“Cap’s Portrayal in Cinema or: What’s Wrong with Being a Boy Scout?”

Cap 1My apologies for the tardiness of this latest blog entry!  Priests get a little busy during Orthodox Holy Week and Pascha…

Thanks for your patience!  Hope you enjoy!

What’s so bad about being a boy scout, anyway?

Actually, maybe the phrasing of the question should be, “What’s so bad about being called a boy scout?”  Among kids it’s said on the playground as an insult, and in the “grown-up world” it’s said to someone who’s straight-laced, wide-eyed, naïve, you name it.

I’ll admit that I was never in scouts myself, as neither my school nor church had a program.  In fact, I never had any exposure to a boy scouts program until I and a group of other seminarians visited Saint Basil’s orphanage in upstate New York, where we were asked to help out with a state-wide Orthodox Christian boy scout conference.  At that event I saw respect for the flag, respect for religion, and an emphasis placed on being a good person (you know, the “do my duty,” oath and all that), mixed in with fun stuff like baseball, canoeing and campfire.  A lot of hard work by scout leaders and parents went into raising these young people to become good adult people through this program, which I would think is pretty much what every parent wants anyway, right?

So I ask again, what’s so bad about being a boy scout?

Government officials (especially during election years) talk all about how important it is to have community centers, resources for families, good schools and everything needed for kids to grow up right.  To take it one step further, social workers can tell you how important it is, amidst all this, for kids to have good role models while growing up in order to show them, not just tell them, what the right path is, and that it’s attainable.  Big brother/big sister programs exist in inner cities and underprivileged homes for just this reason, and even high schools encourage big brothers/big sisters for upperclassmen to help out lowerclassmen.  If you were privileged to have an older sibling who set good standards in many ways and who you looked up to, you know how powerful of an influence examples like this can be.

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On the flip side, not having a positive influence/father figure/mentor can be disastrous. Nearly four out of every five people in prison grew up in a fatherless home.  Sociology tells us that no matter how often mom takes the kids to church, ultimately, the practice of the father is generally the determining factor in if kids continue going to church.  Craziest of all, psychologists say that one’s perception of God, especially among boys, is heavily determined by one’s perception of one’s father.  In short, good role models and good values go a very, very long way.

It burns me up when celebrities, in particular sports stars, have headlines splashed all over the news about shenanigans they get into in strip clubs, DUI’s, domestic violence… need I go on?  Granted, other than certain rules to protect their league’s image, NFL players go into the NFL because they’re good at football, not because they’re trying to change the world.  And yet whether they or any other athlete likes it or not, some kid has their poster in their room and wants nothing more than to be them.  I have no delusions about the shortcomings and human weaknesses we all have, but I think we would do well to remember this a bit more often.

More Russell Wilson, less Johnny Manziel, please.

Cap 2When Marvel Studios was formed in 2007 and construction began on a cinematic Marvel Universe, production began on bringing Captain America to the big screen shortly thereafter.  It was at this moment that decisions had to be made: how does one bring a World War II character seven decades old to a 21st century audience?  Should Captain America be “edgy,” “modern,” and “cynical?”  In the wrong hands, I’m sure he would have been.

Instead, without flinching, Kevin Feige, Joe Johnston, the Russo brothers, Chris Evans and all parties involved have decided to make Steve Rogers idealistic, straight-laced, moral, and wide-eyed.

And I applaud them for it!

In the last five years, Captain America has appeared in seven movies, most recently in Captain America: Civil War, which just premiered last week.  In each of these movies, we have not just had cool scenes of Cap flinging his shield around and punching Nazis, but also plenty of great character moments in which Steve Rogers shows what he stands for as a person.  From correcting the Avengers’ bad language to matter-of-factly pointing out to an inquisitive Black Widow that he “always tells the truth,” there has been absolutely no hesitation in making Cap a cool action hero and … well, a boy scout.

Whether filmmakers consider it while making their movies or not, kids have posters of superheroes on their walls as often as they do of singers, movie stars or athletes, and perhaps even more!  Debates about violence in Hollywood action movies aside, all in all I think that Marvel Studios has presented audiences with a good, role model superhero.  He is polite, well-mannered, and principled, as well as strong, heroic, etc.  I dare say that a near-perfect job has been done with our buddy Steve (something which Warner Bros. would do well to remember when it comes to Superman…).

Role models are hugely important.  Even in our Church, which has a strong emphasis on the spiritual father, mentioned in Paul’s letters and cultivated heavily in the Orthodox monastic tradition, we believe that there should be someone in our lives that we can look up to as a mentor.  This person is not meant to be someone to merely teach us about matters of faith and life but also to provide an example of faith and life.  In other words, we are not meant to simply figure things out on our own, but under the guidance and care of someone whom we want to emulate as a person.

Last I checked, twelve unlearned, unread, simple fishermen learned from a role model for three years and changed the world.

St. Augustine said “One Christian is not a Christian,” acknowledging that we must be connected to a community of faith.  I have to believe that at least a part of that is about being close to good role models.  I’ve often said that as human beings we have a body and a soul, and to be a healthy human being we have to have a healthy body and a healthy soul.  As important as father figures and examples of good behavior are for kids, examples of how to be good people are important for all of us.  Superheroes, are idealized people, yes, but if nothing else should also be idealized versions of good people, even with their flaws and foibles.  They should be portrayed as people who can do the right thing even when no one else is.

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A wide-eyed, straight laced, upstanding guy who’s always prepared and always does the right thing?  Awesome.

So… what’s wrong with being a boy scout?

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

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