Bleed American: Cap and the Watchdogs of the Internet
By now the story is well-known, the outcry against Captain America and Marvel from conservative bloggers. But why have cooler heads not prevailed?
I remember when you were down
And you needed a helping hand.
I came to feed you,
But now that I need you
You won’t give me a second glance.
Now I’m calling all citizens from all over the world,
This is Captain America calling.
I bailed you out when you were down on your knees;
So will you catch me now, I’m fallin’.
-- The Kinks, “Catch Me Now I’m Falling”
The picket line
Or the parade.
-- Jimmy Eat World, “Bleed American/Salt Sweet Sugar”
By now, everyone in the comics world and/or the political blogosphere is familiar with the story.
January’s Captain America #602, written, as always, by the inimitable Ed Brubaker, once again tackled front page headlines. Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson, undercover in Idaho, found themselves on the trail of William Burnside, aka The Grand Director (a Captain America impersonator who is so mentally warped he fully believes himself to be Steve Rogers, the original Cap). Burnside is restarting a terrorist group called The Watchdogs, a group of anti-evolutionist, anti-homosexual, anti-abortion terrorists who do not consider themselves above murder, kidnapping and brainwashing. While reconnoitering the town, Bucky and Sam observe an anti-government rally. Among the protesters is an individual wielding a sign that reads “Teabag the Dems Before They Teabag Us”. This has been read as a clear reference to an actual “tea party” rally sign. All of this, coupled with Sam Wilson’s comment that as a known African-American, he would not fit in with the crowd, has led many conservatives to cry foul, drawing connections where none exist between The Watchdogs and the rally attendees.
While Brubaker has never shied away from touching upon real world politics since he began his award-winning run on the series in late 2004, to anyone who gives more than a cursory look at his work with the series and, indeed, this issue, there is no connection between the alleged tea party protesters (the sign, Marvel has since claimed, was a “quick fill-in” by an apolitical letterer) and the Watchdogs. If one were to look at all the villains in each arc Brubaker has written in these narrowly constrained terms, then the antagonists in the early days of Brubaker’s run were a secret cabal of Nazis, Russians, big oil companies, Soviet assassins and Independent voters. As it stands, in that portion of Brubaker’s run, there was one true villain: Johann Schmidt, the Nazi war criminal known as the Red Skull, who manipulated events in a giant Xanatos gambit that, of course, did not pay off.
The tea-partiers have long stated that there is no basis for the “anti-American” accusations of racism in their movement. Many tea-partiers could also be seen holding signs with words like “niggar” [sic] and depicting President Barack Obama as a tribal witch doctor (while somehow implying he’s also a Communist). This, coupled with the fact that finding a non-white face in any photographed or recorded rally is more difficult than finding the lost city of Atlantis, seems to be a self-defeating statement. Moreover, as recently as March 20th, some “tea partiers” have been lambasting American politicians like John Lewis, Andre Carson and even, by extension, President Obama, chanting what has been heard as both “Kill the bill, nigger” and “Kill the bill and then the nigger”. Barney Frank, on the same day, was publicly called a “faggot”. If anything, this proves that the outcry from the right was more akin to a Freudian crisis, than a genuine crisis. If the Falcon, as portrayed in that issue of Captain America, had, in fact, felt comfortable infiltrating the alleged tea-partiers, that would have been more cause for an outcry than anything actually contained in the story, and may have actually led certain readers, myself included, to have dropped the book from our pull-lists, refusing to read future issues sight unseen.
Most of this controversy, if one were to look at any number of articles or broadcasts on the topic, was ostensibly started by a member of the conservative blogger Warner Todd Huston on Publius Forum. Huston's writing (which can easily be read as sexist, intolerant, ageist, suffering from superiority complex and self-righteous anger) was properly unveiled in the recent past on Comic Book Resources’ “Fifth Color” column.
While Huston's knowledge of the art form is lacking (he claims that the heroes of Alan Moore’s Watchmen are not allowed to be shown doing “bad” things despite committing mass murder, rape, assassinations and more), he took care to make blind assumptions about any number of posters on CBR, including Carla Hoffman. Hoffman's open letter to him led to several additional outbursts from the conservative blogger. Hoffman’s apparent “ignorance of” Huston led him to berate her and several site members, who were not afraid to correct Huston's assumptions about the character, the comics and about themselves.
Previous writings paint a savage picture of Mr. Huston’s compassion for his fellow man. Additionally, his “analysis” of Watchmen indicates he believes that homosexuality is an apparent issue on par with mental illness and rape. Well-known for censoring free speech on his own blog in a "benevolent dictatorship" (his own words in the aforementioned CBR thread), Mr. Huston considers, comicbook fans are mentally ill, and as having been “failed by [America’s] educational system” in that they don’t “read real books”.
Not only is Huston's knowledge of the comic book field lacking -- as well as that of the individual comic book fan -- and not only is his level of tolerance fully exposed, his ability to speak as a pure, level-headed member of conservative America is compromised in just a few Google searches.
Following a public apology by Marvel EIC, Joe Quesada, Huston nevertheless continued the flamewar on CBR. The comics community’s battle with the man continued, most notably when Bill Reed offered A Really Open Letter to Mr. Warner Todd Huston”. Backlash was abound. Responses, responses, more responses and yet more responses were colorized as legitimate replies to Huston's vexation. Yet his outright attempts to assault the world’s comic book readers as a whole are shocking, to say the least.
What this ends as, really, is a series of questions. If these issues upset the conservative members of the American populace so much, why didn’t they attempt to call Marvel out in 1987, when the Watchdogs were created by Mark Gruenwald and Tom Morgan? Where was the anger in 1973 when Steve Englehart outed an unnamed American President who bore a strong resemblance to Richard Nixon as the leader of the Secret Empire, a villainous group that planned to subvert the Constitution, only to commit suicide when he was finally caught?
Where was the frustration in 2004, when an alternate future Captain America described, via the words of English writer Neil Gaiman, the rise of a fascist President-for-Life and his systematic murdering of Americans? Where was the palpable feeling of disgust when Captain America told the Red Skull that two of his oldest friends, a homosexual couple named Arnie and Michael were “as good and decent a[s any] m[e]n” the hero had ever met? And perhaps most importantly, where was the seething hatred when Captain America took up arms against a fictional, unconstitutional law passed by the Bush administration from 2006-2007 during Marvel’s sales-topping Civil War event?
There were no mass outcries, no angry rebuttals then. Granted, not everyone had as public a voice when some of these stories were published as they do now. the Internet has, for good or ill, given everyone their own forum with which to express their Freedom of Speech.
Remember the days when protest was a real politcal statement?
With these recent online interactions, and with this recent unnecessary controversy, Captain America was not proven to be a socialist scumbag who aims to subvert the American way of life as some latter-day Fredric Wertham would have you believe. No, he has become something different: the latest victim of the playground of Internet Elementary, where false people hide behind false names and belittle, harm and seek to outwit one another not because of any real conceivable political, social or religious difference, but because of their own insecurities.
The only thing that came out intact was this: the truth about Captain America, whose shield, no matter what some bloggers may tell you, is untarnished, and whose belief in the ideal of America and what it can be looms tall over what it has managed to so far achieve under any President, past or present.
Now let freedom ring, and let cooler heads prevail.