Nuanced Sides of Captain America: Civil War

Ever since I first heard about Captain America: Civil War, I’ve been solidly on Team Cap’s anti-registration side. For those who aren’t nerds, here’s the basic plot: after the events of previous movies where all these superpowered humans wreak havoc on the world, governments of the world (mostly the U.S.) want to register those with superpowers so they can provide some oversight to their activities. Iron Man is pro-registration, which makes sense given that the last Avengers movie villain was literally his creation and he feels guilty about it. Captain America leads the anti-registration side, which culminates the direction of his character throughout The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron but in this case will be sparked by defending his friend Bucky. The majority of the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (except Thor and Hulk who get a movie later) line up on one side or the other.

I had a lightbulb moment watching this video from The Mary Sue, though, that made it harder for me to think Cap is clearly in the right:

Even more accurately, one of the comments helped even more in giving perspective to Iron Man’s side (The Mary Sue is a rare site where I do recommend reading the comments):

The concept the Patriot Act and BLM [Black Lives Matter] are on the same side is interesting. Obviously, this isn’t true in the real world. BLM is about government power. The Patriot act is about ordinary citizens.

So the question is, who are the Avengers? Ordinary citizens or police? What if we expand to question to superpowers in general?

Captain America Civil War: Whose Side Are You On?

I had mostly been approaching this on Team Cap’s side and it’s probably fair to say it was because I was approaching it more in terms of citizens’ rights. That fits well with Cap. He did sign up for superpowers, but he’s always been presented as the everyday man fighting the bullies. Iron Man has always been more of a policeman, starting out as an arms dealer before he builds his suit, but for some reason I still never had the thought “somebody other than the Avengers needs to help regulate him from doing stupid stuff.”

Really, it seems accurate to say that people with superpowers are somewhere in between. Some choose to gain their powers. Others do not choose it, and with the rise of inhumans on the TV show Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. there are a lot more in this category. There’s a very good argument that if you choose your powers, you should be registered. It’s the same argument as gun control: you can’t just hand out the ability to end life in a second and just hope for the best. From that perspective, Iron Man is very sympathetic, like a police chief realizing too much abuse of power is happening in his department and he needs more help keeping himself and those like him in line. I would applaud that.

But then I go back to those who don’t choose their powers. The analogy for them isn’t police going vigilante. The analogy is more like a black person or a gay person or a Muslim or a Jew. We would be telling people they had to register and be monitored just because of something they were born with or otherwise was forced on them without any say of their own. If you think of these people, Iron Man is going into Hitler and Trump territory of bigotry, scapegoating, and fear-mongering.

There’s also the question of who gets to do the oversight. For me, that’s probably the tiebreaker. I don’t think I would trust the American military any more than I would trust Iron Man. They don’t have a stellar track record either. Maybe it was more of a non-profit citizens coalition I would be more sympathetic.

Another comment suggested a middle ground: if you want to use your powers in some kind of professional context (like the Avengers), then you need to register. If you want to keep your powers a secret and not use them, we’ll trust you. That seems like it helps differentiate those who have a closer analogy to police and those who have a closer analogy to oppressed racial minorities. Maybe something like that is the best path forward in this hypothetical scenario. But then it made me think it was basically a variant of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As long as you don’t show anything that demonstrates how you’re different, that’s fine. Just play by the rules and we’ll pretend you don’t exist. If you mess with the status quo by displaying your difference, though, then we need to make sure the government is ready to intervene with force if necessary.

So, yeah… suddenly this movie got way more nuanced and interesting to me.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.