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!


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 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: 2012-06-14 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 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: 2012-06-16 06:42 pm (UTC)
pipisafoat: 7, 10, A, and 3 of hearts, arranged upside down & with the 1 of 10 hidden to spell LOVE (cards love)
From: [personal profile] pipisafoat
Reading list! *bookmarks* ooooh thank you thank you! This is one of my areas of interest, but I've learned an awful lot about a number of things reading this post and its comments. Thank you!
(and to think I only decided to read this post in an effort to have an intelligent conversation with my five-year-old nephew about who the best Avenger is. fandom, you do weird things to me.)

Date: 2012-06-16 10:26 pm (UTC)
pipisafoat: two hands holding a brightly glowing jar in darkness (glow jar)
From: [personal profile] pipisafoat
hahaha oh man, that would be pretty cool! You're never the wrong age to learn about diversity, right? :D

Date: 2012-06-17 02:00 am (UTC)
kate_nepveu: book with "LEX" inscribed on it, carved in bronze (law book)
From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu
The amicus brief you mention can be found here:

The other briefs in the case are listed here (scroll down), in case any of them are relevant to people's interests.

Date: 2012-06-17 02:07 am (UTC)
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu
I'd like to claim that it needed my super-professional lawyer skillz to find, but honestly, it was just Google. But I would have used them if I had to! =>

Date: 2012-06-18 02:05 am (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
Thank you so much for this! I'm sorry it took me so long to get back here, but it's a con weekend and been crazy, and this is a wonderful list to go with.

Also, do you mind if I link this (the reading list in particular) to [community profile] cap_chronism, the new comm devoted to Captain America history resources, (or very strongly encourage you to join there and do it yourself? :)

Date: 2012-06-18 06:19 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
Oh, a round-up post would be amazing, thank you! (Also I have acquired a copy of Gay New York now, *snuggles it*.)

And yeah, I watched this post get more and more links and comments while I was too busy to particpate, and went "oh crap, I have first comment over there, and I bet I said a bunch of stuff that was wrong, aaaugh". I can only imagine how it felt for you.

You are one of the people who deserves wider readership when you do come out of lurk, though, so yay. :P

Date: 2012-06-16 05:58 pm (UTC)
twistedchick: General Leia in The Force Awakens (Default)
From: [personal profile] twistedchick
Can't attest to the Army's use of stencils, but the Navy certainly used them to label undershirts and such that went into a common laundry and may well have done the same with other things -- I can only say that I saw stenciled labels on my father's US Navy uniform, fatigues and off-duty Navy wear for years.

Date: 2012-06-16 03:57 pm (UTC)
fairestcat: Dreadful the cat (Default)
From: [personal profile] fairestcat
I was just talking to someone at con.txt about the idea that "virgin" is not the same as "innocent". I fully believe that Steve was a virgin when he went into the ice, or at least a virgin with women, but that doesn't mean he was clueless about sex, or would be shocked by it.

Date: 2012-06-18 02:11 am (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I definitely agree with this. Although that doesn't necessarily mean he would be comfortable with it, but as I was saying to some people at con-txt, I have this vision of him sitting around with Tony and Thor and Clint as they tell their stories of wild sex and drunken mishap, and going "Haven't done that, but had to retrieve Bucky from the middle of it... haven't done that, but Bucky did it while I was pretending to be asleep in the same room... haven't done that, but had to post bail after Bucky did that... haven't done that, but your dad destroyed half his lab while doing it and I had to dig through the discarded underwear to find my repaired body armor the next morning," etc.

(and then he and Pepper have a bonding session, of course.)

Date: 2012-06-16 04:25 pm (UTC)
mecurtin: slash: since 1955 -- men of the 50s, ogling each other (slash history)
From: [personal profile] mecurtin
I gotta say I completely disagree about Steve's virginity. Yes, I'll buy he was a virgin (with women at least) before the serum, but then he spent some months *living with chorus girls*, and with no established relationship with Peggy. I think it *extremely* likely, to the point of near-certainty, that he had sex while he was on the tour.

Date: 2012-06-18 02:22 am (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I am all for Steve/Chorus Girls! I did mention in my original comment that I'd buy that in fic. PLEASE MORE FIC YES. But I do think that canon wants us to believe he was still saving himself - they carried through the "waiting for the right partner" coding all the way to the end of the movie.

And speaking as a virgin older than Steve who's had plenty of opportunity in a permissive environment, it isn't all *that* unlikely. Also chorus girls aren't necessarily sexually available just due to being chorus girls - from my reading about chorus girls in slightly earlier eras, anyway, even the more promiscuous of them likely had steady if short-term boyfriends who made substantial financial contributions to their welfare, and even if they were willing to cheat, Steve wouldn't've been.

Which isn't to say I find it entirely unlikely! But I do think the canon argument is at least as strong for virgin.

Have you read Practical Mathematics by [personal profile] grey_bard, wherein Steve and the chorus girls did pretty much everything *but* vanilla PIV, because they were being careful about pregnancy, and therefore he still considers himself an inexperienced virgin, much to Tony's despair? Can we meet in the middle and accept that fic as canon? :)


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