Captain America: This is the logic we’re teaching now? really?!

8 Aug

I haven’t seen the film yet, so no spoilers ahead. I know admitting this might render my argument completely invalid, but I highly doubt that seeing as it’s near impossible to hide a shakespearean tragedy underneath a punchy blockbuster. Yes, it happens in the comics, but almost never in films which are hoping to rake it in at the box office by aiming themselves at the widest marketshare possible.

There’s one line in the trailer that caught my attention. It’s an innocent, shy little line that can easily pass unnoticed. But, unfortunately, it’s the basis for pretty much the entire films logic.  I should tell you now that I hesitate to apply the same logic to the comics, because I do love me some Captain A. He’s a legend…I don’t want to think about it too much just yet to be honest, i don’t think I’d like it.

After Steve Rogers asks doctor Abraham Erskine, the doctor who will transform him with the super soldier serum he has created, “Why me?” The good doctor replies:

“Because weak men, know the value of strength…know the value of power”

It’s a tight argument, one I agree with to a point. I don’t agree with the implication of it though, an implication that shines through once you take into account the rest of the setup.

Steve rogers is chosen for the super soldier programme because he has repeatedly applied to join the war effort but been denied because he is physically inadequate. He doesn’t have half the muscle mass the other men have and, in the film, he’s actually ridiculously exaggerated. In the comics he’s just an average guy with a bit of an underdeveloped body but in the film he looks a malnourished child who has to grapple with gravity itself to gather enough air to breathe.

Anyway, you’ve probably seen the scene: Scrawny guy steps into a machine then steps out of the machine a hulk of a man, ready to fight for his country.

Now, my (first) problem is this: All those other guys, the odd million or so who succesfully got into the army, didn’t start off looking like Adonis. (for the sake of argument I’m gonna deny historical accuracy and ignore the fact that most of those who enlisted were nothing more than average joes who played a season or two of highschool football). They all toned themselves up through sweat and hardwork. They put in the hours working on their fitness, and it paid off. They got in by virtue of that work they put in.

But it’s not okay to give them the super soldier serum because they “Won’t know the value of strength”? Oh I’m calling that one. I’m calling that one straight up. They’ve decided to improve themselves, probably gone through a hell of a lot of heartbreak for it, and they won’t know the value of strength just because…well, damn, I dunno: just, because! Because they said so! Because!!!1!

But the kicker, and the thing that has me really worried for the state of the world, is that the implication is this:

You can bestow great power and strength on a weak but intelligent, morally strong, courageous, humble, respectful, honourable and benevolent person, but you can not bestow these virtues on a person who’s already strong and powerful.

This is the lesson we’re teaching people: If you’re strong, muscular, or if you can be described in any way near the label ‘jock’, you’re finished, we can’t teach you anything. You just keep on keeping on. No no, it’s okay, don’t worry about it. You’ve got great power and strength, but don’t you worry your little head about the essential virtues which, throughout history, have been used to keep the powerful in check and the warrior class aligned on the side of justice and righteousness. We threw those out the window with the 80’s, so just chill: you’re all good.

I’ve been scratching myself to think of a tribe of warriors in Western history that could illustrate my point properly, but none quite come up to scratch. The spartans, although they’ve gotten a good reputation in the past few years, were a crazy bunch. Sure, they pushed themselves to the pinnacle of the art of war, but they denied themselves a lot of virtues along the way that makes a good warrior. The greeks, although not in the same class as the spartans, were much the same.

The vikings, although they had a great reputation for courage and bravery, were a little bit too keen on rape and pillage to be held up as perfect examples of the warrior pinnacle. Native americans were pretty close I think, but I don’t know enough to say definitively.

No, for a good example of what a warrior should be we have to look East. The samurai in japan and the warrior class (shaolin monks, if you must…but there was a lot more to chinese warfar than the monks) in China lived by a strictly defined set of virtues and principles that kept them in check throughout their life.

Granted that didn’t stop them from getting into fights and wars the same as anyone else, but my point is that when being trained in martial arts and warfare, they weren’t simply taught how to fight, maim and kill. They were taught how to live humbly, with honour, courage, benevolence and a host of other virtues drilled into them. No matter who you were or what size you were, you were taught the same as everyone else. If you were  a weak little shrimp you were taught how to fight and how to live a virtuous life. If you were a seven foot powerhouse, you were taught how to fight and how to live a virtuous life. There was no distinction, or rather -ignorant presumption, made on someone. If they wanted to learn, they would learn both sides of the coin, not just the one which they already knew.

Sure, weak men know the value of strength and power, but who’s to say we can’t teach strong men the same?! Why can a weak man be given incredible power and strength, but a strong man not be given incredible humility and perspective?…it saddens me to know that this corrosive mentality running through society is, and will be, met with a simple “hey, that’s just the way it is” mentality.

Anyway; if your interest has been sparked by the idea of a complete person then I suggest you read ‘hagakure’ or the ‘Tao te ching’. Both were read furiously by ancient warriors in the East to help them gain a complete understanding of themselves, the world and how best to live in it.

(oh, and I’d turn this one up…those first few bars are just beautiful;)

10 Responses to “Captain America: This is the logic we’re teaching now? really?!”

  1. Jim S August 8, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

    The trailer cut out the rest of the quote which is something like this “. . . and the value of compassion.” Dr. Erskine goes on to explain that Johann Schmidit was a powerful Nazi who desired to become stronger. He forced Erskine to give him an earlier version of the Super Soldier Serum. It (spoilers ahead) turned him into the Red Skull.

    Erskine said the serum magnafies what’s already inside a person. Good becomes great and bad becomes worse. There’s a scene where Tommy Lee Jones’ Col. Philips asks Erskine why not give the serum to Hodges, who was seen, if not being cruel to Rogers, being a bully to him. Erskine points this out and says the qualities he wants aren’t physical. Philips tests Rogers by throwing a grenade into the group of possible test soldiers. Everyone but Steve jumps away. Steve jumps on the grenade. It turns out to be a dummy used for mock combat.

    My point is that Erskine wants an ethical man, and assuming he’s not killed, ethical men to get the serum. Erskine saw the Nazis come to power and is fully aware of the danger of mindless soldiers given unlimited power. Who do you want to be a cop, a smart man who follows the Constitution and is dedicated to upholding the law, or a loose cannon who’s on the edge getting things done his way because the Constitution is just a piece of paper in the end?

    • orionscoat August 9, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

      I’m sorry, but although I do appreciate your well written and thought out comment-and understand your point about Erskine-, I think you’ve missed my point. Why can’t a strong man be taught ethics, just as an ethical man be given strength? (technicalities about the super soldier serum-which I had forgotten completely about to be honest- aside, I’m just thinking about the philosophical implications)

      I agree with your point about the cop; but ethics need to be taught, rather than just left to be with whoever makes the effort to learn about them. To sit back and say “Well shit, we might aswell find a weak man who already has ethics rather than a strong man who has none…it’s a lot easier!!” is just a cop out. The logic presumes that ethics are something which you’re born with, rather than something you can learn. This, to me, is a dangerous mindset because it lets a hell of a lot of people off the hook.

      Who would I want to be a cop? Well…there’s an indication of the problem itself. There should be no ‘one or the other’ (but, yeah I know there is), just strong men with strong ethics. Both sides of the coin.

  2. Karina August 9, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    Granted, this movie was a disappointment. I sadly will never get that hour and a half back of my life. It did display many “American” one liners that make most people’s head turn like a puzzled animal.

    However, I don’t think it meant to say you can’t bestow this on already stronger people. But rather, with strength, you don’t have to evolve as much in certain areas as you would if you were little and weak all your life. You have the ability to defend yourself through might. Its like putting the opposite serum in a big and strong person but without making them weak, they could now see the world from a smaller denominations view. It’s making something already powerful within somebody – stronger. Its having that belief to take action rather than just stand on your word.

    • orionscoat August 10, 2011 at 11:41 am #

      Well said!

      Although that’s the presumption I don’t like: if you’re already strong sure you have the ability to defend yourself through might, but not the compass to to guide you into knowing if you actually ARE right, and not just being a-excuse the language- dick. It seems to me that the implication is “damn, there’s no use teaching those jarheads, get me a little one with half a brain about him”

      Cheers for the comment!

  3. CDQue August 10, 2011 at 3:20 am #

    I love this post because it has many varying shades of gray. I agree that ethics is something that should be learned, but, I think it should be as common place as morality or compassion or love. Using this film to delve into this subject matter is flawless as well. I really dislike Captain America as a character and ideal, the themes that he portrays are outdated and ignorantly blindsided; not unlike his DC counterpart Superman.

    I can see both sides of your argument. I am a practitioner of the Hagakure, the Samurai were ruthless thugs prior to injecting philosophy and art into their way of life. If they could change, then it is possible for a person to be taught ethics.

    Conversely, in the essence of time and a cavalcade of other issues, I believe this is lost in the mix. With a host of other superficial issues in today’s current climate, virtues are often tossed to the side. People in general aren’t as agreeable or compassionate as say, a 1940’s Captain America USA.

    Great thought provoking material though


    • orionscoat August 10, 2011 at 11:38 am #

      Well said! Definitely agree that ethics should be taught as openly as morality/compassion/love.

      There’s the conundrum for me though: with all these other superficial issues taking up the spotlight virtues are indeed being lost. In my darker/drunker hours I can see these teachings being eventually forgotten to the point that they become ‘weird voodoo shit that the old man down the street does’, spoken of with fear and suspicion by the neighbourhood kids.

      Cheers for the comment!

  4. EAM August 13, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    What I find interesting is how masculinity and the male body is defined in this film: strong ethics, strong sense of purpose can only effect change when it comes packaged in a big muscly frame. Quite often “weak men”, like Steve Rogers are typified as “feminine” because of their perceived weakness (especially in war films); remarks like toughen up, man up (or being called a sissy) are used to “butchify” these men. In Steve’s case he gets to experience quite literally what it’s like to toughen up. It’s He-Man’s “By the power of Grey Skull” without the phallic sword, but with an equally magical serum. This – again – teaches young boys that being a man means being tough, big, muscular and that they should aspire to be big, tough, and muscular – despite having great ethics and a strong sense of purpose. The only way you can make a difference (or fight for your country) is through physical action.

    By the way, I haven’t seen the film either.

  5. David AM August 31, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    I haven’t seen this film yet either but you make very good points! Watching the trailers for the film I kept thinking to myself, “Why does this seem so ridiculous?”, and here you’ve pretty much summed up the answer that I was on the verge of coming to. American culture is a conundrum for the most part. There’s a lot of hypocrisy in the way of being politically correct and actually having some sort of morality or ethic. And what we tend to teach is never in line with these things. Unless you’re interested In being a better person no one will ever go out and do their own research in the way of ethics leaving us with a population of people with no real sense of right and wrong. This is stuff you feel in your core to begin with, so people need to stop ignoring that.

    I also really dig how you tie in the Martial Arts concepts. There’s a lot of calm and control in that. I’ve always wanted to do it myself.

    • orionscoat September 6, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      Cheers; great comment!

      Hey if you ever want to know anything about martial arts or advice on what to look for, get in touch! I’m not gonna pretend I know a lot, but I know enough to (hopefully) send you in the right direction.

      All the best!

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