Stan Lee on America
Back in 2007 The Atlantic convinced Stan Lee to publish a comic on his vision of America, titled “America is a Dream”.
Given recent events, recent elections and recent President’s it seems almost prophetic in its descriptions of the current issues facing not just America but much of the democratic West as we know it. Where once the likes of America and the UK led in global diplomacy and pragmatism, these ideas of global leadership appear to have been replaced by a new and vindictive idea of nationhood and otherness.
In his comic, Lee said “America is a dream, a vision, a miracle based on one noble idea—the idea that people of every race and religion can live together in peace, that everyone is entitled to equal justice under the law and that government is responsible to the governed.”
Few could argue with a vision as universal and charismatic as that. This is what Lee, and millions more, believed the United States to symbolise. A chance and a life for all, regardless of background. A shuddering and monumental rejection of the feudal and hierarchical systems that preceded the founding of America, one that gave way to the intoxicating idea of meritocracy, that anybody could and should rise to the top based on talent and hard work instead of nepotism and family ties.
Odd, in comparison, to consider that the current President currently sits on a fortune of over $2 billion created and enlarged through, seemingly, inheritance and corruption. Having been handed over $1 million by his father in the earlier part of the century, the President of the US then went on to syphon wealth from the vulnerable into the hands of the privileged. Regularly engulfed in scandal which sought to suggest that the President had racially discriminated against tenants, it’s potentially difficult to imagine behaviour more in opposition to the vision of somebody like Stan Lee, whose imagination and genius provided us with a universe as seemingly immense and mysterious as our own.
Perhaps one of the notions that Lee touches on with the most candour and insight is where he discusses the adversarial nature of public discourse. He says “Where variety had once been the source of our incalculable strength, it has now brought an era of growing divisiveness among our people, a feeling of ‘us against them’ regardless of who the ‘them’ might be”.
He goes on “We’re pro or we’re anti, with no room in between”. Given that the passage was written in 2007, prior to the election of Barack Obama, few could know just how relevant a prediction it would turn out to be.
As thousands hit the streets to protest the government and the house has been taken by the opposition, potentially locking the government down, there is more urgency to Lee’s rhetoric than ever. Fires burn in California, the far-right are emboldened like they haven’t been for decades and families are often torn apart by political divides.
From somebody who brought people together like almost nobody else, and is arguably one of the most prominent contributors to pop-culture the world has ever seen, it feels reasonable to see Lee’s advice as worth taking.
In an age of consistent and unending political conflict it may perhaps take the ideas of a comic book writer to flourish once again to heal the wounds that currently run so deep.
Or as Lee puts it “We can still be united, no matter the squabbling. One thing will sustain us, as it has in the past. It won’t be forsaken and it can’t be destroyed! You can’t touch it or see it, but it’s in the air that we breathe. It’s the greatest idea any nation could have.”
Stan Lee: 1922-2018