Team Captain America, Team Iron Man, or Independent

So, are you Team Cap or Team Iron Man? You need to pick a side! Or do you?

In Captain America: Civil War, the heroes must answer a political question: “Should the UN have oversight of the Avengers?” (Spoilers follow.) It would seem that they are forced to pick sides, which quickly leads to violence. Then, the internet lit up with fans deciding if they are on Team Captain America or Team Iron Man. Must we so quickly define allegiances, or could this tendency be a fundamental problem in American politics today?

Simple Questions lead to Simple Answers

A grieving mother confronts Tony Stark, showing him a picture of her son, who died as an innocent bystander during the Avenger’s fight with Ultron. He is only one of many. After many battles in populated regions costing thousands of lives, people around the world have begun demanding accountability for the Avengers, and the UN proposes to take oversight of the team. But, will the heroes submit?

Stricken with guilt over the boy, Iron Man says, “Yes.” But outside of his personal reasons, it just makes sense. Why should a group of (mostly) Americans be able to go into any country and wage war without any accountability? As Ezra Klein points out on Vox, there is wisdom in limiting power through a process that spreads authority in a system of checks and balances.

The Avengers do leave quite a bit of damage.
The Avengers can leave quite a bit of damage.  All photos © Marvel.

Meanwhile, Captain America says, “No”. He cannot submit to another bureaucracy, having seen how malicious men can take over a well-meaning government institution. Let’s remember that in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he worked faithfully for S.H.E.I.L.D, only to learn it was controlled by Hydra, who planned to assassinate anyone they felt could undermine their dominance using helicarriers that make American drones seem like child’s play. As also noted on Vox, Captain American has a healthy fear of government, which can be substantiated by both fictitious and real history.

So, should the Avengers sign the agreement put forth by the UN and submit themselves to their oversight? If our only answers are “Yes” and “No”, then we’re certainly on our way to civil war. Perhaps a better response asks, “What do you mean by oversight?” Even if the initial response disappoints, a compromise might still be possible.

The Need for Compromise

I’ll be honest, I definitely believe the Avengers need some form of oversight for the reasons given above, but I would also argue for some autonomy. In other words, oversight, but not control. I don’t know if they would reach a compromise on what this might look like, but they didn’t even try. They only argued their points, believing the opponent would have to change their views or be defeated.

In one scene, as Captain America attends a funeral of a respected friend and love interest, the eulogy encourages him not to compromise on principles. While I agree with this, he needed to work toward terms that would not compromise anyone’s principles. Win-win situations do exist.

The question in Captain America: Civil War is a question of regulation, and the lack of meaningful discussion mirrors American politics rather well. When was the last time you saw a fruitful discussion on Facebook regarding compromise on regulation? Chances are that (depending on the issue), the liberal yells for more regulation and the conservative cries out for less. Where is the discussion of how to determine the appropriate amount, acknowledging that no one wants anarchy or totalitarianism? Perhaps constructive conversation could lead to a creative solution.

Super heroes also have meetings.
Superheroes must also discuss politics.

One aspect of oversight in American politics is that non-profit organizations must follow certain laws as it relates to self-government. This could have been a component of the UN’s oversight of the Avengers. The largest mistake made by the Avengers to date occurred when Tony Stark created Ultron, hoping to make a super weapon and artificial intelligence to protect Earth. Instead, it became hell-bent on the destruction of the human race.

Stark did this, hiding his attempts from the remainder of the group save Bruce Banner. Ironically, Stark is the same Iron Man who now seeks outward oversight, while completely unable to submit to others in the group. I’m not saying that governmental oversight should stop here, but a good start would be to say that the Avengers must act in agreement for their actions to be protected under law.

Choosing Sides and Choosing Friends

Not only are the Avengers unable to seek compromise, they quickly choose sides, and sides soon lead to civil war. It is possible to make a stand on an issue and not view those who oppose you as an enemy, as evidenced best by Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. In the middle of the fight:

Black Widow: “Are we still friends?”

Hawkeye: “That depends how hard you hit?”

While many choose sides out of ideological reasons, it amazes me how many do so out of friendship and admiration. Spiderman and Antman seem completely motivated by their respect for those who recruited them. Although War Machine would have supported his close friend out of political beliefs alone, I’d argue that the Falcon and Agent 13 choose sides due to friendship.

Once sides are picked, aggression soon follows.
Once sides are picked, aggression soon follows.

At first, this might seem disconcerting. While we want to believe that reason leads us to our political stances, it might be that our group loyalties and friendships play a larger role. But this allegiance to friends has positive effects as well, as we saw for the Black Widow. If we seek to know and actually become friends with those who disagree with us, we will not be so quick to draw a line in the sand and declare “sides”, making them our enemies. We might even become more open-minded and learn different viewpoints, as we can be more influenced by friends than strangers.

And now we come to the question of the year:

Are you Team Hillary or Team Trump?

This scenario seems increasingly more likely, and the fact that so many people hate these options reveals that we have arrived at a crossroads in American politics. Choosing a side, a political party, makes less sense than it ever did as the question of voting for the lesser of two evils seems to surface more and more.

Since this blog focuses on spiritual truth in books, TV, and movies, I feel compelled to make a comment to fellow Christians, (although this is applicable to anyone who might find themselves in a voting bloc coveted by presidential candidates.)

You don’t have to choose a side.

The strategy of teaming up with others, thinking that you can control a party and then society, calling yourself the Moral Majority was never Biblical, wise, nor loving. To use the words of Russell Moore, we must embrace our role of being a prophetic minority. We can even participate on a side, but as a vocal critic, not a blind follower.

Grieved by the Civil War
Grieved by the Civil War

Black Widow excelled at this, and while she may have started with Team Iron Man, she could change her mind and do what she considered right. She is the voice of reason to Captain America and dissension to Iron Man. For these reasons, Stark insults her as a “double agent,” but being criticized and not feeling at home comes with being the prophetic minority. I’m not saying that we should not take stances on specific issues, but we must not be quick to ally with any side, or we will quickly be drawn into battle.

As the antagonist Zemo explains, “An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again, but one which crumbles from within? That’s dead… forever.” Now, I do not want the United States or any nation to be an “empire”, but his warning still holds. Could it be that America’s greatest enemy is our tendency to choose sides? How can you be part of the solution and not part of the problem?

2 thoughts on “Team Captain America, Team Iron Man, or Independent”

  1. Amen. I think you hit this one on the head. I’d go as far as bringing up one of Paul’s dictum’s in 2 Corinthians 6:14: do not be unequally yoked. I think it’s a shame that this passage only comes up in discussions of inter-religious dating and marriage in evangelical Christendom, because the original (and broader) point here was that we as a Church people shouldn’t bind the fate of God’s work with the fate of others with separate motives. The Moral Majority’s (very successful) unequal-yoking of evangelicalism to a specific political party is a good illustration of the wisdom behind Paul’s words.

    That said, our two-party political system inherently requires us to “choose sides” in our role as citizens, at least if we wish to engage with politics at all. And our media culture is very good at framing the smallest decisions of our lives as an epic battle between Elephant vs. Donkey, especially during a presidential election year. To develop your point a bit more, what does “not choosing a side” mean, in practical terms, and how can we live that out?

    1. Great points, Mike!
      I’m not saying that one should never vote for a Democrat or a Republican, but I urge against self-identifying with a party. This means that we can agree with a party on some issues, disagree on others, and be vocal about it. We should not support a candidate or presumptive candidate out of party loyalty, whether this leads us to vote for the other party, third party, or even stay at home. And perhaps most importantly, we need to avoid the “us” versus “them” mentality that demonizes the other side, or we will lose the ability to listen, learn, and find win-win situations through compromise.
      We can be like Natasha, who challenges everyone, can change who she supports, and keeps viewing those on both sides as friends.

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