The American Liberal As Plucky Sidekick!

Titans, Go!
As any loyal fan of the Cartoon Network knows, that it the battle cry of the Teen Titans, a Justice League junior varsity.  The Teen Titans are a hearty and appropriately diverse lot of young over achievers. Cyborg is half African American and half computerized machine (I have an affirmative app for that!). Starfire is an undocumented alien with sister issues who tunneled under the border fence from Tamaran. Raven was reared in a non-traditional family by her mother, a human, and her father, an inter-dimensional demon. Raven was home-schooled by a mystic named Azar, in a pacifist dimension called Azarath. It is very important that Raven maintain her composure, lest she revert to her demon ways and really declare war on Christmas. Beast Boy is a boy who can become, well, a beast—actually any number of different beasts. He shares PETA’s staunch belief in the rights and inherent value of all the members of the animal kingdom. He is really enthusiastic about women who would rather wear nothing that fur! He is somewhat more ambivalent about the drive to spay and neuter.
The leader of the Teen Titans is Robin, the Boy Wonder.  Robin is the original superhero sidekick and maybe the best known. What he lacks in special powers he makes up for in determination and grit. He is also at times so obnoxious that his own fans once voted to have him blown to bird seed by the Joker. This team of tingling, tumescent truants strives daily to do the right thing, stand for the proper values, back up their elder icons in any way they can, and follow a leader who makes you want to wring his neck. They are, in other words, the perfect metaphor for the modern American liberal.
“Unfair!” you say?  “Demeaning of both the Left and the good intentions of America’s activist youth!”you say? “Typical of the white male hegemony that dooms the masses to an existentially meaningless position of subservience!” you say? To the first I say, “Not at all.” To the second I say, “On the contrary.” To the third I say, “Huh?”
Consider what we know about sidekicks.
They mean well. The primary virtue of sidekicks is their willingness to jump right in and do what needs to be done. They may not have the skill set of their mentors, but they have boundless enthusiasm and good intentions. Enthusiasm is good. Boundless energy is good. Good intentions are very good. Unfortunately, none of those traits make up for skills and experience. That is why . . .
Sidekicks are at their best when they do what they are told. The origin of the term sidekick positions him or her as an assistant. In the early days of street criminals, a “kick” was a roll of money. The sidekick would pickpocket the easy take—the kick on the side. In the military, a kick is an underling. Sometimes Sergeants are known as “top kicks.”  In both cases, the primary role of the kicks is to perform the light lifting and leave the important work to their superiors. They exist in their station, because they are unfit to rise above it. That is why  . . .
When Sidekicks show initiative, they usually screw things up. There is probably no statistical support for this, but my guess is that the vast majority of imminent perils created by well-meaning sidekicks came within a few minutes of having been told “Stay with the car.”  Almost every time the sidekick improvises or decides to take matters into his own hands, the plan goes to hell in a hand basket, and bad becomes worse. Inevitably after years of watching the audience has stopped wondering whether the sidekick will screw up and starts guessing when.
Now consider what we know about today’s American liberal. Be honest, isn’t it exactly the same thing? However much a right winger hates a liberal, he will usually admit that the Godless Commie means well. The right wonders aloud what a community activist does, but submits that if it helps people it must be okay. The right winger calls the liberal a “bleeding heart” which is a tacit admission that the liberal has a heart. When forced to confront the question, we all have to admit that we guess the answer to the question “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding . . . oh-oh-oh-oh.” is “Nothing, I guess.”
The issue then, just as it is with regard to sidekicks, is whether good intentions are enough.
That liberals really do follow better than they lead, is best evidenced by their inept inability to choose who to follow.  A good leader would know what a good leader looks like.  Sidekicks not so much. They are generally devotees who were at the right place at the right time (or whose circus-performer parents were brutally slaughtered before his eyes—but hey, sometimes the exception proves the rule).  The sidekick is attracted by the aura of righteousness and the single-mindedness with which the hero follows his or her agenda. Batman and Commissioner Gordon both want law and order. The difference is that Commissioner Gordon believes in the Police; Batman believes in himself. That self-assurance is infectious. It is the stuff of legend. But the undiscerning acolyte often as trouble telling the difference between belief in one’s self and self-righteous rejection of the evil other.
In recent history, the American Left has felt the auras of George McGovern, Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis.  These guys weren’t Batman; they weren’t even the Blue Beetle. Clinton was a little better—one third Flash and two thirds Booster Gold—but none of them was who we thought (or hoped) they were.
“But wait,” you say. “The right chooses heroes every bit as puffed up and full of gas as those of the left! What about Reagan? What about Bush Jr.? For Gaea’s sake, what about PALIN??” You are right. Those people are at least as phony as their left wing counterparts. The difference is that they never bought into the con—except for Palin; she really thinks she earned it. Reagan and Bush never believed that they were pulling the strings when they were in the White House. They, like Commissioner Gordon, were representatives of a system that was in place—a system in which they had faith over the long haul. That their system was, like the Gotham P.D., corrupt from top to bottom is beside the point.
I still think the jury is out on Barack Obama. I say give him a chance. Heck he used to be a sidekick just like you! He’s not Batman, but he might be Nightwing. He has the glow, but he might also have the chops. The right wing now labels him a typical street-fighting Chicago politician. What we fail to realize is that they mean that as a compliment. Obama laid out an agenda and has in fits and starts engaged in following it. It is too early to tell. Some things have gone right, some not so right. He has put in his time on the road. He has suffered mightily at the hands of the Legion of Villains.  All he has asked his loyal supporters to do is STAY WITH THE DAMN CAR!  Instead, Gay Marriage Man, Womb Woman and The Public Optionator can’t resist the temptation to get out their grappling guns, rappel up the sides of the Capitol Building and save the day themselves. The Starfires—outsiders desperately seeking approval, the Ravens—trying their best to contain their inner demons, the Cyborgs–striving to balance their 21st century hardware and their 20th century hearts, and Howard Dean–the actual living Beast Boy who differs from his mythical counterpart only in the fact that he is green with envy, in doing their plucky best to win the day are just going to distract the 2 Live Crew-sader and get everybody killed.
It is time right now for the plucky sidekicks of the American left to learn from the history of their four-color doppelgangers. The battle is never won in a single skirmish; the bad guy always lives to fight another day. The role of the hero and the trusty sidekick is to fight the fight every day to make things better for everyone on every side. That usually means taking what you can get, staying in the game and not succumbing to the temptation to see a man as a villain merely because he hasn’t distinguished himself as a hero.
So calm down, American Left. Stop fuming so hard that you become what you hate. Heck, if nothing else take pleasure in this, plucky sidekick. You make those green tights work!

About bigshotprof

College Professor in the Communication Studies department at Pace University. My personal life fall somewhere in the gap between less than you want to know and more than you need to know.
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