What with Spider-Man and Wolverine and Iron Man being some of the biggest movies of the last ten years, everyone’s a comic-book superhero fan now. Or so I thought, until the huge controversy over an issue of Captain America erupted a month or so back.
Story goes like this: in this comic, this dude Captain America and his long-time buddy the Falcon go investigating an anti-government group of villains called the Watchdogs. (None of these characters are new. Cap came along at the start of the 40s, Falcon in the 70s and the Watchdogs in the 80s.) Cap and Falcon carry out surveillance on an anti-tax rally in a middle-American town.
Big group of people holding signs like “America 4 Sale” and “Stop the socialists!” and “Tea bag the libs before they tea bag YOU!” Says Falcon, who is black, about the prospect of infiltration: “I don’t exactly see a black man from Harlem fitting in with a bunch of angry white folks.” So they come up with a plan: Falcon pretends to be an IRS man turning up in a bar threatening an audit, while Cap pretends to be a roving trucker who punches out the IRS man and wins over the locals.
Then the blogs got involved! It started here:
So, there you have it, America. Tea Party protesters just “hate the government,” they are racists, they are all white folks, they are angry, and they associate with secretive white supremacist groups that want to over throw the U.S. government.
Bet you didn’t know that when you were indulging your right as a citizen to protest your government that you were a dangerous white supremacist that wants to destroy the country, did you? Bet you didn’t realize that your reverence for the U.S. Constitution was a subversive thing to do, did you? And I’ll also bet that you never imagined that you’d scare the little blue panties off of Captain America!
Soon the entire rightosphere was raging with animus and fury, overcome by a frightful and all-consuming hunger for vengeance! Rich Johnston has the overview. Even Glenn Beck, crying, screaming superstar of the political rightiest, devoted some airtime to the comic. Fox News grabbed the story and made much hay out of story writer Brubaker’s left-leaning Twitter-expressed politics. Faced with this uproar, Marvel hastily damage controlled to say “it’s part one of the story, give us a chance to show you the whole picture” and “we didn’t mean for it to specifically be a tea party rally”.
And now the whole storm is gone and forgotten, except not by me because I found a copy of Cap 602 and of course I bought it. Because I had to see for myself what the fuss was all about. And here’s the thing: there isn’t much to get fussed about, here. To the extent there is, it’s in the plan to get in with the anti-government extremists by punching out a black civil servant. Even in the shorthand and broad-strokes storytelling of comics, that’s kinda weak.
What I like about this whole saga is how perfectly it encapsulates the way popular politics works in the U.S. right now. (Similar patterns are apparent elsewhere, but in the U.S. this process is very well-established.) The network of conservative blogs, always voracious for content, grab on to anything that emerges in their network and start howling enthusiastically. When enough of them do this, it works its way through to the radio hosts, and if it gets play there it finally surfaces into the Fox News circuit. If it still has legs, it will go on to all those mouthpiece shows Fox has clogging its broadcast schedule. The fundamental narrative is always one of conservative victimization.
It’s an amazing system with a slick and efficient beauty. To use the jargon, the Republicans have figured out how to crowdsource their propaganda machine. I have to admire it. But it is horrible, too, because it’s all sound and fury with no real thought or analysis. Everyone grabbed on and started whacking without much care to check the validity of the initial complaint. Indeed, the bit of the original post that had some merit (the supposed subtext of racism to the IRS agent scene) fell by the wayside immediately. The story just became about that one picture of the tea party rally, evaluated solely in the context of frothing blog posts. Such is the nature of this machine – it generates noise and anger and emails and phone calls, but it doesn’t generate anything remotely like understanding.
Which has been to the amusement of those who’ve followed the Captain America character, whose writers have an unsurprising history of making none-too-subtle political points with their work. In his first ever appearance, he was punching out Hitler on the cover of his new comic – which was remarkable because the U.S.A. wasn’t even in the war at that stage.