Join 3,374 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Avengers Dissemble!
August 7, 2011 4:30 PM   Subscribe

The First Non-Avenger: Captain America and His Non-Struggles Against the Holocaust and Racism
posted by Renoroc (49 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
To paraphrase, "This movie stubbornly failed to tell the story I already had in my head."
posted by Superfrankenstein at 4:50 PM on August 7, 2011 [25 favorites]


The writer certainly lives up to the name of his website. Big plate of beans there.
posted by octothorpe at 4:57 PM on August 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Alternatively, "This movie exploits the gravitas of real life events while ignoring the underlying issues that make those events have weight." Or even, "This movie stubbornly failed to tell any story whatsoever, except for Guy Who Is Perfect In Every Way Kicks Ass And Takes Names."
posted by lewedswiver at 4:58 PM on August 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


It exploits the gravitas of real-life Nazis with Asgardian death rays?

Captain America: TFA was a fun movie, but it's only tangentially connected to World War II.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:03 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, Vita-Rays are measured in watts / m^2, not percentages. Get it right!
posted by jcreigh at 5:05 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


It exploits the gravitas of the entire World War II situation -- including American war bond drives, patriotism, the self-sacrificial attempt to save the world -- while substituting the real-world opposition, the Nazis, and the horrifying, ghastly, real-world things they did, with a thoroughly cartoonish red-faced, Asgardian-death-ray-shooting villain.
posted by lewedswiver at 5:07 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like this suggested alternate version:

"Rogers arrives in Italy in November 1943. This may or may not have been intentional on the part of the filmmakers, but either way, the choice of time and place give Rogers plenty of distance, both spatially and temporally, between the horrific scenes discovered by US troops as they liberated concentration camps in Germany in the spring of 1945.

But what if the timing were different? Putting the HYDRA threat aside for a moment, what if the U.S. government saved Rogers for the D-Day invasion and the final push into Germany? What if Rogers had come face to face with Nazi mass murder and all of its implications?"
posted by free hugs at 5:08 PM on August 7, 2011


Judging by their dress, I took Jim Morita's character to be from the 442 Infantry, which was just about the toughest army unit the Allies had in the western theater, and Gabe was from the 761st Tank Battalion, Patton's "go-to" unit for the toughest jobs at the very front of his offensives.

The 442 were all Japanese and Korean, an the 761st was almost entirely black. They were the best America had in the field, and proved it in combat against incredible odds.

I wish they spent more time fleshing out the personalities and characters of the Howling Commandoes - but they didn't even use the name "Howling Commandos," nevermind put any personality behind their members.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:11 PM on August 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


Captain America says "I'm big. It's the movies that got small"
posted by storybored at 5:13 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just to get it out of the way - Be warned that the article features a fairly major spoiler (a completely unnecessary one at that).

The writer answers his own question in the final segment, but the other point is that were the plot to address the Holocaust then it becomes a completely different type of film altogether.
posted by panboi at 5:42 PM on August 7, 2011


I wouldn't expect any of you to understand ... because you're all chorus girls.
posted by PapaLobo at 5:48 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm always a little uncomfortable with Nazis being placed in a comic book context. They weren't comic book, fantasy villains. They were very real, and having Captain America show up to punch Hitler in the nose would trivialize the very real horrors of WWII. I'm glad the movie found a way around that v
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:03 PM on August 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


We're talking about a movie in which the flight path from Switzerland to New York City 1) goes over the Arctic, and 2) takes about fifteen minutes.

I have flown from Switzerland to New York City. It takes about seven hours, and you don't necessarily go far enough north to see Iceland, let alone any kind of massive ice sheet.

If a movie can't get basic geography right, I'm not really expecting it to get history right either.
posted by valkyryn at 6:04 PM on August 7, 2011


If something has weight, it is then off-limits for light entertainment? Is that argument?
Who gets decide which moments in history have weight?

Russell Crowe's Gladiator exploits the gravitas off slavery, blood sports, and the general disregard for life in the Roman Empire.

Dirty Harry and Death Wish clear exploit the gravitas off the violent crime wave that plagued American cities in the late 70s and 80s.

Maybe the rule should be, there can be no light-hearted entertainment that is set in an actually historical period. That should get the politically correct police off our back.
posted by Flood at 6:05 PM on August 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'd like to see Captain America struggling to get his head around the Pentagon hiring former S.S. officers as Cold War spies. Directed by Louis Malle.
posted by jwhite1979 at 6:13 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe the rule should be, there can be no light-hearted entertainment that is set in an actually historical period. That should get the politically correct police off our back.

Flash Gordon trivializes the suffering of Arborians and Hawkmen under the iron rule of Ming the Merciless.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:14 PM on August 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


Story time. In fourth, maybe fifth grade, my school arranged for a woman who survived Auschwitz to come and speak to our class during our WW2 history unit. She spoke of the horrors she personally witnessed, of the hopelessness and impotence of everyday life, with only a miserable solidarity binding each of them to their fellow prisoners. It was incredibly powerful, and affected me more than I can put into words.

After she told her story, she invited a Q&A from the class. As usual, the outgoing and popular kids asked inane questions that they could have answered within twenty seconds if they'd just opened their textbooks. They seemed to think that she was some sort of professional WW2 historian, instead of a normal everyday human being happened to have personally witnessed mankind's darkest hour.

But I was different. I was profoundly touched by her story. I'd only had a superficial understanding of the Holocaust prior to that day, and her vignette was incredibly compelling. My worldview had undergone an abrupt tectonic shift thanks to this woman, and at that moment I had to know everything about the atrocities committed by the Third Reich.

So I took the opportunity to ask my question about what was (to me) the clear example of Pure Nazi Evil: their medical experimentation. She had mentioned it offhand during her story, and no one had even broached the topic during our studies. I raised my hand and asked her to describe, in detail, what types of medical experimentation had been performed by the Nazis.

A chilling silence fell over the room, pain came to this woman's face, and our teacher abruptly ended the session. Afterwards, no one ever said anything to me about it. No one teased me about it, which was shocking because I got teased about pretty much everything in those days.

That day is the single greatest regret of my childhood... and I was raised with more than my fair share of Catholic guilt complex so that is a pretty meaningful metric. As much as her story affected me that day, the pain in her eyes when I asked my question defined a part of me. That was the day that I realized that the cold academic superiority I'd been clinging to as a defense against bullies, was meaningless unless I considered its implications on the real world; on real people.

I'm telling this story here because in a way it's why I'm glad Captain America: The First Avenger didn't go into the racial politics of the time. Those struggles deserve better than to be the B story of a blockbuster superhero narrative. It would be an insult to the Tuskeegee Airmen, and to the 442nd Infantry Regiment, to be a feel-good sideplot to an explosion-addled allegory about the benefits of steroid use.

It's okay for people to want their myths, and as far as that goes you could do a lot worse than Captain America punching Hitler.

But if you're getting real with it, then you get real with it. People lived that history, and I know from experience that no matter how innocent and well-meaning your intentions, people can be harmed simply because you didn't give the discussion the gravity it deserves.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:19 PM on August 7, 2011 [35 favorites]


Recent superhero movies—the Green Lantern, Thor, even the reboot of Superman—are terrible. The solution? Hollywood should get back to the source material and make these heroes more Jewish.
posted by homunculus at 6:30 PM on August 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Those struggles deserve better than to be the B story of a blockbuster superhero narrative. It would be an insult to the Tuskeegee Airmen, and to the 442nd Infantry Regiment, to be a feel-good sideplot to an explosion-addled allegory about the benefits of steroid use.

I'm kind of getting that it's sacred ground, but does that mean there's certain things popular culture should never touch on? I tend to think that if it's done badly, then in the long run nobody will remember it. But sometimes, a good writer can add something of substance to a popular culture medium and it can act like a "gateway" to explore the more serious issue or historical importance behind it.
posted by FJT at 6:36 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dan Clowes already did a take take on a burnt-out Cap with the "Battlin' American" installments of Eightball.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:38 PM on August 7, 2011


I'd like to see Captain America struggling to get his head around the Pentagon hiring former S.S. officers as Cold War spies. Directed by Louis Malle.

Haven't heaps of writers done this sort of story? At one point Captain America fought Richard Nixon.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:41 PM on August 7, 2011


I enjoyed myself while watching Cap, even though I knew in my heart that the Captain America flick I truly wanted could never happen, the American movie market being what it is. (Basically, Saving Private Ryan plus Cap) - I found it very strange to be watching a World War II movie without any Nazis in it, especially considering that Cap socked Hitler in the jaw on the cover of his very first issue, months before the United States was in the war. The movie we got was an enjoyable romp, but just a touch too much GI Joe.

To the writer of this piece, though, there are so many Cap comics I wish he would have read before drafting this article. Truth: Red, White and Black, for instance, plunges dead ahead at the troubled racial history of the United States and how it relates to the kind of military medical experiments that made a super soldier of Steve Rogers. There's the first run of Cap comics published after 9/11 that deal with what it means to be the living symbol of a superpower that has not lived up to its professed ideals. There's the whole Nomad thing. His role as a superheroic prism through which to examine American history is one of the elements that make Cap one of my favorite characters of all time, but you wouldn't know this had ever been in play if the movie is all you're going by.
posted by EatTheWeak at 6:48 PM on August 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


@ Lovecraft in Brooklyn Haven't heaps of writers done this sort of story?

Have they? I'd love to see comic books deal with the complicity and occasional support of American industry during the rise of Fascism, and of Washington's use of former Nazis during the Cold War. I'm not much of a comic book guy, though. I liked Logicomix. And a couple dozen issues of Superman in the late 80s. Any suggestions?
posted by jwhite1979 at 6:56 PM on August 7, 2011


At one point Captain America fought Richard Nixon.

Holy crap do I want to read this.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:02 PM on August 7, 2011



I'd like to see Captain America struggling to get his head around the Pentagon hiring former S.S. officers as Cold War spies. Directed by Louis Malle.

Haven't heaps of writers done this sort of story? At one point Captain America fought Richard Nixon.


here's one summary

another one

Cap has renounced his identity before and become Nomad. I think that's a bit lazy. Captain America is everything that's BEST about America - our courage, our strength, and our love of freedom. He should be our conscious, a living example of the best we can be.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:05 PM on August 7, 2011


FJT, have you seen this?
posted by kimota at 7:28 PM on August 7, 2011


I don't want to sound cynical, but Nixon is kind of a lame target. There's not a whole lot of reflection necessary when he's the villain--kind of a no-brainer. It would be more evocative to have Captain America dealing with real, unequivocal crimes committed by our heroes, not just by our internal enemies.
posted by jwhite1979 at 7:28 PM on August 7, 2011


Did Captain America Really Sleep Through Vietnam?
posted by homunculus at 7:37 PM on August 7, 2011


Yes, why not replace the origin of the Avengers with Cap waking up 40 years before the modern day? How could that possibly impact the story they're telling?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:43 PM on August 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also,the status of the Vietnam and Watergate stories in modern Marvel continuity is all kinds of crazy. Canonically, the original Avengers found Cap when he was still frozen in the Arctic. And according to the latest retelling of his origin, Tony Stark became Iron Man after being injured in early-2000s Afghanistan. So how could Cap have been around in the 1970s to fight Richard Nixon?

We try not to think about it, that's how.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:49 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


At one point Captain America fought Richard Nixon

I have a video of that! But the last eighteen and half minutes are missing.
posted by storybored at 7:52 PM on August 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


The film reminded me why I enjoyed Pat Mills' Marshal Law.

Lovecraft In Brooklyn has it. Captain America doesn't need dissembling. That won't develop complexity, it's just a perversion of a simple, straightforward concept.

What needs to be examined is behind the film. The reaction to Cap as a Public Spirit type figure.
Not only the meta level and the hero worship and glorification going on there... but, it's a dead giveaway them trotting him out as a show pony when he genuinely wants to defend an ideal and serve with men who are actually fighting. You've got a defense contractor (Stark), the brass espousing the philosophy that got Dresden firebombed and some of the other realities of war...
They touched on some of those issues. They were there. There were some smart people involved in the film. But they went with the fish in a barrel popcorn summer flick.
Goofy syfy weapons and the Disneyfication of warfare aside, the clear tragedy is when you have the public (et.al) treating Cap as a war fetish (like Public Spirit in Marshal Law) when he's not a hollywood goon with feet of clay, but a decent, principled man struggling to find genuine ways to serve.

Of course, beefcake and 'splosions sell tickets as well as jingoism so maybe one dimensional is just one dimensional.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:02 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


None of these things are necessarily wrong. And I remind you of what I said at the beginning, that the movie “made the safe choice” to not include things like the Holocaust and racial prejudice in its story, and that at least partly because of that, the movie succeeds in providing solid entertainment.

It's a corporate summer blockbuster film. An action flick based on a comic book.

It's a business venture. It's an investment. It's expected to make money.

What kind of choices were you expecting them to make?


But let me close with this thought: were the signers of the Declaration of Independence (yes, those same slave-holding white guys) making the “safe choice” when they signed their names to a document that essentially marked them as traitors to the British crown? No. America was created by those who made the unsafe choices, those who took risks, those who challenged the status quo.


Do you really think that studio executives and the investors whose interests they represent are made of the same stuff as the Founding Fathers?

My God, how old is this guy?
posted by jason's_planet at 8:20 PM on August 7, 2011


Canonically, the original Avengers found Cap when he was still frozen in the Arctic....

Wasn't that Captain Highliner?
posted by storybored at 8:46 PM on August 7, 2011


Sorry for the threadjack, but Riki Tiki, I hope you're not still beating yourself up about that. Yes, you can now understand why the question was awkward. But I doubt many of us in grades 4 or 5 would have known better than to ask it.

On topic: I hope the blogger in question never finds out about Hogan's Heros.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:50 PM on August 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Cap has renounced his identity before and become Nomad. I think that's a bit lazy. Captain America is everything that's BEST about America - our courage, our strength, and our love of freedom. He should be our conscious, a living example of the best we can be.

He tends to disappear for a long time when Republicans take the White House, and show back up when the Democrats take it.

Interpret that how you like.
posted by kafziel at 9:30 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Canonically, the original Avengers found Cap when he was still frozen in the Arctic....

I'm rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender and it might be interesting to Overthink how it starts from the same premise as Captain America, though that might just be for convenience sake. It could die into the whole 'King Under the Mountain' myth.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:23 PM on August 7, 2011


Mark Lee strikes me as kind of dumb, although whether on purpose or not I don't know. The movie Captain America is the result of a several-decades-old comics legacy which has touched on a number of then-current tropes in popular culture; since his revival by Marvel in the sixties, Cap has dealt, directly or obliquely, with racism, anti-Semitism, and even homophobia. As far as the movie goes, the mere fact that one of the Howling Commandos was a Japanese-American--given that Marvel Comics was perfectly happy to trade in Yellow Peril stereotypes, even up to the late seventies (when the Yellow Claw appeared in the Nova, the Human Rocket book; he's appeared since, but in a much-revised presentation), is pretty significant, unless you're of the opinion that a big-budget summer movie should go out of its way to be didactic. Yeah, good luck with that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:45 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm always a little uncomfortable with Nazis being placed in a comic book context. They weren't comic book, fantasy villains.

Except of course, for all the times they HAVE been comic book villains, since even before W.W.II.
posted by happyroach at 10:52 PM on August 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


As far as the movie goes, the mere fact that one of the Howling Commandos was a Japanese-American

Jim Morita first appeared in 1967, just so you're aware, and he was a heroic fightin' soldier back then too.
posted by mightygodking at 11:12 PM on August 7, 2011


Proof that Cap's morals are... flexible.

Also, I hope the extra bits on the DVD have him threatening to slap someone to death.
posted by Zack_Replica at 12:21 AM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


The film reminded me why I enjoyed Pat Mills' Marshal Law.

Now, if was a rich man, that'd be a movie I'd pay to have made.
posted by rodgerd at 3:34 AM on August 8, 2011


It's a Fox movie rather than a Disney one, but a Marvel movie franchise has addressed the Holocaust. The opening scene of X-Men has a young Magneto at a work camp. Of course, that had two hours for Sir Ian McKellen to sell it retroactively, and sequel decay still meant that by the third film he was showing off his camp tattoo as a gotcha. I'm not sure it would be a good idea to ask Chris Evans to sell seeing a concentration camp for the first time in the middle of a summer blockbuster.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:42 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


(And there's X-Men: First Class, of course, but that's a whole different thing...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:00 AM on August 8, 2011


The thing I couldn't get past in this movie was that the arch-villain was seeking to become a global superpower through possession of an ultimate weapon with unprecedented destructive capability, aimed at all the major cities of the world. Or as they're more commonly known today, The United States of America.

In related news, Noam Chomsky was killed on Saturday when he entered the wrong multiplex auditorium and accidentally watched Captain America, causing his head to immediately explode.
posted by Pants McCracky at 8:25 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Holy shit.
So I can't get this article to load for some reason, but I'm reading the comment thread and it apparently does exactly what I expected from the title.

There's a small point that is only subtly made in the composition of the Howling Commandos: they weren't all originally from the same unit, at least not in the movie. The movie doesn't go out of its way to explain that, but it's clearly there in the subtext. Yes, there were African and Japanese Americans in Europe as has been stated already. Yes, many of them had EXEMPLARY service records.

Further: had they NOT included Gabe Jones in the Commandos, THAT would have been the real tragedy. Last I checked, Gabe Jones is the longest-running black character in comics today. When Marvel first created him in like '62 or '63, the printing company thought there must have been some mistake in the instructions from the artists and inked him as a white guy. Marvel had to fight over that.

Again -- Marvel had to fight with their own printing company over the fact that they wanted a black character in a supporting role in a comic. They actually went for that fight. Yes, it was a small step, but goddammit, they TOOK that step and we should laud that, not moan about the fact that they weren't fully-formed post-racial free-thinkers long before most of us were born.

I was really worried that Gabe wouldn't be there, because I hadn't seen him in the previews. I was happy to see him and I was thrilled that they gave the nod to Japanese American GIs that also occurred in the film. The fact that they didn't stop to acknowledge the depth of racism in the film is perhaps a touch unfortunate, but it would've been worse if they'd just simply cut the characters entirely.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:38 AM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


The film reminded me why I enjoyed Pat Mills' Marshal Law.

Now, if was a rich man, that'd be a movie I'd pay to have made.


This is a dream project of mine, and the superhero movie that needs to get made now.

but They'll probably reboot batman again.
posted by Miles Long at 2:04 PM on August 8, 2011


Man, nobody tell this guy about Dracula. "Hey, why doesn't this box of Count Chocula address the human rights abuses of Vlad III during his campaigns against the Ottomans Turks?"
posted by Amanojaku at 12:11 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's been done
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:21 AM on August 9, 2011


« Older Rob Walker...  |  "It was clear to me then that ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments