From Villains, to Heroes to Human Dodos
Heroes and Villains
We still look to artists, writers and heroes, fictional and otherwise for inspiration. My own personal political hero is Prime Minister Curtin who led Australia to victory during the 2nd World War.
Nowadays we have to support our writers and artists against those who see murder as a form of criticism. Such murders have happened in recent times in France.
War correspondents have since the beginning taken their life in their hands going into dangerous situations for a story. The deaths of such brave people is lamentable.
But what if the writer has not ventured outside his or her own country and gets gunned down by cowards? What if there is an undeclared war on democracy?
Our heroes should remain those who defend our rights and stick up for the democratic process.
Nowadays we must be careful who we turn into heroes. Islamic State, for example, are doomed fanatics. They destroy the past with the notion of building their own future.
But do the fanatics that make up Islamic State have any idea of the value of what they are destroying? Probably not. And do they have a future?
Only those members who leave Islamic State may have a future but who would want them? They will not create an empire by destroying the remnants of other empires. This is certain.
In the USA characters such as Paul Bunyan and Davy Crockett emerged at a time when not everyone could read.
Bunyan probably never existed as a real person but Crockett definitely did. Even so, the tall tales about both men are with us today and are still part of the American character.
Walt Disney once honored Bunyan with an animated film.
In one movie about the last ditch stand at the Alamo John Wayne played the role of Crockett.
In Great Britain there's King Arthur and Robin Hood.
Both King Arthur and Robin Hood existed in real life but we know little about the real men.
Even so, the tall tales they are covered in provide an insight into how the British would like to see themselves.
There have been attempts by television in recent years to tarnish both King Arthur and Robin Hood. Hopefully they have failed.
Recent movies, however, have gotten at the heart of what still makes King Arthur and Robin Hood great.
Today there are more empires of the mind, the internet and big business than of the traditional kind. There are nonetheless empires.
Today the great power brokers of mainland China are financially helping out the USA economy. How long they will continue to do so is anyone's guess.
Even so, the USA still has its heroes, fictional and otherwise.
The currency of the USA is based on a number of things including Freemasonry ideals and the general belief that every man and woman should have the right to rise as far as their talent will allow them to rise.
The Americans did not invent spin. The television series Spin City, which is in eternal rerun phase, might indicate that they did but this is not true.
In the television show Gotham we are also introduced to how spin works. The people must have hope even though the city is run by corrupt officials.
Spin can, in fact, create its own spin. Mind you, dodos like President Bush could only have made it to the White House with a lot of soap powder and at lease two rinse cycles per day.
The British did not invent spin nor did the Romans or the Greeks.The very early civilizations were already masters of it.
What it comes down to is a question of who first put down words in writing meant to instill courage and a sense of unity among the people.
Empires rise for a number of reasons but they stay solid when the people who belong to them have a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves.
Spin can help when it comes to this sense of belonging. There are, of course, other factors. Heroes, fictional and otherwise, do count. Victories, fictional, contestable or for real are also important.
The battle of Waterloo was fought against the French forces of Napoleon but which nation was the major player and thus the major victor when the forces of Napoleon fell?
The British claim to be the major player and therefore the major victor.
Strangely enough, the German forces of the day also make a similar claim.
Who is right here and who is wrong? In any event, both the British and the Germans have made great spin out of Waterloo.
For the British Wellington is the great hero.
For the Germans Gebhard von Blucher is the great hero.
Russian forces were supposed to be there but they didn't make it to Waterloo. Hence no great Russian hero.
Writers have emerged who are at the heart and soul of empire building and maintenance. With them have come to the fore characters that speak volumes, in their actions if not their words, about what the people want if not expect out of their collective way of life.
I will throw to you five fictional examples that are terribly British and five fictional examples that are very red, white and blue American.
A Sense of Fair Play
Nowadays the Britisher of highest respect the world over for dealing well with others and also for promoting the well being of the environment is David Attenborough. He sees himself as being thoroughly British and many people of not only Britain but the Commonwealth also see him this way. He is in many respects the ideal Britain.
What has made the British empire something special is the sense of fair play that comes from thinking of one's self as British.
There are a number of origins of this sense of fair play. There is the letter of British law with its origins in Saxon, Roman and Greek thought and deed.
There is the Magna Carta. Though it really did more for the barons of England than anyone else at the time it was put together, it still is the basis of universal justice not only among the British but the Americans as well.
It was the Magna Carta that placed king John (and future kings) within the law and not above it as had previously been the case.
This belief that the king could be held accountable for his actions led to the civil war that resulted in Charles the first losing his head.
Taking this concept of accountability even further, the founding fathers of the USA concluded that there should be no taxation without representation. This led to the war of independence from Britain and I believe we all know the result of that war.
The sense of fair play also comes from sport, especially the game of cricket. For at least a century cricket kept the empire together and today keeps the Commonwealth together. The saying It's not cricket continues to translate into it's not fair. The Ashes matches between Australia and England draw great crowds.
Have the English always played fair when it comes to cricket? One might say they have played within the rules but that isn't quite the same thing. In the 1932-33 Ashes tour of Australia the English used what is now known as bodyline to defeat Australia's greatest batsman at the time, Don Bradman.
It can be said that bodyline, which has since been discredited, puts the batsman in definite danger from the bowler. He is given very little time to decide whether to try to hit the ball or get out of its way to possibly avoid a head injury.
Even so cricket did survive the 1932-33 Ashes and is still considered to be the glue of empire and an inspiration to fair play in other walks of life.
Have the British always played fair when it comes to other countries and other people? Certainly, in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, India and her people did not do as well as they might have done under British rule. The same can be said for Ireland.
Even so, Gandhi was able to use his skills as a lawyer, and the British sense of fair play and care for their own established laws, to help bring about independence for India.
In the 19th Century Rudyard Kipling wrote about India in his novel Kim. In this work the British are not made out to be infallible.
The British are shown to be both a good and a bad influence. In this book there is a sense of British fair play and also the question of whether Britain should retain its hold over India.
Now on to five fictional examples of how the British would like to see themselves.
ADVENTURES IN THE TARDIS
1. DOCTOR WHO
Doctor Who began as a fictional television character in a television show by the same name. This was back in the 1960s.
Since then there has been a continuing stream of novels based on this television character.
There have also been a whole slew of comic books and comic papers.
Though an alien from another planet with two hearts, The Doctor has exhibited, over the decades, many of the characteristics we associate with the best of the British.
In one incarnation he was even an excellent cricket player.
Many fine actors have been the Doctor and no doubt The Doctor will go on.
Bond in Novels and Movies
2. JAMES BOND
James Bond continues in New movies coming out. In film he has been redefined a number of times but still remains the dapper British spy.
As fictional super spies go Ian Fleming's favorite son, James Bond has made quite an impact and continues to do so. Though created in the early 1950s, Bond made possibly the greatest contribution to British male identity in the 1960s.
In the early Bond films the British are often in a tricky situation. They know that Specter or some other powerful but secretive organization is trying to start a war between soviet Russia and the USA. The thing is to prove it in time to stop the missiles from flying.
Think of the Russians and the Americans as two young men spoiling for a fight and Britain as the mother trying to keep order and you've got the ticket. Bond, of course, is sent out to find proof of what's really going on.
My all time favorite Bond film is You Only Live Twice. And, yes, as the leader of Japan's secret service in the film notes, if Bond carries on chasing pretty girl they are likely to get him into trouble. And what trouble they get him into!
Fast cars, fast women and great gadgets. What more could you want? Oh, and there was the bonus of saving the world.
I don't really understand the last couple of Bond movies. Perhaps they belong to a generation that wasn't around during the Cold War years.
Biggles in Action
A couple of years ago Crows Nest, an Australian outfit, has been reprinting some of the more exciting adventures of James Bigglesworth, better known to the world simply as Biggles.
Captain W. E. Johns began writing Biggles stories in the 1930s and continued to do so until his death in 1968. All his stories about Biggles have a ring of authenticity about them since Captain W. E. Johns was a fighter pilot and kept up with new trends in plane design and weapons even after his retirement.
Biggles began his fictional career during the First World War as a flying ace. The Camels Are Coming (meaning Sopwith Camels) is one of the better stories from the 1930s and a treasure for anyone fascinated by flight and by aerial dogfights. It is a novel not only showing some of creator Johns' sense of humor but also his take on women in war time.
Biggles falls in love with a woman who turns out to be an enemy spy. He also receives a white feather from a young woman while on leave. She thinks he's a slacker. When she discovers that he is, in fact, a war ace resting up before going back to the fighting her attitude toward him naturally changes. Even so it is a curious moment in the novel.
After the First World War Biggles was called upon to do some spy work for the British government and to rescue a scientist from the clutches of the Third Reich in Biggles - Secret Agent.
During the 2nd World War Biggles went back to being a fighter pilot and, after the war, he did a spot of work for the British government as an aerial policeman working for a division of Scotland Yard.
In all his activities Biggles remained the British gentleman fighter choosing to give an enemy the chance of surrender after the odds had been placed firmly on his side. Biggles would never kick a man when he is down and would not have his companions in a fight do so. It would not be British.
Biggles was never morally against a man fighting for his own country even if that man was fighting on the other side. It was part of his sense of sportsmanship. He was, however, against Nazis because they fought without honor and displayed no signs of sportsmanship.
Biggles made it as a movie character in 1986 in a curious though very enjoyable film titled Biggles: Adventures in Time. As the title implies, there is time travel. Can you imagine a helicopter flying over the western Front in World War One? Well, someone could and they happily threw Biggles into the action. A fun romp I am pretty sure Captain Johns would have approved of. No doubt he would have found it quite amusing.
The Settings were Mostly British
4. MISS MARPLE
Little old ladies with sticky beak noses and detective skills seem to be the go in England nowadays. The original stick beak, however, was Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple. She's a good woman to have on your side in a jam and a cunning adversary if you happen to be guilty of a crime.
Miss Marple has been around since 1926 and, surprisingly, she's still going quite strong.
The Agatha Christie novels she is best remembered for appearing in include The Murder at the Vicarage (1930), The moving Finger (1943) and Nemesis (1971). She has appeared in a number of television shows and movies. Margaret Rutherford played Miss Marple to perfection on the big screen.
Humor and a good sense of pace plus intriguing clues kept and still keep readers and viewers coming back for more.
Miss Marple, apart from having an astute mind, is the sweetest old woman you could ever hope to meet provided you are on the right side of the law. Oh, and she has always been prim, proper and thoroughly British.
5. SHERLOCK HOLMES
Arthur Conan Doyle thought he would become a popular writer through historic novels such as The White Company, which is set in the middle ages.
In the end it was his brilliant detective, Sherlock Holmes, with his first class deductive mind, that won him a place in history.
Sherlock Holmes and his faithful biographer, Doctor Watson, were popular enough in the Strand Magazine in the 19th Century going into the early 20th Century.
Who was to know that the stories and novels attached to the adventures of Holmes and Watson would really take off with the growing popularity of cinema and then the advent of television?
During the 2nd World War Holmes was played by Basil Rathbone and Doctor Watson by Nigel Bruce in a string of cheaply made but very well done films that did well in both Britain and 'across the pond' in the USA.
Of the films my favorites are Sherlock Holmes and the Secret weapon (1943), where he puts one over on a bunch of Nazis at the beginning of the film, and Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943), where the decency of the ordinary Britisher is tested but not found wanting.
The Americans Developed a Great Navy and Sent Men to the Moon
Whether you can say the USA has an empire or is an empire unto itself is debatable. Certainly the USA expanded since it was founded.
Hawaii, the 50th state, is not on the mainland but in the pacific.
There was a time after the First world War when many Americans were not keen at all on the idea of involving themselves with the welfare and the direction of other countries.
After the 2nd World War Americans did show a change of heart in this matter. Isolationism was not only no longer possible in realistic terms, it was no longer to be desired.
Certainly Australia needed and got America's help against the Japanese during the 2nd World War.
Throughout much of the 20th Century, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and James Cagney have symbolized the American male.
The American woman has been symbolized by Debbie Reynolds, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Baxter, and Katherine Hepburn.
Films such as The Magnificent Seven, The Flying Tigers, Mr. Smith goes to Washington, Some like it Hot, The African Queen, Singin' in the Rain, 12 Angry Men, Inherit the Wind, Angels with Dirty Faces, and The Ten Commandments say more about how Americans would like to see themselves and their collective heritage than I am liable to be able to put forth in one small hub.
In fact, Americans are most definitely and unashamedly moviegoers. But, then again, so are Australians.
During the Vietnam War period John Wayne came under fire from young people for his starring in the propaganda laden film The Green Berets (1968) and in a documentary urging Americans to support American involvement in Vietnam.
It was pointed out that John Wayne, unlike Jimmy Stewart, had never experienced real combat in his life and had only ever played at combat.
In the 1970s, among young protesters against the war, Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack, the martial arts 'half-breed' American Indian warrior, came to symbolize the American struggle for peace in our time.
In my opinion the best of the Billy Jack movies is The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) which, not only shows beautiful scenes that can only be found in the USA, but has a great slew of wonderful anti-war songs.
During the 1960s the race to the moon made all the papers.
In the beginning the Soviets had a pretty good lead but it was the USA who first landed a man on the moon. (Actually two men on the first go.) Was this a new form of empire building? Was this the conquest of space? was this the conquest of the moon?
Since before the time of Galileo, just what the moon happens to be and how it fits into what is happening here on earth has been controversial.
Speculation ran rampant and the Catholic Church, at one time, supported its then erroneous beliefs with bloodshed for those of a scientific mind who disagreed with the Church's religious findings.
In 1969 two Americans found out just what the surface of Luna was like and became, not only national, but international heroes.
Certainly science fiction as well as science fact on television and at the movies took off in a big way. Americans saw themselves as being for science and scientific reasoning.
Of course, in the deep south, scientific reasoning doesn't always prevail as illustrated by the recent upsurge in fake science mixed with dubious religion such as you will find in Creationism and Scientology.
In the 21st Century, the USA stands for the democratic way but are the people of the USA as fully committed to democracy as they would like to believe they are?
Holding a person for an indefinite period of time without charging them with an offense was once considered to be against basic American principles yet, in recent times, it has been done and by American officials.
Freedom of the press has never been absolute but it is less free in places occupied by American forces.
Soon after American occupation of Iraq, journalists with negative feed on what Americans were doing in Iraq were arrested and thrown into Abu Ghraib prison. The torture of prisoners was once thought of as being totally un-American and yet prisoners were tortured at Abu Ghraib by Americans.
And yet the ideals and principles upon which the USA was founded and upon which the country grew up cherishing still exist. Strength of character and the power of the individual to make necessary change remain very much red, white and blue.
Today Iraq is in a real mess with Islamic State out to kill and destroy.
Now on to five fictional examples of how Americans would like to see themselves.
Up, up and Away!
Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1932, the oft times costumed hero, Superman, made his debut in Action Comics 1 (1938). You could say, because Superman's fictional origin is a planet far away that exploded, that he is the first migrant superhero.
Regardless, he has been in numerous comic books, cartoons, novels, and live action television shows over the years. The live action television shows include the lackluster Superboy (1988-1992) and the more wondrous Smallville.
Possibly one of the reasons for Superman's continuing popularity has been the ability of those handling him to adopt him to the changing times. In the 1950s, for example, it was fine that he should stand for 'truth, justice and the American way'. Back then no one was likely to question in any great detail what 'the American way' might be.
If you were to ask an American on the street at the time the response you would most likely get would be 'not the Communist way of doing things'. By the last decade of the 20th Century and then going into the 21st Century 'the American way' became more something to be discovered in every American's heart rather than something easily arrived at.
The Red Skull, other Villains and Allies
2. CAPTAIN AMERICA
Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Captain America appeared for the first time in Captain America Comics 1 in 1941. He faded away after the ending of the 2nd World War and was briefly revived as a communist buster during the 1950s.
Then, when Jack Kirby and Stan Lee brought him back in the 1960s, something clicked with comic book readers and, to this day, he continues as a popular character. In the 1960s there were paperback novels featuring Captain America.
In 1944 Republic made an unusual movie serial in which the Captain in costume, but without his famous shield, battles with fists and, in his civilian guise as a District Attorney (possibly the first and last time he'd be a lawyer) with guns blazing.
There was also a 1979 television series starring Reb Brown which had the good Captain with a wobbly shield and a motorbike. At least one abortive movie came out of this mess.
The Captain America movie of 1990, starring Matt Salinger, looked good but the script was poor and, for some unknown reason, the Red Skull was changed from a card-carrying super Nazi to a fascist Italian. Why a fascist Italian? I have no idea! But it was a really bad move. This did not go down well with fans! Joe Simon and Jack Kirby invented the Red Skull as a Third Reich master assassin and general bad guy and this is how we wanted him to be.
The latest effort Captain America: First Avenger (2011) is a long time in coming and actually is the long awaited film most, if not all, Captain America fans will appreciate. Starring Chris Evans, it is obvious that a lot of thought was put into the production to create a quality product.
In the 1970s Captain America, then being illustrated by Gene Colan, rode off on a bike trip in search of his beloved America. Steve Rogers (Captain America) felt, at the time, that to best symbolize the nation he should really check it out. Today Captain America continues to symbolize an ever changing USA.
WONDER WOMAN AND HER LASSO OF TRUTH
3. WONDER WOMAN
William Marston created Wonder Woman in 1941 to give girls a super heroine they could look up to.
With her Lasso of truth, bullet proof bracelets, and her Amazonian muscles, Wonder Woman gave the Nazis a run for their money during World War Two and villains in general after the war.
There was one really bad Wonder Woman movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby made back in 1974.
Once Lynda Carter took the role in the much celebrated television series (1975 - 1979), however, there was no holding this character back.
Westerns, from at least the 1890s on, have played a crucial role in the formation of the American identity. There are many fine examples of Western novels that have touched the American public. It would be a shame, therefore, not to put forward at least one here that has had lasting impact.
First published as a novel in 1949, Shane by author Jack Shaefer is basically about a gunfighter who grows too fond of a poor farming family. He is the rugged individual many Americans wish to be. He is also a loner made so by his skill with a gun.
When the 1953 movie of Shane, starring Alan Ladd, came out, many male newborns in both the USA and Australia were named Shane. There were, in fact, a few Shanes kicking around in the NSW suburb where I grew up.
5. DOC SAVAGE
Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, created by Lester Dent, made his first appearance in Doc Savage Magazine 1 (a pulp) in 1933. Surrounding himself with experts in every field of knowledge, Doc was and is the ultimate scientist and adventurer. He is also wealthy and into gadgets he creates for his missions.
Physically, Doc is all that a man can be who exercises every day and eats right. He shouldn't really be classified as a superhero. He is best identified by the color of his skin and eyes. If you are blind you might recognize him by the trilling sound he makes through his nose when he is deep in thought.
Curiously, despite all his know how, Doc can't seem to find a shirt that will stay in one piece on his person throughout an entire adventure. Fictional characters such as the hulk and Luke Cage, hero for hire (who became Powerman) also have the same problem.
One thing Doc does or came to do with master criminals he catches may seem to infringe upon human rights. He performs surgery on their brains in order to turn them away from crime and onto more law abiding activities. Perhaps the editors at the time thought at least this was better than the death penalty.
After the 1950s paper shortage, Doc faded away for a while but his past adventures came back stronger than ever in a series of paperbacks put out in the 1960s. Marvel took a crack at him in the 1970s, then D.C. comics in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the 1930s, 1940s and 1980s Doc was serialized for radio.
In 1975 the movie Doc Savage: Man of Bronze, starring Ron Ely, made it to the cinema but wasn't a great success. Ely was perfect for the role but couldn't really do much with the lousy script he had to work with. There was talk back in the late 1990s that Arnold Schwarzenegger would star in a Doc Savage film but nothing has eventuated so far.
Combining scientific knowledge with action, Doc was and is a favorite pulp hero who is sure to make another comeback. The mix of scientific knowledge and action is, to many readers, very red, white and blue.
More by this Author
The 20th Century, Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Cold War, H. G. Wells, A Woman of Mars, The Hulk, Ian Fleming, Tarzan, A Clockwork Orange, Agatha Christie, Biggles.
Australian Propaganda from convict origins, to outlaws, to World War One, to populate or perish. Racism, Reverse Racism, sexism, loose lips sink ships, Muslims, Christians, bikinis, The Simpsons, USA
Standing tall and one person making a difference has long been part of the American identity. In propaganda terms it has been useful. Can one person really make a difference? John Wayne and Vietnam.
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