You Miss Some, You Get Some: Captain America’s Relationship to Our Pop Culture

By  · Published on April 3rd, 2014

Walt Disney Studios

When you wake up after 70 years encased in ice after plunging into the Arctic and get thrust back into modern day New York City, you’re bound to have a few questions. Such is the case with our pal Steve Rogers, who, from a one-off joke in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, has vowed to catch up on a few missed events and pop culture references during his time “asleep.”

While Captain America set up our star-spangled defender as the super soldier boasting Dr. Erskine’s serum and a grand sense of duty without said serum, The Avengers served to give the character a different edge as comic relief in his time after unfreezing. After all, the world is a strange and startling place – even when you’ve lived through morphing into a handsome, all-powerful 1940s action star, fighting a terrifyingly faceless Nazi supervillain and crashing a plane into the Arctic Ocean.

It’s not that the Steve Rogers depicted in The Avengers is easy to make fun of, but after 70 years removed from society, it’s as if your dear, somewhat clueless grandpa has come to join the superhero initiative you and your friends have worked so hard to put together because your mom (clearly Nick Fury in this scenario) said that you should all bond. While Captain America’s military expertise and combat strategy is unmatched among his fellow Avengers, it’s not enough sometimes to keep certain members from teasing their “elderly” comrade. Or at least not Tony Stark.

Near the beginning of The Avengers, Nick Fury approaches Rogers and comments that “the world has gotten a lot stranger than you already know.” Poor Steve tries to call his bluff, and is seen passing him $10 when they’re on board the flying aircraft carrier. From there it only gets worse.

There’s Tony Stark’s insistence to hassle the man his father “talked about all the time” – Cap shouldn’t feel too bad, he’s getting the same treatment as everyone in Stark’s life – mostly when he’s proposing ideas that conflict with anything Stark doesn’t want to do. “What’s your thing, pilates? It’s like calisthenics. You might’ve missed a couple things, you know, doing time as a capsicle.” It’s a pretty solid burn, but you wouldn’t expect any less from a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.

Rogers, though he might not realize it, isn’t doing himself too many favors. Though he may be able to pass for a normal guy from Brooklyn in today’s world (although that hairstyle is still a tad 40s-ish), his vernacular is still positively old fashioned. Continuously calling Natasha “ma’am,” however polite, and telling her that Thor and Loki can’t be gods because “there’s only one god, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that,” are dead giveaways that maybe he hails from a different time. Rogers is more than capable of using and mastering a computer, but he would probably be really into forwarding chain emails with multicolored font about protecting our troops.

That being said, having a grandpa in the body of Chris Evans on your team of secret agents, lab experiments and technical geniuses is not necessarily a negative thing. Post-freeze Rogers still has all the physical attributes of his 1940s self, including the ability to leap high bounds, lift massive weights and run at super speeds, with all of the advantages of modern technology at his fingertips. He’s got the wisdom of the ages and the allure of youth – what could be a better combination?

Think about it; while the other Avengers have their respectable career paths – Natasha and Clint are S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and connoisseurs of black leather catsuits, Thor is the God of Thunder (which is a pretty big deal), Stark is a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist and Banner is a brilliant scientist slash green rage monster – Rogers has the experience of a man more than twice their age and a distinct advantage when it comes to dealing with the Tesseract; he’s done this dance before, leading an entirely different team (and he was damn successful in doing so).

While Stark and company are giggling about Cap’s confusion as he gains his bearings in a new world, he has the private knowledge that he’s miles ahead of whatever these little punks think they have planned out for their next attack; he’s the stable force that leads the Avengers to success in the middle of chaos. Who isn’t going to listen to their elders?

There are several films that give a nod to the Cap’s plight by sticking some visitors from the past in more modern day settings. Whether intentional or accidental, like our First Avenger’s trip through the freezer, our protagonists too have a difficult time getting adjusted to life outside their comfort zone. Mike Myers and Austin Powers milked three movies out of it. The International Man of Mystery was cryogenically frozen in the 1960s in order to follow his nemesis to the 1990s and finally secure his capture. The British mod playboy, with his ruined teeth, mop of chest hair and flashy suits was immediately out of place 30 years later, and the films made no qualms about constantly pointing this out.

In Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, two brain dead high schoolers come across a time machine and use it to complete their history project. They use it to take real life historical figures, including Abraham Lincoln, Socrates and Napoleon back to the 1980s. There, they get to experience everything the suburbs have to offer, including mall food courts, hot babes and public school. It turns out that they don’t have such a bad time – can you blame them? But while films like Bill and Ted and Austin Powers, or even something senseless like Kate and Leopold take the men from the past and make them the butt of the joke, Rogers isn’t there solely or even mostly for the others’ entertainment; he’s a key force driving the Avengers Initiative, a hero with an old-fashioned earnestness and powerful sense of ethics…even if he’s a little slow with the references sometimes.

Plus, there’s one reference that Rogers will get every time. When Nick Fury wants to know how Loki used the Tesseract to turn “two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys,” you can bet the red white and blue Rogers understood what he was talking about – and he was pretty damn proud of it.

But let’s analyze for a moment what’s on that little notepad he’s keeping in Winter Soldier; there’s still clearly a lot Rogers needs to learn about the world and what’s happened without him in it. And that notepad changes depending on where the movie is playing. Are these the things he’s most particularly interested in, or is this just what puzzles him the most? The cultural revolution of Kurt Cobain and Thai food would understandably be a little overwhelming for a wholesome all-American boy from the 1940s.

It’s good to know that he’s already seemingly tackled Star Wars, if anything, off this list. Even before learning about the moon landing or how the Berlin Wall got put up or was taken down. Priorities are priorities, Cap.

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