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Capitol Crimes – Election Season Crime Media
What’s the most a criminal’s ever taken from you?
Many of you just answered “none” or “not much, but that cell phone had precious memories on it.” Some thought, “my sense of security.” A few of you are still seriously considering a part-time career in vigilantism.
But most Americans, deep down, know we’ve been robbed big time.
We may not have lost Grandma’s costume jewelry from the safe, or the use of our legs in a drive-by, but we lost something near and dear to us all.
We lost the Clinton years.
Remember those? No, not the boy bands and AOL online minutes. I mean the last, great hurrah of American Empire; the epoch when we were so high on the hog, we had the liberty to bitch about the pettiest crap while rolling in the fat of the land.
We lost low gas prices, retirement funds, the value of higher education, the faith in our military actions, the sense that we were invincible. And we didn’t just lose this, folks. We all know – we feel – that it was stolen.
You can pick and choose from a long list of culprits: Irresponsible big business, spend-and-spend-more liberals, predatory lenders, the Chinese, sensationalist media, Islamic extremists, back-assward Republicans. Whatever poison you pick, you can be sure of this:
Nowadays, these are the villains drawn large on screens both big and small, in our books and on our comic store shelves.
The Big Crime of the post-Bush years is a bitterness, ingrained in all of us, and born of having been screwed over by some massive institution. That scar on our psyche is reflected in the mirror of our media. And now that it’s election season, you can expect that image will be magnified.
Let me put it a different way: Captain America is going to be President.
It’s official as a hand on the Bible – come September 26, according to the Associated Press, Captain America will assume the highest office in the land in the Marvel series, The Ultimates.
Savvy comic fans will respond that The Ultimates isn’t the main continuity of the Marvel universe. Still, it’s not an Elseworlds one-off; this is a major story line, written by relative comic-book rookie Sam Humphries, featuring Cap as the Commander-in-Chief. And in my opinion, it’s a whole lot more significant than Northstar’s same-sex marriage.
It’s not even the timeliness of the tale that supplies that importance. It’s because the story is indicative of a trend. Our modern media is rife with Depression-era-style stories.
You don’t even need to look back at the ’30s to dig my meaning, but let’s give them a glance. Crime fiction and film was huge back then – it was the hey day of the gangster flick, the detective tale and the anti-trust superhero. Superman and Batman bashed as many corrupt capitalists as they did mad scientists and killer clowns. Pulp boomed with stories of the seedy, the derelict and the downtrodden fighting the system for something better.
The Big Bad was the system itself, and Americans embraced media that either grappled with it or fled from it. And so it is today.
I’ll bang the gong again – Captain America is going to be President. America may have had plenty of election seasons, but this is the first when comics decided that what readers really wanted was a superhero in the White House. The system itself has become a criminal that needs a trouncing from our number one patriot.
I have to wonder two things. First, who is Cap going to throw his mighty shield at? The Koch Brothers? Illegal immigrants? The Tea Party?
I doubt it’ll be Al-Qaeda, simply because we’re past pointing fingers abroad for our problems. After four years of the Great Recession and 12 years of political extremism, we know the real enemy is among us.
The boom in crime show popularity is proof of this. That’s not theory; it’s statistical fact. When circumstances sour economically, shows about the down and out go up in the ratings. Justified, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and Boardwalk Empire are dominating the Emmys and the viewership, just like Cagney and Bogart dominated back in the days of the great picture show. Thrillers are huge in the literary scene, where bad guys and political battles are bested by the good guys. They’re the vessels for our power fantasies and our poverty.
Our hits are either true suspense stories like that, or the flip side – the Saturday matinee approach: Avatars and Transformers, Vampire romances and Young Adult superpowers, post-apocalyptic worlds and alien ninja turtles.
We either want to take a close, hard look at the world or get the hell out of it.
Because who can Captain America kick in the face to save the world economy from collapse, dear reader? Who can he bounce his shield off of to solve the intractable clash between conservative values and the Occupy movement? Whose head does he need to bash to recover our IRAs, our stock options and our credit rating?
The answer is: nobody’s. There’s no one face we can put a fist through and no thief we can get the jewels back from.
We’re stuck in a downward spiral, our media sinking deeper into the criminal lifestyle we can empathize with or out into faraway realms we can escape to.
We’re electing Captain America President. Just like we elected the Superman fan from Chicago, four years ago. We’ve got a superhero in the White House, because the villain is the Free World itself.
Which raises my second question: Is Cap going to win or lose the good fight?
The reality is that no pull of the poll lever is going to save our country, because there’s no Skrull invasion to blame for our ills. But if our media is any indication, we’re damn sick of reality.