This past weekend I watched a new episode of Doctor Who, “Robot of Sherwood”. In the story, the Doctor travels back in time with his companion, Clara because she wants to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor assures her Robin Hood never existed. I will not spoil the show, but suffice it so say they meet someone who claims to be the real Robin Hood in 1190 A. D. — ish.
The entire episode is about heroes. Who are they? How do they become our heroes? Are our memories of these heroes real? Or, do we embellish those memories and raise our heroes to the status of legend? If we were to meet some distant, now long dead hero would that person match the hero we have internalized?
In our postmodern culture, we have taken to deconstructing “heroes”. Over the past few decades our founding fathers have become something less than the idealistic men and women portrayed in our history books. Why do we do this? It is because in postmodernism, all authority is questioned. There is no absolute authority; no absolute at all. Thus, these men and women must have been flawed and we cannot trust what is written about them. In fact, all written or recorded words and events must be discounted.
Is it any wonder that in our current time, our heroes are taken from comic books? Our heroes are fictional? After all, fictional heroes can’t be deconstructed. They are created and the creator of these characters has written only so many words about them. There are no secrets to be discovered outside the mind of the writer.
As a child growing up in the deep pine woods of Northern Louisiana, my heroes were fictional. Someone would ask: Bruce, wasn’t your father your hero? I have written about my father many times on this website. I loved him and he loved me. But, he was never a hero to me. Why? Because in my mind, heroes were larger than life; powerful and brilliant; super powered, in fact. My father was ordinary and I wanted to be anything BUT ordinary!
Doc Savage, Iron Man, Superman, Captain America and the like were my heroes. Yes, I grew up in the golden age of comics when Jack Kirby and John Buscema were crafting and creating characters like the Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock (the first Marvel comic I read in 1967 was Fantastic Four comic where we meet Adam Warlock in his cocoon for the first time.)
In contrast today our heroes are dark and flawed. We cannot embrace idealism anymore. Even Superman, once the ideal hero — “Truth, justice, and the American way” has become darker and morose. What has happened to idealism? When did our heroes aspire to be ordinary?
The only hero to escape this cynical deconstruction has been Captain America. The movies have managed to preserve his idealistic attitude about right and wrong by making those values “safely” anachronistic and nostalgic. But, is it any wonder that Cap’s latest movie is considered by many to be the best movie of the year? (Guardians of the Galaxy notwithstanding). Could it be we are craving just a little bit of idealism in our lives? Could it be we sense that absolutes do exist and that there is such a thing as right and wrong? Could we be longing; striving; hungering for a world that is not postmodern but firm and real and providing a true foundation for our lives?
Maybe our heroes should be ordinary men and women who still have the spark of this idealism within their everyday thinking. These men and women long to help, to aid, to fight against wrong, to try and make the world a better place than they found it. These men and women are our soldiers, our law enforcement agents, our nurses, our doctors, our school teachers, our missionaries — anyone who is willing to risk life and limb to better a person’s life. They are out there surrounding us and meeting our needs everyday.
Now that I pause and think about it, maybe I never considered my father to be my hero. But, rest assured he SHOULD be my hero even as I hope to be a hero to my own children. I will never pass into legend. The Doctor will never bring his companion to visit me. But, I resist a dark, cynical world that tells me I must dwell on flaws and shifting morality. I must reach into the shadows and find that gleaming ray of Light that shines out and illuminates Truth and make sure that someone; at least one sees the Light of goodness.
Who are/were your heroes?
That one line uttered near the end of the movie, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” elicited applause and cheers from the audience. I don’t want to spoil the movie but I cheered just as loudly as everyone else.
This is how I became Captain America.
It was late on a Tuesday and I was slaving over the latest Mother’s Day gift I had produced in my long life of eleven years. At our Cub Scout meeting, we were making trays for our dear mothers to serve us food and drinks on. Mr. Talbert had cut out round wooden slabs with white Formica on them and our job was to staple rope around the edge and make two rope handles at opposite sides.
My handles were slightly off center and every time my mother would load up the tray and pick it up, one side would tip downward and glasses of lemonade would fall to the floor. Jelly glasses of lemonade. We drank out of glasses from jelly jars.
My mother was the original master of recycling. She would take everyone’s drink left at the end of a meal and pour ice and all into a large glass and then DRINK it!!!! The original Suicide drink!
Back to the tray. I was upset. I was chagrined. I was ashamed. My mother’s gift was useless. In a temper tantrum I jerked all the rope off around the edge and jerked off the handles and then threw the thing across the front yard. Amazingly, it sailed through the air like a giant, fat Frisbee, bounced off of a tree and imbedded itself edge down into the dirt.
I gasped. I raised an eyebrow. I chuckled. I had a shield! Just like my hero, Captain America. I ran into the house and dug through a drawer until I found the black, red, and blue Magic Markers. Now, I was a student of math so I wanted my concentric circles to be perfect and my star to be just right. So, I took out my compass and some string and a ruler and I marked off the rings and drew the star on the slick white surface of the shield. Then, I colored in the red rings and the blue background for the white star. I cut some leather straps from an old belt and made myself a handle on the back.
Fast forward to 2005. I was working on the script for my play “The Homecoming Tree”. It is the story of a group of people living in a boarding house in Shreveport, Louisiana at the beginning of World War II. The main character was a thirteen year old boy who was fascinated with beating the Nazis. I had interviewed my parents and my late brother extensively in the preceding few years about life in 1941. When I asked my brother who his heroes were he said, “The Shadow, Captain Midnight, and, of course, Captain America.”
Captain America? In 1942? I did some research. As anyone who has seen the movie is aware, Captain America had his start as a comic book during World War II. It was shocking to realize that my brother and I had shared this connection I was never aware of. He passed away in 2008 but he had the opportunity to see “The Homecoming Tree”. My mother passed away in 2004, but not only did my father get to see the play, he sang “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Hanging Somewhere”, a 1941 song that I recorded and played as part of our radio music playing the background during the play.
I gave my main character a love for Captain America. I got Randle Milliken, the actor playing the young boy to make his own uniform. Guess what he did? He found an old serving tray made out of plastic very similar to my tray and put the star and the stripes on it. Only, he didn’t make the lines perfect as I did. He even found some old red gloves and when he came out onto the stage the first night of performance as “Captain America” I was back in my front yard wrapped in heat and humidity, shield up to ward off the bullets of my enemies, sweat soaking my blue tee shirt as I fought off the evil drones of death and destruction.
So, this weekend, I cannot wait to see “The Avengers”. The original Avengers were my heroes way back in the 1960’s when I discovered comic books and I cannot wait to hear those words: “Avengers Assemble!” and see Captain America once again stand up for what is right! I’ll see you there!