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Steve Rogers Isn’t Just Any Hero

But the real reason I had to chime in was that Steve Rogers is my favorite superhero. Why? Because unlike other patriotism-themed characters, Steve Rogers doesn’t represent a genericized America but rather a very specific time and place – 1930’s New York City. We know he was born July 4, 1920 (not kidding about the 4th of July) to a working-class family of Irish Catholic immigrants who lived in New York’s Lower East Side.[1] This biographical detail has political meaning: given the era he was born in and his class and religious/ethnic background, there is no way in hell Steve Rogers didn’t grow up as a Democrat, and a New Deal Democrat at that, complete with a picture of FDR on the wall.

Steve Rogers grew up poor in the Great Depression, the son of a single mother who insisted he stayed in school despite the trend of the time (his father died when he was a child; in some versions, his father is a brave WWI veteran, in others an alcoholic, either or both of which would be appropriate given what happened to WWI veterans in the Great Depression) and then orphaned in his late teens when his mother died of TB.[2] And he came of age in New York City at a time when the New Deal was in full swing, Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor, the American Labor Party was a major force in city politics, labor unions were on the move, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was organizing to fight fascism in Spain in the name of the Popular Front, and a militant anti-racist movement was growing that equated segregation at home with Nazism abroad that will eventually feed into the “Double V” campaign.

Then he became a fine arts student. To be an artist in New York City in the 1930s was to be surrounded by the “Cultural Front.” We’re talking the WPA Arts and Theater Projects, Diego Rivera painting socialist murals in Rockefeller Center, Orson Welles turning Julius Caesar into an anti-fascist play and running an all-black Macbeth and “The Cradle Will Rock,” Paul Robeson was a major star, and so on. You couldn’t really be an artist and have escaped left-wing politics. And if a poor kid like Steve Rogers was going to college as a fine arts student, odds are very good that he was going to the City College of New York at a time when an 80% Jewish student body is organizing student trade unions, anti-fascist rallies, and the “New York Intellectuals” were busily debating Trotskyism vs. Stalinism vs. Norman Thomas Socialism vs. the New Deal in the dining halls and study carrels.

And this Steve Rogers, who’s been exposed to all of what New York City has to offer, becomes an explicit anti-fascist. In the fall of 1940, over a year before Pearl Harbor, he first volunteers to join the army to fight the Nazis specifically. This isn’t an apolitical patriotism forged out of a sense that the U.S has been attacked; rather, Steve Rogers had come to believe that Nazism posed an existential threat to the America he believed in. New Deal America.

I was particularly struck by this quote:

However, even in these versions, some of the political edge of the character is left out. Joe Johnson’s Captain America spends a lot of time punching Hitlers for the USO, but not so much hunting down corporate tax evaders or the German-American Bund, because that might raise uncomfortable questions. Likewise, when it came time to bring Steve Rogers into the Avengers, Joss Whedon describes that “One of the best scenes that I wrote [for the Avengers] was the beautiful and poignant scene between Steve and Peggy [Carter] that takes place in the present,” in which Captain America “talks about the loss of the social safety net that existed in his time, including the need for affordable healthcare for everyone.”[11] It’s good to know that Joss Whedon was thinking about “a sense of loss about what’s happening in our culture, loss of the idea of community, loss of health care and welfare and all sorts of things,” but it really is a shame that the element of Steve Rogers that most challenges modern America with the question of whether we’ve lived up to the ideals of the “Greatest Generation” was left on the cutting room floor.

Every review of Black Widow in 'Captain America' is wrong

In the Independent, Black Widow is a “sultry femme fatale,” although the Telegraph gives her the inaccurate but far more positive rating of “the most (the first?) complex female role in the Avengers franchise to date.” Apparently he failed to notice Pepper Potts (40-year-old tech company CEO), the four central female characters of the Thor movies, Peggy Carter (World War II intelligence agent), Maria Hill (deputy director of an international spy agency), and half the main cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.


If you feel like playing film critic misogyny bingo when America’s first round of Winter Soldier reviews are published this week, I recommend looking out for the phrases “leather-clad” and “ass-kicker.” These are an easy way to weed out any reviewers who weren’t paying attention to the movie, because neither phrase describes Black Widow’s actual role.


There really needs to be some more commentary on the Falcon out there. I've watched several of Mackie's interviews where he is thoughtful and adorable (I could roll around in all the feels from that interview where he discomfits Bill O'Reilly just by BEING HIS UNAPOLOGETICALLY ADORABLE SELF) but there's no real analysis I've found yet on Falcon's role as the first African-American superhero, what it *means* when you have two heroes IN THE 70S AND ONWARDS having a regular book where they talk about progressive politics and idealism in America, just, gah, NEED ORE!


( 6 comments — Add your .02 )
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:14 pm (UTC)
That first article on Steve is awesome. It's the way I'm seeing most people write Steve in fanfic after the first Cap movie and I wondered how true to the original incarnation of him was. Now I know. :D

I read that article on Black Widow earlier and I couldn't agree more that she is severely under-rated by film critics. Male film critics. Talk about misogyny. I really want a Black Widow movie. Naow please.

I haven't been following tumblr for about a week because I didn't want to get spoiled for the movie (saw it Tuesday), so I haven't checked to see if there's any buzz about Falcon/Mackie. That's usually the place I find all the best links/gossip.
Apr. 13th, 2014 04:23 am (UTC)
There is glorious buzz about Falcon & Mr. Mackie. *rolls around in fandom*
Apr. 13th, 2014 04:15 pm (UTC)
Mackie/Sam is so freaking adorable in and out of character!!! Did you watch the video of the interview I put up here on lj? He's having the best time and realizes he's appalling Bill O'Reilly and makes Bill play along, it's *great*!!
Apr. 14th, 2014 06:53 am (UTC)
I've seen that piece of wonderment, but I need to look up ALL FO THEM.
Apr. 15th, 2014 03:18 pm (UTC)
Apr. 20th, 2014 08:25 pm (UTC)
*rolls around, squeeing*
( 6 comments — Add your .02 )

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