We Interrupt this Movie for a Message from Captain America about Health Care

Joss Whedon tells The New York Times about a scene he decided to cut from The Avengers:

One of the best scenes that I wrote was the beautiful and poignant scene between Steve and Peggy [Carter] that takes place in the present. And I was the one who was like, ‘Guys, we need to lose this.’ It was killing the rhythm of the thing. And we did have a lot of Cap, because he really was the in for me. I really do feel a sense of loss about what’s happening in our culture, loss of the idea of community, loss of health care and welfare and all sorts of things. I was spending a lot of time having him say it, and then I cut that.

Alyssa Rosenberg is bummed:

The timing and the platform would have been amazing, the purest representative of American power in the superhero pantheon standing in for Solicitor General Donald Verrilli in the biggest tentpole of the summer, a month and a half before the Supreme Court’s likely to issue its ruling that will determine the future of the Affordable Care Act. It also would have also created a political firestorm around the movie, something the cheerful blandness of Captain America was careful to avoid. Whedon may have been entirely right that the scene would have interrupted the flow of the movie. But with The Avengers tracking for an absolutely ginormous opening, he also may not have wanted to futz with the prospects of an enormously high-profile opening.

I doubt that I would have disagreed much with whatever Whedon had Captain America say, but, unlike Rosenberg, I’m not sorry to see the scene cut from the film, especially if “it was killing the rhythm” of the story.  I’m not a strict adherent to the art for art’s sake school of thought, but in my opinion art can successfully have a moral or political function only so long as the instructive content is interwoven artistically into the whole and doesn’t stand out and away from it.

It sounds like Whedon couldn’t make the mentioned scene work with the rest of the narrative,  but I wonder if the contemporary political climate surrounding health care reform would have tugged at the thread no matter how well Whedon seamlessly sewed it.  I fear the timing and platform of Captain America’s words wouldn’t have been “amazing,” as Rosenberg says, but a distraction from the story while having little to no worthwhile political impact.  Would Captain America really have convinced anyone on the fence about the need for health care reform?  Would his speech have stood as a testament to a better America after it passed through the jagged motorized sheers of the culture warriors at Fox News and elsewhere?  I’m dubious.  Movie-caused political firestorms aren’t good if they burn or engulf the film while bringing little light to the political scene.

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

You may also like...

25 Responses

  1. Will Truman says:

    Marvel has been using Captain America to score political points for decades now. Let’s just say… I’m not a fan of the concept.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      It’s not my cup of tea either. I usually avoid “message” fiction, even if I agree with the message. It too often comes off as pedantic and awkward.

    • Jaybird says:

      Maybe instead of being all “over the top”, they could have killed Captain America when a Republican became president and resurrected him when a Democrat became president.

      In the story, I mean.

      • Will Truman says:

        That might be too subtle. Instead, what you do is have Steve Rogers resign and replace him with someone of a more conservative bent. Then, make the successor a jerk and then mentally unhinged. And in case anyone misses your point, discuss in the letters column that this is why you can’t have a conservative Captain America.

      • Nob Akimoto says:

        I thought they did that.

        I mean after turning Tony Stark into a fascist.

  2. This is good companion to Burt’s writing about how it’s difficult to funny and preachy at the same time. I’m guessing the political message that was cut would have weighed on the preachy, rather than the entertaining, side.

  3. DensityDuck says:

    I kind of wish we knew what the scene actually was, but I guess that’ll have to wait for the DVD.

  4. Will Truman says:

    I just saw the movie yesterday. I don’t know precisely what the line was, but… it was missed, actually. I knew exactly where it was supposed to go and there was an absence where the line was supposed to go. The back-and-forth needed an explanation on Cap’s part. Bringing health care into it would have been a bad idea (I’d rather wash up on the doorstep of a hospital today than the 1940’s, even without money or insurance), but the parts about community and culture? That could have stayed. Even a part about welfare (better worded as “taking care of our fellow Americans” or something) would have made sense in context.

    I’m glad I knew what was supposed to go there. Because if I didn’t, I would have had a much harder time understand exactly where Cap was coming from.

    • DensityDuck says:

      I’m kind of expecting that “Captain America 2” is going to happen after “Captain America” but before “The Avengers”.

    • Michael Drew says:

      It’s very cool for you to come back and report on the viewing experience as it related to your comment above, Will. Kudos.

      If the line had been there, enhancing the moviegoing experience as you describe, then, do you think you would have felt like it was trying to score political points? Or would it have been an artistically supportable part of the movie? Or could it be both – i.e. did you find that the whole plot element that justified the line was trying to score points anyway – that the line wasn’t essential to the point-scoring as it turned out? If that’s the case, should the element have been included?

      I in any case certainly agree that it wouldn’t be a very artistic decision for Whedon to have made the decision for the reasons Rosenberg suggests he should have. But if he omitted the line for essentially the obverse of those reasons – i.e. as a sop to the political tastes of the audience after having created the artwork as a whole – that would be an equally political and anti-artistic decision. Real art certainly can be political, either incidentally or essentially, is what I’m saying.

      • Will Truman says:

        It’s hard to say without knowing exactly what the scene was. It’s possible I will look at it and say “they had no reason to cut this out even if it was vaguely political” I operate under the assumption that it was a bridge too far by my reckoning, given the history of using Captain America for political ends.

        My thought is that politics could have been avoided, and the experience enhanced (from the movie I saw), at the same time by something vague about community, unity, and having one another’s back. I suspect this is not what the scene did and that’s why it was cut.

        Politics in art is often justified, sometimes crucial. The question is whether or not you want to do that with a character meant to be an icon for the country. Do you want him taking sides, lecturing roughly half of the country that the other half is right? Not if you want him to be an icon for the country and not half of it, in my view (take a character like Savior 28 and run wild, though, I say). It’s a value judgment.

        Given the gaping hole it left in the movie (Cap having a chip on his shoulder but about what being only vaguely aluded to), it was a political decision either way from the moment that the scene was written and shot in such a way that its presence might have been needlessly divisive and its absence hurt the product. From there, it’s a political and an artistic decision either way. Six or nine months from now, if comments here aren’t closed, if the scene is on DVD, I’ll report back on whether the scene was indeed provocative enough that cutting it was merely cutting losses.

        • DensityDuck says:

          I agree. There’s a difference between “this is who the character is” and “this is the writer sockpuppeting the character”.

    • Jaybird says:

      There’s a line in one of the Captain America annuals (Ultimate Universe) that, when I read it, even as I didn’t share his world view, I found myself saying something to the effect of “that will be me saying (something equivalent to that) someday.”

      It just means that my head and my heart tell me it’s 1945. They tell me that when I switch on the radio, it should take a minute to warm up and music should come out, not noise and foul language. They tell me that when I talk about God as something real, people should understand, not look away as if I’m crazy. They tell me that I should be winning a war that will make the world free and everyone equal — not looking at the sad result of sixty years of compromise and lowered expectations. They tell me that I’m just a man. No better than any other. But no worse. -Captain America

      • Will Truman says:

        One of these days I am going to write posts on “story ideas I derived but never used.” One of which involved two “patriotic” superheroes. One an immortal who has been around since the founding. The other a guy who, like Cap, time-jumped (twice, from Hiroshima to the late 60’s, then from the late 70’s to present-day). the perspective of the two is different. The first has seen the long arc of history and has a very long view of things and an acceptance of change as inevitable. The latter has had one jarring awakening after another, bearing down and becoming more crabby and displaced each time. I had a lot of interesting ideas for the interactions between the two of them. There’s more to the story than all this, but this was the general groundwork.

        • Nob Akimoto says:


          We get Uncle Sam and Captain America in the same comic? That would be awesome.

        • DensityDuck says:

          The guy who time-jumped from the ’70s to today would find that we’d started with a victorious war where American technology won the day against a foe that everyone agreed was bad in every way, then gotten bogged down in several nasty local disputes that depended more on ancient tribal hatreds than anything else, blown the technology-inspired economic boom with an orgy of regulation and overspending, then replaced a vaguely-corrupt Republican administration concerned mostly with its own continuance with a populist Democrat who managed to be even less effective. Entertainment culture focuses mainly on watching heavily-edited and staged footage of immature rich people behaving badly, while films get weird and violent, and music spirals into its own butt, and fashion throws away hundreds of years of aesthetic knowledge in favor of things that are deliberately ugly just because that’s different from what was done before.

          So, really, other than the phones, not that much has changed.

          • Jaybird says:

            “I would have thought that you would have legalized weed by now.”

            “Yeah, well. Music stopped being good when we got rid of 8-tracks. After that, there wasn’t much point.”

      • Mike Schilling says:

        It just means that my head and my heart tell me it’s 1945. They tell me that when I switch on the radio, it should take a minute to warm up and music should come out, not noise and foul language.

        Jeffty is Five.

      • Kimmi says:

        You’ll be pining for Father Coughlin? Rush Limbaugh?

        We ought not to technicolor the past. it was black and white for a reason.

        • DensityDuck says:

          I swear, it’s like some people’s concept of race relations in America is “there were slaves until Abraham Lincoln personally blew up the South, but then they were segregated until Rosa Parks Brown sued the Board of Education in the Supreme Court, and now it’s today and everything’s fine except that white people are still all racists.”

  5. Nob Akimoto says:

    While I understand the desire not to pontificate, I honestly think The First Avenger suffered intensely from the lack of it. I mean the lack of segregation mentions or internment, having a multi-ethnic Howling Commandos…

    Avengers was a bit less clumsy with it, but maybe a quip of some sort WOULD have been nice… Or you know, dude from 1940s being surprised a gigantic elite government agency is led by a black dude and his president’s black as well? That’d be a big leap forward, too…

    I mean there’s such a thing as leaving too much on the table.

    • Jaybird says:

      They touch on that in the comic. The “initial misunderstanding” has a part where Captain America punches Nick Fury and says “you can’t fool me, there aren’t any Negro Colonels! The highest ranking Negro is actually a good friend of mine!”