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Peter T Chattaway

Captain America: The First Avenger

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The problem of absorption of values from the dominant system is commonly cited by oppressed groups trying to free themselves of it. That's what "Black is beautiful" was all about. That's why feminist groups had consciousness raising sessions.

This is specifically addressed in the second of the links in the above post. It is a good read.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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The problem of absorption of values from the dominant system is commonly cited by oppressed groups trying to free themselves of it. That's what "Black is beautiful" was all about. That's why feminist groups had consciousness raising sessions.

This is specifically addressed in the second of the links in the above post. It is a good read.

I'm quite aware of the use of the "Jewish self-hatred" label with regard to Israeli policy and its Jewish critics. It is a non-sensical smear.

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Sometimes it can help to unwind a discussion a little, and that might be helpful here.

I think (and many others have thought likewise) that it is odd that Captain America, whose creators were Jewish and who was from the beginning conceived as an anti-Nazi character, is himself rather Aryan-looking. In suggesting that perhaps his creators had absorbed certain ideas from the dominant culture, I was thinking of only a few superficial aspects of his appearance. I had no thought that his creators were "self-hating" Jews who were themselves anti-Semites and would agree that such a theory is offensive in addition to being simply wrong.

Could I have been wrong, even within my limited intent? Absolutely.

What it comes down to is that I don't know why they did it. For all I know, they intended it ironically as Nezpop says he saw it. They could have done it because they were worried that Americans would not accept a less-Aryan figure as a symbol for their country. They could have done it for some reason I've never even considered. I don't know.

M. Leary has suggested that Brian Hack's essay, "Weakness is a Crime" offers a well-grounded interpretation for Captain America's origins. I have started reading it and will say what I think later.

Edited by bowen

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Well, this thread went to a weird place this morning.

I think that Simon and Kirby were first and foremost trying to create pulp fiction that flew off the magazine stands, and like most successful pulp creators, they knew their audience. Most of the early successful comic heroes were pretty WASPy, even when they were from another planet.

If you look at marketing decisions surrounding children's films in recent years, there's an emerging sense in Hollywood that, by and large, you can make a boy's movie and girls will watch it, but it's much harder to make a girl's movie and have boys watch it. That's not a good creative principle, but I begrudgingly admit it might reflect current cultural trends accurately enough to work as a marketing principle. I imagine a similar principle was in vogue with regards to minority/majority comics during Captain America's time.

Moreover, as a symbol of America sold to Americans, I don't think Captain America could be anything other than the "All-American" image of the time and have been successful. Is that reflective of some sort of racism in the population? Sure, and I don't want to minimize how troubling that is, but it is what it is and was what it was. Why blond in particular? I don't know, though I like Nezpop's summation of the irony of it.

What makes Captain America interesting these days to smart storytellers, and the reason I think he's not dismissed as an anachronism, is that he can play the role of a man out of time, a representative of ideals that are no longer– or at least not as much– valued. He was created to give his country something that they're no longer capable of receiving, and that's a melancholy place to be. Normally, that's played as a commentary on how cynical, divided or venial we are these days, but it can also be played as a commentary on the weaknesses of Captain America's era, as this thread is trending. I hope that Whedon, who loves this sort of dynamic, does something interesting with it in The Avengers.

Check out the essay "Weakness Is a Crime: Captain America and the Eugenic Ideal in Early Twentieth-Century America" in this volume. Eugenics is part of a Venn diagram. Racism has always been an overlapping circle, but racism doesn't overlap the entire diagram. War was actually conceived of by many as contrary to the basic principles of eugenics, as it requires sending your most able-bodied baby-makers to their deaths. But in the original Captain America myth, a little weakling dude who can't contribute much to the gene pool (he can't even qualify for active service) is enhanced in such a way that he can cushion this genetic blow. In fact, the essay argues pretty convincingly that subsequent rewritings of the Captain America myth have successively erased the original eugenics connections.

This film may fit neatly in that historical arc.

To clarify, are you saying that Steve Rogers fits into the eugenic moment because he, a weak link in the genetic pool, can go fight the war while the good genetic material stays home and has kids? I suppose a eugenicist could take comfort in that, but it's a pretty tertiary point. The essay would have to work overtime to convince me that's a more plausible explanation for Captain America's creation and success than "some skinny funny-book makers thought it would be awesome if they could get buff and punch Hitler in the face, and a bunch of kids and adolescents agreed." Captain America may be part of a mindset of "science will make mankind better!" which is troubling in its own ways, but it's hard for me to see him as having anything to do with genetics. I'll admit to never having read the original comics, though.


Nathaniel K. Carter

www.nkcarter.com

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books." - C.S. Lewis

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I suppose I'll just drop the note here that at the time Captain America was created, they were limited in ink options, and you pretty much had either yellow, black or red haired heroes (brown or darker shades were too expensive). There's black haired heroes (Superman, Batman) but generally the formula was yellow hair: Hero, Red hair: love interest, black hair: villain. whether that's racist or pragmatic color coding you can decide.

If you look here:

http://en.wikipedia....ainamerica1.jpg

You can see that Bucky had brown hair, and Hitler is wearing a brown uniform. I seriously doubt Captain America didn't have brown hair because of ink costs. In old comics, weren't they using CMYK anyway to make their colors? In the above illustration it certainly looks that way. I would be surprised if they ran a separate print pass for each color; that does get expensive. CMYK is much cheaper.

IIRC, while it's true that the traditional comic-book coloring process did use CMYK, color separations were done by hand -- so composite-colored areas had to be manually recolored for each plate. Thus, brown was more time-consuming and expensive (I think a nice brown requires three plates) -- which is why dark-haired heroes tended to get black hair with blue highlights.

I specifically seem to recall a flap over Reed Richards' eye color in Fantastic Four: His eyes were initially brown, but for awhile colorists just made them blue because it was easier. When they returned to brown, it was trumpeted as a minor triumph of quality over convenience.

FWIW.

P.S. I'm not sure whether Evan's analysis of the tendency to create blond heroes is accurate or not. (The need to distinguish characters from one another would seem to offer resistance to too rigorous a schema along those lines.) I do know that of the few Marvel/Timely characters to precede Captain America, the original Human Torch (a heroic android, FWIW) was blond, while Namor the Sub-Mariner -- an antihero, if not a villain -- sported the same black hair with blue highlights as the biggest heroes of the day, DC's Superman and Batman. I wouldn't be surprised if Marvel/Timely was inclined to create blond heroes just to distinguish them visually from Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Well, this thread went to a weird place this morning.

Yes, and I regret my own part in sending it there. (Of course, the parts I think of as weird and the parts you think of as weird may not be the same.)

I think that Simon and Kirby were first and foremost trying to create pulp fiction that flew off the magazine stands, and like most successful pulp creators, they knew their audience. Most of the early successful comic heroes were pretty WASPy, even when they were from another planet.

Yes, that they were responding to what they viewed as the prejudices of their audience is certainly a possible explanation.

To clarify, are you saying that Steve Rogers fits into the eugenic moment because he, a weak link in the genetic pool, can go fight the war while the good genetic material stays home and has kids? I suppose a eugenicist could take comfort in that, but it's a pretty tertiary point. The essay would have to work overtime to convince me that's a more plausible explanation for Captain America's creation and success than "some skinny funny-book makers thought it would be awesome if they could get buff and punch Hitler in the face, and a bunch of kids and adolescents agreed." Captain America may be part of a mindset of "science will make mankind better!" which is troubling in its own ways, but it's hard for me to see him as having anything to do with genetics. I'll admit to never having read the original comics, though.

I did read the essay and wasn't convinced by it. I don't think that the authors overstated the size or influence of the eugenics movement, but I didn't find the efforts to link it to Captain America's origin persuasive.

There are other essays in the same collection though. They make interesting reading to someone like me, who doesn't really know that much about how Captain America was originally portrayed. (Marvel's repeated re-writes of Captain America's past has a great deal to do with it; Captain America gets a new past every so often.)

IIRC, while it's true that the traditional comic-book coloring process did use CMYK, color separations were done by hand -- so composite-colored areas had to be manually recolored for each plate. Thus, brown was more difficult and time-consuming (I think a nice brown requires three plates) -- which is why dark-haired heroes tended to get black hair with blue highlights.

That still seems weak to me. While in costume, Captain America's blond hair is hidden and doesn't have to be colored at all, while Bucky's brown hair is ALWAYS visible, costumed or not.

Edited by bowen

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IIRC, while it's true that the traditional comic-book coloring process did use CMYK, color separations were done by hand -- so composite-colored areas had to be manually recolored for each plate. Thus, brown was more difficult and time-consuming (I think a nice brown requires three plates) -- which is why dark-haired heroes tended to get black hair with blue highlights.

That still seems weak to me. While in costume, Captain America's blond hair is hidden and doesn't have to be colored at all, while Bucky's brown hair is ALWAYS visible, costumed or not.

Well, "FWIW" means I'm just pointing out a fact -- all CMYK colors were not created equal; brown was a difficult color, and colorists were motivated to try to avoid it. I'm not laying any particular evidentiary store by that in analyzing Steve Rogers' hair color.

As for Bucky, not having read any of those early stories, I have no idea how heavily the narratives leaned on him or how important a character he was.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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IIRC, while it's true that the traditional comic-book coloring process did use CMYK, color separations were done by hand -- so composite-colored areas had to be manually recolored for each plate. Thus, brown was more difficult and time-consuming (I think a nice brown requires three plates) -- which is why dark-haired heroes tended to get black hair with blue highlights.

That still seems weak to me. While in costume, Captain America's blond hair is hidden and doesn't have to be colored at all, while Bucky's brown hair is ALWAYS visible, costumed or not.

Well, "FWIW" means I'm just pointing out a fact -- all CMYK colors were not created equal; brown was a difficult color, and colorists were motivated to try to avoid it. I'm not laying any particular evidentiary store by that in analyzing Steve Rogers' hair color.

As for Bucky, not having read any of those early stories, I have no idea how heavily the narratives leaned on him or how important a character he was.

I took a look at Timely/Marvel's heros from that period. Since they generally covered their hair with hooded masks, hair color isn't usually easy to identify and may also not be terribly important in terms of art effort for that reason. The Angel, their second-most popular character and whose hair was always exposed, had brown hair. It is of course possible that there is no logical reason to find: the creators just had a limited color palette and when they drew from the hair color choice hat (so to speak) Steve Roger's color came up blond.

Edited by bowen

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I did read the essay and wasn't persuaded by it. I don't think that the authors overstated the size or influence of the eugenics movement, but I didn't find the efforts to link it to Captain America's origin persuasive.

What parts do you find unconvincing? I found the detailed tracking of changes to the CA myth everytime it reappears to be pretty fascinating. It forces an interesting parallel discussion about how earlier marketing for this most recent film attempted to de-Americanize the whole affair. Which is surely hard to do.

To clarify, are you saying that Steve Rogers fits into the eugenic moment because he, a weak link in the genetic pool, can go fight the war while the good genetic material stays home and has kids... Captain America may be part of a mindset of "science will make mankind better!" which is troubling in its own ways, but it's hard for me to see him as having anything to do with genetics. I'll admit to never having read the original comics, though.

The essay I linked moves that direction, which isn't hard to do given the amount of discussion about that specific point from and about the time period in question. I prefer the more Kavalier and Clay-oriented rationale here, but find it hard not to think about CA in light of a dominant scientific trend of the era that was populist enough to generate actual legislation. The history of CA is certainly a provocative entry point into a discussion of that era. This is recapitulated in the difficulty he has fitting into a later era that has moved far past his original intention.

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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I did read the essay and wasn't persuaded by it. I don't think that the authors overstated the size or influence of the eugenics movement, but I didn't find the efforts to link it to Captain America's origin persuasive.

What parts do you find unconvincing? I found the detailed tracking of changes to the CA myth everytime it reappears to be pretty fascinating. It forces an interesting parallel discussion about how earlier marketing for this most recent film attempted to de-Americanize the whole affair. Which is surely hard to do.

That's a fair question. I didn't detail it largely because you and I are (as far as I know) the only ones here who've read it, which might make it a less than ideal subject for the forum in general. Still, I will try to do so in a way that keeps it of general interest.

Eugenics is first and foremost about multi-generational human breeding. As such, it had positive aspects (encouraging "the fit" to have more children) and negative (encouraging "the unfit" to have fewer). Of course "encouraging" the unfit could and did take extreme forms: by sterilizing and even murdering them. Now, there was a second phenomenon under way in America at more or less the same time: the "physical culture" movement, which held that people should strive to get and keep themselves into good physical condition. If one believed that acquired characteristics could be inherited, then these two were natural allies, but this idea was dying through the 1920's and 30's and was essentially dead by 1941; the "modern evolutionary synthesis" had triumphed. I don't think that the article recognizes this and mixes the two in a way that might heave been appropriate if Captain America appeared in the 1920's, but which is not given his origin in 1941.

A second problem is that the article doesn't differentiate strongly enough (for me) between the character's first origin story and re-writes from decades later. For example, a line from the character's father: "It isn't normal! He has no friends, no interest in girls or sports!" is quoted, but that was from a re-write of his origins in 1978. I need to be convinced that the article's use of these sorts of ret-conned origins details actually reflects the character's origins as first told in 1941, and I wasn't.

None of this means that the article and the others in the collection weren't interesting to me. Nor does it mean that the author's argument is false, only that I need more convincing than I got.

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I actually just walked through an exhibit on negative eugenics in Nazi practice. It was harrowing. But the exhibition is housed in one of the world's premiere genetic research facilities, at which the kind of science those guys could only dream about occurs on a daily basis. But the institution has done this intentionally, as it poses a continual question to the scientists walking past it every day: For good or for ill?

That's awesome.

Just for the record -- and I think I said this in this thread days, if not weeks, ago -- I'm not comfortable using the word "eugenics" in connection with this film, as race, genetics, breeding and all those other issues never come into play here. I like SDG's steroids analogy; and I also think this film does plug into the current "transhumanism" discussion, whether intentionally or not. But those are not the same thing as "eugenics".

Although, if Steve Rogers' cells now have the power to autoregenerate, then I suppose one can't help wondering if that would be passed on to his gametes, and thus (in a weaker form, perhaps) on to any offspring that are formed from those gametes. But anyhoo.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Just for the record -- and I think I said this in this thread days, if not weeks, ago -- I'm not comfortable using the word "eugenics" in connection with this film, as race, genetics, breeding and all those other issues never come into play here. I like SDG's steroids analogy; and I also think this film does plug into the current "transhumanism" discussion, whether intentionally or not. But those are not the same thing as "eugenics".

Yes, sorry I did not refer to your earlier posts. I am not sure we can make such a fine distinction, as this was still part of the cultural lexicon and contemporary transhumanism really is a more interdisciplinary form of the same desire to produce the best possible human. There is a distinct Geist to this ongoing effort to engineer ourselves, and the 1940s Captain America is great icon of that trajectory. ( And within the current geist, it is hard to swing a cat without hitting someone talking about The Bell Curve anyway.)

SDG's steroids analogy is all the more pressing, given the recent talk about "gene doping."

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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One possible point is how this will tie into the Avengers film. They've already established that the Hulk was an attempt to recreate Captain America in the film universe. One of the reoccurring themes in the comics tends to be: "Some idiot was trying to remake the super soldier serum and made a monster."

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The Hollywood Reporter notes that Captain America has actually made more money overseas than it has in North, um, America. It's still way behind Thor overseas, though. (Thor actually made more overseas than the original Iron Man did.)


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Saw it finally, as an in-flight movie.

Kept waiting for the part where it started charming quite a few of the critics I read. And waiting.

Hugo Weaving pumped just enough madness (was he deliberately impersonating Herzog at times?) into his fleeting scenes to remind me that I was watching a recent hit movie.

But my heart rate remained stable.

And during the last 20 minutes, I fell asleep.

Of the recent big screen action movies, I think I liked even Tron: Legacy better. At least that movie had a kind of compelling weirdness - or even a kind of compelling badness - not to mention a fun soundtrack. This movie felt as bland as its lead actor.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

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was he deliberately impersonating Herzog at times?

Weaving explicitly credits Herzog as his inspiration, yes.

Of the recent big screen action movies, I think I liked even Tron: Legacy better.

Holy smokes. I don't know how to even begin to engage this statement.

Maybe it isn't the kind of movie that works as an in-flight movie?


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Marvel has released a deleted scene from CAPTAIN AMERICA.

I'm not sure why they decided to cut this scene. It would have added a welcome touch of conventional WWII warfare to the finished film.

Not only that, but--coming right at the end of the "Star Spangled Man" piece--it would have gone a long way in underlining the contrast between the kind of stuff Cap is doing and actual combat--something that, iirc, gets underplayed in the finished product.

Edited by NBooth

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Second viewing of this was not good. I enjoyed the kinetic tempo of the second act the first time, but knowing the film just kind of peters out in the end kills it for me.

Though related to the debate in this thread as to what eugenics actually is and whether it applies to this film, there has been a spate of stuff in the journals on this very topic (much perhaps inspired by this finally becoming a matter of public discourse, though it is by no means "brand new information.") The Annals of Human Genetics recently had several eye-opening essays on the history and culture of eugenics in the US and elsewhere.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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