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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What is Captain America All About? Fighting for Liberty (Part I in a Four-Part Series)

by Ray Keating
Commentary and Analysis
October 15, 2019 (originally published in May 2001)

Introduction to this four-part series on Captain America: Thanks to Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, has become more well-known than ever before – and this is a character who has been around since 1941, so that’s saying something. As a Captain America fan for more than 45 years, to quote Die Hard’sJohn McClane, I say, “Welcome to the party, pal.” In these films, Captain America (played by Chris Evans) serves as the heart and soul of the Avengers – from Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011 through Avengers: Endgame, which premiered on April 26 of this year. But what is Captain America all about in the end? In this four-part series, we’re going to take a look at the substance of Captain America – from the comics to the movies. That is, not just what Cap did, but also, why he did so. What was Captain America fighting for? Part I – this article – is a piece I wrote nearly 20 years ago. At that time, I reconnected with Cap, taking almost a year to read the Captain America issues from the 1940s, and then everything about Cap from his return in the 1960s up to the year 2000. Part II will examine the Captain America that briefly returned during the 1950s. Part III will take a closer look at the Captain America of the movies. And Part IV will see what Cap’s been standing for or defending during the 21stCentury in the pages of comics. Whether you’re a Cap fan from the comics, from the movies or both, I hope you’ll find these pieces interesting, and worthy of debate and discussion. This first article originally appeared in the May 2001 issue of the Foundation for Economic Education’s magazine The Freeman, which is a free-market publication.


In recent times, popular culture has not exactly been a bastion of principled thought and philosophy, particularly when viewed from conservative or libertarian perspectives. Television, movies, and music, along with countless novels, have been infiltrated either by big-government leftism or a pervasive nihilism.

Is there a pop-culture genre that might be considered an exception? Well, I fondly remember the superhero comic books from my childhood that emphasized the importance of individualism, protecting the innocent, and standing up against all forms of tyranny.

Of course, so much in the comic-book industry has changed over the past 20 or 30 years. Most striking, few comic books are now written for young children. Specifically for our purposes, superhero comic books grew up a little, with story lines becoming a bit more complex in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. The publication of a few high-profile comics showed the industry moving away from simple pulp fiction just for kids.

For example, Marvel Comics probably broke the mold in the late 1970s with an installment in the X-Men series—“The Dark Phoenix Saga”—that saw a longtime hero, Jean Grey, corrupted by power and eventually dying. In 1986, DC Comics published “The Dark Knight Returns,” which took an older Batman to a grander, but much darker level. In addition, DC’s “The Watchmen” (1986-1987) told a sometimes explicit tale of a set of costumed adventurers who ranged from dysfunctional to psychotic.

By the 1990s, superhero comic books seemed to have given up on the younger market, gearing themselves to older teenagers and younger adults. The stories and, in particular, the artwork took a quantum leap higher. In 1994, Marvel Comics published a rather striking series called “Marvels.” This tale was told from the perspective of a freelance news photographer, who offered the average man’s view—his hopes and fears—while watching the feats of superheroes and supervillains over the years.

Many of these publications still presented a strong pro-individual, anti-tyranny message, except for “The Watchmen,” which offered a far more muddled view of right, wrong, and mankind. For example, while the ultimate message in the X-Men “Dark Phoenix Saga” was taking responsibility for one’s actions, “The Watchmen” arguably went directly against such a notion.
In recent assessments, conservatives seem split on the direction of comic books. In a 1994 National Review article, for example, Anthony Lejeune praised old-time comics, pointing out: “Political themes, as distinct from simple Americanism, were generally eschewed as being likely to divide than to attract readers.” But he saw a drastic change in longer, grander comics known as “graphic novels”: “What almost all of them have in common is that their vision is dark—like the new Batman—rather than bright, ugly rather than beautiful, bitter rather than optimistic, cruel rather than genial.”

In contrast, in the Weekly Standard (1998), Mark Gauvreau Judge wrote that some people creating comics “are trying to explore the big questions. And they’re doing it in books openly hostile to the moral relativism of modern liberalism.” He concluded that “conservative moralists could do a lot worse than to follow the latest round of superheroes flying above the streets of Metropolis and Gotham.”

The True Test

So, who’s right? Well, for me, the true test of the current state of superheroes has to be gauged by my childhood favorite—Captain America. And with this “Sentinel of Liberty” having just reached his 60th anniversary, this is an ideal time to take a look. Captain America, the creation of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, arrived on the comics scene in March 1941, less than a year before the United States entered World War II.

As the story goes, a scrawny kid named Steve Rogers volunteered for a secret experiment, which turned him into America’s “super soldier.” In the 1940s, Rogers—Captain America—appeared in simple, patriotic stories fighting against Nazi spies and saboteurs, along with a few murder mysteries and horror tales tossed in along the way.

Soon, however, the popularity of superhero comic books declined for a period. Captain America remained in suspended animation from the late 1940s until he was thawed out in the early 1960s, except for a brief resurrection in the 1950s carrying the tantalizing Cold War title “Captain America . . . Commie Smasher.” [We’ll look at those issues in the second part of this series.]

In the ’60s, Captain America stories remained geared primarily toward youths. The anti-tyranny message was a constant. “Cap” not only battled supervillains bent on world domination, but also fought against communists, bigotry, and various evildoers trying to resurrect the Third Reich. Along the way, lessons like not taking liberty for granted and the importance of protecting human life were emphasized.

Eventually, some of the uncertainty about the United States that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s even caught up with Captain America. At the time of Watergate and its aftermath, for example, Steve Rogers briefly became disillusioned and set aside his identity as Captain America to become a new hero called Nomad. Could the contrast in names be more acute?
By the time the nation’s bicentennial rolled around in 1976, however, Captain America was back and growing more confident. At this time, Cap would foil a conspiracy to overthrow democracy and destroy the Declaration of Independence, and later take on villains whose cause was pure nihilism. As the decade came to a close, Captain America’s link to World War II also would serve as a way to provide a reminder about the atrocities of the Nazi government, with one issue serving up a poignant reminder of the concentration camps.

Captain America in the 1980s touched on a variety of topics, including the question of vigilantism (always a biggie in superhero comic books), prison reform, taking responsibility for one’s actions, pacifism, nationalism versus one-worldism, the lack of freedom in the Soviet Union, and of course, terrorism.

One story line had a hero from an alternate universe asking for help to fight a new tyranny on his Earth. The loss of democracy and individual freedom occurred for interesting reasons: With the idea of creating a Utopia, a superhero team first helps people in distress, then disarms the populace, and finally resorts to mind control to keep presumed undesirables in line. The underlying importance of the Second Amendment could not be missed.

Another ’80s story line carried a distinct antibureaucrat message, as a rogue government commission strips Steve Rogers of his Captain America identity for being too independent. The pursuit of Captain America by this commission, it is worth noting, was triggered by an IRS auditor.

Cap Takes on a Super Feminist and Galactic Totalitarianism

Since 1990 Captain America has continued to touch on a variety of social and philosophical topics. One amusing story line had Cap taking on a militant, man-hating super-powered feminist. Others provided sound warnings about abusing individuals in the pursuit of some elusive Utopia. A particularly noteworthy recent story featured Captain America battling a “galactic totalitarianism,” whereby an all-powerful being in the future eliminated worry, hunger, need, crime, and violence, but at a daunting price—the loss of free will and independent thought.

In the end, the critics who say that comic books have become far too dark have an abundance of material to back up their claims. Others who see some great issues and interesting stories being played out have examples to point to as well.

For better or worse, since the writers of Captain America (and other comic books, for that matter) inevitably change over the years, there comes a difference in style and emphasis. Nonetheless, after now having caught up with one of my childhood favorites, I can say that, to the credit of Marvel Comics, while usually being general, there has been a fairly constant, favorable emphasis in the pages of Captain America on individualism and freedom, personal responsibility, protecting human life, the opportunity to chase the American Dream, and the need to fight tyranny.

For good measure, Captain America places great emphasis on hard work. As a superhero without special super powers, he has to be a disciplined, hard worker to keep up with both allies and foes endowed with fantastic abilities. In a recent story, Captain America proclaims that “America is about making your own way. America can give you the chance. But it’s up to you to work hard and do something with the opportunity.”

On the rare occasions when specific economic issues have come into play, however, it must be said that the writers of Captain America seem to suffer from the same lack of knowledge regarding our free enterprise system that permeates the rest of popular culture. While in the early 1960s one tale involving Captain America was distinctly anti-communist and pro-capitalist, in more recent times, a rather silly economic populism seems to pop up now and then. For example, a few odd slaps were taken at the advertising business in the 1980s, and more recently, prison privatization was portrayed in a bad light, with an anti-big-corporation message detected on another occasion.

It certainly would be nice if the Captain America character, who speaks so often about opportunity and the American Dream, would occasionally note the critical role played by free enterprise. After all, freedom and opportunity are mere myths or platitudes if one does not recognize the importance of private property and free markets.

Like the rest of pop culture, comic books are first and foremost escapist fun. However, various philosophical or cultural ideas inevitably are touched on to some limited degree. The positive emphasis on individual freedom and responsibility is enough to classify Captain America as recommended pop-culture reading. All Cap needs is a quick lesson in the wonders of sound economics.

(Up Next: What is Captain America All About? Taking on Commies in the 1950s (Part II in a Four-Part Series))

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Epcot Food & Wine Festival: A Delight for the Palate and the Wallet?

by Ray Keating
October 11, 2019

A visit to Disney World isn’t cheap. That’s not really in dispute. The real issue is value. Are you getting value for your money? Or, to put it another way: Do you get a bang for your buck on a Disney vacation? My quick answer is “yes,” especially when taking advantage of events like the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

Of course, there are various ways to save money when booking a Disney vacation, including on your room, your park tickets, and your food. For example, Walt Disney World currently is offering savings on park visits with entrance after 12:00 PM each day with Mid-Day Magic tickets through December 15. Disney World also is offering savings on stays at a Disney Resort Hotel – ranging from 15 percent to 25 percent – if one books up to January 1, 2020, for stays between January 1 through April 25, 2020. 

And then there are periods of time when Disney offers its dining plan for free as the key part of a vacation package. Among those who compare the details, debate rages on if the dining plan is worth it or not when paying for it in full. But for this foodie, what’s not to like about a package featuring a free dining plan? The key is to keep an eye out for when free dining plan offers are made available. (For example, DisneyTouristBlog.com tells readers that if you sign up for their newsletter, you’ll be notified early on the day a dining plan is released.)

The bottom line remains that when compared to other ways to spend one’s recreation or vacation dollar, Disney remains a darn good value, especially considering everything included in a park visit and/or hotel stay. 

But right now, there’s an annual event going on worth highlighting under the Disney value question, especially if one ranks as a foodie. Depending on how one’s vacation is set up, I have found the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival to be a delight for the palate and the wallet – especially if you’re enjoying a free-dining-plan stay.  Plus, it’s a lot of fun to try miniature versions of dishes you might otherwise not try if they were full-sized entrees (read: high cost meals) at your favorite country’s restaurants.

This year’s is the 24th festival, running through November 23, and it has more than 30 global marketplaces with widely varying offerings for the taste buds. Indeed, my visits to the Food & Wine Festival this year and last didn’t disappoint. 

Among the items my group enjoyed this year were the following:

• The Moqueca – Brazilian Seafood Stew featuring Scallops, Shrimp and White Fish with Coconut-Lime – was delicious.

• In Canada, the Canadian Cheddar Cheese and Bacon Soup with a pretzel roll, and Le Cellier Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Butter Sauce were tasty, hearty choices.

• The Alps booth offered Warm Raclette Swiss Cheese with Baby Potatoes, Cornichons and a Baguette this year, with the cheese scooped warm and gooey off of a large wheel of cheese and layered onto the baguette.  If you’re a cheese lover, definitely make a stop here.  (It’s also one of the selections on Emile’s Fromage Montage, a type of specialty food crawl, which, surprise, rewards you with a tiny cheesecake as a prize for completing the challenge and collecting all of your cheese stamps.)

• And yes, I love China’s Mango Bubble Tea with Assam Black Tea and milk.

• All three offerings at Coastal Eats were excellent: 1) Lump Crab Cake with Napa Cabbage Slaw and Avocado-Lemongrass Cream, 2) Baked Shrimp and Scallop Scampi Dip with Sourdough Baguette, and 3) Pacifico True Striped Bass Tostada with Slaw and Fire-roasted Tomatillo Sauce.

• At Flavors From Fire, The Steakhouse Blended Burger: Blended Beef and Mushroom Slider with Brie Cheese Fondue, Arugula, and a Truffle and Blue Cheese Potato Chip on a Brioche Bun was terrific, and we went back for a second round on another day.

• At the Ireland marketplace, I wouldn’t miss the Roasted Irish Sausage with Colcannon Potatoes and Onion Gravy.

• As East Coasters, we never pass up a Lobster Roll, and at the Hops & Barley Booth, the New England Lobster Roll: Warm Lobster with Fresh Herb Mayonnaise and Griddled Roll was a yummy selection, and a superb use of a snack credit at $8.25!

• Japan’s Teriyaki Chicken Bun, which is a steamed bun filled with chicken, vegetables and a sweet Teriyaki sauce, was a big hit.

In fact, as we made our way around World Showcase trying various dishes with our snack credits, the only dish that disappointed was Japan’s Frothy Ramen: Chilled Noodles and Dashi Broth with a Light Foam Topping.  Food & Wine Festival selections are generally an excellent use of snack credits, with a number of plates costing upwards of the $6.00,  $7.00 and even $8.00 range, well worth the expenditure of a valuable snack credit. Savvy food hunters can certainly max out the value of their snack credits at the Festival booths.

Having said that, our experience at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival was a hit better than 98 percent of the time. That not only warrants no criticism, but high praise. And yes, we enjoyed selections with our free dining plan, but the value would have been there even if we had stayed at Walt Disney World resort under another plan.  Wonder what they are cooking up for the Festival of the Holidays?

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Walt Disney – An Excellent Example of Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise

by Ray Keating
October 10, 2019

Lots of people miss the point of entrepreneurship and free enterprise. Too often, they fail to recognize the role and actions of entrepreneurs, and/or they don’t get how free enterprise actually works. For clarity, they only need to look at Walt Disney.

Interestingly, Neal Gabler, in his massive biography Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, acknowledged Walt as an entrepreneur, but called him “a reluctant one.” Gabler went on to perform a psychoanalysis on Walt, and along the way missed the fact that most of the attributes and characteristics evident in Walt’s intentions and actions fit the classic portrait of the entrepreneur. There was nothing reluctant about Walt Disney’s entrepreneurship.

That brings me to an article published earlier this week in The Wall Street Journal titled “A Disney Story for Young Socialists: Kill the free market? Mickey Mouse would be collateral damage.” Written by Art Diamond, author of Openness to Creative Destruction, the piece is an answer to those who wrongly assume that a fraudster like Bernie Madoff is the symbol of true capitalism. Diamond, instead and correctly, points to Walt Disney. I highly recommend reading the full article, but here are four key points from Mr. Diamond:

• “A better capitalist exemplar is Walt Disney. He took risks, sacrificed and innovated to produce what people wanted.”

• Walt Disney “learned skills that helped him create cartoons a couple of years later at his Laugh-O-Gram Films startup, where Disney slept in his studio and subsisted on canned beans. Later he said it wasn’t so bad—he loved beans. After the studio went bankrupt, Disney tried again in California. He recruited his brother Roy; their parents took out a mortgage to invest in their sons; and an uncle lent them his garage.”

• “Disney was a ‘project entrepreneur,’ investing the earnings from one project into the next, more ambitious one.”

• “When Disney took his daughters to amusement parks, he imagined something better. Walt Disney Productions was overextended with movies and short on cash, so he founded a startup to build Disneyland. He had little money in his name, so he borrowed against his life-insurance policy.”

I chose these four quotes because they capture the nature and fundamentals of entrepreneurship, which lies at the center of free enterprise or capitalism. Entrepreneurs do indeed take risks, sacrifice and innovate. They usually fail along the way but persevere. They use their own funds, and look to family and friends to finance their enterprises. They reinvest and build their businesses. And they see something better or new where others don’t, and they find ways to get those new products or improvements to the market, i.e., they innovate.

Yes, if you want to grasp some of the essentials of entrepreneurship and free enterprise, Walt Disney serves as an excellent example. Thanks to Mr. Diamond for a nice take on the topic.

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Casey’s Corner Hot Dogs During Baseball Postseason

by Ray Keating
October 7, 2019

The baseball postseason is in full swing, and that gets me thinking about the fact that my Cincinnati Reds, once again, are nowhere to be seen. On the positive side, the baseball playoffs also get me thinking about food – in particular, hot dogs. After all, baseball and hot dogs simply go together; the combination is so American!

Among the many times I’ve visited the Magic Kingdom, I rarely stopped at Casey’s Corner on Main Street, U.S.A. Shame on me. During my latest visit in September, though, I finally managed to stop in – and the visit was too brief.

If you’re looking for a hot dog in Walt Disney World, Casey’s Corner is the place to go, and yes, it offers baseball d├ęcor. (Don’t forget that Mighty Casey struck out.)

The menu rates as a hot dog lover’s dream. There are the stalwarts, namely, the Bacon Macaroni & Cheese All-Beef Hot Dog and the Chili-Cheese All-Beef Hot Dog (each also available as a foot-long). And then there are dogs available for a limited time. Currently, that specialty offering is the Fried Pickle Hot Diggity Dog, featuring a dog topped with roasted green and red peppers, shredded cheddar cheese, fried pickles, chipotle ranch and green onions. This baby comes as a foot-long as well, and there also are Fried Pickle Loaded French Fries.

I had the Bacon Macaroni & Cheese dog with fries. I ask: How could I not? Bacon, Mac & Cheese and a hot dog. It didn’t disappoint. The key with any such offering is the hot dog itself, and Casey’s serves up a strong, thick, hearty dog. A weak tasting hot dog is, well, just not worth it. The bacon and rich Mac & Cheese made for a sloppy, delicious combo. 

My only disappointment was that my schedule only allowed for a limited tasting. Next time, it’ll be about testing most of the menu at Casey’s Corner. Hey, somebody has to do it.

As I’m writing this, I have the playoffs on in the background, and I find myself longing for that Casey’s dog. Ah, baseball and hot dogs ... and the Magic Kingdom!

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Streaming Wars Going Hot – No Netflix Ads on Disney Networks

by Ray Keating
October 4, 2019

Ever since Disney announced that it would be launching its own streaming service, the company, unsurprisingly, become engaged in a kind of Cold War with the largest competitor, Netflix. So, we saw Marvel shows on Netflix, like “Daredevil,” become casualties, unfortunately. But now, based on a report from The Wall Street Journal, it’s safe to say that the war is going hot as the November 12 launch date for Disney+ fast approaches.

Today, the Journal reported that The Walt Disney Company was banning advertising from Netflix, Inc. across Disney-owned television networks. According to the report, Disney had decided to ban ads from competing streaming services earlier this year, but then reversed course and came to agreements with everyone – except Netflix.

The Journal noted: “Netflix spent $99.2 million on U.S. TV ads during 2018, with some 13% going to Disney-owned entertainment networks, according to estimates from ad-measurement firm iSpot.TV.”

Toss Amazon, Apple, Comcast, AT&T and others into the streaming providers mix, and let the war rage – all to the eventual benefit of consumers who will decide who succeeds and who fails.

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Reminder: “Epcot Forever” Debuts on Livestream Tonight

by Ray Keating
October 1, 2019

After a 20-year run, Epcot’s “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth” wrapped things up last night. Naturally, Disney doesn’t waste any time, so “Epcot Forever” debuts tonight. 

Disney describes the show as, “‘Epcot Forever’ will be an all-new, limited-time spectacle of fireworks, music, lighting, lasers and choreographed special effects kites. The show takes us on a journey through the past, present and future of Epcot, featuring a stirring collection of songs that paint a colorful picture of the park, with a look towards the future and all the magical possibilities still to come.”

For those not in Walt Disney World, however, Disney will be livestreaming the debut at 8:50 PM EST tonight on its Disney Parks Blog. Here’s the link.


Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

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