Captain America, Mayberry, and Independence Day


 R.I.P. Andy Griffith.

Griffith  is most remembered for his role as Sherriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. Andy Taylor spoke with reason and restraint, humor and compassion. His reactionary deputy Barney Fife was always ready to “Nip it in the bud.” Everything was a crisis and every wrongdoer was a villain for Barney. Andy’s calm response was usually to “have a talk with them.” A talk with Andy led to a better understanding of oneself and one’s responsibility to one’s neighbors.

In the Bible Jesus describes the apostle Bartholomew as a man with no guile.  It was a compliment. Andy Taylor was a man with no guile. He was wise and perceptive but never insidious or sly. Captain America in Marvel’s Avengers communicates the same sort of sincerity.

Captain America represents the everyman in Marvel’s Avengers. He responds with appropriate awe to the technology and with the appropriate moral discomfort to very visible character flaws of protagonists and antagonists alike. His character could have used a dose of Andy Taylor’s humor to go with all that humility and sincerity. Captain America comes off as naïve and a little slow on the uptake next to technology and cunning planners like Nick Fury and technological geniuses like Bruce Banner and Ironman.

Ironman has all the funny, intelligent lines and rivals only Loki as the character with the biggest ego. Ironman’s cynicism and pride seem to belong in the 21st century while Captain America’s serious integrity seems like an anachronism. Captain America views this strange 21st century world into which he’s awakened with Mayberry sensibilities.

Ironman has a technologically advanced Superhero outfit; the Hulk’s anger translates into unparalleled but uncontrolled strength, while Thor is a demi-god. Captain America is basically a human in a spandex suit with scientifically induced super soldier skills. Yet Captain America is the one who takes leadership when they all unite in battle. His battle strategy is undoubtedly the best, and his ego and emotions are also in check.

For Captain America and Andy Taylor it’s not enough to be on the right side, they need to be there for the right reasons. Integrity matters.

Andy never carried a gun, saying, “When a man carries a gun all the time, the respect he thinks he’s getting might really be fear. So I don’t carry a gun because I don’t want the people of Mayberry to fear a gun. I’d rather they respect me.” While that might not work with aliens, it worked in Mayberry. Sherriff Andy Taylor understood the human tendencies that inspired the misdemeanors that disrupted the lives of the citizens of Mayberry. He knew how to hate the sin and love the sinner.

One could object that Andy only dealt with G rated evil. How would Andy Taylor have responded if aliens had landed in Mayberry? What if he had Loki in lockup?

I like to think Sheriff Taylor’s response would be a lot like President Whitmore’s in another movie about an alien invasion, Independence Day. The President leads by bringing everybody together, inspiring them, and then fighting right beside them when fighting is necessary. More humble leadership.

In Independence Day the scientists discover that underneath all that technology is a vulnerable being that can be killed. Marvel’s Avengers discover how to defeat the aliens as well. Same strategy in both movies: take down the mother ship.

When a human is entangled with evil, the problem isn’t to find where people who do evil are vulnerable and kill them, but to find where they are human and restore them. The required skill set is much more like Andy Taylor’s than an Avenger’s. We have conversations. We try to get underneath whatever is driving them. We approach people with compassion and humor. We treat them like they matter. It is not for us to avenge the works of the Enemy but to restore those who have been damaged by his invasion. Isn’t Jesus the one who takes down the mother ship?

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