I’m not a comic book kind of guy, but I’ve seen a few turned into movies. Captain America is the latest and well worth two hours and $35 (tickets for me and the boys and very expensive popcorn and sodas, thank you Regal!). This won’t be a review (it got mostly positive reviews, like this one), but an observation about movies, Hollywood and American culture.
Conservatives and religious types, of which I am one, are often fond of lamenting the dismal state of the republic, its culture, its people, its problems, of which there is no end to the cataloging. Yet it is as or even more important to point out the good, the true, and the beautiful we find as well. Certainly we have our problems, but not unlike a certain 20th Century iconic conservative politician, I have faith in the decency of the American people. Movies like Captain America affirm this inclination to see the good in my fellow Americans, both those who make the movies and those who watch them.
The movie is not subtle in its depiction of good vs. evil, with good of course winning, and Americans like it when good wins. Box office receipts tell us that; R rated movies that glorify sin and debauchery don’t earn nearly as much as those of the PG variety. Americans also like their patriotism, and Captain America is nothing if not patriotic, red, white and blue all over. In WWII all agreed who the good guys and the bad guys were, and Captain America played it just that way. Hollywood, like any business, needs to make money and profits, so while there may be plenty of leftist and antinomian drivel coming out of the place, they know where their bread is buttered, and that is in Americans who like and even love their country.
Despite the typical liberal/progressive/leftists pooh-poohing of American exceptionalism, most Americans believe and want to believe that America is exceptional, even if she is flawed. Captain America harkens back to a simpler time when there was no question even among cultural elites that America was exceptional, and in a way no other country was or could be. No post-Vietnam angst here.
And from that more macro level to the more micro, there is the issue of virtue, a term not a common or popular in modern America. Maybe because it smacks of moralism, or something holier than thou, but virtue or goodness done right is attractive and Americans appreciate it, whether in a movie or in real life. I like this definition:
According to its etymology the word virtue (Latin virtus) signifies manliness or courage. “The term virtue is from the word that signifies man; a man’s chief quality is fortitude”; Cicero, “Tuscul.”, I, xi, 18. Taken in its widest sense virtue means the excellence of perfection of a thing, just as vice, its contrary, denotes a defect or absence of perfection due to a thing. In its strictest meaning, however, as used by moral philosophers and theologians, it signifies a habit superadded to a faculty of the soul, disposing it to elicit with readiness acts conformable to our rational nature. “Virtue”, says Augustine, “is a good habit consonant with our nature.”
Prior to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) becoming Captain America, he is the quintessential 90 pound weakling who is always getting picked on (how they show the same actor as both weak and strong is amazing and could only be done with modern technology). Yet he exhibits the virtue that is manliness and courage, defending the honor of his country and trying repeatedly to enlist to fight the bullies, i.e. the Nazis, but coming up each time 4F, unfit for service. That is until someone sees the goodness in his heart and takes a chance that he could be the right soldier for the experiment that turns him into Captain America. This affirmation of virtue and goodness on the big screen is heartening to watch, and the big box office receipts show that many of my fellow Americans like to watch it as well.
Many conservatives see America as a cultural wasteland, but I would argue that is simplistic and myopic. It is always easier to focus on the negative, whether you are talking about culture or people or your job. America is a decent place filled with decent people who largely appreciate that which elevates over that which denigrates, who want to side with goodness over evil, with beauty over ugliness, with truth over lies, no matter their political or even religious affiliation. It is important for us conservative types to point it out wherever we can find it.