lolaraincoat: Gorey drawing of character "Mr. Earbrass" (mr earbrass)
[personal profile] lolaraincoat
I've been reading a lot of Avengers fics - there's been a lot to read - and I've been liking many of these fics quite a lot. Except that there's this one thing that's driving me crazy, so crazy that I keep having to back-button out of perfectly good fics before Nick Fury and the Hulk can even begin to get their freak on, which is kind of tragic. So in case you were thinking of writing anything in the Marvel-verse ever, and you were hoping to avoid me making sad puppy-eyes face, please, please, please consider this question carefully:


What would surprise Captain America in 2012?

See, people keep writing (and reccing!) stories in which eternally-27-year-old Steve Rogers, who is thawed out in 2012 after having been frozen in Arctic ice since 1945, is shocked by this crazy modern world. It's kind of irresistible as a plot point, to be fair. I just wish people writing these fics did not show such a profound lack of imagination in picking which aspects of this crazy modern world would horrify him. So far what amazes and/or upsets Captain America in fics I've read has been:

* sexy dancing by scantily clad teenagers to unfamiliar loud music
* sex
* premarital sex
* homosexual sex
* marriage equality
* computers

Computers as consumer goods, I agree, are pretty new and different. But when thinking about what might shock Captain America, writers should remember that World War Two, like all the big wars since 1850 or so, gave a huge impetus to technology, and even an ordinary soldier would have seen rapid change in information technology over the course of the war. Presumably the guy who got shot up with the top-secret super-soldier serum would have been around a lot more rapid technological change: radar, early computing (Alan Turing, who invented the Turing test, spent World War Two pioneering decryption software, remember), the first glimmerings of television (though not broadcast), the first antibiotics ...

So it's not so much that computers would shock the defrosted Captain because of their newness, I think. They might shock him because they are the latest development of the flowering of consumer culture in the postwar decades. So I'm not sure they would shock him more than disposable plastic sporks or drive-through Starbucks. Bear in mind that he grew up in the Great Depression: throwing stuff out would be very hard for him; being surrounded by objects which were made in order to be thrown out might astonish him.

As to sex: every generation imagines that they invented it, and every generation is wrong. But if you're thinking of World War Two as part of the vast, undifferentiated Time Before Sex Was Invented, you are extra-wrong with wrong on top and a side order of really, really wrong.. World War Two was, besides everything else it was, an occasion for lots of young (mostly) healthy (mostly) people to get out into the world and meet a whole bunch of interesting strangers. They danced sexily to loud music (I know the Glenn Miller Orchestra doesn't sound that way to us, but imagine all those brass and wind and percussion instruments playing as loud as they could in a ballroom. It was loud.) So they danced in ways that revealed their underwear to the world, and then they had sex. That's why the military produced all those interesting vintage posters warning about the dangers of attractive spies and also VD. That's why the invention of penicillin mattered to the war effort. That's why the Baby Boom. During the war, Americans made funny movies about all the sex people were having - Miracle at Morgan's Creek for instance - and a decade later some of them told Alfred Kinsey all about it.

As Kinsey discovered, some of the sex people were having during the war was with people of the same sex. In fact, Alan Berube mades clear in Coming Out Under Fire that gay men and lesbians in the military faced very little official trouble until after the war was over - at which point they faced terrible discrimination indeed. But Captain America would have been under the ice by that point. The world he left was full of unmarried people having all kinds of sex with relatively few consequences except pregnancy (and yes, birth control existed before the Pill) and venereal disease. So to me, fics depicting Captain America as a prude or a homophobe need to explain how he came to be so out of step with his own time. Or writers who want a prudish Captain America could show him as having gone into the ice in the 1950s - a much more buttoned-down time.

Marriage equality is a new thing in the world, yes, but like all new things it has historical antecedents. Communities of men who prefer sex with other men can be found in the historical record pretty much in any city in the world across the past two centuries at least, and gay liberation was an idea if not a political movement as early as the 1880s in parts of Europe. For Steve Rogers' home town, Brooklyn, fic writers might want to consult George Chauncey's terrific book Gay New York, which includes a brief account of a marriage ceremony - not a legel one, to be sure - between two men in Brooklyn in the 1920s. So while Steve Rogers might find marriage equality surprising, I very much doubt it would be on the top of his list of astonishments.

So, not sex and not computers, then. What would surprise Captain America?

Nick Fury. Nick Fury as played by Samuel Jackson, anyway. Remember that the US military was racially segregated during World War Two (yes I know that Captain America supposedly fought in an integrated unit, but all that tells us is that the guys who wrote the script for that movie know just as much history as the average fangirl, or maybe a little less) and that the biggest argument for maintaining segregation was that white guys could not possibly be led into battle by non-white guys. So to wake up to find Nick Fury as his commanding officer - I'm not saying that Steve Rogers would be upset, necessarily, but he would be very, very surprised.

And, more broadly, racial integration generally would shock him. Steve Rogers did grow up in a place and time where marriage was very strictly regulated: marriage between people of two separate races was illegal almost everywhere in the United States until 1962. I don't know if he grew up with separate drinking fountains and segregated public transportation - but if I were writing fic about Captain America waking up in 2012, I would do some serious googling about segregation in New York City. Did he attend segregated schools? That seems likely.

Maria Hill would probably shock him, too. While women were part of the military during the Second World War, they served in separate, auxiliary branches - and similarly to the segregated units in which non-white Americans served, that was to prevent any woman ever from having military authority over any man. Again, thinking more generally, he would not be surprised at all to see women working, but to see women in professional positions would be something very new to him. Pepper Potts would make sense to him as a secretary, but not as a CEO. He would have seen lots of women nurses, but no women doctors. No women scientists, either, so he would be surprised to meet Jane Foster.

Two other big surprises:

Changes in social class in America. As I already said, the rise of the middle class and all the material cultural surrounding it - suburbs! dixie cups! - was pretty much a post-war phenomenon. So was the collapse of the labor movement. In the neighborhood where Steve Rogers grew up, nearly all employed adult men would have belonged to a union. He didn't have a union, because he was a soldier, but he will be surprised to find that most of the guys working on rebuilding New York after it got Loki'd are not union members. Oh, and before World War Two, very few Americans went to college - he'll be impressed to keep meeting all these educated people.

And finally, geopolitical change. Probably the biggest shock would be that Europe is now united (sort of) and that Germany and France are now closely allied. Slightly less shocking, because anyone who was paying attention could see this looming over the horizon throughout the war, would be the bitter division between the US and Russia (though he might need the whole Cold War explained to him, several times, with emphasis on the bomb. Or should I say, The Bomb.) But also he would be amazed by the end of British imperialism. And the Chinese Revolution! The Iranian revolution! African decolonization and the end of apartheid! The Cuban Revolution! India and Pakistan and

... yeah, anyway, there's a lot for him to catch up on.

But not sex. Really there's not too much new there at all.



ETA: Wow, that's ... a lot ... of comments. I'm glad you're here and will try to respond eventually, but no promises. In the meantime, if you are thinking about commenting here, please read this first. Thank you!




*****
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Date: 2012-06-13 06:01 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I agree with about 90% of this, but I ought to point out that according to the movie, it's pretty damn likely that Steve was a virgin when he went into the ice (...or, at least a virgin with girls.) He outright tells Peggy he was never with a woman before the serum, and most of the rest of their courtship is about waiting for each other (although there's a fair amount of evidence that Peggy was more experienced...)

So while I will totally buy fics where he is making time with all the showgirls or Bucky takes him to his favorite brothels or whatever, the 'virgin!Steve uncomfortable around sex' fanon isn't because he's from the 1940s, it's because he's Steve. (The homophobe stuff is a little harder for me to buy, considering there's a scene where he thought Howard was propositioning him and all he did was act embarrassed and keep treating Howard exactly the same... although he would have very different conceptions of all the cultural things around what homosexuality means.)

Date: 2012-06-13 06:47 pm (UTC)
venivincere: (Default)
From: [personal profile] venivincere
Soooooo glad I didn't miss this. I haven't read many Avengers fic yet, but I have to say for the ones I've read, not one has had him anywhere near as appalled at the rampant waste and the notions of disposability that pervade our society today. Paper towels? Out of all the Avengers, I think that he learned way before he became a capsicle to be adaptable to an extremely personal level of change, not only because of the experience of war but because of the physical changes to himself and the psychological stress of adapting to both. But the idea of disposable anything and the extremely cavalier attitude toward waste in our society I can't help but think would be extremely antithetical to his values. My mom's in her late 70s now, and was a young kid in the Great Depression, and to this day still repurposes as much as she can, and taught us all to do that. From experience, I can say that that kind of thrift, once it gets under your skin, is deeply pervasive. I think this is something that would disturb him and continue to disturb him, to the point of drying his hands on his trousers if the only other option were paper towels, or washing and saving the plastic cups and cutlery for future use (with Tony teasing him mercilessly for it until Cap popped him one upside the head).

Question: Wasn't broadcast television around in New York as early as 1928?

Date: 2012-06-13 08:26 pm (UTC)
venivincere: (Default)
From: [personal profile] venivincere
Ah. Probably not anything he'd come in contact with much, then, if at all. But he will have been to see films, so TV probably would be just another, "Oh, wow" and not something to back away from in awe.

Date: 2012-06-13 08:33 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
Heh, yeah, I'm currently in the throes of attempting to write a fic about Steve's feelings on the modern concept of "coming out", so I re-watched recently paying special attention to Steve+Sex, and there's more canon than I'd remembered. Even in the 40s parts of the movies, though, Steve wanting to wait is considered odd and the implication is that everybody else is hooking up left and right, so I dunno where the fanon that Steve has never heard of sex before is coming from (except possibly people who haven't seen his movie...) I would totally buy Tony et. al. wrongly thinking that Steve's the way he is because he grew up before sex was invented, though.

On the other hand he wears a screen-printed T-shirt in the movie, so it's not like it was scrupulous about anachronism either.

Date: 2012-06-13 09:45 pm (UTC)
idlerat: A black and white hooded rat, head and front paws, black background, as if looking out window. Says "idler@." (Default)
From: [personal profile] idlerat
I agree with Melannen that it's important to differentiate between "someone from the 40s" and this particular character, whom I know almost nothing about so I'll leave it at that. Also, I'm sure you don't mean to suggest that attitudes about homosexuality haven't changed, because that's just ...: you can sit in your living room, on the couch, and *watch them changing* - sorry, "evolving." But I know that's not what you mean. I mean, attitudes about homosexuality, expectations, prejudices and knowledge, vary so much *now*, between individuals, groups, geographical areas, religions, ethnicities, classes... But anyway, I take all that as understood.

On a more personal note, I often wonder about gay men and lesbians in my mother's generation and in her circle, and I wish she was still around and not in a shirty mood so I could grill her about it more. For example, her best friend growing up, who went both to high school and college with her, was a man who I suspected more and more as I got older was gay. He was married, with 3 kids, never stopped being married, was an English professor at a university in Indiana. He was an exaggerated stereotype - extremely effeminate manners, collected antiques, served in the Navy, opera, martinis, Melville scholar (Moby Dick! Very gay book!) It also seemed like there was something chronically wrong in the family. His wife drank very heavily and always seemed to be on tranqs. His older son and daughter had all kinds of terrible problems, and his son broke with the family completely under circumstances I never understood. What was going on there? How should I know? I have no idea. I actually think I did ask mom once, long ago, if AH was gay, and she said no - but... And it's not like she (and she was *exactly* that generation, b 1925) didn't recognize any of her friends as gay. She had at least male one friend who was living the lifestyle at least in the 50s, if not the 40s. He was in advertising and lived in one of the big coastal cities. Not sure "out" is the word, but out to himself and, in some kind of implicit way, to her, and his friends - not Sal Romano, in other words. So it was visible to him and visible to mom. But were there relationships and situations in which it was not visible to her?

Excuse the very free associations. I have not been reading any Avengers fic. I don't want anything to do with Capt America, and I was weirdly unmoved by Sam Jackson/Nick Fury, but I suppose I could nibble on some - is Banner the Hulk? I liked him. Though I get the complaint on racial grounds.

Date: 2012-06-13 11:04 pm (UTC)
neotoma: Neotoma albigula, the white-throated woodrat! [default icon] (neotoma)
From: [personal profile] neotoma
The quality of clothes for sale to the general public -- people have so many more items of clothes today, but the quality is atrocious compared to what Steve would have experienced.

Food and drug labeling and safety -- when he went into the ice, canned goods were still something you examined closely for signs of botulinim contamination (seriously, there are jokes about canned beans in period Bugs Bunny cartoons). Nowadays, people are completely confidant that the food they buy at the grocery won't kill them, even if it is canned beans. Drug safety too -- Steve's about 5 years after the Elixir Sulfanilamide disaster.

ETA: The race relations changes will also be surprising -- and the redefinition of who is 'white' and who isn't will take him a while to catch up, and I think he also might be thrown by the stereotypes of who is assumed to be a 'habitual criminal' and who isn't. He grew up when the Italian Mafia was big, but also when Murder Inc. was running.
Edited Date: 2012-06-13 11:09 pm (UTC)

Date: 2012-06-13 11:53 pm (UTC)
isis: Isis statue (statue)
From: [personal profile] isis
On a more personal note, I often wonder about gay men and lesbians in my mother's generation

This is relevant to my interests! My mother-in-law's sister was gay; her partner had been married and divorced, and they got together in the early-mid 50s at a dude ranch in Colorado and subsequently bought a house together in Tucson in the late 50s. There was an active gay and artsy community there, and they were a big part of it. My MIL's sister died of breast cancer before I ever married B, but I did meet her partner (who was accepted as 'aunt' in the family) who still lived in their Tucson house.

B lived with them for a year while he went to community college, before he transferred to the state University, and he remembers it as just being, oh, they were Aunt June and Aunt Libby, no big deal. Yet within the family there is still a lot of homophobia (e.g. his redneck brother, sigh), and I think there are (were) a few of them who firmly believe(d) they were just 'very good friends', because - it wasn't something people TALKED about, and I think maybe it wasn't something that was even acknowledged to themselves.

Date: 2012-06-14 02:21 am (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
...it may have been stencilled, come to think of it. Did the US Army issue undershirts with stencilled logos right across the chest during WWII? I admit I'm not an expert on uniforms of the era, but it struck me as odd, since everything I've seen implies that decorated t-shirts didn't really happen until after the war.

I have read as much of Gay New York as I can while broke and without access to a library copy (which is not as much as I'd like, alas, and part of the reason the story's going slow) and a lot of online stuff that cites it heavily, and there is totally going to be discussion of Steve and drag balls, and Steve having a lot of trouble with exactly what is involved in the modern idea of being "out" as opposed to what he knew it as.

I have noticed, though, that pretty much *everything* I've seen about homosexuality in that period cites basically just that book, and Coming Out Under Fire - the one about gays in the military in WWII - and while I'm quite sure they're both great books, I've spent long enough involved in forteana that I get kind of squiffy about any topic where only one source, and a secondary one at that, ever gets cited or recommended. Is there any *other* source you know of that's reasonably accessible and covers homosexuality in the period that doesn't trace back to that book? Because I'd really like to be able to cross-correlate...

Date: 2012-06-14 02:30 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] amaliedageek
The guys who wrote the script were working from the comic: the Howling Commandos were a racially and ethnically integrated unit from the first issue in May of 1963. (Stan Lee had to send a memo to the color separator at the printing press to confirm that Gabe Jones wasn't white.) So, yes, it's not consistent with RL military practice, but it's canon in the Marvel Universe.

Date: 2012-06-14 03:57 am (UTC)
idlerat: A black and white hooded rat, head and front paws, black background, as if looking out window. Says "idler@." (Default)
From: [personal profile] idlerat
Yes, well, I knew you didn't mean that, and knew all that, but it is a little what it sounded like - like, he couldn't be surprised by contemporary attitudes about sexuality.

I know Sal Romano isn't a "real person," but he's real to me - just per "the closet" - isn't that also a real thing that exists and existed, people not actually having sex with anyone, and not out to those closest to him - his wife and childhood friend, or his mother? And when I remember AH, whom I always just loved, and so did mom, I just hope his life wasn't like that.

Date: 2012-06-14 03:59 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] amaliedageek
I'm a little perplexed by your reply: am I right in thinking that your feelings about the Howling Commandos are coming out of the writers' lack of awareness about RL history, and that you're basing your response on the movie and the fanfic rather than the comic?

The original comic about the Commandos was set during the Second World War: Lee and Kirby were both veterans of that war and familiar with segregated units, and they decided that since they were making up a universe, those weren't going to exist. The screenwriters were following 48 years of Marvel canon, and as Lee was a producer on the film his response to "history didn't work like that" might well have been "Nope, and that was wrong, and the one we created did. Have you got the new pages done yet?"

Date: 2012-06-14 05:20 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] amaliedageek
It is, and thank you for it.

Date: 2012-06-14 03:58 pm (UTC)
idlerat: A black and white hooded rat, head and front paws, black background, as if looking out window. Says "idler@." (Default)
From: [personal profile] idlerat
Yes, they understood him to be gay - but he wasn't "out" to them. Point taken, though. I was interpreting this line: "Men who had sex with men, and women who had sex with women would always have had some people in their lives who knew perfectly well who they had sex with, and others who understood implicitly, and others who could have understood if they wanted to, and others from whom this knowledge was deliberately hidden. " - partly in that, at least up until he was, what, 35 or more, Sal wasn't having sex with men, and in your description, quoted above, the "knowledge" seems more benign than it is in Sal's story.

I haven't read any of the books on your list, only Epistemology of the Closet, and not all of that, so I should probably know better than to talk the way I'm talking - but it's more about keeping the awareness of pervasive terror alive.

One other thing I wanted to mention, and again I read some Marvel comics growing up, but don't really remember them - didn't really like them, but my brother had stacks and I would go on binges. And what's really critical, I haven't read any of the slash, so I'm not sure exactly what you're responding to. But that said, Captain America doesn't seem to me to be representing the 40s or WWII *in general* (as in, "he's from the 40s, therefore he would have...") but rather seems like a kind of back-formation, a later image formed out of a cultural ideal that became more dominant in the 50s, though I think it was an element earlier - Bing Crosby's America - shudder. In fact, maybe partly a sentimental ideal related to the extreme loss and displacement, the death on a massive scale - all the old "familiar" places - in the war. I think part of that is, as you say, like the unspoiled countryside in Raymond Williams - that purity that is always only just recently destroyed, and then becomes ossified and inaccessible. There's a thing in TJ Clark about this, how WWI is further away than the Renaissance (not that I actually believe this, and I think you're arguing against it and that's good). But I do think that's part of how the "magic" works in the case of Capt America, which is just reinforced but not invented by thawing him out in the 21st century. He always already belongs to an inaccessible, sentimentalized past. If that makes sense - an ill-informed impression.
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