Frontier Psychiatrist

Avengers Assemble: Gods Without Temples

Posted on: April 23, 2012

characters from the Avengers movie

There’s a lot of be said for Polytheism.  Sure, believing in a single all-powerful deity is comforting and all but, in the end, it’s just not very interesting.  The Greeks had dozens of Gods; The Egyptians hundreds.  The Hindus claim to have 330 million.  How many do Americans have?  One?  Three if you’re Catholic?  Where’s the fun in that?

Humans are varied creatures and we need a multiplicity of stories to explain our lives properly.  For all their ridiculous amount of deities, Hinduism admits they are all a tiny fraction of Brahma but it is their lives, their legends which illuminate the totality.  Take those legends away and we’re in the dark.  Or, as has happened in the West, the culture will cobble together a pantheon from strange and jagged fields.

Witness:  The Avengers, opening May 3rd in theatres everywhere.  Hollywood has assembled an American Olympus, a collection of flawed, omni-powerful creatures who telegraph our hopes, fears, flaws and aspirations.  These are our Gods, ladies and gentlemen, so let’s do a roll call:

Captain America

Captain America Marvel

A weakling transformed into a giant.  Just as America was adrift heading into World War II and emerged out the other side a superpower, so little Steve Rogers went from a courageous yet feeble army recruit to the patriotic ubermensch.  Trapped in suspended animation for sixty years, he emerges into our modern world with the simple morality of The Greatest Generation which, for better and worse, is still the basis for the myth of the “Real America”.

Iron Man

Iron Man Marvel comics

A corporate capitalist from the Military Industrial Complex employs individual talent and advanced technology to atone for his sins.  If Captain America represents where modern America came from then Iron Man must be what it has become.  Tony Stark is a man who has spent his life and his insane genius towards killing people for profit.  As a result, he is beyond wealthy yet, in Afghanistan, he is confronted with the human damage his selfish actions have wrought and vows to make them right.  Save for the last bit, a pretty apt metaphor for America’s current location.

Thor

A Norse God.  Or, more specifically, an illustration of Arthur Clarke’s Third Law, “Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology is Indistinguishable from Magic”.  You see, Thor is not actually a God; he’s an alien with access to fantastic technology which is as beyond our understanding as an iPad would have been to…Captain America.  Thor is an uneasy jumble of our hopeful futurism in which our inventions will make us mighty and our brutal past where war and pillage was the quickest route to Heaven.

Hulk

An atomic explosion unleashes an unstoppable destroyer.  The Hulk is rather straightforward; thus, like all straightforward things, infinitely complex.  America was the country who unleashed The Bomb, like The Hulk, capable of leveling the Earth.  But the power of the Hulk is repressed rage (“You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry”) which is an apt yet disturbing metaphor for the bad darkness which must needs lurk beneath a “civilized” nation who has created an arsenal capable of turning the world into Hell.

Black Widow

A super-sexy, super bad ass secret agent.  It’s sad to say the only female in the Pantheon has no powers yet through her skill, physical and mental prowess, courage and will, she stands astride the Gods.  She is both an empowered feminist and a de-powered sex object, which should be an all too familiar situation for modern American women.

Hawkeye

A master archer cum covert warrior.  Robin Hood works for the government!  Hawkeye is a variation on the pioneer/cowboy archetype central to the American mythos.  A lone man armed only with his grit and simple weapons against a threatening world.  Then again, I might be stretching on this one.  Honestly, I think Hawkeye is kind of lame.

Nick Fury

The Wrangler of Gods.  It’s interesting the supreme authority is both black and scarred.  Much of the originality of American culture stems from the African-American contribution, which makes a black man being the secret driving force of a team of superpowered white people disturbingly apropos.

Now, even if you think all of the above are the rantings of an over-educated comic geek, which it very well could be, I want you to take two things with you:

  1. Myth is everywhere, whether we notice it or not, we can’t help but create it.
  2. We live in a very lucky time.  After all, what other culture in history has had the opportunity to watch its Gods fight a giant mechanical dragon in the middle of New York City?

Jared Thomas is an author and scriptwriter living in Brooklyn. His works include The Street Dreams of Electric Youth, The Last Amesha, and Gre & The Devil. He most recently discussed the most anticipated geek movies of 2012.  He can be reached for correspondence at jtlovesyou@gmail.com.

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5 Responses to "Avengers Assemble: Gods Without Temples"

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