Childhood Politics and the Bully Pulpit of Captain America

I was the type of kid who believed everybody could get along.

I could never understand why other kids resorted to fighting all of the time. Once, I spent a childhood summer in Mississippi with my cousins. When my parents finally came to bring me back home, I begged them to answer the question of, “Why are they always fighting?” Life with my cousins was always a series of smacks, screams punches, and even kicks with cowboy boots. I was lucky to be exempt from most of it, but never understood the point of any of it. Then I accidentally got hit underneath my eye with a fork.

I’ve been a fan of Captain America since I was 5 years old. I remember getting to know him at my school library in the first grade. This was a new school for me and I got beat up my first day, so I found a lot of joy doing things on my own, especially reading. There were these big books for each of Marvel’s most popular creations at the time: Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and Captain America. Each one had different sections about “Marvel’s Bullpen” of authors and artists, pages of pseudoscience explaining how the heroic powers and vehicles worked, and 3 of each character’s most important stories including “the Thrilling Origin.”

In Captain America, I read the story of a German scientist creating a super soldier out of a weakling. The government then used that same super soldier to punch Adolf Hitler in the face in on the cover of the first issue. At six years old, I didn’t know anything about creators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, the Holocaust, or World War II, but I knew what Cap was all about. It was clear who the bad guys were, and the good guys needed to punch them in the face. Nobody was better at it than Captain America, in or out of the Marvel Universe with little more than a star-spangled shield and a “peak human” physique — courtesy of the “super soldier serum” and “vita-rays”. That sounds like a lot, but being the best human in a world where gods fly around and aliens invade Earth every week is like being the strongest person in a coma.

Cap could take on an arch bastard like the Red Skull while he was holding the all-powerful Cosmic Cube that turns wishes to reality and win with nothing but speed and his guts. Cap would take on a guy like Thanos while that arch cosmic bastard was wearing the Infinity Gauntlet which literally made you God, then challenge him to a fist fight. It’s… stupid, but brave in the way that only comic books know how to be. That’s what made it fun to read. I got why Cap fought. And as an American living in America too, shouldn’t we all fight our country if given the chance… even if we don’t know it that really means to do so?

I spent most of my teenage years pretending I… wasn’t. Standing out felt dangerous, and having an opinion wasn’t a good look. Caring about politics was for nerds, after all. I thought none of that stuff applied to me and that everything would work itself out in the end. We are all the same right? As teenagers, that’s certainly how we acted.

My parents tried to explain concepts like racial oppression to me without making me completely paranoid and bitter by the time I was in high school. Unfortunately, I didn’t have deep thoughts about it, and let alone being prepared to deal with it. So I didn’t, to the point I could convince myself it didn’t really exist or matter. The 90s were all about the world coming together after the Berlin Wall went down, so it was easier to just focus on school, video games, and comics. What did Rodney King getting swarmed by eight cops 2 years later have to do with me? According to my parents, all I needed to do was say the right things, go to college, and be a doctor. I didn’t think they were right nor did I want to be a doctor, but I didn’t want to be OJ Simpson either. Fighting my parents or the system would have been a drag. It’s better to just go along with it until something better happens.

Why are we always fighting?

As a Black Captain America fan, the Disney+ show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier touched me in some interesting places. Unlike many viewers, I’m familiar with all of these characters. In the comics, Sam Wilson became my Captain America while Steve Rogers was on that Nazi tip. But over the past decade I’ve endured my own crash course political education makes me far more politically aligned with the struggles of the disenfranchised and those that would smash flags.

As a baby leftist and champaign socialist, I agreed with the bad guys. I often agree with the bad guys in action and superhero media these days. Anyone protecting the status quo is a cop or unwitting pawn of the bourgeoisie at best, and a eugenicist, malthusian, white supremacist “defender of Western Civilization” at worst. We didn’t get much in the series about why the Flag Smashers were doing what they were doing, but I believe in the kind of organization willing to make vaccines available for those who cannot afford them are the good guys. It sends a message I want us all to get behind.

Superhero politics on the other hand, are just about punching the closest bad guy rather than solving the bigger problem. We know “stealing is wrong.” Fixing what would drive someone to need to resort to that, is seldom on the mind of anyone dressed in garish tights. The version of this show I would have liked to see would have The Falcon joining the side against corrupt governments — just like Captain America, Steve Rogers did in Captain America and the Winter Soldier.

Sometimes, even Captain America has to blow up the S.H.I.E.L.D.

Captain America is good at speeches, both in the comics and in the movies. It’s half of Captain’s job, no matter who’s wearing the uniform. He gets to say all the best stuff about the United States. Fighting for what you believe in! Eat your vitamins and say your prayers! Do what it takes to be on the right side of history!

It’s a talent you get when you have writers room working for you. They not only put words in your mouth, but also decide how other characters will react to what has been put there. They’re god with a keyboard. That’s why on the Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale, Sam Wilson had to do the most Captain America thing of all and give a speech to a group of politicians. Never mind that their entire job is to already know every platitude a powerless grunt like Sam Wilson would bring up in order to legislate against it. Only because it’s in his story, that the speech worked. They changed their ways.

I love that about Captain America.

As silly as it might be, to the kid that wishes everybody could get along, the idea that you can simply say the right combination of words to persuade people to stop fighting is pure, uncut, raw brain candy. Being able to talk down a rampaging monster or homicidal dictator, and appeal to their better angels in the heat of the moment isn’t just what we want from our superheroes; we want it from Jesus and all our other deities too.

That is what makes Captain America stand out for me. Even though I no longer believe much of what he says, in the moment when he says it, I can feel as optimistic and excited as everybody else. For a moment, I can pretend that the world is a simple as I thought it was when I was a teenager. I can be a god. I can punch legislation in face. I can persuade mass shooters throw down their weapons. I can get my family to stop fighting, and make it possible for us all to just get along.

There’s no reason for this other than it’s hilarious

Michael Bridgett

Michael Bridgett

Michael Bridgett is an event host, songwriter, and actor that writes about this very wide world of ours. He also releases music as “Mike Dynamo” for Hypnotic Fist Technique, Funan Beat Empire and more
Tallinn, Estonia