Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Disruption and Disability Futures in Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2022), 16, (1), 41–57.

Abstract

Marvel superhero movies celebrate the transformation of disabled people into weapons. First Avenger (2011) depicts a disabled man rebuilt by military technology into a patriotic superhero. In Winter Soldier (2014), the Soviet cyborg’s brutal, non-consensual modification serves to emphasize Captain America’s wholesomely perfected body. At first glance, both films seem incapable of critiquing the historical ableism that made Captain America’s modification a desirable image of disability-free future in 1941—let alone its modern manifestations. However, rewatching First Avenger after Winter Soldier reveals a far less stable endorsement of eliminating disability: alerted to the precise anxieties about bodily autonomy in the series, one can perceive an undercurrent of disability critique running through First Avenger too—often literally in the background. The film exposes the historical ableism that shaped Steve’s consent to modification, and begins to establish his sidekick Bucky Barnes as a persistent critical voice capable of envisioning a different disability future. The article is therefore not only about ableism in a pair of superhero movies but also about how these ableist films contain seeds of an unexpected critique of their own disability representation.

Access Token
£25.00
READ THIS ARTICLE
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Works Cited

“16,000 US Citizens Sterilized as Not Fit for Parenthood.” Evening Star (Washington, DC). 23 Sept. 1934. Web. 21 Mar. 2021. Google Scholar

ADA. “Sec. 12102. Definition of Disability.” Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended 2008. Web. 21 Mar. 2021. Google Scholar

Arneil, Barbara. “Disability, Self Image, and Modern Political Theory.” Political Theory 37.2 (2009): 218-42. JSTOR. Web. 6 May 2018. Google Scholar

L’Atalante. Dir. Jean Vigo. Argui-Films, 1934. DVD. Google Scholar

Avengers: Infinity War. Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo. Marvel, 2018. DVD. Google Scholar

Barnes, Colin. “A Legacy of Oppression: A History of Disability in Western Culture.” Disability Studies: Past, Present and Future. Ed. Len Barton and Mike Oliver. Leeds: Disability Press, 1997. 3-24. Print. Google Scholar

Berer, Marge. “This is Female Genital Mutilation; It Should Be Stopped or Prosecuted.” British Medical Journal. 17 Jun. 2007. Web. 21 Mar. 2021. Google Scholar

Braun, Virginia. “The Women are Doing it for Themselves: The Rhetoric of Choice and Agency Around Female Genital ‘Cosmetic Surgery.’” Australian Feminist Studies 24.60 (2009): 233-49. SocINDEX. Web. 16 July 2018. Google Scholar

Brubaker, Ed. Captain America: Winter Soldier. No. 11. New York: Marvel, 2005. Print. Google Scholar

Burdett, Emmeline. “‘Beings in Another Galaxy’: Historians, the Nazi ‘Euthenasia’ Programme, and the Question of Opposition.” Changing Social Attitudes Toward Disability: Perspectives from Historical, Cultural, and Educational Studies. Ed. David Bolt. Abingdon: Routledge, 2014. 38-49. Print. Google Scholar

Captain America: Civil War. Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo. Marvel, 2016. DVD. Google Scholar

Captain America: The First Avenger. Dir. Joe Johnston. Marvel, 2011. DVD. Google Scholar

Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo. Marvel, 2014. DVD. Google Scholar

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Trailer 1. Marvel, 2014. YouTube. Web. 21 Mar. 2021. Google Scholar

Carpenter, Stanford W. “Truth Be Told: Authorship and the Creation of the Black Captain America.” Comics as Philosophy. Ed. Jeff McLaughlin. Jackson: U of Mississippi P, 2005. 46-62. Print. Google Scholar

Cheyne, Ria. “‘She was Born a Thing’: Disability, the Cyborg and the Posthuman in Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang.” Journal of Modern Literature 36.3 (2013): 138-56. Project Muse. Web. 21 Mar. 2021. Google Scholar

Claverie, Ezra. “Ambiguous Mr. Fox: Black Actors and Interest Convergence in the Superhero Film.” Journal of American Culture 40.2 (2017): 155-68. Wiley. Web. 15 April 2018. Google Scholar

Cordell, Christina. Eugenic Design: Streamlining America in the 1930s. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2004. Print. Google Scholar

Dauw, Esther de. Hot Pants and Spandex Suits: Gender Representation in American Superhero Comic Books. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2021. Ebook. Google Scholar

Derecho, Abigail. “Archontic Literature: A Definition, a History, and Several Theories of Fan Fiction.” Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. Ed. Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006. 61-78. Print. Google Scholar

Dormandy, Thomas, The White Death: A History of Tuberculosis. London: Hambledon, 1999. Print. Google Scholar

Edwards, Allen L. “The Signs of Incipient Fascism.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 39.3: (1944): 301-16. EBSCOhost. Web. 27 July 2018. Google Scholar

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Dir. Kari Skogland. Marvel/ Disney+, 2021. Web. 21 Mar. 2021. Google Scholar

Grue, Jan. “Ablenationalists Assemble: Disability in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 15.1 (2021): 1-17. Project Muse. Web. 18 Feb. 2021. Google Scholar

Hack, Brian E. “Weakness Is a Crime: Captain America and the Eugenic Ideal in Early Twentieth-Century America.” Captain America and the Struggle of the Superhero: Critical Essays. Ed. Robert G. Weiner. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. 79-89. Print. Google Scholar

Hansen, Randall and Desmond King. Sterilized by the State: Eugenics, Race, and the Population Scare in Twentieth-Century North America. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013. Print. Google Scholar

Hood, Cooper. “How Chris Evans Became Skinny Steve in Captain America: First Avenger.” ScreenRant. 26 Jun. 2020. Web. 18 Aug. 2021. Google Scholar

If You Are Fit to Marry. 1942, Library of Congress. Disability History Museum. Web. 21 Mar. 2021. Google Scholar

Jacobsen, Annie. Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014. Kindle. Google Scholar

Kant, Immanuel. The Moral Law: Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Trans. by H. J. Paton. Abingdon: Routledge, 1948. Print. Google Scholar

Klages, Mary. Woeful Afflictions: Disability and Sentimentality in Victorian America. Pennsylvania: U of Pennsylvania P, 1999. Print. Google Scholar

Kühl, Stefan. The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. Print. Google Scholar

Liao, Lih Mei and Sarah M. Creighton. “Requests for Cosmetic Genitoplasty: How Should Healthcare Providers Respond?” BMJ 334 (May 2007): 1090-92. Web. 15 July 2018. Google Scholar

Lippincott, H. Mather. Interview in H. Mather Lippincott Collection (AFC/2001/001/58371), Veterans History Project. American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Web. 2 Apr. 2018. Google Scholar

Longmore, Paul K. “Screening Stereotypes: Images of Disabled People in Television and Motion Pictures.” Images of the Disabled, Disabling Images. Ed. Alan Gartner and Tom Joe. New York: Praeger, 1987. 65-78. Print. Google Scholar

Longmore, Paul K. and David Goldberger. “The League of the Physically Handicapped and the Great Depression: A Case Study in the New Disability History.” Journal of American History 87.3 (2000): 888-922. JSTOR. Web. 21 Mar. 2021. Google Scholar

Marble, Sanders. “Introduction.” Scraping the Barrel: The Military Use of Substandard Manpower 1860-1960. New York: Fordham UP, 2012. 1-4. Print. Google Scholar

Masters, Cristina. “Bodies of Technology: Cyborg Soldiers and Militarized Masculinity.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 7.1 (2006): 112-32. Taylor and Francis. Web. 25 Dec. 2018. Google Scholar

McRuer, Robert. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: New York UP, 2006. Print. Google Scholar

Mitchell, David and Sharon Snyder. The Biopolitics of Disability: Neoliberalism, Ablenationalism, and Peripheral Embodiment. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2015. Print. Google Scholar

Mitchell, David and Sharon Snyder. “The Eugenic Atlantic: Race, Disability, and the Making of an International Eugenic Science, 1800-1945.” Disability and Society 18.7 (2003): 843-64. Taylor and Francis. Web. 1 Jan. 2019. Google Scholar

Mitchell, David and Sharon Snyder. “Representation and its Discontents: The Uneasy Home of Disability in Literature and Film.” Handbook of Disability Studies. Ed. Gary L. Albrecht, Katherine D. Seelman, and Michael Bury. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001. 195-218. Print. Google Scholar

Morales, Robert and Kyle Baker. The Math: vol. V of The Truth: Red, White, and Black. Marvel, 2018. Ebook. Google Scholar

Penketh, Claire L. “Independence as an Ableist Fiction in Art Education.” Journal of Social Theory in Art Education 37 (2017): 61-67. Scholars Compass. Web. 25 May 2017. Google Scholar

Pressman, Matthew. “Ambivalent Accomplices: How the Press Handled FDR’s Disability and How FDR Handled the Press.” Journal of the Historical Society 13.3 (2013): 325-59. Wiley. Web. 3 Sep. 2018. Google Scholar

Schalk, Sami. “Wounded Warriors of the Future: Disability Hierarchy in Avatar and Source Code.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 14.4 (2020): 403-19. Print. Google Scholar

Scott, Jeffery. The Posthuman Body in Superhero Comics: Human, Superhuman, Transhuman, Post/human. Houndsmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Ebook. Google Scholar

Simon, Joe (writer) and Jack Kirby (illustrator). Captain America, no. 1. Mar. 1941. Kindle. Google Scholar

Stein, Sally. “The President’s Two Bodies Stagings and Restagings of FDR and the New Deal Body Politic.” American Art 18.1 (2004): 32-57. JSTOR. Web. 21 Mar. 2021. Google Scholar

Vernon, Matthew. “Subversive Nostalgia, or Captain America at the Museum.” Journal of Popular Culture 49.1 (2016): 116-35. Wiley. Web. 21 Mar. 2021. Google Scholar

Wade, Lisa. “Defining Gendered Oppression in US Newspapers: The Strategic Value of ‘Female Genital Mutilation.’” Gender and Society 23.3 (2009): 293-314. SAGE Journals. Web. 15 July 2018. Google Scholar

Wanzo, Rebecca. “Wearing Hero-Face: Black Citizens and Melancholic Patriotism in Truth: Red, White, and Black.” Journal of Popular Culture 42.2 (2009): 339-62. Wiley. Web. 14 July 2018. Google Scholar

Weinstein, Simcha. Up, Up, and Oy Vey: How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero. Fort Lee, VA: Barricade, 2006. Print. Google Scholar

You Are Sharing a Load! A Hereditarily Ill Person Costs 50,000 Reichsmarks on Average Up to the Age of Sixty. Illustration in biology textbook by Jakob Graf. Shown in “Deadly Medicine” exhibition, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2021. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

Tankard, Alex