Nerd Factor: When Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield
Dr. Mike Robinson~ UL Communication Studies Professor
While tossing some snowballs around after our recent winter storm, I was reminded of one of the classic improvisations of childhood. Advancing down upon my position from the top of our neighbor’s hill that forms the beginning of our sledding run, my son deflected snowball after snowball with his plastic saucer sled. Like many anonymous Hydra goon before me, I too learned that there was little that could be done to stop this surrogate Captain America and his ersatz shield.
Unsurprisingly, we played superheroes quite a bit when I was a kid. We improvised a lot of that play as best we could. A friend’s saucer sled became Captain America’s shield. A wooden mallet I had made for some forgotten school project sometimes substituted for Thor’s hammer. One friend of mine was a lacrosse player. His helmet, shoulder pads, and gloves instantly made him Iron Man.
Never fear, this is just nostalgia not comparative childhood judgement. Imagination is imagination. I would never insist that we somehow had a better childhood than kids do today. Although there was something undeniably cool about those big old lacrosse gloves. Those things really did look like gauntlets could toss off a repulsor ray or too. Believe me, if we could have convinced our parents to buy us more authentic superhero gear, we would have begged and pleaded to get them. We just did not have many licensed products back then.
What little we had was low quality. Superhero costumes tended to be cheap vinyl Halloween costumes with pictures of the superhero’s face stuck in the middle of them and a fragile mask that was barely held on with the sharpest of rubber bands cutting through the back of your head. I did have an official Spider-Man web shooter though. It strapped on my wrist with a Velcro strap and fired a spring-loaded suction cup disk that trailed a string out behind it. The string was embarrassingly short and the suction cup only stuck to metal or glass so any web slinging had to take place in the kitchen no more than two feet from the fridge.
Back in those days though, anyone could easily be Captain America. This low budget cosplay was achieved through borrowing a handy trash can lid. Yes, saucer sleds could be used and the older models had plastic straps that are missing on contemporary disks. Holding those was not easy though as the straps were cheap. And the sleds tended to be put away in the off season. Every house had a couple of trash can lids though.
There were two kinds of lids available for patriotic roleplay. The plastic or vinyl variety of lid offered ease of throwing. Nobody really minded being hit by the more pliable material. Metal lids could hurt someone when thrown at them. The metal lids could also deform to the point that they would not fit back on the trash can. I am not sure what metal was used in those things but it was not a vibranium-adamantium alloy, that is for sure.
The metal lids were preferable. They clanged when warding off blows or thrown projectiles. Maybe it was not quite the peel of the Liberty Bell, but it did sound sort of like defending freedom.