C is for Cannibalism and Captain America PART 2: Civil War – The one with Spider-Man, not Slavery

Read Part 1 Here.

Cinema

Before we start: I am only going by the Marvel Cinematic Universe Captain America and Iron Man so that you don’t have to read 70 years of comics to understand this article and I don’t have to deal with all the people pulling counter-examples from stupid crap writers have done to the characters, like building an extrajudicial prison which basically trapped people in a perpetual nightmare (Iron Man) or accidentally taking a ton of meth  and pretending to be a chicken (Captain America). I’m mostly going to be focused on the film Captain America: Civil War, but, I’m also going to have to address the Endgame in the room, meaning spoilers for the MCU through that. If you haven’t seen any of them, you’re okay, I’m gonna summarize the important parts.

Sometimes the movie poster says it all. (Insert poster image underneath. Remember to delete this reminder before posting. Remember this commentary is not funny no matter how meta.)

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Two heroes standing in conflict over their deeply-held ideals. A shield for protecting the innocent against a weapon for punishing the guilty. Two hours of fighting and the audience is left with both sides still believing that they’re doing the right thing. Both sides have points that support their opinions and both sides have disadvantages that they know they have to address. Ultimately, they never really determine what the right answer is, as the coming of Thanos renders the whole thing moot and bigger fish had to be fried. So, why did everyone pick the side they did? Well, let’s take a look through the lens and see what the movies tell us up to this point.

Concession

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), the invincible Iron Man, spent three solo movies and one Avengers film proving that he is the absolute last person who should have the ability to act as an international agent of justice. In all three of his movies and Age of Ultron, he either A) creates the villain, B) gives the villain the technology they need to be effective, or C) there is no third option because he’s literally that bad at his job. And that’s completely in line with his character. Tony doesn’t have strong moral principles to shape his actions. Instead, he views everything in terms of solvable problems because, above all things, he’s an engineer. That works fine almost every time, particularly when you’re a super-genius but, like Oppenheimer and Nobel before him, sometimes he doesn’t really consider the possible consequences of his actions. So, after he almost lost the love of his life to a villain he’d empowered and his creation Ultron almost destroyed Earth, Tony was finally ready to accept that, maybe, he needed someone else to watch over his decisions.

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He literally gave a sociopath superpowers while drunk.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans and his muscles) learned the opposite lesson. In the first Captain America movie, he learned that the US was planning on abandoning probable POWs behind enemy lines (which is a thing that happens in war) so he risks his life to rescue them, believing that his way is right above the Army’s. In The Avengers, a shadowy group almost nukes Manhattan as a solution to an alien invasion that the group was, at that point, dealing with pretty successfully. In Winter Soldier, Cap learns that HYDRA, the secret Nazi cabal that he thought he beat in WWII, has actually infiltrated the American secret agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and all but taken them over. So, the one organization that he trusted to safeguard America and tell him where to go and who to fight was run by the last people who should have been doing that. So, Steve learned a valuable lesson about not giving too much of your own power up to groups.

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Yeah, when you realize you’re accidentally helping Nazis, it changes things.

They’d managed to deal with these differences up until the point where Captain America and his… mini-Avengers? I’m going with mini-Avengers… mini-Avengers went into a sovereign nation and accidentally blew up a building containing a number of humanitarian workers from another country. Was it all their fault? Oh, hell no. Did it save lives? Almost certainly. Was it the right thing to do? Well, that’s what the rest of the movie is about.

Clash

If you think what Cap did was absolutely correct, let’s flip the scenario around. Let’s suppose a paramilitary group from Lagos (country picked at random) comes into the United States, armed, and uses military force to stop a robbery but incurs collateral casualties. Was that okay? Well, if not, why not? Oh, right, because every country on Earth has a sovereign right over anything that happens within their borders. That’s literally what they’re there for. However, the Avengers (and S.H.I.E.L.D.) pretty much ignore that all the time because it’s inconvenient for the films…  and it would be inconvenient for them to deal with customs.

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People have suggested wars over DRONES being shot down.

The movie Civil War has General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) outline that, even between films, going into other countries without permission is exactly what the Avengers do and basically no one on Earth has any control over them. So, the United Nations proposes the Sokovia Accords, an international agreement which would create a branch of the UN to oversee the Avengers. Tony agrees with the Accords, because he believes that the Avengers need to be accountable and have oversight. Steve doesn’t agree with them because he believes that A) they would limit the effectiveness of the team, B) the people above them would also have agendas which would shape how the team is used, and C) that would put his personal actions at the disposal of others. So, we have a huge fight over this which blows up an airport and drags a teenager in as a soldier, with all of this supposedly orchestrated by a pissed-off soldier who lost his family to the Avengers’ actions in Age of Ultron.

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Admittedly, an awesome fight scene, but extremely forced.

Now, consider this for a second: what if all of this was completely f*cking stupid because they both know the other is also right and that there are practical solutions that would address both of their problems? Oh, right, that would have been a boring movie. It would also have been accurate, because the idea of a vigilante group with no accountability acting internationally and leaving huge amounts of collateral damage is not a thing we should debate. It’s fundamentally against the entire concept of national sovereignty, almost every international agreement in history, and, oh yeah, almost every anti-terrorist resolution. How do you think America would feel if a group of Chinese superheroes showed up and blew up a city block in the name of “stopping crime?” Or just one flew in wearing a suit of armor and just killed a bunch of citizens he deemed to be “terrorists.” Hell, how about just trying to bring the firepower equivalent of a small army into another country? Smaller things have started wars, not conversations. (Full credit to the Russo brothers, however, for having both main characters be in emotionally vulnerable states so that the ensuing plot is more justifiable.)

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Oh, and he flies into another country to murder people with a TANK-BUSTING MISSILE.

Imagine if everyone thought that it was okay for them to beat the hell out of cops for trying to arrest a suspected terrorist just because they believe their friend is innocent or that it was okay to steal a multi-billion-dollar fighter jet. Because that’s what Cap does in the film. Captain America is absolutely in the wrong not just for doing these things, but even for his assertion that it’s okay for him to do them… except for the part where he’s Captain America. Steve Rogers is a moral juggernaut. He will ALWAYS make the right decision, morally, when he is presented with it. He is accountable to himself, something that is a much higher standard than any law or nation. So, when he decides he has to intervene in a situation, it’s basically a certainty that it is a situation in which he is right to intervene. If everyone held themselves to his standards of personal responsibility and morality, laws would be unnecessary, because people would be answerable to a higher authority. The Doctor from Doctor Who said it in the catchiest way possible “Good men don’t need rules.”

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If you’re not one of these Misters Rogers, you probably need some form of rules to guide you.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world filled with Captain America-level saints. In fact, I’d say that people of his level of personal accountability are like a virgin prostitute. Hypothetically, one exists, but I’d be very surprised if you can find one and if you think you are one, you’ve more likely misunderstood at least one fundamental concept. So, because of that, we have to put rules and systems of enforcement in place to hold people accountable for actions which cannot be allowed in a social setting. These range from things like “you can’t take stuff that isn’t yours” to things like “necessity cannot be a defense for murder.” If you don’t agree with these rules, there are ways to change them within the system, but that doesn’t give you the right to ignore them.

However, sometimes situations aren’t going to fit into the mold that the creators of these rules conceived of, and they’re going to become a hindrance. For example, “don’t kill anyone” becomes a problem when someone else is going to kill your family and you don’t reasonably have the ability to non-lethally prevent them. Sometimes, we craft exceptions directly into the laws (more on that later this week), but sometimes we haven’t thought of those exceptions yet or even putting an exception in fundamentally conflicts with a bigger principle. On those occasions, people are faced with a choice: Break the rule to serve a higher good or follow the rule and allow the bad to happen.

Conscience

If the Sokovia Accords had been implemented, this would have been the choice Captain America is saying he’d have to make constantly: To hope the UN would allow him to intervene in situations or to ignore the UN and do it anyway and deal with the legal consequences. If only there were some kind of thing that the UN could put into the system which would allow them to deem certain actions worthy of foregoing punishment based on the context in when they were taken. If only some handsome bastard had put that thing in the title to a series whereby he relates it through pop-culture.

'Avengers: Infinity War' film premiere, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 23 Apr 2018
No, not that handsome bastard, though he’ll come up later.

 

While the real UN doesn’t have any actual ability to pardon people (due to the nature of the organization), they also don’t do anything that’s like the Sokovia Accords (though, they could). Additionally, there is nothing preventing a commission or group being able to encourage or force clemency (which, while a little different, is the typical term for a pardon around the globe) within a nation as part of their signature on the Sokovia Accords. Countries routinely give up some of their sovereign authority in exchange for a benefit from the UN. We literally have clemency laws in place in almost every country on Earth already, because we know this is what can happen. So, countries might be giving up a little bit of their ability to enforce their own laws, but, in exchange, they get the benefits of having the Avengers be able to respond to threats. Seems like a reasonable trade in a world of alien gods and killer robots. So, Captain America could, if he disagreed with the UN, still act, with the understanding that, if they agree that it was justified afterwards, he would be able to avoid being punished and NOT have to be a fugitive.

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Admittedly, the UN doesn’t have a great track record on most peacekeeping matters.

Even simpler, you could just make conditions in which the Avengers could respond and the permission could be decided retroactively after the intervention, without any form of punishment if the action is in good faith. Hell, under certain circumstances, you can ask for a warrant up to 24 hours after you should need it, and that’s NOT dealing with supervillains. And yet, nobody in the movie points out this would be an easy way to both hold the Avengers accountable and also allow Captain America to act when he feels it’s appropriate. This wouldn’t even require extra clemency decisions, though that could also be incorporated into the system.

But all of this is in the world of fantasy, where the point becomes moot when Angry Grimace steals the rocks of plot convenience. When would you ever need to address concepts like this in the real world? Has anything ever actually been brought up like this? Does anyone have a guess about what the next entry is about? 

Don’t eat anybody, I’ll see you in two weeks.

If you want to check out some more by the Grouch on the Couch, check out his page. If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

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C is for Captain America and Cannibalism: On the Pardon

PART 1: Tastes like Chicken

Crunch

Tell me if you know this story: Four guys are trapped on a boat for days. When they’re finally rescued, there are no longer four guys on the boat. Turns out, when you get hungry and thirsty enough, certain things stop being “unconscionable” and certain people stop being “inedible.” In this case, it was a cabin boy by the name of Richard Parker.

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Looney Tunes made us forget how horrifying this would really be.

What’s crazy about this story is that you could have heard it from the Edgar Allan Poe novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket or from the real-life incident following the crash of the English yacht Mignonette. In both cases, the ship sank and the survivors ate Richard Parker. You might think Poe was ripping from the headlines, but Poe published his book more than 40 years before the real-life incident in 1883. Add in Life of Pi and I’m pretty sure having a Richard Parker on any kind of watercraft means you’re screwed.

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Sadly, the real tale didn’t inspire a book by Jules Verne.

In the version that’s filed under non-fiction, there were originally four men on the boat: Captain Dudley, Seamen Stephens and Brooks, and the 17-year-old Parker. According to the survivors’ accounts, the vessel was taken down by a wave that didn’t seem strong enough to do any damage, let alone take half of the bulwark off. Since “going down with the ship” seemed like a bad idea, they lowered the lifeboat and, grabbing a few navigational supplies and two tins of turnips, were now stranded about 1600 miles from shore. After roughly fifteen days without fresh water, and only a small turtle’s worth of meat, Parker tried drinking seawater and became sick. Three days later, he became nearly comatose. Feeling like they were out of options, Dudley decided it was time to have “the talk.”

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Brooks flat-out refused, but Stephens was open to it. After Brooks went to sleep, Dudley approached Stephens directly about eating Parker. By his own testimony, the main thing he said to sway Stephens was that he and Stephens had wives and families, but Parker was an orphan. He also pointed out that if Parker died naturally, they couldn’t drink his blood for hydration. Since they had so many people relying on them and the comatose kid had no one, the traditional maritime rule about “drawing lots” seemed stupid. The next day, Dudley stabbed Parker in the neck with a pen knife, bleeding him to death. The three proceeded to eat him, with Brooks admitting he wouldn’t pass up survival even if he didn’t approve of killing someone. The next day, they finally caught some rainwater, allowing them to regain their strength before being rescued three days later.

Courts

Naturally, there was a bit of a conflict over their actions, legally speaking. On the one hand, it wasn’t exactly unheard of for this to happen when people were floating on the ocean for weeks at a time. Even after charges were brought against Dudley and Stephens, Dudley was confident that they were going to be dropped, because there was precedent saying that necessity could be a defense to murder in cases like this. On the other hand, they almost certainly would still have survived if they hadn’t killed Parker. They also didn’t follow the Maritime “rule” about drawing lots, meaning that Dudley and Stephens had directly conspired to kill a man, rather than just having a person be “sacrificed.”

The charges didn’t end up dropping.

Instead, they went on trial and, as expected, argued that, at the time they did it, they had to kill Parker or die themselves, making them not guilty by necessity. What wasn’t expected was that the Court responded with “nah, f*ck that.” The Court instead pointed out that people will always argue that they felt they had to commit the crime, but that, if the Court said that was an excuse, then they were making a fundamentally wrong thing legally right. The State should never establish a law saying that it’s okay to kill someone who isn’t a dire threat.  

It must not be supposed that in refusing to admit temptation to be an excuse for crime it is forgotten how terrible the temptation was; how awful the suffering; how hard in such trials to keep the judgment straight and the conduct pure. We are often compelled to set up standards we cannot reach ourselves, and to lay down rules which we could not ourselves satisfy. But a man has no right to declare temptation to be an excuse, though he might himself have yielded to it, nor allow compassion for the criminal to change or weaken in any manner the legal definition of the crime.

So, the Court found them guilty and sentenced them to death. However, there’s a line in the ruling that would probably be overlooked except for what happened next:

…if in any case the law appears to be too severe on individuals, to leave it to the Sovereign to exercise that prerogative of mercy which the Constitution has intrusted [sic] to the hands fittest to dispense it.

Yeah, that’s the Court saying “here’s the principle we’re enforcing, but sometimes people are gonna get screwed by it, and we have a way to fix that.” So, a few days later, the men had their sentences commuted by Queen Victoria through her Home Secretary William Harcourt to a mere six months in jail. This was actually considered pretty harsh by Dudley and Stephens, but, again, they ate a guy.

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At the risk of losing readers, this publication is strongly anti-cannibal.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have clemency (forgiveness of punishment) and the pardon (absolution of guilt). Because sometimes you have to put a rule in place that upholds a really important principle like “you can’t just say I really wanted to murder that guy” or “you can’t just whip out your dick to strangers (more on that this week),” but sometimes these rules can, justifiably, be broken. In those cases, we need a mechanism in place so that someone can look at the case and go “yes, you broke the law, but you probably shouldn’t be punished.”

So, stick with me through this series while I go into the workings of the pardon, when it should be used, who it should be used on, how we’ve managed to f*ck it up, and why Captain America and Iron Man fought the most pointless ideological war that ever had to be undone for a sequel.  

Don’t eat anybody, I’ll see you in two weeks.

If you want to check out some more by the Grouch on the Couch, check out his page. If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Happy Independence Day Quotes

In honor of the anniversary of the nation in which I was born and to which I swear my allegiance, I post the following quotes.

By Mark Twain:

July4MarkTwain

In a republic, who is the country?

Is it the government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the government is merely a temporary servant: it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.

Who, then is the country? Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it, they have not command, they have only their little share in the command.

In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country: In a republic it is the common voice of the people each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak.

It is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians.  Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man.

To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have your duty by yourself and by your country. Hold up your head. You have nothing to be ashamed of’.”

By Captain America:

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“Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.

This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree besides the river of truth, and tell the whole world–

–No you move.”

By President Andrew Shepherd:

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“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’ You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”

These quotes, as much as anything I have ever read, represent the reason why I started this blog. Because meaning can be found within any source, from the traditionally shallow to the epic, if you only are willing to look for it.

What’s interesting to me is that in all three of these, the speaker is contradicting someone saying a version of “Our Country, Right or Wrong!” Here’s the problem, it is not “our country, right or wrong!” It is “Our Country, Right or Wrong! When right, to be kept right, when wrong, to be made right!” Things cannot merely be right because we have done them and things cannot be wrong because we haven’t. It is our responsibility, no matter what our cause, to advocate for it if we really believe in it, and to accept the consequences of that advocacy.

My father used to say that America was represented by the people in the wagon trains headed West. Everyone wanted to get there, but there were always two groups of thought on how: Some thought that everyone who couldn’t make it on their own deserved to be left behind and die, but others thought that the key was to help everyone get there. Sometimes helping meant you pushed a wagon, sometimes helping meant that you lent some water, and sometimes helping meant you walked so someone could ride, but you did it because you believed that once we got to the other side, we’d need what those people knew and what they could do, so that it would be better for everyone.

The best thing about America is that it can change for the better even when we think we’re seeing the decline. What we do wrong can be righted and who we are can be improved. It takes work and it takes time and it takes participation, but we’ve done it a dozen times before and it can be done again.

Happy Fourth of July.

And, since at least one of you wanted these quotes based on the title, I give you:

President Thomas Whitmore:

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Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!

And Captain Steven Hiller, USMC:

Welcome to Earth.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.