By Aaron Hastings
Warning: This article does contain spoilers for Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War is here, and the war is on.
The beloved blockbuster success is the fitting 13th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first of the “Phase 3” films culminating in the Avengers III duology.
The film met critical acclaim instantly, scoring the fifth largest box office opening of all time in North America. Critics praised its character depth, its compelling plot, and its dynamic visuals.
One thing still bothered me.
Before I viewed the film, I heard from others that the villain, consistent with the comic of the same name, was Iron Man.
One of the most legendary comic plots of all time, Civil War provided an incredible foundation on which the film resides, and I was at peace with the idea of following the comic.
After viewing the first trailer however, I wasn’t convinced, and quickly resided in the #TeamIronMan camp.
I wasn’t comfortable with the line “Bucky’s my friend.”
That doesn’t seem like a reasonable spark for such a catastrophic conflict, and it seemed the amicable Tony Stark was not the “one who started it.”
While I feel both sides share blame, I feel that ultimately, the moral high ground belongs to Iron Man and his combat-superior side of the field. Sure, the situation wasn’t perfect, but the blame lies squarely on the film’s antagonist.
The antagonist is Steve Rogers. The villain is Captain America.
Did the Captain truly live long enough to see himself become the villain? I contend in the affirmative, for three distinct reasons as seen in Captain America: Civil War.
1) Captain America’s Ego
With the recollection of only two viewings, I distinctly remember only two references to ego.
They both applied to Tony Stark.
I also distinctly remember the words “I made a mistake.”
They came from Tony Stark.
Tony has an ego. Iron Man 1-3 clearly demonstrate that. The difference lies in the fact that Tony understands his imperfections and acknowledges them almost constantly.
He understands and sympathizes with Pepper Pots wanting a break. He understands his instincts to fight get him into trouble.
He understands a tough conversation needs to be had with the United Nations and the world.
Captain America understands none of these things.
Steve feeds off of emotion, and his emotions distract him in tough situations, such as Crossbones’ mention of Bucky. While his fierce loyalty is admirable, he cannot keep it in check, causing him to be stubborn and ignorant.
In the film, this results in a building full of innocents exploding, sparking the controversy concerning the Avengers team.
While he does display some little remorse, he ultimately shuts the TV off, and insists to Wanda (Scarlet Witch) the incident was not her fault, but his.
And then he moves on. Just like any other mission.
Captain America instantly acts defensive and indignant when the Medal of Honor recipient Secretary of State proposes the Sokovia Accords, an ultimately flexible document, considering the UN’s ability to enforce none of its own guidelines.
Though offered multiple times to attend the hearings in Vienna, if only to say his piece, Steve refuses.
Showing more remorse for one woman who lived a full life than for the many Nigerian children who were killed only a few days ago, he mopes around and passively hits on his ex-girlfriend’s niece.
What does all this mean?
It means the Cap is a man out of time, and much of his behavior is understandable, though not excusable.
He is a military man, used to autonomous command of a small elite task force. He is used to command, and doesn’t like the idea of being accountable to people like Stark, who he disdains.
He is a soldier. He solves problems by beating them into submission, not by talking about it.
Sure, he likes a plan of attack going in, but he ultimately jumps right in anyway. Because he can’t be beat. It’s his way or the highway.
I respect for the imperfect man who tries to improve. I have less for the good man who can’t admit he was wrong.
The latter has an ego problem.
2) Captain America’s Inconsistency
If I had to choose before hand which side would oppose the United Nations in this film, I’d have said Team Iron Man.
Funny how things change.
Tony Stark is no doubt inconsistent. He is scatterbrained, complex, and too intelligent for his own good.
That said, at least I know who I’m dealing with.
Tony is consistently trying to improve, trying to tackle new challenges, trying to overcome his mental frustrations.
There’s some consistency there, which leads to predictable behavior on some level.
You don’t get that with Steve.
The Captain is all over the place, and is extremely inconsistent. His character in Captain America: First Avenger and The Avengers is extremely consistent, primarily because it revolves around his power adjustment and combat capabilities.
The moment we step into an atmosphere of uncertainty or distrust, the Captain flies off the handle.
This is ironic, considering his hypocritical lack of trust in Tony regarding the brutal murders of Howard and Maria Stark.
Even in Avengers, we saw his lack of control in the confrontation with Tony and Director Fury.
He didn’t care that weapons were being made, or that Shield was in espionage. He cared that he’d been lied to, that a secret wasn’t told to him, that he had lost control and power in a situation.
Until that point, he’d never lost control since gaining his powers.
Being out of control is uncomfortable to the Captain, but instead of trying to reason with the situation, his moral compass goes completely wild.
Consider his idea of loyalty.
The idea shifts radically with the Captain. Look at his track record of loyalty: to America, to Peggy, to the Avengers, to Bucky, to the Military, to Shield, to Fury, to Coulson.
The Captain makes a lot of obligations, and that is not a bad thing.
What’s bad is you don’t know who he’s going to be loyal to when he gets out of bed in the morning. Who knows what’s going to affect him that day?
Consider the premise of Civil War, “Bucky’s my friend.” Tony said it best: “So was I.”
His loyalty changed. His loyalty to freedom and peace, his loyalty to Black Widow, his loyalty to Stark and the Avengers, his loyalty to the United States all goes out the window just because of an emotional spark that Bucky might be involved in terrorist attacks.
We have no idea how he’ll react, save only that he won’t talk, but rather fight.
But who will he fight?
Again, there is no consistent behavior, no apparent answer with Steve. He just does whatever randomly inspired action he “feels is right.”
Most people would talk about there conflict. Steve just punches his best friends at random for no real reason.
Sure, the German police said “shoot on sight,” but I’m pretty sure Bucky can handle a swat team.
No, this film was never about Bucky. The Civil War has everything to do with Steve Rogers.
He has no control. He has a surprising lack of respect or discipline for a military veteran.
His behavior is dictated by emotion, and his emotions are as random as a slot machine.
nd innocent people who play the slot machine always end up losing.
3) Captain America’s Consequences
We’ve already discussed Steve’s emotional state, which is about as stable as sand in a windstorm.
We’ve discussed his reaction to the Nigerian incident, and his bloated ego.
Lets talk consequences.
Again, the natural comparison is Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy philanthropist who travels the globe as the face of Stark Industries and the Avengers.
Stark deals with consequences everyday, not because he can’t hide from the spotlight, or disappear to a random compound to punch sandbags and play soldier, but because he chooses to.
Tony faces his consequences head on.
He talks to people whose sons were killed in New York, or Sokovia, or DC, or Iraq. He speaks in public to MIT students and reaches out to others with gifts. He actively takes flak from politicians and attends government hearings.
Steve works out.
Yeah, he’s training the Avengers, and he goes on missions, most of which seem to really go wrong a lot. Other than that, Stark and your tax dollars give him pizza night.
And let’s not forget his awkward attraction to Peggy’s niece, Kate, aka Agent 13.
Don’t let Steve’s slab of hard man-body and shy mannerisms fool you; he’s less focused on her, and more on, well, her.
She’s a CIA agent with a promising career and a bright future. Captain America jeopardizes that because…
Breaking into a German police facility with Bucky and Falcon is too hard?
Steve doesn’t care. He gets his shield and his kiss, and then runs off with reckless abandon. He doesn’t care if she gets in trouble. He might help her out when he’s done bench pressing vibranium in Wakanda, but until then?
Sorry sweetie. Hope you like evil raft prison.
All Prison 42 jokes aside, I don’t think Steve’s punching his way to her anytime soon.
Instead, he’ll just hang with Falcon, probably work out, maybe order a pizza; Bucky can keep the beers cold.
Never mind the paralyzed combat veteran War Machine your little stunt put in physical therapy.
Never mind the “evacuated” airport where billions of dollars of property got tanked.
Never mind the dozens of German military and police beaten to a pulp just for doing their jobs in protecting others.
Never mind the emotional train wreck caused in Black Widow, Hawk-eye, Scarlet Witch and Vision.
Never mind the people whose cars you hit, possibly injuring women and children, while on the run in Germany.
Never mind the people in Vienna you could have helped after the bombing had you been doing your duty.
Never mind the Wakandan king who lies dead, whose son graciously extends an olive branch of peace that is clearly undeserved.
Never mind the innocent men, women, and children who lie dead in Lagos because of an “emotional” mistake.
Never mind the horrific destruction you seem to leave in your wake wherever you go. Others get to clean that up.
Elected officials, police, fire and rescue, EMS, that’s their job. Your job is to stop a single man from dropping a vial in the most obtrusive and destructive manner possible, with no supervision and no worry.
Tony Stark knows the damage. Tony works to clean the wreckage. Where are you when the dust clears Captain?
I don’t believe anyone really won in Captain America: Civil War.
Maybe that was the film’s message; it certainly seemed that way.
I believe the film had another message, another purpose. It’s progressing the story of Captain America, revealing more of his character.
The view isn’t great.
Captain America is slipping. He’s a man out of time, plagued by issues and feelings he doesn’t understand. His friends are gone, and he feels uncomfortable with his situation and lifestyle. Steve’s only home is the battlefield.
He doesn’t need more friends, more loyalties, more causes, or more fights.
Say what you want about Captain America, but in Civil War, he was no hero.
By Aaron Hastings
Diversity and variety are the spice of life. The world is a full spectrum of culture and lifestyle, but some lack the mascots to elevate the cause to new heights. Hipsters and vegans everywhere; I bring you a champion.
His name is Tom.
The master of wood, water and hill isn’t just a fictional character who happens to match the certain common lifestyles of veganism and hipsterism; he is the embodiment of those lifestyle choices working in a seemingly perfect scenario.
Just how accurate is his pseudo-reality? Let’s find out.
Tom isn’t a mainstay character in The Lord of the Rings, probably because it became far to mainstream in its publication in 1954.
Tolkien has acknowledged this fact in multiple quotes, including his letters to interested readers:
“Tom Bombadil is not an important person — to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment.’ I mean, I do not really write like that: he is just an invention, and he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function.”
It’s clear that the character, though he belongs to Middle Earth, is clearly not an essential part of the story in theory. Frodo’s meeting with Tom has no consequential relationship to the plot of the ring and the black riders’ pursuit, save only to keep Frodo off of the eastern road from Buckland to Bree for a short time.
The rules of the world don’t even seem to apply to Tom. “Tom Bombadil is master,” states Goldberry in response to Frodo’s inquiry. Even a straight answer is too mainstream for these people.
This is evidenced by Gandalf’s commentary in the Council of Elrond as well as Tom’s ability to interact with the One Ring to no effect. Frodo, unlike any who has ever born a ring of power, gave up the ring with both willingness and no apparent struggle.
Tom promptly handles it, wears it, and shows no sign of having done so, with neither invisibility nor temptation imparting onto him.
He is simply too meta for the literature, too focused on the past, which is of course where he originates.
The being was inspired by an old Dutch doll that had been flushed down a toilet, and first appeared in The Oxford Magazine circa 1933. The printed poem, entitled The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, essentially follows Tom through a series of inconveniences in which Tom simply commands the situation to be different, and it becomes so. He then marries Goldberry, because why not?
Some have tried to explain this and Tom’s origins by assuming he is either a Maia, an angelic deity akin to God living on Arda, but I think this explanation is again too simplistic and mainstream for Tom.
Rather, I think these attributes go beyond the written word.
Who has the power to resist the One Ring in all this? Who can control the story and its interpretation through simple speaking and thought? Who is the ultimate master of Middle Earth, of Arda, but yet not the master of all because it would be too much of a burden? Only one person matches this description.
Tom is one of the writers.
While Tolkien was the sole author of 1954’s The Lord of the Rings, he makes it clear that this work and all the legends of Arda and Middle Earth are meant as a sort of origin story for England and the U.K.
The in-world authors of the tales are Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and some others, ranging from the elf lords to the dwarves to the historians of Numenor.
Tom, not caring to manipulate any other part of the world, simply writes in his own story, which is ultimately of no consequence to the remainder of the plot.
Consider also Tom’s appearance compared to the traditional garb and appearance of a hipster.
The hair should look as if it is of no concern to the individual. They do not care what others think of the hairstyle, and do not wish for it to be overly tended or matching a multitude of others.
Additionally, the clothing must appear as if no thought was given to them, with a lack of color coordination or desire to appear normal or in conformity.
In terms of attitude, the hipster is not simply apathetic, but is only passionate about things that are of concern to that induvial, and are not of interest to anyone else.
Let’s compare these to Tom.
First, his hair is described as unkempt, having a long beard and long hair. He also covers his hair with a hat, showing a lack of interest in showing his hair or styling it in an accommodating manner.
Second, his choice of wardrobe must be without great thought or coordination. He primarily is depicted as wearing a coat of blue, yellow boots, a brown hat with an old feather, and trousers of no descript.
Considering the color wheel’s color pairings, his sky blue coat and bright yellow boots are not in coordination with one another except in the presence of red. None is mentioned in the text.
Additionally, the tertiary brown hat does not match well at all with the rest of the outfit, creating a nondescript clash that marks a distinct disinterest in color or appearance, with the only thought seeming to be geared towards utility.
Finally, he must have an attitude of passion only towards things he cares about. This is evidenced by his lack of sympathy or alliance with the free peoples of Middle Earth.
He is not present at the Council of Elrond, does not offer any advice to Frodo in terms of the ring, save only that Frodo’s hand is fairer without it, and is ultimately, while kind to the hobbits, not interested in or involved with the War of the Ring, despite his very existence being tied with its outcome.
Compare this attitude to his obsession with Goldberry, his animals, his garden, and his life in general within the Old Forest. He is passionate about his own affairs, and it even passionate about helping the hobbits if their need is great, but not if that need drives him beyond his own land.
Tom is not a factor in the War of the Ring, and the War of the Ring is not a pressing factor to Tom. He simply doesn’t care about these mainstream issues, even when they directly affect him.
Is Tom a hipster? I say yes. Is Tom meta? I say absolutely. Is Tom a vegan? That remains to be seen.
Vegan of the Old Forest
To determine Tom’s status as a vegan, we must analyze his diet and relationship with animals. This is an easy analysis, primarily stemming from book I chapter VII of The Fellowship of the Ring, titled “In the House of Tom Bombadil.”
“Is the table laden? I see yellow cream and honeycomb, and white bread, and butter; milk, cheese, and green herbs and ripe berries gathered.”
This quote from Tom Bombadil, and the heavy implication that much of the same is served to the hobbits in next two days, enlightens us to the Bombadil diet.
Notice the emphasis on natural yield with green herbs and ripe berries, along with the absence of meat or any animal product, save honeycomb and milk, along with milk byproducts.
The milk is not specifically outlined, and therefore may be plant milk. However, we can assume Tolkien’s writing from the 1950s would not include a product so unknown in the west until soy milk’s introduction to the U.S. market in 1979.
Do not let the use of milk-based products through you off just yet. From Bombadil’s relationship to animals, primarily that of Fatty Lumpkin and the hobbits’ ponies, we can glean that Tom and Goldberry were extremely kind to all animals, including any cows or goats that lived free in their realm. Because these were free range animals under the loving and magical care of Tom, this offense may be pardonable.
As for the honeycomb, we know these can be harvested safely from bees without harming them or their hive. Again, on the assumption that Tom knows the benefits of bees for pollination and treats them with some love and kindness, the animals are not harmed in the process of gathering honeycomb without excess.
Another aspect of vegan living lies in choices for clothing and other products. From what we can gather from the clothes and sheets used in Bombadil’s home, most of these are seemingly of plant origins, though again Tolkien does not specify.
The articles not made of metal include: Two dresses for Goldberry, yellow boots, a blue coat, and a hat for Tom, as well as green clothes and stockings, soft green slippers for the hobbits, and soft bedsheets.
We have several options that potentially could supply the fiber for these products, but I feel the two most likely candidates, due to the environment that spans Tom’s realm, are flax and wool.
Flax comes from the stems of the plant linum usitatissimum, and is used mainly to make linen. The plant has been used for fiber production since prehistoric times, and grows best at northern temperate latitudes, where moderately moist summers.
A rainy forest with a river in the temperate climate of northern Middle-Earth seems to fit this description. The hobbits note the cold fog of the barrows and the Old Forest, making the place ideal for flax to grow.
Consider also what Tom is doing by the river; he is harvesting flowers. Clearly, Tom is a man who knows plants and flowers, and has knowledge of the terrain and what grows within it.
While these lilies he collected are for Goldberry, no doubt he could harvest a great deal of other herbs and stems either from their garden or the river bank.
Additionally, Frodo describes Goldberry as “a fair young elf-queen clad in living flowers.” He also notes that flowers adorn her belt and hair. This familiarity with flowers and its incorporation in their garb indicates a strong connection with the natural uses of plants within their home.
The other candidate is of course wool from sheep. Tom does note in his recollection of the past from chapter VII that the men of the barrow-downs, likely ancient kings of the west, did raise sheep among the grasses.
He also notes that these sheep remained there after the kingdoms of men had fallen, but then further explains that “soon the hills were empty again.” This leads to the introduction of Barrow-wights, which I doubt would be accommodating to sheep herds.
We must also consider the space and amounts needed for wool production that would meet the needs of Tom and Goldberry, who clearly have both the space and the requisite materials to produce a wide wardrobe as well as multiple beds and sheets.
Sheep can produce anywhere from 2 to 30 lbs. of wool per year. While the U.K. has over 200 breeds of sheep, Tolkien was most likely familiar with the Romney breed of sheep, used for both wool and meat, with ancestry tracing back to Kent, in the area just south of London. A mature Romney ram can produce approximately 22 lbs. of wool, of which about three quarters are salvageable.
With Tom and Goldberry’s current living situation, we can assume their borders do not extend far beyond the barrow-downs or the Brandywine River. As such, the only suitable environment in that region for sheep would be on the barrow-downs or north of the road to Bree.
We’ve already discussed the problems associated with the barrow-downs, and we know that Tom, from his own explanation, remains within his own realm and does not use the road, cutting instead through the Old Forest or potentially on the Withywindle to the Brandywine to visit his friend Farmer Maggot.
Of course, it is possible to have a small group, consisting of only a few sheep, in the Old Forest, but grazing would become a significant issue. Then there’s production.
Unlike a cow or goat’s milk, the amount of wool needed for two people’s larger wardrobes plus additional products would take years to produce from one ram.
We’re talking about 16 lbs. of wool usable by Goldberry to work with for a single year, which would be spun into yarn. The amount of yarn depends on the thickness and style of the spinning. Traditionally, a single garment made from yarn approximately translates to 4 lbs. of wool needed.
So, between the coats, slippers, sheets, boost, dresses, and the like, Goldberry would need approximately 208 lbs. of grease wool, conservatively. This means a single mature Romney ram would take 13 years just to produce the items Tolkien mentions in this chapter belonging to Tom and Goldberry.
Considering Romney sheep live about 6-11 years, it would definitely take multiple sheep over time to produce the needed wool, even with natural life increase from the love and care of Tom.
Comparing this to the almost infinite potential to grow flax throughout the forest, flax would most likely have the upper hand on production.
Thus we can conclude that, under these circumstances, Tom and Goldberry are in fact living a successful vegan lifestyle.
A Champion for the Ages
With the evidence reviewed, it becomes clear to me that Tom is not just a meta-hipster vegan. He is the meta-hipster vegan. He is the champion you may or may not have been looking for.
He is the leader, the model, the application, the perfect scenario for the movement. He is the feature all millennial purists and dietary participants long for on a shirt or a poster. Embrace your new champion, for he is Tom Bombadil, and he is master.
And the best part about all this? Tom probably won’t care.
by Aaron Hastings
In the year prior to the release of Zach Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I only really heard one consistent question:
Why are Batman and Superman fighting?
Of course, the answer is extremely familiar to comic book lovers and DC devotees alike. The pressing ideological and philosophical motivations alone make for a tension filled relationship.
The rest of the world doesn’t see it that way.
They see Batman and Superman as allies on the cover of comic books, in animated TV shows, and soon to debut on the big screen. They are simply not familiar with the often extensive lore of the fight and the history surrounding famous works such as The Dark Knight Returns.
But there is a deeper meaning.
In the times I’ve been asked this question, I often refer to the Nabisco’s Oreo cookie Super Bowl commercial from 2013, which features an absurd argument over which part of the Oreo is better, the cookies or the crème.
This level of marketing is not new. The use of a false dichotomy or dilemma has been seen in the marketing campaigns for Twix, Outback Steakhouse, Starbursts, and many others.
Take the Oreo for example. It doesn’t matter which you prefer, cookies or crème; what matters is you are still interested in buying the product, and more importantly, you are talking about the product. The conversation is an advertising phenomenon that spreads through social media, and the products you think about are the ones you buy.
Thus, we have Batman v Superman.
Yet I can already hear you shouting at your screens: The differences are real, the debate is real, the fight is real. Yes, the idea for the super-pair is as old as the 1940s. It spawned from a diamond thief on a cruise ship, spanned across World’s Finest and Brave and the Bold comics, showed signs of maturity in 1986’s Man of Steel #3, and culminated in that same year with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
So yes, there is some strong history between the pair, going past 1986 into the Warner Bros. Animated series featuring the two as well as other Justice League members.
Ultimately, the 1952’s Superman #76, the very origin of the first real meeting of the heroes, was a result of a marketing tactic. We can even see it on the cover, with words like “Double-Feature!” and “The Mightiest Team on Earth!”
And it doesn’t stop there.
Look at Captain America: Civil War, which bares striking similarities in its marketing tactics to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Are you #TeamIronMan or #TeamCap? This keeps the conversation fresh, it keeps it focused, it keeps it relevant, and it keeps it centered on the product.
But wait, there’s more.
X-Men: Apocalypse features a war among heroes, with favorites such as Storm and Archangel fighting the likes of Professor Xavier and Mystique. Heroes and enemies are on both sides. Who do you want to win? Can the horsemen of Apocalypse redeem themselves, or will they fall to the true X-Men? Are they even the true X-Men?
See what happens?
The conversation keeps going. As long as there’s an argument, even a false one, it keeps the conversation fresh and centered. It practically sells itself.
This is the genius behind false dichotomy in marketing.
Now, don’t break down and despair just yet; this type of marketing is not a bad thing. Everything you thought you knew about comics is not a lie. In fact, it’s the very reason why we love these stories.
Conflict is a dynamic tool for storytelling. Without it, the story is dry and bland. Additionally, conflict of this nature, where the fight is black and blue rather than black and white, makes for a more compelling and passionate experience, where the consumer is desperate to understand and make sense of the confusion in the search for resolution.
Ultimately, good stories sell. False dichotomy can make a story incredibly moving and dynamic. Naturally, marketers use it in advertising, in a world where even cookies and crème can tell a story.
So the next time you break out an Oreo, open a Twix, or get a blooming onion after a bowl game, just ask yourself: who’s going to win? I think the answer just might be all of us.