For years, the American notion of a hero has been accosted, compromised, and generally diluted. Gone are the days when John Wayne rode into town and took care of business. We knew he was good — really good — and we were comforted by the fact that he would kill no one who did not deserve to die. “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do,” is a quote attributed to Wayne. Women have the right to work wherever they want, as long as they have the dinner ready when you get home.”1 Oops! I guess he said that, too, but never mind. . . .
Not so today. Heroes exude empathy not goodness. Witness Robert Downey’s flawed, self-centered Ironman. Or Hugh Jackson’s moody Wolverine. And who can forget the poor, pathetic Hulk? Everyone wants to forget the shady, morally dubious Christian Bale’s Batman! But my personal favorite for sissy of the year is Spiderman. One Freudian self-identity crisis after another. He whines all the time. Can you imagine John Wayne whining?
One sidebar — I am arguably a candidate for sissy of the year myself. Last week I had to have a tetanus booster. Don’t you hate doctor waiting rooms? And I emphasize WAITING rooms — sometimes for hours. As I waited for my tetanus shot I imagined myself waiting for the guillotine with Sydney Carton at the end of A Tale of Two Cities.
Finally my executioner appeared. “Roll up your sleeve,” the perfunctory and sturdy 8´3” Nurse Roxanne quipped.
“Hello,” I replied.
“Do you mind shots?” the Nurse Roxanne asked as she ignored my greeting.
“Yes, I do,” I quivered, almost in tears.
“Too bad,” Nurse Roxanne replied with the first hint of enthusiasm.
I muttered, “It is a far better thing I have done than I have ever done before. . . .”
Nurse Roxanne, who obviously had not read Dickens attacked me with the needle as if she were going after a dart board.
I whimpered a little and Nurse Roxanne frowned and pointed her index finger at me, “No wimps allowed.”
No wimps allowed. Yes, fellow Americans, we have dumbed down, glamorized, and wimped down our heroes to the point where they hardly seem to be heroes at all.
But now, suddenly, on the silver screen, appears Captain America. Captain America is a different kind of hero. In 1940s America, ordinary, unspectacular, five-feet-something, Steve Rogers inadvertently receives an injection that turns him into a superhero. But not a run-of-the-mill hero, he is actually a genuine hero. As one reviewer explains, “He’s got a lot of ailments, but it
hasn’t made him bitter or jaded in anything. Even after he has been given his great gift, he still continues to do the right thing.”2 No that is a novel idea — doing the right thing. Take that, Will Smith and your character Hancock!
Yes, a new hero has arrived — a hero who does the right thing without equivocation or self-interest. Captain America. Or is he that new after all? Sounds to me like Moses who left the courts of Egypt to obey God. Or Joshua who conquered the Promised Land. Or Peter, even after much failure, found that even hell itself could not prevail against the Church he founded.
Yes, and again perhaps we meet a man who even John Wayne would like. Wayne was fond of saying, “Courage is being scared to death — but saddling up anyway.”3 Roll up your sleeves, America — Nurse Roxanne and Captain America are finally here. And there is no room for wimps.