Humanity and Iconicity in the Captain America Trilogy

The following is a piece I wrote for Audiences Everywhere as part of a feature they ran in March. The third month of this year is trilogy month for AE, with various interesting pieces being written about different three-film sagas and thematic trilogies, from the original Star Wars series to John Carpenter’s apocalypse trilogy. Here’s mine, articulating some thoughts I’ve had about Steve Roger’s relationship with his own symbolism across the three Captain America movies.


Iconicity is the relationship of similarity between the two sides of a symbol—its form and its meaning. The closer the form and meaning are to one another, the more memorable the symbol is likely to be. An iconic symbol is one whose form resembles its meaning in some way; the opposite of this iconicity is arbitrariness. The red and white stripes, star, and ‘A’ of Captain America’s costume is pretty clear as to what it represents, but the man is less clear. Part of the difficulty of communication and judgement through language is the physical world’s resistance to being reduced to the same rules. The costume can be evaluated by this standard, but with a man wearing it, humanity will often fail to settle between the lines that are drawn in linguistics.

While his fame may not have spread far from the domain of comic book fandom until mainstream audiences saw him in Captain America: The First Avenger, and to a greater extent The Avengers, Captain America is an iconic character in popular culture. Whether his image, wearing the stripes and stars of the American flag, incites a positive or negative reaction to the uninitiated, it’s an undeniably recognisable one. While a simple idea, the connotations of a human being a symbol of a country and its ideals are complex.

Is Steve Rogers embodying the spirit of a nation that only exists in the imaginations of his creators and audience? Is what we see an idealised version of what we would like to believe is true? And within the pages of the comic, how does he function as a human being when he is representative of something abstract? Steve Rogers didn’t develop his symbolic status intentionally as Batman does, nor is that symbolism one of destiny as with Superman. Steve Rogers’s path to becoming Captain America is one of choice working within and often in opposition to the boundaries set by military, government and other authoritative forces.

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