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#LeaveCapAlone

People are shipping Captain America and the Winter Soldier, and they should stop


May 31, 2016

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    After I got all fired up about Elsa from Frozen in my last column, I thought I'd successfully put to bed my frustrations with the Twitterverse demanding for characters to define/change their sexual orientation. 
    Nope. The other day, I actually started laughing incredulously at the latest hashtag campaign: Social media was, evidently, dying for Marvel to #givecaptainamericaaboyfriend. 
    My first line of defense for this argument was canon: Nowhere, in the 70+ years of Captain America comic book material, do we ever get the most fleeting impression that Steve Rogers is attracted to men. But then writer Nick Spencer and editor Tom Brevoort dropped the bombshell that Steve Rogers has been a HYDRA agent all along, so apparently canon doesn't matter and nothing makes sense. You know, whatever. But give him a boyfriend? Why, guys? Why?
    Okay — I do kind of know why. 
    Unlike Elsa, for whom Disney would have to invent a romantic interest if she were to have one, Steve Rogers comes pre-packaged with a possible same-sex romantic liaison: Bucky Barnes, Steve's war buddy and best friend since childhood. The two have had each other's backs in more life-or-death situations than we can count. They have grown up together. And the whole arc of the Captain America: Civil War movie is not actually about the "do superheroes need supervision" debate (unfortunately, because that's a pretty damn interesting concept to explore), but about how Steve Rogers will do literally anything to save his best friend's life and try to restore the mind and will that HYDRA stole from him. 
   Apparently, in this day and age, such devotion automatically equates with romantic passion. A quick trip to Tumblr will show you what I mean: Just search for "Steve + Bucky" and you will find fan art and fan fiction depicting these two characters entangled in amorous embraces, doing cutesy couple-y things in happy boyfriend bliss. These fans read romantic and sexual tension into any scene in which the two characters appear. A lot of people ship Stucky, and they ship it hard.
    Once again, I feel that I need to insert the caveat that I am not against same-sex couples in mainstream movies. When the football player came out in ParaNorman, I whooped in the middle of the theater. There's a rumor floating around that Finding Dory might have an openly lesbian couple in its many new characters, which I dearly hope is true so we can open the floodgates and make this less of an issue. But just as I thought Elsa didn't need a girlfriend, I think it may actually be more important for Steve and Bucky to be friends rather than lovers.
    Our culture actually has an incredibly unhealthy attitude toward intimacy. We tend to funnel all of our most intimate needs into one outlet: a steady romantic relationship, be it homo- or heterosexual. It is a foregone societal conclusion that in an ideal life, your closest relationship should be with your partner, so close platonic relationships necessitate a degree of holding back, both emotionally and physically. We operate by the When Harry Met Sally law, in which it is impossible for two sexually compatible people to have a friendship that involves neither romance nor sex. And for unattached people, that creates some weird pressure to push their closest platonic relationships into romantic territory.
    This used to not be an issue: Say what you will about how uptight and restrained Victorian or Regency-era people were, but their eloquent expressions of deep, passionate regard for their friends would be regarded as steamy, somewhat scandalous and definitely tending toward the homoerotic if uttered today. In a time when a life-or-death situation might arise if you pissed off the wrong person in a bar and got challenged to a duel, it wasn't uncommon for friends to vow they would lay down their lives for each other.
    And honestly, I think we should bring that kind of ardent affection back and spend some time — and media attention, through books and movies — depicting and exploring platonic friendships.
    Like Steve and Bucky (and John and Sherlock of BBC's Sherlock adaptation — it's the same kettle of fish, just with accents). Brainwashing and superhero ethics aside, their narrative is a relational one: Steve, loyal to a literal fault, will not abandon his friend, and Bucky, programmed to kick the ass of anything with an American flag on it, overcomes his directive because of the strength of his relationship with Steve. Love wins. It doesn't matter that the love is not at all romantic: It still wins, and it is still good. 
    As we move toward a society in which sexual pairing is no longer accepted strictly as a binary, we need representations of many different kinds of relationships, romantic and platonic, between people of every orientation. And we need representations of good, healthy platonic relationships, if only to stop our idiotic over-romanticization of romance. 
    We need it overt and in the open: There is nothing wrong with pursuing a heterosexual relationship. There is nothing wrong with pursuing a same-sex relationship. And there is nothing wrong, at all, with just staying friends with someone for whom you hold a deep, even passionate, regard. Intimacy does not equate to romance, or sex. And the love between friends, in all its ups and downs and weird nuances and slow developments over many years, is just as dynamic, just as interesting, just as intense and just as amazing as the love between partners. 
    So get off the Stucky ship and leave Cap alone. 

Brittani Howell is the editor of Connect Statesboro. If you'd like to reach out, shoot a message to editor@connectstatesboro.com.

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