But having finished it, I am reminded why there is so much nostalgia (among those who did not live through it) for the period of the second world war, and why there is so much attraction to stories like this. There is a clear bad guy, a band of unquestionable heroes, and a surety of purpose that is mostly lacking in our country right now.
We have thousands of Watt-hours of Americans being mostly idle, while others walk ramshod over our rights and our democracy, and then other thousands of Watt-hours being spent just to survive and raise families in a country that no longer seems to value that process as it once did.
Our kids are being sold Angry Birds clothing and toys. Is flinging birds with a slingshot in order to kill a bunch of pigs really the clearest, most compelling narrative we can offer our kids right now?
I know, I know, there's also Dora (explore!) and Elmo (Love!) and Barbie (Buy!) and the Disney Princesses (Not even going there) and Spongebob (don't even know enough to guess), but I think the lack of national cohesion is visible in more than just our presidential politics.
Watching the film, one of the moments that most caught in my throat was the scene with kids running through the streets, following a leader with a Captain America shield. We don't have narratives like that about many current figures, real or fictional, that our kids can pick up and run with, at least not any that are modern.
A friend loaned me some DVDs of the Wonder Woman television shows. And again, oh lookie. She fought the Nazis. Though I guess in the cartoons I watched as a kid she must have done something else...?
When I was a kid we watched M*A*S*H, which had more complexity but still had heroes. And of course there were the fantasies. Peter Pan, Snow White, Star Trek, etc. But in the meantime, complexity was undermining (sometimes in good ways) the stories that had created the roleplaying games of years past. Cowboys and Indians? Not so clear-cut, once examined, who is the bad guy. Cops and Robbers? We had Chips, but also The Dukes of Hazard. Our generation especially admired the clever loners. MacGyver and the A-Team. As we entered the Me Decade and watched the communities and families around us struggle and falter.
But the problem is not just our kids and their stories, its ourselves. Who do we hope to emulate? Who do we look up to? Who do we trust, who has power? Clearly, if you look at the polls, there's Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, and, for me, Melinda Gates. Oh, and Elmo of course. As well as many hundreds of doctors, teachers, and emergency personnel out fighting the good fight, but often fighting the tides of administrative obstructionism.
Maybe this is why I keep a copy of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Maybe I should watch it. But I'm afraid it will just get me down, too.
I would love to see 10 or 20 million of us march on Washington and our own State Capitols, demanding an end to corporate financing of elections and candidates, and a decent system of public financing and media access to replace it. And legislators brave enough to put forth the bills to make it happen. And posters and film strips supporting the idea: Have a cup of Freedom!
But I don't believe in it. That it could happen right now, I mean.
In Captain America (the movie), the biggest job of the female foil is to have faith in him, to remind him of his purpose. I feel like my country is hanging around waiting for someone to do that for us. It's not a happy feeling.