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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Tea Party

Puritan

For me, the Tea Party is right up there with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. So I certainly don’t mind watching their superpowers wane as they impotently wage war through shutdowns and debt defaults in their never-ending battle against their arch-nemesis, Obamacare.

But I do feel a personal connection to the Tea Party now. Or at least to one member of their roster. I recently reconnected with an old high school friend via (what else?) Facebook. Our cyber reunion wasn’t entirely Friendly. In the decades since we’d crammed Pre-Calc in his suburban basement, John has converted to an aggressively libertarian brand of fundamentalist Christianity (or, as he prefers to term it, “Christianity”). His profile picture is Obama photoshopped as Stalin. I accused him of melodrama, but he remains appallingly literal in his belief that the President’s re-election constituted a Socialist coup and collapse of the American experiment. Our email exchanges have since petered. But I will honor John and his right wing cohorts with an unlikely declaration:

The first American superhero was a Tea Party superhero.

“Oh! Lord of Hosts,” cried a voice among the crowd, “provide a Champion for thy people!”

That’s Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1835. Thy people are his pre-Revolutionary New England ancestors under the tyrannical yoke of King James and his New World minions (AKA the Governor of colonial Massachusetts and his nefarious redcoat guard). In answer to the cry of oppression, Nathaniel conjures the Gray Champion!

“Suddenly, there was seen the figure of an ancient man, who seemed to have emerged from among the people, and was walking by himself along the centre of the street, to confront the armed band. He wore the old Puritan dress, a dark cloak and a steeple-crowned hat, in the fashion of at least fifty years before, with a heavy sword upon his thigh, but a staff in his hand, to assist the tremulous gait of age.”

I know, a shaky old guy, not very superheroic, but hang on. He has superpowers: “while they marvelled at the venerable grandeur of his aspect, the old man had faded from their eyes, melting slowly into the hues of twilight, till, where he stood, there was an empty space.”

Yep. He can apparate. Hawthorne gives us an origin story and mission statement too. “Whence did he come? What is his purpose? Who can this old man be?” whispered the wondering crowd. Glad you asked: “That stately form, combining the leader and the saint, so gray, so dimly seen, in such an ancient garb, could only belong to some old champion of the righteous cause, whom the oppressor’s drum had summoned from his grave.”

That’s right. He’s supernatural too. And while immortality is a nice trick, his real powers are rabble-rousing and monarch-busting: “ his voice stirred their souls,” and before “another sunset, the Governor, and all that rode so proudly with him, were prisoners, and long ere it was known that James had abdicated . . .”

The tale ends as any good comic book should, with the promise of further adventures: “whenever the descendants of the Puritans are to show the spirit of their sires, the old man appears again. . . . His hour is one of darkness, and adversity, and peril. But should domestic tyranny oppress us, or the invader’s step pollute our soil, still may the Gray Champion come . . .”

That’s good news for John and any like-minded Tea Partiers. Hawthorne places his supernatural do-gooder at their namesake event, the dumping of 342 chests of East India tea into Boston harbor. The old guy makes rounds at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill too.

I doubt John has read “The Gray Champion,” though I’m fairly sure The Scarlet Letter was on our high school English syllabus. I won’t declare Hester the first superheroine, but she is the first character in fiction to sport a letter on her chest, beating Joe Shuster’s Superman by nearly nine decades. The “A” starts as punishment, but Hester embroiders her own meanings into the symbol, and eventually the town rechristens her “Able” and “Angel” in appreciation of her selfless if not quite superheroic service.

The Gray Champ has her beat though. Midwife to the poor is noble and all, but the Tea Party would rouse our whole land from its sluggish despondency. According to my high school Friend, the harsh and unprincipled administration of Obama lacks scarcely a single characteristic of tyranny, violating the rights of private citizens, taking away our liberties, and endangering our religion. These, apparently, are evil times. Hawthorne agrees:

“‘Satan will strike his master-stroke presently,’ cried some, bemoaning the deformity of any government that does not grow out of the nature of things and the character of the people. On one side the religious multitude, with their sad visages and dark attire, and on the other, the group of despotic rulers. Pray and expect patiently what the Lord will do in this matter!”

A literal Godsend, the returning Gray Champion would probably forgo street protests and broadcast his message nationally. Though he might have trouble claiming a share of camera time. Would even Fox News have room for a bearded Puritan between the soul-stirring voices of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Karl Rove?

He might launch his own website instead, but my friend John already shares regular posts from Political Outcast, Vision To America, and Conservative Byte. The last includes a photoshopped Emperor Obama in a crown and kingly regalia. A commenter adds: “’Dictator’ Obama has infiltrated the entire system of government with radical muslims, gays and completely ignorant self serving idiots pushing their own agendas.”

In fact, who needs the Gray Champion in the age of Facebook? The reason we have the second amendment, shouts John on his homepage, is TO DEFEND OURSELVES AGAINST OPPRESORS LIKE OBAMA. “Government of the people is GONE. People will only be ignored so long, then they will act. God help us all.”

Meanwhile, the venerable stranger, staff in hand, drew near the advancing soldiers, and as the roll of their drum came full upon his ear, the old man raised himself to a loftier mien, while the decrepitude of age seemed to fall from his shoulders, leaving him in gray, but unbroken dignity. Thus the aged form advanced on one side, and the whole parade of soldiers and magistrates on the other, till, when scarcely twenty yards remained between, the old man grasped his staff by the middle, and held it before him like a leader’s truncheon.

“Stand!” cried he.

The eye, the face, and attitude of command; the solemn, yet warlike peal of that voice, fit either to rule a host in the battle-field or be raised to God in prayer, were irresistible. At the old man’s word and outstretched arm, the roll of the drum was hushed at once, and the advancing line stood still.

At least that’s what happens in a black and white world of pure good vs. evil. Our world, however, is considerably Grayer.

Unless you’re a member of the Tea Party.

puritan

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It was a big weekend. Obama officially launched his reelection campaign, the French equivalent of a Tea Party President lost his, and The Avengers swept box offices. The Monday was also the anniversary of Germany’s unconditional surrender. Coincidences? Obviously. But revealing ones.

The Avengers is a love-to-hate-you letter to Adolf Hitler. Marvel Entertainment is telling us that without a supervillain to focus us, America can’t reach its superheroic potential. And it’s not just any supervillain we need. The Cold War’s Evil Empire only gave us nuclear deterrents. Global warming just gives us something to bicker about. But Hitler, he gave us unity.

Nazi nostalgia is ingrained in the superhero formula, but director-scriptwriter Joss Whedon makes it explicit. Nordic ubervillain Loki declares his dictatorship in Germany, and the star-spangled Captain America is the first to sock him on the jaw. The World War II hero is the heart of the film, showcasing the “old fashioned” patriotism that launched Golden Age superheroes and still keeps them afloat.

But America has changed in seventy years. Our worst enemy isn’t a Democracy-stomping dictator. It’s ourselves. We’re like a bunch of superpowered leotards bounding off in contradictory directions. We waste our time smashing our hammers against each other’s shields. The Avengers are at their worst while Loki is chilling in his cell. No threat, no unity.

Once things start exploding though, we know how to rally. Democracy is messy, but when it really matters, it works. Even narcissists like Tony Stark, the ultimate 1%-er super-CEO, eventually fall into line. Those equally self-righteous religious types finally stop talking about Asgard and start taking orders from the American flag. Why? A cop on the street voices the question, and Whedon answers: anyone standing on the front line blocking bullets for you (or whatever those shiny blasts of energy are) is the guy to get behind.

Being truly democratic, the team also includes some of our darker sides on its roster. Black Widow reminds us of all the blood on our national ledger and our collective need to atone for it. And lest we think the ledger ended with the sexy Soviet Union, Hawkeye murders his victims right on screen. But it’s okay, he was brainwashed by a demagogue, so let’s not torture ourselves by counting up the number dead (in, say, Afghanistan or Iraq). It’s the lesson that matters: America is always angry, always capable of unthinking destruction, but we can learn to control that rage and use it for good.

The trick is how to inspire unity. Nick Fury learns that barking orders isn’t enough. You have to make us want to be a team. Sure, trading cards are dorky, but they’re about childhood. They’re about believing in simple truths. So what if Nick dipped them in blood for dramatic effect? He did it for the right reason. Which I guess means Whedon does too when he plays the 9/11 card at the end of the film. It’s okay to copy ground zero memorial footage as long as you show America coming together as a result.

Though it turns out disunity is important too. Fury isn’t just taking orders from upper ups. Some in-fighting is necessary. It’s evidence of our national health. In fact, it makes us stronger. So when the space portal opens and the legions of doom descend, we’ll be the best team possible. Not a government mandate, but a grass roots majority guided by its own (slightly manipulated) will.

Too much government is a will-devouring dictatorship, too little is nation-splintering anarchy, but The Avengers serves democracy just right. It’s the baby bear balance suitable for all political persuasions. It’s also a nifty way to earn $417 million in two weeks.

When the fight’s over, we splinter again, and that’s okay too. Because we’ve reminded ourselves and the universe that America is always secretly ready. Plus, now that we’ve proven we can pull together, we’ve earned the right to be free of government surveillance. Fury and Whedon turn off the cameras, and we all go home feeling good about being Americans. We can hardly wait for the next catastrophe to make us all feel even better.

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