Cafe Witness

Saturday, March 10, 2007

We Need a Hero

For months now, Chris Brogan has been referring to the new media creators as "super-heroes" and "rockstars."

Just yesterday, Christopher Penn was musing about WHY, exactly, super-heroes seem to be so popular these days.

And then, today, I see on Technorati that Captain America is dead.

How ironic.

Setting the Stage

As anyone who follows comic books knows, the death of a character is rarely permanent. Whether due to fan appeal or lack of ingenuity on the part of the writers, a character's "death" usually has a life cycle of a few months to a few years. Even long-dead characters in the Marvel universe, like Bucky (dead since the '40s) and Captain Marvel (dead since the '80s) have recently returned, unofficially implying that no character death is irreversible.

But Marvel is going out of its way to proclaim Steve Rogers, at least -- the man who actually wore the costume of Captain America -- to be dead.

Considering the way he's killed -- by a sniper bullet (or, according to some "eyewitness accounts," multiple bullets from multiple sources, signifying a Kennedy-esque conspiracy) -- that may well be the case. Steve Rogers, like Bruce Wayne, is a human being; it's a wonder that Captain America and Batman could have ever survived this long in a world of gods, robots and aliens.

Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada -- himself already responsible for some of the more questionable choices in recent comics history, like the decision to have Peter Parker divulge his secret identity as Spider-Man to the general public, or insisting that perpetual cigar-chomper Nick Fury cease smoking because one of Quesada's own relatives died of lung cancer -- is all too happy to talk about what the fallout of Captain America's death will mean to the Marvel universe. He muses over what implications this action will have for Rogers's family and friends -- and enemies. He also implies that the costume will be passed on to someone else -- because, after all, Marvel won't stop publishing one of its flagship titles just because the title character is dead.

Shameless Shill or Social Commentary?

Because this event occurs during the Civil War storyline, in which Marvel's heroes took ideological sides over whether or not the United States government should force superhumans to be registered with the state -- clearly an allegory for all of the post-9/11 paranoia -- there may be more to the story than a mere attempt to sell more comic books.

Marvel seems to be attempting to make a larger statement about the role of idealists in the modern world. Steve Rogers is an icon of American optimism, the eternal boy scout at war with an evil world. As times have changed, and the world at large has become ever-more cynical, Captain America came to represent an ever-more anachronistic vision of what America itself could be... or once was.

In the Civil War storyline, Cap even surprises the government by refusing to cooperate with the registration act -- a kind of government policing of his civil liberties which he refuses to tolerate.

Choices like this, which continually pit Rogers against the powers-that-be, indicate that Marvel is well-aware of their political stance. By taking action to silence Steve Rogers, one can only presume they're attempting to make a broad social commentary: that a true idealist can no longer survive in this modern world of gods, robots and aliens.

And, hey, if the death of idealism sells a few more comic books...

What Does All of This Mean for New Media?

We're a generation of fairly cynical voices. It starts with the baby boomers and shakes on down to the 14 year-olds who are coming of age in a world of limitless communication.

No one believes in tradition.

No one believes in simplicity.

No one believes in anything that seems to good to be true.

New media is a seismic jolt to the established boundaries of communication, and yet, by and large, it's being created by people who, in their hearts, have great trouble believing in the power of positive change. As far as we can tell, we're all caught in the downward slide of entropy, and the best we can do is comment upon it.

Perhaps that's why the Spider-Man and X-Men films -- as well as Children of Men and The Matrix -- dark and cynical as they may be, are also so popular: the anti-hero, dragged kicking and screaming into a world of action (instead of blissful cynical passivity), somehow finds the courage to do what he or she, in his or her heart, knows must be done to set things right again.

In the end, these imperfect people shake off their fear, doubt and limitations, and they take the actions necessary to ensure that good triumphs over evil for another day.

In the end, the good guys win.

Is that mentality still a fantasy? I don't think so. I think it just depends on how much effort we can muster to take the actions we need to set things right again.

How do we go BEYOND our cynicism? How do we create a dialogue that charts the places we CAN go, rather than the places we CAN'T?

What do YOU want to say?

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  • Simple: "Hero" is actually a verb.

    You must DO to BE a hero.

    By Blogger Chris Brogan, at 3:02 PM  

  • I refer you to this passage by Stephen K. Hayes, about the origins of some heroes, and how we can find those qualities in ourselves:

    By Blogger Christopher, at 8:34 PM  

  • I don't know if we are all that cynical.
    Being a part of this community gives me hope. Seeing what people can do for one another using the tools we have is inspiring. You just have to keep seeing the positive and keep out the negative.
    I have refused to post negative things on my blog since I started it. To be fair, I haven't blogged as much as I used to (on a previous blog), but the things I post now are much more meaningful to me and it would seem to others as well.
    I think if you post for others and you try to help and be a part of the community, you can be a hero. You might think it's nothing, but to someone else it can be huge.
    PS. thanks for coming by my blog. I appreciate the comments.

    By Anonymous Char, at 12:06 AM  

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