Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sikh Captain America Patrols NYC

A slight, brown-skinned man with a long beard and turban dons the costume of Captain America, takes up the star spangled shield, and hits the streets of New York City to confront racism and intolerance.
"Chill!--it's just a turban...Now let's kick some intolerant ass!"
This performance art from cartoonist/software-analyst Vishavjit Singh and photographer Fiona Aboud challenges expectations of who can represent America, patriotism, and American heroes. Their work makes a fantastic centerpiece for discussing race/ethnicity and media representation as well as how media construct heroes to represent our values--great for middle schoolers through college students. Singh posted a fine reflection at SikhNet on coming up with the idea and on his experiences as Captain America in NYC. His reflections in this piece offer 10 poignant life lessons he gleaned from his performance. Luckily, Hari Kondabolu, comedic correspondent for W. Kamau Bell's promising FX show Totally Biased (sadly canceled in November after 2 months), documented a hilarious segment of bystanders reactions to and interactions with Singh as Captain America on the streets of New York. So, after you activate some prior knowledge about Marvel's Captain America with discussion and notes about what comes to mind when students think of the character and/or images of American heroes in general, watch this clip and take a nice long session for doing a complete media literacy analysis with all the key questions [click here for NAMLE handout of ML KQ's]. It's worth watching it again, and pausing often for interpretation and discussion questions. The guy who changes his mind about Singh's performance from "racist" to "hilarious" and "great" within the conversation is particularly striking. Singh's reflection pieces in particular make him a great model for media literacy activism for social justice. Check out the clip:

How and why is this funny? What techniques are effective in delivering Singh's message to people on the street, and to the audience for the video? The final bit in the segment with the diverse race, gender, and sexualities for the Avengers characters (to join Sikh Cap) suggests a great exercise in rewriting or remaking a comic book page--handrawn, photoshopped, or using ComicLife. Be sure to engage students in reflective discussion on their intended messages and choices for representation. You could also make a connection to the trend toward diversity in superhero comics, as discussed here by Oscar winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave, and evidenced in the new Ms. Marvel reboot, which I will discuss in a subsequent post. I'd love to hear what you and yours make of Singh's Captain America. Who would you pose as his sidekick Bucky?

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