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
I don’t live there but I’d vote for you if I could, John.
Another verse that doesn’t usually get sung (but Springsteen usually does it):
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
The country fails, falls, falters. The Dream never does.
This country has survived bitter partisanship such as this several times, dating back to the years of Adams loyalists versus Jefferson loyalists (look at THOSE articles and libels if you think Fox is bad), through Jacksonian scorched-earth politics, up through Reconstruction and the Teapot Dome and the HUAC. The Dream remains the true aim, and the country’s inner pendulum swings back to the main again.
(I say this, speaking as a man employed by the federal government, whose job is to fight the federal government itself when it practices injustice upon its employees.)
And if ever your faith falters, just think on the last verse of Woody’s song; the one which follows the later verse you quoted:
“Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me. “
Probably many factors contribute to the divisiveness in our country: greed, prejudice, and possibly karma. We took this country away from the Native Americans, stuck them in glorified concentration camps, and then went to Africa to get what we perceived to be stupid nonhumans to act as slaves. Maybe it’s payback. Whatever it is, I don’t see much progression in relation to prejudice or hatred, and I see our country becoming more and more divided as time goes on. Media has contributed to our misperceptions and beliefs, further dividing us into separate camps – us and them, whether through race or political affiliation. Whenever somebody steps forward to bring us together as a nation, others see that person as a threat. Other countries must be so confused by what we call ourselves – the UNITED States of America.
Well said John. I am younger at 37, and don’t have the memories of a different time. I feel like even though this is probably the best country to live in, the greed of the politicians and corporations is limiting us to having a very bleak future. So much so that I have chosen not to have children, for fear of what world they may have. Hopefully it is all just pessimism, but it sure doesn’t look that way.
You ask, “was it ever?” Yes it was, though I’m only 58. Certainly not Utopia, but a place where my father transacted business on a handshake, where my neighbor lady rebuked me for using a curse word and there was an expected integrity and honesty. Orwell’s novel Animal Farm explains a lot of what went wrong. He’s targeting communism, but it’s the heart of an individual that makes the difference. For all the rhetoric of fairness and equality–whether politician, businessman, or religious leader–too many have gravitated to “some animals are better than others.” When the words “under God” were added to the pledge of allegiance, it was already too late and too many were no longer under the biblical mandate of sacrifice and service.