The 7 Most Quintessentially American Pop Culture Icons

sam%2520the%2520eagle.jpgBy Teague Bohlen

The 4th of July is tomorrow, not today. Yet, like all true Americans, we’ll be cooking out and shooting off illegal fireworks and drinking beer from 11 a.m. tomorrow instead of posting random pop culture lists. But, also like all true Americans, we wanted to celebrate this great nation in a way that required absolutely zero sacrifice from ourselves, except a little time on the internet. Hence today, the list that follows is made up of seven characters that personify the American spirit in pop culture?from comic books to television to movies. That spirit isn’t always pretty, loving or even necessarily kind, but it will always kick ass in spectacular ways, much like the combination of grilled meat, illegal fireworks, and lite beer.

7) Colonel Flagg / Colonel Hogan (tie)
These two American colonels were two sides of the same coin?both resourceful, both pretty effective, and both pretty funny to watch. The difference was that Colonel Hogan (Hogan?s Heroes) was the ?gentle? American?you know, kind to the nice Nazis, quick with a joke, a secret penchant for amateur porn, all that. Colonel Flagg (MASH) was the ?rabid? American?suspicious of everyone, self-destructive in his zeal, something of a fervent buffoon, and a secret fetish for German porn. Ah, porn?it?s the thing that brings all Americans together, in the end.

6) Ernest Hemingway
It?s maybe ironic that one of the most American of American writers was a guy that preferred to live overseas so much. But maybe that?s why he?s known as American?because he was our cultural ambassador all over the world: Cuba, Africa, Europe. But Hemingway was more than just a good writer or a fucked-up drunk. He was also a guy who came to embody the American spirit, up to and including the point at which he shot himself in the face. His last words were directed, perhaps presciently, at the high school kids who would someday be forced to read and write about his works. ?I wrote The Old Man and the Sea, not Moby Dick. Get it right, you little fucking bastards.? Good ol? Papa.

5) Superman
Supes is one of the quintessential American heroes, to be sure. He?s been notably portrayed carrying the American flag, or with an American eagle majestically perched on his forearm. He always fought for ?truth, justice, and the American way,? though recent movies have changed that to be more global. Which we all know is bullshit. Superman might protect the world, but he?s an American hero. He?s the best immigrant that America has ever seen, coming from a far-off land, honoring his birthplace while at the same time taking on the mantle of being an American with relish and without reservation. He?s taken it too far in the past, slapping ?Japs? and encouraging all of us to do the same, but you know, wartime racism is just part of the big, complex quilt we call America. And everyone is welcome under that quilt, unless, you know, you?re the current subject of that whole wartime racism bugaboo.

4) Sam the Eagle
Speaking of eagles, Sam is one eagle who?d never stoop to demeaning himself by perching on Superman?s forearm. This is one muppet with distinct limits?so much so that he was made the Muppet Show?s censor. And he took that job seriously?very seriously. As evidenced by his praise of his favorite dancing team, Wayne and Wanda, for their ?appropriateness,? Sam could sometimes have a stick up his butt. (No, that wasn?t meant as a muppet joke, but I guess it could be. Okay, count it.) And he might sound too much like Bert from Sesame Street. But you can be sure that under that blue felt beats the heart of a true American. (No, not Frank Oz’s hand.)

3) John Rambo
Exactly how a mentally unstable war veteran became an American icon is a little complicated if you haven?t seen the movies?suffice it to say that it was both a product of the 1982 zeitgeist and Richard Crenna?s inherent evil. (And seriously, if you haven?t seen the movies?or at least the first two?then frankly you?ve not met the prerequisites for perusing this site. Please shut your browser, catch up on your reading and viewing lists, and return when you?re better prepared.) Suffice it to say this: the name ?Rambo? means ?violence? in Japanese. This is all you need to know about what it took to be an American movie hero in 1982.

2) John Wayne
Sure, John Wayne was an actor, but he was also a character. After all, he was born Marion Morrison. And people went to see his movies not because they were good (because they sometimes weren?t), but because John Wayne was in them. There?s a reason that Jesse Custer from Preacher saw the ghost of John Wayne, and it wasn?t because Wayne was a great actor?it?s because he defined what it meant to be an American man. His tombstone reads: Ugly, Strong, and Serious. That?s John Wayne?s America. (Of course, that epitaph is actually written in Spanish, but please ignore that for the purposes of this entry. Thank you.)

1) Captain America

Who but Cap could end this list? Sure, some argue that Superman is the more representative of the two comic-book heroes (hell, I argued that point four entries ago, but I was full of shit, to be honest), but really, Captain America wears his patriotism on his sleeve?literally. The guy is wearing the freakin? flag. He has an A on his forehead (and it doesn?t stand for France!) His name is Captain America. What more do you need? Cap doesn?t just stand for the American ideal; he fucking lives it, everyday, openly. Which, of course, means that he got shot and died. That happens to American heroes more than you might expect. But it?s like the song says: when Captain America throws his mighty shield?all those who chose to oppose his shield must yield. When he?s led to a fight and a duel is due, then the red and the white and the blue?ll come through. When Captain America throws his mighty shield. But perhaps Trey Parker and Matt Stone paraphrased it best in their film Team America: World Police. America?Fuck, yeah!