I’ve been seeing some good posts going around about CA:TWS and how Captain America is a man in legitimate emotional pain, not a man with manpain. I think there are several things that separate the two:
1. With legitimate emotional pain (legitpain) the things that cause the pain come organically from within the world of the story. Batman’s parents were killed, but they’re rarely real parts of any narrative. They only exist to give him pain. See also a million dead wives/girlfriends/families. When an event is grafted onto a narrative specifically to give the character pain, but otherwise has no impact on the world of the story, you might get manpain.
2. The narrative assumes the character is damaged forever by it, and that’s what gives the pain its value. There is a symbiotic relationship between the pain and the heroism. The more pain he feels, the bigger a hero he is. Batman will never move past a certain stage of mourning his parents’ death (anger, it appears). The narrative won’t allow him to, and privileges his hanging onto his pain above all things.
3. The hero’s won’t allow himself to move forward because he would lose his identity. When characters construct an identity about hanging onto pain, they probably have manpain. (I think Olivia Benson on LO:SVU also has manpain, FWIW.) His pain is an excuse for everything, an armor against change or real intimacy. When pain is used as an excuse for being a barely functional human being, but the character is still held up as a hero, somehow more heroic because of their pain, then you might have manpain. The narrative denies the heroism of trying to grow toward acceptance. Because that might negate the importance of the pain.
This tends to be a sexist trope, because it gives an excuse for (usually) men to turn into what society deems the perfect man, but who would be a psychopath in the real world. He has no emotions except external anger, an expression of inner sadness. He often has no desire to live except for revenge. No woman will touch his heart, although they want to. Connections are weakness. (This kind of narrative always shows that. The hero must work alone. Whenever he opens his heart, those people are in danger.) This kind of character has to exist in a stasis, and the creators tease us with breaks in the armor, that are usually covered over, because the pain is all-important. If he tries to heal, then maybe his pain wasn’t so bad, and he’s a hero, so it must be bad, the worst ever.
Contrast this with Captain America, who is in legitpain, but he’s trying to work through it, he’s not using it as an excuse for anything. He’s making decisions not based on hanging onto pain, but on trying to survive, trying to accept his new world and find a place in it. He’s even trying to form connections with people, because he knows that connections don’t make him weak, they make him strong. The movie knows that trying to make connections, to find intimacy again, when you’ve been hurt, is braver than walling yourself off.
Contrast with Sam Wilson, who has been through something awful and come out of it a strong, wise man, who helps and heals others, who is capable of emotional intimacy.
God, I loved this movie.
(I realize this could come across as being down on depressed people and people who’ve gone through trauma, and are having trouble motivating themselves to heal. I’m not. I’m down on narratives that equate healing with weakness, and hanging onto pain with strength. Those narratives are harmful.)
Oh, this is good.