Captain America Isn’t Bi or a Nazi, He’s Just God

I don’t think I need to convince you that comic book heroes are our modern gods. Superman has a definite Jesus thing going on. Characters like Storm and The Black Panther form the centers of in-canon religions. Thor is literally a norse god. If I had a nickel for every time a comic book writer tried to ram the “these men and women are our modern gods but oh how fallible they are” trope down our throats, I would have enough money to purchase one, maybe two additional comic books. But there is one sticking point in the comparison between these modern gods and those ancient ones: if comic book heroes really are gods, why aren’t we worshipping them? Well, we are, and in much the same ways that the Greeks did. Check it out:

Every year, the Ancient Greeks got super hyped for a festival called the Dyonisia. How it worked was a select few playwrights would be chosen to write plays for everyone to watch. These plays couldn’t be about just anything – they had to be based on established mythological stories about existing mythological characters. Stuff like the Oerestes, or Oedipus Rex, or Philoctetes – good wholesome stories about royalty fucking each other to death. The Dyonisia was a religious festival after all, even if the god it was dedicated to was probably too fucked up to care.

These plays were a big deal. Getting selected to write, act, or direct for the Dyonisia was the height of most artists’ careers. Mega-rich patrons contributed ludicrous sums to pay for the costumes, props and effects that wowed the drunk-as-shit audiences every year.

Do I need to spell the parallel out for you? Okay, fine. Comic book movies are the modern Dyonisia. Mega-rich studios draft legendary artists like Joss Whedon and Robert Downey Jr. to produce wildly entertaining theatrical clusterfucks based on established superheroes and existing superhero stories.

It’s no accident that some heroes are getting more movie love than others. For Marvel, it’s Captain America and Iron Man. For DC, it’s Batman and Superman. This was true long before comic book movies were even a thing. For reasons that are probably too complicated to understand, something about these heroes has resonated with audiences almost since their creation, causing them to be passed lovingly from artist to artist as their stories are told and retold. Movies, though, seriously amplify this focus, bringing the characters and their canons to viewers who would never have followed them in their original format. Basically, the characters who get the most movies made about them are the ones that will survive in the popular imagination.

I’d argue that we see the exact same process going on in ancient religions. What we view as the definitive versions of Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology (just to name three that have been widely translated into English) are really the result of an ages-long culture war between minor local gods. Greece, especially, was a loose collection of city-states, all with their own favorite gods and customs, who all kind of fucking hated each other, and what ended up becoming “Greek Mythology” was decided through a combination of war, politics, and pop culture. Diana, for example, is said to have been the central divinity in an early Greek goddess cult, but her inclusion in “Greek mythology” lead to her being sidelined and subordinated in a male-dominated pantheon.

An even clearer example of how this works: Grimm’s fairytales are not the only fairytales German parents used to scare the shit out of their children. As recent discoveries have shown, there are literally thousands of fairytales in the same tradition. Most of those were garbage, though, and Grimm’s curated collection has thus become the most widely circulated source for an entire area of folklore. And come to think of it, which Grimm’s tales do we actually remember? Oh, just the ones that were made into movies by Disney. Disney, which now owns Marvel Studios. I better hurry up and finish this post, because it’s kind of dangerous to type when you are so on fire.

So you’re probably thinking “Okay, your amazing words have convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that comic book movies are the new mythology, and also you are handsome and I want to smooch you. But so what? What makes this different from any other hot take on a comic book movie?” Well first of all, thank you for telling me I’m handsome. That’s just the kind of self-esteem boost I needed. But secondly, this isn’t an article about comic book movies. I’m not saying they’re good or bad, or that you should see them or not (personally I think they are all uniformly garbage, but I’m also a huge asshole). I’m saying that the characters in these movies are more than characters now. To many of us, these heroes are living people with the capacity to arouse deep feelings in us. And that’s not far from worship. Not far at all.

This is why people get so mad when writers try to drastically change the characters, or when something is perceived as “non-canon.” This is what motivated a bunch of angry straight dudes to try to shout down #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend. Weirdly, I think it’s also what led to people getting so angry when Captain America was revealed to be a deep cover Hydra operative a few days later. These characters no longer truly belong to the writers who are writing their stories. They exist independent of their individual fictions. In our minds, many of their traits are already set in stone.

It’s more than that, though. We care about the continuity of these characters because in some ways we identify with them, aspire to be them. Insecure straight guys don’t want to identify with a bisexual Captain America, and people who don’t like racism don’t want to identify with a Captain America who is a nazi. No matter how much we talk about wanting the characters to reflect the times, or to explore new story arcs, there is a part of us that wants the thing we are worshipping to be predictable, to stay the same.

This is why we have religions, after all – to make an unpredictable world feel more predictable. And it’s why polytheism has been especially tenacious: sometimes you need different gods like you need different music. Even Jesus only acts like Superman some of the time. Put some moneylenders in a church, and suddenly dude is all Hulked out. Comic book movies give us all the comforts of polytheism without demanding we convert. Iron Man is the patron saint of startup culture. Deadpool is the patron saint of twelve-year-old boys. Superman is the patron saint of being an asshole. There’s an aspirational character for everyone, unless you’re gay or asian or a woman who doesn’t like Black Widow. And this isn’t anything new – this is exactly what Disney did with all its princesses a few decades ago. The movie pantheon will never die, and we don’t even need to sacrifice one goat. Twelve dollars a head is all the offering these gods demand.

So what I’m saying is, first of all, pay attention to the superheroes you love, and what you love about them. It probably says more about your aspirations than you’d like to admit. Our favorite superheroes as a culture also reflect our culture’s values, and changing those superheroes really does have the power to alter our culture, silly as it may seem. Third, don’t you fucking dare pretend to be a rational being. Ba’al, Belle, or Batman, we all worship gods of one kind or another.

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Courtly Love isn’t about Love, You Piece of Shit

Here’s another article on the past and how you are wrong about it.

[Also: if you want to help me in my eternal quest to not starve/be homeless, you can buy my book about American History, buy my other book about World Mythology, or just stuff money in my Patreon. I’m not choosy, just jam it in there. Also this is my Twitter.]

Right, where was I? Oh yeah, Courtly Love.

The laws of chivalry themselves have basically nothing to do with romance. They’re all about trying to regulate just how much of an asshole a guy on a horse can be. The secret ingredient that links chivalry to romance in our tiny brains is called courtly love. It’s the great-great granddaddy of “Nice Guy Syndrome,” and it has always been fucked.

OKAY SO WHAT IS COURTLY LOVE?

According to the thousands of poems, songs, and stories about courtly love, the process goes something like this:

1. Pick a total babe who is married to someone better than you.
2. Pine after said babe until you are literally ill.
3. Babe virtuously rejects you because, let’s be clear, this is a terrible idea and also her husband is better than you.
4. Do a bunch of heroic shit that nobody asked you to do, to make yourself worthy of babe.
5. Babe still says no, and you go write a fucking poem about it. OR
5b. Babe is finally like “okay fine,” in which case, great job Romeo, now you have to bust your ass to keep from getting caught. OR
5c. You get caught and the whole world catches on fire.

Courtly love was originally dreamed up by horny poets in the early 1400s, but it flourished because it served a social purpose. Most popular stories, myth and legend especially, survive because they illustrate rules that we think are important for keeping our society together. Coincidentally, most of these rules have to do with humping.

So whose social purpose is served by this miserable dicktease of a courtship ritual? Who comes out a winner? The lady is locked into a straightjacket of protocol that makes actual consent super hard to suss out, the knight is running around murdering dudes nobody asked him to murder because he’s too proud to just jack off into his helmet, and if the two of them ever do get together, every example we have shows it ending apocalyptically. No, you know who’s the real winner here? The husband.

WHAT COURTLY LOVE IS ABOUT: SECURING YOUR HOT WIFE

Think about this from the perspective of a Medieval monarch: you have a smoking hot wife who your buddy gave you because he wanted to use your beach house, and you also employ about a hundred of the best-armed, best-trained psychopaths in the world. These people all live inside of your home with you. At some point, at least one of these psychopaths is going to want to have sex with your wife. And these aren’t just regular psychopaths, either. These are handsome, fit, wealthy psychopaths, in an era where “wealthy” means “everybody else sleeps in mud, and I am the one who pees in that mud.” And your wife, let me reiterate, is married to you because her dad wants to use your beach house. If your stable of monsters starts spitting game at your wife, it is highly likely that your wife will want to sex them back. You need a game plan.

You can’t just tell these guys to cut it out. You hired these guys because they’re unstoppable bastards. You can’t just stand aside and let them fuck your wife, either, because then you look like a weenie, and nobody wants to bow down to King Weiner. Plus there’s all the shit with heirs and succession. It’s a logistical nightmare. But how are you gonna stop them? Put them in jail? These dudes own their own jails. Send another knight after the knight who fucks your wife? Spoiler alert: the second knight also wants to fuck your wife.

What you can do, though, is control the culture by advocating for an elaborate code of etiquette that lets these handsome nightmare people do everything *but* fuck your wife. This is, at the core, what courtly love is: a code of behavior that provides a dubiously healthy outlet for all that pent up wife-fuck-want. Every part of courtly love reinforces the same message: “you can look, but if you touch then I will chop your fucking hand off.” This is perfect for our hypothetical king with his hypothetically hot wife, because it lets him turn a blind eye to all the erotic roleplay as long as it stays “virtuous,” while reserving the right to bring the hammer down as soon as shit goes public.

WHAT COURTLY LOVE IS NOT ABOUT: GETTING YOUR DICK TOUCHED

What I’m trying to get at is this: Despite what everybody seems to think these days, courtly love was *never* designed to help you get laid. It is a system explicitly designed to prevent people from getting laid. The entire process is an erotic Rube Goldberg machine that is a thousand times more likely to chop off your dick than fondle it, and maybe you also kill a bear, I don’t know. If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times: DO NOT LOOK TO MEDIEVAL EUROPE FOR SEX TIPS.

And yet pretty much every movie produced in the 90s is an ode to courtly love with one key point altered: where the old stories had tragic consequences, the new stories have zero consequences. The Wedding Singer, Wet Hot American Summer, Revenge of the Nerds, The Fucking Karate Kid, and about a million other movies all follow the courtly love formula, right up to the point where the love is consummated and there is NO NEGATIVE FALLOUT. The 90s took “If you fuck someone’s honey, bad things will happen” and turned it into “If you fuck someone’s honey … you will have fucked someone’s honey?”

What we’ve done, and where the whole “Nice Guy” thing comes from, is we’ve taken the purpose and the outcome of courtly love and flipped them. We act like because our love is noble, we deserve satisfaction. Courtly love says “your love is evil and you will never be satisfied, so you might as well make it noble.” Neither one is super healthy, as evidenced by the amount of death and vitriol both camps have dealt out, but at least courtly love is honest about what you can expect.

Look, I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to fuck your boss’s spouse. Fuck away, for all I care. All I’m saying is that our modern conception of hopeless romance, of the tormented lover pining away in the night, striving to become worthy of the unattainable beloved, is based on a ridiculous, outdated, socially motivated code of behavior that was invented at a time when marriages were business mergers and adultery carried the god damn death penalty. And I get that it feels good to feel bad, to experience the exquisite pain of loving somebody you know you can never be with. I’ve done it loads of times, and I got some great poetry out of it. Just, for God’s sake, don’t pretend like your secret pain has a noble lineage. The noble lineage is inbred.

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Chivalry Isn’t Dead, You Just Don’t Know What the Fuck it is.

[Hey, if you want to read more stuff I wrote, you could always buy my book. Or my other book.]

So Chivalry.

I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s dead. It used to be a lament, and then it turned into a joke, and now it’s just a fact that almost everybody accepts. Chivalry is dead, because it’s 2015 and nobody wants to suck your dick for holding the door open for them. And it’s true, nobody wants to do that to your hog in exchange for that minor favor. But that’s not what the fuck chivalry is. Chivalry is a complicated, difficult, and ultimately good code of ethics that you probably have a fundamental misunderstanding of. So let me set some things straight:

1. CHIVALRY IS NOT ABOUT TREATING WOMEN LIKE DELICATE FLOWERS

This is probably the main thing people fuck up about chivalry. The truth is, chivalry has basically fuck all to do with women, and everything to do with horses.

See, the word “chivalry” comes from the French word “chevalier,” which comes from “cheval,” which means “horse.” Chivalry is literally just “rules for if you have a horse.” This was an important set of rules to have in chivalry times. Horses were the Blackhawk Helicopters of the Middle Ages; if you had a horse, you could absolutely kill anybody who didn’t have a horse and nobody was going to say a god damn thing. The only thing stopping you was chivalry.

That’s what chivalry was for. Chivalry was – and still is – basically a way of saying, “okay, I have an optimized death machine between my legs, maybe I should look out for people who don’t have one of these.” So it’s not that chivalry is specifically about defending women because women are weak. It’s that chivalry is about defending people who don’t own horses, and in the middle ages women didn’t own shit.

It’s 2015 now. Women can own as many horses as they want. But there are still power structures built into society that put some people in metaphorical Blackhawk helicopters, and other people underneath those helicopters (sometimes the Blackhawk Helicopters are also literal). Real chivalry is about noticing when you have a horse and somebody else doesn’t. It’s about being careful not to trample people just because you can. It’s about holding the door for a dude in a wheelchair. It’s about actively trying to recruit more people of color in your workplace. Sometimes it really is about sticking up for women, but only if your help is wanted. And even then …

2. CHIVALRY IS NOT A POINTS SYSTEM REDEEMABLE FOR FREE SEX

There are no prizes for being chivalrous, other than the prize of being a decent god damn human. This is because the people who chivalry was invented for were so fucking rich that prizes were totally meaningless to them. In addition to horses, knights also owned fancy armor, sick weapons, and huge tracts of land. They were powerful, exciting people relatively free of disease. They weren’t exactly hard up for sex opportunities, is what I’m trying to say. They didn’t need to invent a complex code of ethics to justify getting shit for free, because they already had all the shit. What do you get for the man who has everything? How about some fucking morals.

Anyway, if you’re desperate for booty, tales of chivalry aren’t the best place to go for inspiration. King Arthur’s court is basically one endless sex disaster, what with Arthur’s accidental incest and Lancelot’s righteous wangfoolery. Tristram and Isolde is a bonerific nightmare that borders on farce. Sir Galahad, the Greatest Knight Ever, is also the biggest virgin in the universe, and he is thrilled about it. It turns out you’re not even allowed to see the grail if you thought about a boob once. The chivalric canon is not overly sex positive, you guys. In fact the only problem-free sex I can recall from my chivalric reading is the story of Sir Gawaine and Lady Ragnell, in which everything turns out for the best because – spoiler alert – Gawaine leaves the decision up to his wife. Funny how that works out, huh?

3. CHIVALRY IS NOT PERFECT, AND NEITHER ARE WE

Like most things invented in the past, chivalry has some problems. One of the problems with chivalry is that horses are no longer the height of technology. The main problem with chivalry, though, is that it can very easily cross over into paternalism, and nobody likes to be treated like a child. It is important to remember that just because you have a horse and somebody else does not have a horse, that does not make you their dad.

Even if you have the best intentions, chivalry isn’t a code you can blindly follow for A+ results. Even if chivalry was perfect, which no moral code is, it’s impossible to be a non-shitty person absolutely all the time. Like, the Knights of the Round Table were probably the most righteous group of horse-havers ever to have horses, but Gawaine chopped a lady’s head off, Lancelot fucked his boss’s wife, and Percival was the biggest idiot ever to hold a sword. Galahad was perfect I guess, but Galahad also had a magic chair with his name written on it in fire and ascended to heaven because he found a neat cup. Galahad was a fake person. All of those dudes were fake fucking people. We made them up. The people we made up to be the ideals of chivalry were still remarkably shitty. Back here on earth, nobody is chivalrous all the time, and that’s not sufficient reason to write anybody off. We are all shitty sometimes. Also Galahad is a dickhead.

OKAY SO WHAT IS CHIVALRY THEN?

Chivalry boils down to three things: mercy, charity, and humility. Mercy means being conscious of your advantages, and treating other humans gently. Charity means giving without expecting anything in return. Humility means accepting your mistakes, and recognizing that those who don’t have your advantages aren’t your inferiors. Anybody can embody these traits – woman, man, or even horse. At this point, you may be thinking “hey, this is bullshit, these are just basic guidelines for not being an asshole!” and congratulations, you’re right. That’s all chivalry is: basic guidelines for how not to be a sack of shit. And as long as a sack of shit is not a good thing to be, chivalry will never die.

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