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On Liking Things

Before I get started, this has completely unfiltered spoilers for Secret Wars and basically everything I’ve read from Nick Spencer’s run on the Steve Rogers side of Captain America.  I haven’t really read any of his post Secret Wars Sam Wilson stuff, so I don’t know how relevant it is to the discussion.

I’ve been following the whole Hydra Captain America since it all went down with Steve telling a scientist “Hail Hydra” and it’s engendered a lot of discussion.  However, I think a lot of it is misguided and actually offensive in how sort of childish and immature the discussions have been.  Literature is all about emotion, specifically the type of emotion it engenders in its audience.  This emotional reaction is in a lot of ways, the main goal of all types of literature, or if not the main goal, one of the major ones.  Humans, being rational beings, tend to attach themselves to things that they find emotionally appealing and detach themselves from things that they find emotionally repugnant, regardless of how irrational it is.

The discussion about Nick Spencer’s Captain America work, specifically the stuff about “Nazi Steve,” as I like to call him (because I thought it was from a movie), has fallen into this territory and a lot of the discussions around whether or not it should or shouldn’t be done, and whether or not anyone should actually like it have really been, for a lack of better phrasing, stupid as goddamn fuck.  Specifically, it’s a perfectly acceptable to not like the story, find it offensive and think that thanks to the political climate and burgeoning white nationalism in the United States to think the story might be in poor taste.  Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with taking any of these positions, and they’re perfectly rational positions to take, actually.  Social critique is actually a very important element of literary criticism, and while there are people who are taking it to a rather vocal extreme, it’s still a rational side to take on the whole thing.  Taking a work within the context of which it was created is a valid thing to look at when doing literary criticism, so to look at a story where a symbol of liberty, democracy and the ideal of America is corrupted, either in universe or at a meta level (or both), into a far-right authoritarian terrorist owing fealty to alien elder gods during a time of high anxiety about white nationalism and feel like it’s not exactly a good time to write it is perfectly valid.  At the same time, it is equally valid to say that this is exactly the time to write this story, mostly because of that context.  Both sides, of course, are right, because literary discussion doesn’t exactly have “right” answers.

Literary criticism is about looking at something from a specific angle, and no angle is truly more “valid” than any others.  I tend to think post-modernism is stupid bullshit, as an example, but a person who looks at Jack Keroauc’s “On the Road” from a post-modern perspective is no more or less right than if I looked at it from a Marxist or modernist perspective.  Also, what the critic takes away from that is generally pretty valid, provided they can back up what they’re saying with textual evidence, and people who have been arguing they don’t like Captain America being the leader of Hydra because it makes Captain America into a Nazi, the thing he was literally made by two Jewish comic creators to fight, has a lot of textual evidence to back up what they’re saying.  The people arguing against that also have a lot of textual evidence to support their point of view.  I don’t agree with them, but they do have it.

This comes back, however, to the comic itself.  The actual discussion is less about the critique of the story from one literary perspective or the other, and more about people’s emotional response to each other’s arguments.  Many people, on either side, are generally now allowing anyone to really have that discussion, mostly because they’re saying that the other side truly isn’t a valid discussion, and therefore that other side should just shut up.  They will completely disregard the other side’s points, deliberately misinterpret them and throw them back as if they have defeated their argument, when in reality, they’ve just said they didn’t like what they said, so they shouldn’t be allowed to say it.  In something completely unrelated, it pains me when my students don’t listen to me when I try to teach rhetoric.

Look, is it okay to be offended by a piece of work?  Yeah, it totally is.  Especially when the story features a subversion of a work in a way that is extremely off putting.  It doesn’t mean the people who are saying that Steve Rogers should never be a Nazi are right, but it doesn’t make them wrong to say that they don’t want to see this kind of story, either.

As for me, I think it’s a terrible idea for a lot of reasons and Captain America holding goddamn Mjolnir and being considered worthy is pretty high up there.  I’m guilty of not liking it for political reasons (also not liking it because I’ve never liked anything he’s ever written and because the story doesn’t even make sense within itself, and it requires itself to even work, because it doesn’t work without the context), but mostly I just thought it was stupid because the whole “twist” was going to have the dumbest twist so Spencer can put everything back into the toybox when he’s done.  There’s no way that Cap would permanently become a right-wing authoritarian terrorist.  I think what pushed me over the edge was actually seeing Cap holding Thor’s hammer over the broken bodies of his friends.  Sure, it might be a fakeout, but Mjolnir has become something of a symbol to white supremacists everywhere.  It’s hard to want to see that be a thing in the best of times, and not just because Steve has always sort of represented a quasi-leftest, pro-diversity sort of character.

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