Team Cap: A Realization

This is a sequel of sorts, to one of the earliest pieces I ever wrote on this site.  However, it isn’t a piece I was planning on writing now or, if I’m being honest, ever.  I wasn’t planning on writing tonight as I’m in D.C. for the PCA/ACA National Conference on Popular Culture.  My week’s focus is attending exciting panels and presenting my paper on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  So writing wasn’t on the agenda.  However I HAD to write because something’s been gnawing and I had to express it.  You see, last night my pre-Avengers: Endgame marathon came to Captain America: Civil War and, well, something struck me – something I never thought I’d see or say or believe.  But here we are.

Me 1

How awesome is this?  Really?  The girl who cuts my hair is a genius.  I was so proud of this.

I was steadfastly Team Iron Man since the first trailer dropped in November 2015 and, after seeing the film, I still resolutely sided with the Armored Avenger.  I even shaved Iron Man’s face on to the back of my head to display my Team Iron Man pride!  The third piece I ever wrote here, “Team Iron Man: A Treatise,” explained why.  In short, I said the idea of vigilantes running around, free to do whatever the deem acceptable with zero oversight, was problematic.  To help illustrate my point, I invoked the idea of Kant’s Categorical Imperative.  In Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant wrote we should, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”  This essentially means a law is just only if you’d want everyone to follow it in all circumstances.  Sure, Captain America is morally incorruptible.  But every superhero isn’t.  Cap doesn’t need oversight, but others do.  So the idea of letting Captain American operate without oversight is fine.  But the idea of letting all superbeings do so?  Nope, that didn’t sit well with me.  It seemed highly dangerous.  Tony Stark, for all his arrogance, understood this.  He understood he needed to be put in check; he needed to acknowledge that maybe someone knew better than he did.  I could will his position be a universal law far easier than I could Cap’s so I was proudly, certainly, and vocally Team Iron Man.  #TeamIronMan for life baby! 

Except……except, as I watched the film last night I realized, if I was to put myself inside the narrative itself, I’d probably end up siding with Captain America.  I, who had Iron Man on his head, may in fact be Team Cap.

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Can I?  Could I?  Is it possible I’m not really a Team Iron Man person?? / Photo Credit – Captain America: Civil War

What led me here was one scene, a scene I love, a scene I’ve quoted for years to say why I’m Team Iron Man.  But last night I saw it differently.  As I watched the Avengers debate the Sokovia Accords (the proposed legislation making a U.N. mandate necessary for the Avengers to go into action anywhere) I kept wondering what I would do in that situation…and I kept wondering if I’d ever be willing to give up my free will to an organization I couldn’t guarantee I’d always morally agree with.

Tony – “Who said we’re giving up?”

Steve – “We are if we’re not taking responsibility for our actions.  This document just shifts the blame.”

Rhodey – “Sorry Steve.  That…that is dangerously arrogant.  This is the United Nations we’re talking about.  It’s not the World Security Council.  It’s not S.H.I.E.L.D..  It’s not Hydra.

Steve – “No but it’s run by people with agendas.  And agendas change.”

Tony – “That’s good!  That’s why I’m here.  When I realized what my weapons were capable of in the wrong hands I shut it down.  Stopped manufacturing ‘em.

Steve – “Tony, you chose to do that.  If we sign these, we surrender our right to choose.  What if this panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go?  What if there’s somewhere we need to go and they don’t let us?  We may not be perfect but the safest hands are still our own.”

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The Avengers have a discussion together, that I’ve been having with myself in my head for twenty-four hours now. / Photo Credit – Captain America: Civil War

I’ve seen this movie dozens of times.  I’ve seen this scene dozens of times.  But last night?  Something changed.  As opposed to looking at the story in terms of a general societal allegory I saw it as an allegory of personal moral responsibility.  And I realized I don’t think I could sign the Sokovia Accords.  No matter how much I’ve championed Team Iron Man over the years, I don’t think I’d really end up siding with him.

I considered whether or not I’d be comfortable giving up my own free will and letting others decide my actions for me.  I think I can be stubborn sometimes (something I’ve always appreciated and connected with in Tony Stark’s character) and I think I really tend to dig my heels in when I think I’m right.  However, if I was to really consider the unthinkable reality that I may, in fact, actually agree with Cap I couldn’t make that move on my own hunch.  So I called, texted, and emailed the people I’m closest to, the ones who know me the best and whose opinions I trusted the most.  As some would certainly be swayed in their response if they knew it was a Team Iron Man/Team Cap thing (*cough* David and Sarah *cough*), I had to be vague in my question.  I said, “I’m working on a personality piece for the blog so I’m asking the people I’m closest to a question:  How stubborn would you say I am?  Or rather, how likely would I be to do something someone else told me to do, particularly if I didn’t agree with it/thought I was right over this other person?”  Some responded immediately, some asked for clarification on the issue in question.  For those people I added, “So let’s say I’m 100% sure I’m right…it’s about an issue with moral consequences or a moral issue in general.  How likely am I to do what I’m told if I disagree with something like that?”

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Who do I stand with?  Can I have been wrong for all these years? / Photo Credit – Captain America: Civil War

While my stubbornness was debated, everyone agreed that – in regard to moral issues – I can’t be led to stray from what I truly believe in my heart to be correct.  Those I asked said I was, “One of the most stubborn people I know!…But I think it is a good thing, you are very confident about what you believe to be true.  Though you would never do anything if it was morally incorrect.”  “In general, I would say you are stubbornly, and rightly, committed to everything you believe is right.  However, when something significant persuades you to change for the better you are always open to change.”  “Hmm I guess I would say you would do what you think is right, but not out of stubbornness, more out of just what you think is right.”  “I would say very stubborn in a good way.  You stuck to your beliefs.”  “I don’t feel you are a go along with the crowd person when you feel that it is a wrong decision.  You don’t have to be strongly persuaded when you are on the fence, but won’t be swayed when your moral compass is not in accordance.”  “Honestly, if you really think you’re right you’re SUPER stubborn.  Especially with ethics because you can usually find a piece of evidence from the Bible to back up your argument.  So the likelihood of you going back on that unless someone comes up with stronger evidence is slim to none.”  “The only way you’d go against what you think is right is because you wouldn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings but then you’d immediately feel bad about it.  And you would never do that with something big.  You’re positive in your beliefs.  That’s the way you’d go.  I don’t think ‘stubborn’ is the right word.  But you’d always do what you think is right.”

Kalie brought it home when she said it really isn’t an issue of stubbornness per se or even rebellion.  Rather, it’s an issue of whether or not I agree morally with what’s going on.  If I agreed with the Accords, I’d sign them.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t and nothing would sway me from that if that’s what my heart and my conscience told me was right.  So if I trust my friends and family, which I do, and if I believe they know me, which I do…then it looks like I would side with Captain America.  That’s what he does, right?  He refuses to compromise his moral compass.  He, as Sharon Carter says in the film, “Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right.  Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say ‘No, you move.’”

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Sharon helped Steve see the truth and, she’s given me a lot to think about now too, now that I’m willing to hear her. / Photo Credit – Captain America: Civil War

Even when I wrote “Team Iron Man: A Treatise” all those years ago, I think I knew this.  In fact, even though I didn’t realize this truth, I seemed to know I had to find a way around it all the same.  I wrote, “Yes, sadly in the real world the UN is a body that is often plagued by impotence and bureaucracy.  I love the idea of the UN but it isn’t structured in a way (nor will our world operate in a way) that allows it to be as effective as it could.  I grant that.  And making General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross the Secretary of State and the one to oversee the Accords is a problem too because he’s, well, a huge dick.  But that doesn’t mean the idea behind the Accords is wrong.”  But here’s the thing…I was wrong.  That’s exactly what makes the Accords wrong.  Because even if the idea is great, it still has to be carried out in this world.

Maybe it’s the difference of seeing the movie for the first time under the Obama Administration and watching it last night in a country where we’ve elected Donald Trump president.  I don’t know.  But governmental organizations are fallible and while I grant the necessity of the Social Contract (the idea that we give up certain rights to live in society), I’m not comfortable with giving up my right to act according to my conscience.  And that, at the end of the day, is what Captain America is doing.  He’s acting according to his conscience and fighting the be sure they can continue to act according to their conscience.  As Augustine said, “An unjust law is no law at all.”  Tony is concerned with the law.  Steve is concerned with justice.  Tony is siding with the Accords out of guilt and fear.  Steve is opposing them because he refuses to abdicate his moral decision making.  And I think Captain America is right.

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The face of the right side in Captain America: Civil War. / Photo Credit – Captain America: Civil War

Let me say this again – specifically for David, who’s been a Captain American fan our entire lives and who has debated this with me for years, ever since the first trailer dropped – I think Captain American is right.

The other side of this is the Bucky/Tony part.  The scene at the end of Captain America: Civil War, where Tony is fighting Cap and Bucky, always breaks my heart.  Whenever I’ve watched it before, I’ve put myself in Tony’s shoes.  When Cap looks at him and says, “I’m sorry Tony.  I wouldn’t do this if I had any other choice.  But he’s my friend” and Tony replies, “So was I” – GAH!  That breaks my heart.  And I feel for Tony, how abandoned he feels, how betrayed.  But looking at it from Cap’s point of view…if two of my closest friends – two people I love so much I see them as family – were at odds, I don’t think I could ever betray one for the other.  I mean, I’d never pound one friend so hard in the face with my shield that I literally shatter their helmet off their head.  That’s a little over the line.  But I can’t imagine the circumstances where I’d stand aside when, by my standing aside, they’d potentially find themselves in danger/trouble they didn’t deserve to be in.

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I get it, I do.  I can understand why Cap couldn’t not protect Bucky, no matter how close he was with Tony too. / Photo Credit – Captain America: Civil War

So whether we’re talking about the micro/personal level of protecting a friend who needs (and deserves) protection or the macro/institutional level of refusing to give up my ability to freely follow my conscience, I’ve come to realize Cap is right.  I began this piece wanting to say, “I still believe Iron Man is right but, if I was in that situation myself, I have to admit I’d end up siding with Cap.”  But that’s not true.  If my conscience tells me I’d side with Cap, then I have to say I believe Cap is right.

I’ve realized this film really isn’t a theoretical discussion about vigilantes after all.  It’s about whether or not we should follow our conscience and whether or not we should stay true to our conscience even when the law/government says otherwise.  The answer to that question has to be “yes.”  Otherwise we end up – to go to the most dangerous extreme – with people like Adolf Eichmann who justified his role in organizing all the transport of Jewish people to the death camps during the Holocaust by saying he felt it would be morally wrong to not do what his government told him to do because they are in charge.  And that’s wrong.  At the end of the day, our conscience, our morals, our integrity is all we have.  We can’t abdicate that, not for anything.  I’m not sure how I didn’t see this before.  But I see it now.

So, never let it be said I won’t admit when I’m wrong.  Because I was really wrong here.  David was right.  Captain America was right.  Allllllll those Team Cap people were right.  And that’s the side I should be on.  That’s the side I would be on.  That’s the side I see I’m on now.  It turns out I’m really #TeamCap after all.  Or, rather, maybe I’m really #TeamBlackWidow because, like Natasha, I stood with Tony all along…until I realized I was on the wrong side.  Then I did the right thing and stood with Captain America.  If, at the end of the day, Black Widow can admit her mistake and do the right thing, well then so can I.  Go Team Cap!

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Ultimately, you made the right call Nat.  And now, after all these years, I have too. / Photo Credit – Captain America: Civil War

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13 thoughts on “Team Cap: A Realization

  1. I had problems with Captain America: Civil War because I think it actually made it a little too easy to side with Cap (which I always have). The story makes it so clear that Cap has a moral compass he’s following while Tony is, as you say, acting out of fear to bow to an organization we know little about, but enough to know already that it’s full of corruptible people. Well, sure, I’d want to side with Cap over those other people, whose morality I can’t trust!

    I think it takes a real effort to look beyond the surface narrative to the real issues being discussed, because the move itself glosses over everything you articulate so beautifully here. The Accords aren’t the right decision because they are not, in fact, a guarantee of safety and moral oversight, just another layer in the decision making, a potential way to make people willing tools of official bodies. And maybe Cap should have said that and the movie wouldn’t have happened. XD Basically, Tony is feeling guilt for a decision he made, so he wants someone else to make the decisions. All Cap had to do was ask Tony if he’d really feel better if people were hurt because he acted under orders. Tony wouldn’t feel better–he just needed someone to help him see that. Not a full-scale battle.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you! The conference was sooooo much fun! Both Kalie and I delivered great papers (if I do say so myself 🙂 ) and I learned so much. I saw a lot of people present great papers and I came back with a lot to think about and some great ideas I want to try implementing in some of my classes too.

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    1. I wonder why they shied away from delving into these issues on a deeper level. Because I get the sense – at least in some point – that’s what it wanted to do. Maybe you’re right; it could’ve resulted in conversation instead of airport fisticuffs. Even as a kid I never understood why superheroes always fought first and then teamed up. I remember sitting on my bed reading and thinking, “Um, Spider-Man you and Daredevil both CLEARLY KNOW EACH OTHER and CLEARLY KNOW YOU’RE BOTH HEROES. Doesn’t it seem like talking before punching would resolve things quicker?” But maybe that’s just a part of the problem with the traditional comic book narrative.

      Maybe if Black Widow was allowed to have more of the spotlight, being the only character to switch sides, we’d’ve been able to see more of this nuance depicted in the film’s story.

      It’s funny you say the film makes it so easy to side with Cap (something A LOT of people have told me over the years) because, as this piece outlines, I’ve clearly just had that realization now XD. But, now that I’m here, I kind of get what you all are talking about. I still love my Iron Man though! Even if, you know, he was horribly wrong here :).

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      1. It would be funny if someone could address why superheroes always fight it out. Do superheroes just uniformly have poor communication skills? Should they start attending workshops on communication and mediation? It seems like there’s some room for some very pointed commentary here!

        Black Widow is really the MCU’s best character and one of the most overlooked–at least by the filmmakers. It seems like she’s very often at the heart of every film, making the difficult choices. Making the smart choices! But can she get her own movie? Apparently not.

        I remember vividly going to see the film with my friend who was adamantly Team Iron Man and I said, “It’s a Captain America film. You know that means Captain America must be right?” She was not amused, haha!

        But I do see the arguments for Team Iron Man. If we didn’t have Cap, moral heart of the MCU, advocating for no oversight, it would be harder to dismiss Tony’s side. Cap’s words also have weight because he saw WWII and has reason to be wary of lists of people who are “different.” Tony is more privileged and so he doesn’t have so many issues with authority, perhaps.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hmm, yes, I hadn’t really framed it that way before but you’re absolutely right. Tony coming from a place of privilege across the board (white, male, exceedingly wealthy, a genius) would absolutely see this issue differently than Cap, given his experiences in WWII. Now that you mention it, I’m blown away I never saw this before! This has to be a cornerstone of each of their moral/character development.

        And amen to Black Widow. The more I rewatch these films, the more I see how central she is. I’m hopeful they will officially release her movie announcement in the wake of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ when they start talking about these things openly again. People talk about Tony-Cap-Thor being the MCU’s trinity but it’s clearly Natasha-Cap-Tony. I think she’s more important to the Avengers’ overall progress than Tony too.

        As to the conflict, I have spent YEARS trying to figure it out. Like I said above, even as a kid, it made no sense to me. I bet the trope was born from nothing more than writers saying, “Hey…kids like both these characters. What if they, like, fight when they meet up? That gets us some action! And they can root for their favorite! And THEN they can team-up to fight the real villain!” Then they just go on and on and on with it forever. I would love to see stories that really address this! You’re right; it would open the door for some brilliant commentary for both our society as well as the genre itself.

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      3. I’m not sure I can fully take credit for that idea as it sounds a lot like something my friend would have seen on Tumblr and shared with me years ago. But it does seem like maybe Tumblr is/was (do people still use it??) a great source of film criticism sometimes!

        Ah! I would love for a Black Widow film to be announced! I guess they want to keep things quiet so you don’t know who lives and who dies? I am hoping to see Endgame soon, though, so soon I will know!

        Yeah, I am pretty sure that’s what happened. XD But it seems like you could do a critique. Like Watchmen, I think is really a commentary on superhero comics? It’s been awhile since I’ve read it. But I could see someone doing something like that to analyze all the civil war plotlines.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. To me the problem is that the Avengers are never truly made responsible for their decisions. I’m all for them doing what they believe to be right but then they should face the full consequences when they are wrong. Take Ultron, should Iron Man really be a free man after making that mistake?

    As long as they follow their own moral compass I believe they should face the full consequences of their actions, if they can’t do that they should work under someone who will make the decisions for them (and face the consequences if needed). I don’t really see why they all would have to decide the same thing here, those who doubt their own moral compass or want less responsibility could follow orders while the more stubborn ones could do it the hard way 😉

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    1. Back in the ’80s there was a comic book Marvel did (meant to be jokey/tongue-in-cheek humor) called ‘Damage Control’ and it was about the construction crews that had to clean-up after superhero fights. It highlighted exactly this, how there is NO responsibility for the destruction they cause. I would be interested in a story where they really follow through with this! As my brother often points out – look at New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. With that as our model, do we really think midtown in New York City would EVER be the same after the Chitauri invasion?

      I would totally be down for a movie, comic, TV series, or whatever that explores this. Maybe you should pitch the idea to Kevin Feige for the next generation of Marvel movies to come after ‘Avengers: Endgame’ :). Certainly the idea that “they follow their own moral compass [and] face the full consequences of their actions” makes for the type of powerful stories we all need to consider/we all can learn from.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That sounds like a fun comic! Though, to be fair to the superheroes they mostly do things like saving the world in which case adding some damage costs to the public expenses is not unreasonable. My problem is rather the situations when they do something unasked and it creates rather than avert a disaster (ex. Ultron). In those cases it can hardly be argued that the end justified the means and as they made the decision they should also take the blame. Given how much power they have someone needs to have the responsibility and if they don’t want it or can’t take it themselves they should work under someone who do.

        The way I would want it to work in a world with superheroes such as the Avengers, would be that the superheroes would act on their own, as that is how most of them seems to work best, but in instances when an individual superheroes action have proven harmful they should be restrained for the public good (just like anyone else who created a disaster would be). Either by going to superhero jail for the time anyone else would have gone to jail for accidentally creating a disaster, or by agreeing to work under proper oversight if the need for their abilities motivate such an offer and they are willing to take it.

        I also find it important to remember that signing such an agreement wouldn’t actually make them incapable of deciding that they have to do things their way (eg. if they find the UN infiltrated by Hydra). They just better be very right about it or they would, and should, end up in superhero jail as great power with no responsibility is directly dangerous to a society.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I would absolutely read this story! And, if executed correctly, it would have the potential to be as groundbreaking in-universe and as powerful in its allegorical commentary as Marvel’s original ‘Civil War’ comic. That had repercussions for years in the comics and, during the Bush Administration and the Patriot Act era, it really made readers think. They used imprisoning superheroes during that story as a way to discuss the Guantanamo Bay prison but I would love to see your version play out. I think this would be a powerful “event” story that could, depending on how it was executed, really change the way the genre works.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Michael,

    Yes, it’s good to look at the big picture. The character is the key to self-governance. That’s a place or Biblical right and wrong. What’s great about that it isn’t generated from wishy, washy wussy humans, but from God Himself.

    Thanks,

    Gary

    On Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 11:05 PM My Comic Relief wrote:

    > Michael J. Miller posted: “This is a sequel of sorts, to one of the > earliest pieces I ever wrote on this site. However, it isn’t a piece I was > planning on writing now or, if I’m being honest, ever. I wasn’t planning > on writing tonight as I’m in D.C. for the PCA/ACA National Confe” >

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  4. Hi Micheal,

    What do you think about doing a podcast about your paper on Squirrel Girl? We can look at her character and how her story effects others including us. Let me know when you have some time this summer. I think our next open recording date will be in June or July.

    Let us know,

    Gary, Rudy, John

    Like

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