did, to graduate from college without the crushing student debt with which these young men and women are now saddled.
I remember when teachers, policemen, and firemen were all respected and not among the first to have their jobs, wages, and pensions cut or their unions attacked and even accused of being among the principle causes of this recession.
I’m a student of history; an imperfect one, I’ll grant, but I’ve read about the robber barons of a century ago. I know how many of those who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were slaveholders. I know how every minority group has had to fight for basic civil rights, be they the right to vote or the right to marry or the right to be treated as full citizens in this country. I know how we pushed and robbed and committed genocide against Native Americans. I’m not naïve and I don’t simply look backwards with rose-colored glasses.
But I used to have more hope.
Woody Guthrie sang:
“This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.”
He also sang in a later verse that is not always performed with the rest of the song:
“In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?”
I don’t know. I used to think this was my land but now I don’t know.
Was it ever?
MONDAY: Mindy Newell