When white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville in August 2017, Stan Lee reshared his 1968 “Soapbox” column on the dangers of racism and bigotry. A few months later, he released a video (embedded above) pleading for peace and an end to racist violence. But in October 2018, when an anti-Semite charged into a Pittsburg synagogue with a semi-automatic rifle and killed 11 people, Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber) was missing from the conversation. A few weeks later, he had died.
It’s hard not to view Lee’s six-decade-long battle against the forces of evil as a failure. He leaves behind a world possibly in worst shape than it’s ever been in modern history. In the U.S., violent and hateful crimes dominate the news on a weekly basis, while globally we seem to be slipping back into the nationalist racism Lee warned against.
Lee’s legend was always larger than life, and he cast a big enough tent for almost everyone, regardless of race or politics, but he always knew where to draw the line.
“Those stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender, and color of their skin,” he said in the October 2017 video. “The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance, and bigotry.
For Lee, it was never about exclusion. He wanted everyone to feel welcome in the universes he created.
“We’re all part of one big family,” he continues, “the human family.”
You can trace that same message back 60 years to those Stan’s Soapbox columns, which laid out a clear vision humanity. In 1968, one of the most violent and tense years in American history, Lee began his column with a simple but powerful statement that’s still relevant today.
“Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today,” he writes, comparing white supremacists to the supervillains that filled the pages of that same comic book.
He goes on to to preach a message of tolerance, but not before offering a stark warning to anyone who’d choose bigotry over love.
“The only way to destroy them is to expose them,” Lee writes, “to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.”
Two years later, Lee returned with another politically charged Soapbox, this time taking on complaints that Marvel had packed a political or moralizing agenda into its comics.
“It seems to me that a story without a message, however subliminal, is like a man without a soul,” he writes, noting that even ancient legends and myths are imbued with philosophical meaning.
More importantly, Lee argues that treating any art form as pure escapism is impossible for anyone who lives in the real world and cares about the people around them.
“None of us lives in a vacuum — none of us is untouched by the everyday events about us — events which shape our stories just as they shape our lives.”
Today, it seems more and more people are siding with bigotry over tolerance, while others choose to check out entirely and ignore the issues facing us on both a global and national level. As sad as it is to say, Lee never got to see the perfect world he envisioned come to fruition, bit if we keep his lessons in mind, maybe one day soon we can turn his optimism into reality.
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