Cobra Commander & American Foreign Policy
Wizard Magazine recently released a Top 10 list of the best bad guys in cartoon history.
Included in that list were Starscream (#2) from Transformers and Cobra Commander (#7) from G.I. Joe. These, along with Voltron, were my favorite TV shows while I was growing up in the 1980’s.
These shows depicted a clear-cut struggle between the forces of good and evil. You had the evil, “bad guys” that always depicted attributes deemed undesirable – such as, selfishness, cowardice, dishonesty, etc.
Then you had the “good guys”; always brave, always heroic, willing to lay down their life for a comrade (or even a stranger). The good guys always won, but only when defeat seemed closest.
The good guys were often colored in such a manner as to reflect the American flag: red, white and blue. Some were a little less obvious – Optimus Prime from Transformers was primarily red, blue and a silvery white. Some were more up front; G.I. Joe flew the American flag.
In the case of G.I. Joe, the enemy was distant, invasive and alien in a way. The two leaders (for much of the series) were faceless, wearing masks at all times. These were Cobra Commander and his 2nd in command, Destro.
While in Taizé, France, (summer, 2001) I spoke with my small group Bible study – I was the only American – about our respective countries’ (Spain, Germany, Holland, Bulgaria, Australia, Poland) foreign policies. We came to an easy consensus that the United States is certainly the most outwardly focused of the countries.
The United States is often interested in being a big brother to (the nice way to say it) or bullying (the not-so-nice way to say it) less powerful nations around the world. However, among the countries represented, the United States has/had more serious internal issues than the others – things like lack of access to healthcare, problems with public education, a wider gap between the wealthy and the poor.
The conclusion was that the United States is much like the man in Matthew 7.3-5 who sees a speck of sawdust in his neighbor’s eye and offers to remove it, but cannot because of the plank in his own eye. The other countries represented, for the most part, understand that there are internal problems that must be fixed before they can venture out saving the world that doesn’t know, want, or need to be saved.
I began reflecting on the influence of the cartoons I watched when I was little and started to realize that I am much the same way as my nation. I am concerned and interested in helping other people with their problems, but like to shy away from addressing my own. If someone else is being called names, I’ll step in to assist, but take the abuse when directed at myself. Every other person in my group reflected in their personal lives the understanding that they have/had their own internal issues that needed to be dealt with before they could go around offering/forcing assistance to their neighbors.
The people running this country and the generation about to take it over grew up during the Cold War and all the fear and bravado that came with it. We group up knowing that there was a faceless enemy on the other side of the world. It was us against them. Even our Reagan-era cartoons reinforced that notion.
In the coming years and decades, we must all be aware of that “social-location,” as the sociologists like to call it, from which we come. We must critically reflect on the world that shaped us even as we shape the world. Does the world and culture of our upbringing still have effects on us today?
Next time you hit the voting booth, remember it’s not “us against them” anymore. This is a global community and we’re electing the ambassadors to that community. There is no Cobra Commander across the sea.