Why the Winter Soldier is Less an Embodiment of Soviet Russia Than I Thought, or: Bucky Barnes, American Cold War Anxieties, and You



As you might imagine, I walked into Captain America 2 ready to get my Soviet Russia on. The Winter Soldier run is one of my favorites in—well, in any comic, really, and from what I’d seen in the trailers and whatnot, it looked like we were going to get a heaping dose of what makes that series so special and so sobering: the bloodstained underbelly of Soviet international politics, a glimpse at the way men and women were fed into the meat grinder of the State, pulped for the greater glory of their nation. In Bucky we’d see a drafted soldier kidnapped, brainwashed, and streamlined into the perfect machine. Not an ideal Soviet man, far from it; but a tool, utilitarian and dispassionate, with the five-pointed martial star on his shoulder; the awful triumph of the State over so-called human frailty.

And we did, we got all of that—insofar that you can’t have a Winter Soldier without those things. But as I watched, it became increasingly clear that this movie wasn’t looking to talk about the Soviet Union. There is a reason Bucky only speaks Russian once in the entire film. There’s a reason he’s never addressed in it. There’s a reason his code name is drawn from an investigation into one of the ugliest chapters of American history. And there is a reason that the movie takes this snarling, mechanized, indiscriminate killing machine and explicitly sets him up as Captain America’s other half. 

I’ve seen some reviews going after the film for pulling its punches, of holding up the Greatest Generation as America’s past, and a polluted security branch as its future, absolving it of responsibility for its actions in both cases. It’s HYDRA now and “sacrifices for freedom” then; why aren’t we interrogating ourselves a little harder?

My answer to that is: we did, and the movie is named after what we found.

The Winter Soldier is concerned with security and international supremacy, and the moral compromises America has made (and continues to make) in pursuit of both. It draws a straight line from WWII America to the modern day, where “we did some things we weren’t proud of” becomes drone warfare and Big Brother. Steve is at one end of this timeline, Nick Fury at the other. There’s a chasm of about fifty years between the two points. That’s where the Winter Soldier steps in. 

This film is haunted by an American war, yes. But not the one Steve fought in. The Cold War was “a battle for the soul of mankind”, waged across millions of hearts and minds, and it’s a patched-over burn in the American psyche, barely healed and still tender to the touch. We emerged on the other side of forty-four years as the world’s one and only superpower. And it fucking cost us.

McCarthyism saw Americans turning on one another, fueled by snarling, indiscriminate paranoia. Operation Paperclip recruited Nazi scientists to keep German technology out of Soviet hands. Vietnam, with its thousands dead, was fought to keep the dominoes of Communism from falling across Asia. America, augmented by an unimaginable weapon and ruthlessly militarized, spied, ordered assassinations, irradiated its own children, and dragged the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust. All for the sake of security.  

The Winter Soldier is that America.

Inhuman, bionic, unfeeling, unthinking, the perfect weapon: a creature of progress, powered by pure ideology. The mind wipes? Decades of propaganda in its purest, most undiluted form, administered directly to the brain. The arm? I know a nuclear metaphor when I see one.

If Cap is the potential of America, what we should never stop striving for, the Winter Soldier is what became of us when we fell desperately short. He is what we did to ourselves.

In many ways this film is a ghost story, and like all good ghost stories, it holds up the tragedy of our mistakes and begs us not to repeat them. What SHIELD proposes—Project Insight—is assured destruction, a level of control over a population not exercised since we were staring Russia down over a launch pad. And so the Winter Soldier appears, the long cold shadow of America’s past, and crashes into the hope for its future with the ring of a metal fist against a shield.

Cap can’t destroy him, what’s done is done. Bucky can’t be unwounded, or given back his stolen time; the blood on his hands won’t be scrubbed out. But they can walk slowly together, one helping the other stand. 

Steve can’t progress without Bucky, just as, the film seems to say, America itself is doomed to fester unless it looks to its past and acknowledges what it has done; the things it has ground into dust in the name of a higher cause. In the MCU, the only way Captain America’s country will move forward is if it swears to never, ever go back.

Leave it to Emily to knock this meta out of the park. <3 

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John Knuth - Faded Siren (2013)

faded siren exposes billowing clouds of orange smoke from emergency flares photographed with flash that cause fractal patterns in the black night sky.

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tagged as:   angel business
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AJ was not wrong before, this is the third time I’ve changed my icon in four years of having this blog because I hate change, so it’s really a testament to how much of my life revolves around Niall. 

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I was eating icecream in my friend’s car the other night and they were giving away tickets to a 5sos show/meet and greet thing on the radio and it was such a good moment, shovelling boysenberry white chocolate icecream into my mouth with one of those tiny spoons and thinking fondly about all my cool friends who somehow got sucked into that particular hellhole. Nice. 

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So this might be the strangest “You and I” review I read today

The video is definitely going for something when we see the five gents leaping and running into freeze frames of themselves all over the pier. But what? It would’ve been more impressive if they’d leapt into each other’s freeze frames and proved that they’re deeply connected and brotherly or something. But here, it’s like they’re trying to impress us with… where they’re going to being walking next? “I’m moving to the left!” says Zayn. “Coming soon: I’ll be on the right!” says Harry, arms giddily akimbo.

If anyone ever describes Harry again without pointing out that something about him is “giddily akimbo” that description is incomplete and I quit

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Hero Heroine - Boys Like Girls

Fun fact: in 2009 on holiday a boy whisper-sang this to me in my best friend’s bedroom after a really weird party and a shocking hangover and I was too tired to record it. That’s one of the only things I remember about the entire summer, just watching a beautiful boy sing to me and my best friend telling me “I get it now” in the kitchen afterwards and thinking that maybe I feel a weakness coming on isn’t a bad thing.

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to love another person is to see the face of god

deep happy sigh

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i mean, as i have discussed/sobbed about, long live is 100% about one direction, band of thieves, ripped up jeans, outraged cynics, this is absurd, the walls we crashed through, kingdom lights, danced like you knew our lives would never be the same, but the part that makes me the most hysterical is definitely long live the look on your face, because zayn doesn’t think he could do it as a solo artist, because harry wants people who know him for him, because liam needs to know he’s with people he can trust, because niall wrote don’t forget where you belong, because when louis was talking about getting kicked off the x-factor, what he said was, we’d just had such a good time

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