The 2016 Marvel film, Captain America: Civil War, centers on a crucial event in the comics, the Superhero Registration Act. As a plot element in superhero fiction, the registration acts have raised important questions and encouraged dialogue about discrimination, profiling, and excessive government regulation in an effort to preserve national security.
In both cinematic and comic portrayals, the registration acts would mandate the enlisting of meta-humans and superheroes so that the government may regulate their actions, deploy them as necessary, and limit their powers. Refusing to sign the Accords would lead to immediate discharge from service - and in some cases, disobeying leads to internment. Consequently, the Accords lead to a significant rupture among the Avengers, with one side led by Tony Stark (Iron Man), who fundamentally believes government oversight is necessary and just, given the massive, destructive potential superheroes wield; and the other side, led by Steve Rogers (Captain America), believes enforced regulation strips superheroes of their civil liberties.
Civil War offers the quintessential group superhero fight we all want to see; each hero flexing their gifts, powers, and weapons as they face off in a versus battle, each fueled by a strong conviction that they are doing what is right. However, the smaller, interpersonal moments show up as the strong points of the film. We see a deeper concern build within Tony when he reflects on his own past actions. And Steve's refusal to compromise is relatable, but he begins to drift down a path of vigilantism. Finally, the film gets away from the theme of civil rights by focusing on the friendship between Steve and Bucky (The Winter Soldier), asking us to consider whether a "brainwashed" assassin should be held accountable for his heinous actions.
We discuss the fictional and real-life elements of brainwashing. Although the mechanisms of brainwashing in the film are fictional and, quite literally, shocking, there are some parallels when examining real documented cases of coercion, indoctrination, and invasive forms of influence. Psychologists do generally believe that some types of brainwashing are possible, when the certain extreme conditions in the environment are met - namely, isolation, deprivation, threats, and dependency. Psychologists also agree that it is just not that easy to change a person's core personality and whole belief system, suggesting there is a willingness or level of participation by the supposed "brainwashed" person pulling the trigger. And who, then, should be held accountable for the resulting casualties and losses? As evidenced by historic trials, cult manifestos, and actual social experiments, brainwashing is yet to be fully explained and can almost always be accounted for by more reasonable thought mechanisms.
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