Tumblr today has been full of birthday wishes for Steve Rogers, Captain America, born July 4, 1918. While reblogging my favorite fan art and photosets, I’ve been trying to think about this holiday in terms of our country’s ideals and not its ugly realities. I’m trying to think about Steve Rogers and Clark Kent, superheroes created by Jewish artists whose parents fled Europe looking for a land of promise. I’m trying to think about how a Latino guy of Puerto Rican descent wrote a play about the Founding Fathers, cast it with black and Latinx talent, and won a Pulitzer Prize for it. I’m trying to think about how much bigger, how much wider, how much more inclusive were the words and visions of those Founding Fathers than their everyday lives, how they imagined greater equality and freedom than they could live up to or live out. I’m trying to think of Chris Evans, a Boston mutt with an Irish dad and an Italian mom, doing his best to live up to the ideals of the character he plays.
The Steve Rogers of the Marvel films is a little guy with big fists who doesn’t like bullies. So he takes the risk of being an experimental subject, a guinea pig for some mad science, and becomes a big guy who risks his life to save his best friend. Fortunately, he comes out of that escapade a hero and gets the chance to use his enhanced strength and speed (and total lack of self-preservation) to fight some real Nazis.
The Steve Rogers of the fandom, however, is all those things, and also a queer, a fairy, or a bisexual, as in love with his best friend Bucky as with tough, smart, beautiful Peggy Carter, the woman who saw past his scrawny physique. The Steve Rogers the fandom cherishes is a New Deal leftist, an aspiring artist who likely ran in artistic (and therefore also queer and progressive) circles in the 1930s, who went to an arts college before he went to war. Fandom’s Steve Rogers is appalled that women, blacks, queers, and other minorities are still second-class citizens in his red white and blue homeland. Didn’t he go to war to fight those ideas? Didn’t men risk their lives, black men and Japanese men, Latino and Navajo men, and women, too, to fight the ranting dictator who declared a Master Race? His best friends after Bucky Barnes are the Black Widow, a Russian ex-assassin turned spy for the designated good guys, and Sam Wilson, a black guy who’s also a vet, who also lost his best friend to war.
Steve Rogers, the little guy who doesn’t like bullies, the bisexual lefty artist turned unlikely war hero, is my America. Clark Kent, a genuinely illegal alien who gave his whole allegiance to his adopted planet, is my America. Broadway and Hollywood and popular music, all of which have depended on the creative energies of Jews, blacks, women, are my America. Star Trek is my America, not Duck Dynasty or Fox News (you do know William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are both Jewish, right?). Lin-Manuel Miranda and his music are my America. That America is what I will celebrate and pray for today.