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I was puzzled by the conflict between Captain America and Tony Stark during the first part of The Avengers. There were obviously values that differed between the two.

Looking at their background, Steve Rogers is from a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn and never went to college. Tony Stark is from Manhattan and has an extensive college and university education.

It seems to me that there are two areas of value differences. The first is where they grew up and those communities and the culture of those two different communities. The second is changes in society and culture between the 1930s and 1940s and the 2000s which could be characterized as conservative and progressive.

So is the basis of the conflict between the two one of Blue Collar versus Educated Elite?

A comment lead me to wonder about the background and values of Romanov and Barton when considering the actions of Stark and Banner, both educated elites, in the second Avengers film. Stark and Banner decide to create what becomes Ultron during the second film without involving the other Avengers team members in that decision.

It appears that Barton is from the mid-Western US and lives on a farm which implies more conservative and working man or Blue Collar values aligned with those of Steve Rogers.

During the film Captain America: Civil War Barton joins with Steve Rogers while Romanov appears to support Rogers but to remain neutral over the actual conflict over the Sokovia Accords. Banner also remains neutral in the conflict over the Accords by removing himself from the group at the end of the second Avengers film thereby not participating in it.

Here is a discussion about the relationship between Barton and Romanov: How/when did Clint Barton and Natasha Romanov become friends?

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  • 3
    Are you asking whether the writers intended it that way, or if this site's users read it that way? (The first is okay, the second would be opinion-based and not a good fit for the site) – Jenayah Feb 13 at 18:32
  • @Jenayah That's a common misunderstanding. The second is perfectly on-topic and a great fit for this site, as long as the answers explain why the users read it that way. A Wikipedia quote or a director interview isn't a requirement for a proper answer. – Napoleon Wilson Feb 13 at 18:34
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    Is this question only regarding the first Avengers film? – Raj Feb 13 at 18:34
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    @Raj yes I was thinking of only the first Avengers film. By the end of the first Avengers film much of what appears to me as a Blue Collar versus Educated Elite values conflict seems to be resolved. Though I suppose there may be a touch of it in the second Avengers film with Stark and Banner moving ahead with the creation of Ultron without bringing in the other Avengers team members. Which kind of brings up the question of the background of Romanov and Barton. Both of them seem to be more aligned with Steve Rogers' values. – Richard Chambers Feb 13 at 19:14
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    I would, however, advise against extending this too much with more characters and more films, since this might get a little too broad and less concentrated and devolve into the open discussion users are afraid of it being. Maybe streamline any additional notes into a more coherent revision of the question or a possible self answer. – Napoleon Wilson Feb 13 at 19:27
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Steve Rogers is more blue collar than Tony Stark, but that is not what the conflict is about.

The conflict is about government regulation. Should there be a higher body that essentially has to sign off on everything the Avengers do?

Tony Stark is all for it, because he believes that oversight is a benefit. It essentially absolves the Avengers from any future blame game. Taking the Sokovia example, if the government(s) had signed off on the mission, Tony and the Avengers couldn't be blamed for it. It also ensures that The Avengers never fall prey to self-serving behavior, since they don't call the shots themselves anymore.

However, Steve Rogers has only "just" fought the Nazis, the prime example of how any authoritative body can be corrupted and commit major atrocities without being able to (immediately) put a stop to it. Therefore, Steve Rogers is strongly averse to governments increasing regulation. He sees it as the first step on the road to authoritarianism, and subsequently fascism.

When you follow Steve's ideology, this means that the executive power stays in the hands on a small group of private individuals. The chance of corruption is higher, but the effects of it are significantly smaller.

When you follow Tony's ideology, this means that the executive power stays in the hands of the government/higher cody. The chance of corruption is lower, but the consequences of it happening are that much more severe.

There is no right or wrong answer. The question is which side you would prefer to err towards given that it's impossible to implement a perfect solution.

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    I didn't see anything in The Avengers about government regulation. There was the bit about the SHIELD council making the decision to use a nuclear device on Manhattan. That council doesn't seem to be related to any government though. And is the government regulation conflict you mention also a Blue Collar values versus Educated Elite values conflict? Or governance by democratic community versus professional class diktat? – Richard Chambers Feb 13 at 20:57
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    I think @Flater may have mistaken the OP as referring to Captain America: Civil War, where the conflict directly relates to government oversight, instead of the first Avengers movie. – MBorg Feb 14 at 2:10
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    More than that, Stark has personal experience of what happens when a small secretive group start using overpowered weapons and giving them out according to their own agenda without any particular scrutiny. He was there himself; and after machinations by another group member, he's got an arc reactor in his chest as a direct result. For him it's incredibly personal. Even Rogers with his Nazi-fighting history can't say that. – Graham Feb 14 at 12:20
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    @Graham: Very good point on Stark's pre-Iron Man experiences, one that I hadn't fully considered yet. However, I do think you're glossing over how personal Rogers' experience is. As a scrawny guy who signed up for war, threw himself on a grenade, and then went on to not only become the face of the war effort but to also be on the actual frontlines in fighting Red Skull and averting global catastrophe, and then losing Peggy by being frozen in time for an extended period; he's got more than enough personal involvement in the conflict. – Flater Feb 14 at 12:22
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    If a government body had signed off, the blame would still have fallen on the Avengers for "exceeding parameters" and using "unwarranted force". – Michael Richardson Feb 14 at 15:25
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The source of the conflict is two-fold:

On Tony's side, the key line of dialogue is when Tony says to Bruce Banner, "This is the guy Dad wouldn't shut up about?" Tony grew up wanting to get more approval from his father, and Steve Rogers had that approval. Tony resents him as a result. Tony thinks that Steve got Howard Stark's respect without having to earn it with his "natural" qualities, but as a result of attributes that were given to him as a "lab experiment".

On Steve's side, in his pre-Captain America days there were many things that were difficult for Steve that are obviously very easy for Tony. Steve resents him right back as a result. Steve thinks that Tony just bought heroism by building himself a suit, without having to earn it with his "natural" qualities.

Basically there's a lot of symmetry to the way they resent each other.

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    This dismissive quote from Tony Stark may be more than about approval. What were Howard Stark's approving comments and what was Howard Stark's background? This article mentions a working class background for Howard. marvelcinematicuniverse.fandom.com/wiki/Howard_Stark and I'm not persuaded that it is all about "natural qualities" since both are manufactured super heroes, one through a serum and one through a suit. Was Howard Stark's approval due to Rogers' values? – Richard Chambers Feb 13 at 20:07
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    @RichardChambers That's why the resentment is symmetrical - because both of them look at the other and considers their hero status unearned. It's actually excellent writing and one of the best parts of the Whedon screenplay. There may be a class element there, also - although I think Steve resents Tony as a playboy more than he resents him as a plutocrat of some kind; but it's mostly personal, and not about class. – tbrookside Feb 13 at 21:25
  • Seems to me that you are starting with an assumption of resentment and then creating a rationale for why that assumption is valid. And the idea of Steve Rogers resenting Tony Stark seems out of character, Steve Rogers seems much too humble and good to resent for anything more than a moment. And actually that bit about "put on the suit and lets go a few rounds" seems rather out of character for Steve Rogers. – Richard Chambers Feb 13 at 22:04
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    Shouldn't forget that Loki's staff was implied to be influencing the Avengers and amplifying their conflicts during that scene. It may be true that Rogers wouldn't normally go as far as "put on the suit, let's go a few rounds", but also that the staff was inflaming his and Stark's existing resentments. – Nathan Feb 14 at 15:38
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    @RichardChambers Those are good points, but I think on both sides of this personal conflict the parties aren't seeing the full picture. That's why there's a conflict. In the scene where Steve charges Barton's men unarmed to save Tony during the turbine restart, Steve proves to Tony that he has special qualities that didn't just come from "a bottle". In the nuke scene, Tony proves to Steve that he is "the guy who makes the sacrifice play". Their initial respective beliefs about each other are mistaken, so naturally they are contradicted by facts we know from other films. – tbrookside 2 days ago
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This isn't about class, although it has some overlaps with educated vs. uneducated and poor vs rich problems. It's mainly about both characters though.

In Steve's eyes, Tony is entitled reckless and therefore any power in him misplaced.

Steve Rogers is humble and just wants to do the right thing without standing in the frontline. That's what he considers to be a good person. He has (in the MCU) always locked horns with entitled bullies that were born with more power than him and misused that power for their entertainment. Tony Stark is the opposite of that ideal, he likes to boast about achievements and non-achievements. He doesn't consider the effects of his actions onto others (only learns that throughout the franchise to some degree). To Cap it seems he has not only unearned fame but holds power he knows not how to handle and uses in a reckless fashion. Tony pretty much resembles the bullies that Steve always had to deal with, entitled by what was given to them be it strong bodies or money and knowledge.

In Tony's eyes, Steve is dumb military muscle and an overrated morality crusader who misses any sense for complexity.

For Tony it's ridiculous that someone like Cap has been hailed a hero and likely been shown some level of affection at least recognition by his dad, when he is nothing like what Tony values in a person. He's not extremely smart and thus boring to Tony. In addition Steve's morality confronts Tony with his own immorality. Steve has always been "perfect" compared to him, in the sense that he isn't a macho, and didn't contribute to murders by providing weapons of mass destruction to warlords. He resents the fact that this simpleton could be somehow "better" than him. That's why he reacts like most entitled people (bullies) do, trying to belittle him by pointing out his weaknesses, i.e. his inferior knowledge and scientific intellect.

Aside from that personal struggle, an underlying theme - if any - for both characters is trust in authority. At the initial stage Tony is a rogue player, an entitled anarchist who doesn't care about the common good much and in particular not about hierarchical organisations he would have to submit to. Rogers on the other hand has always held the military and what he can do as a member of it for his nation in high regard. Throughout the franchise both's point of view around that topic changes to such degree that we see them later on arguably exchanged ends of that conflict.

  • Why would Steve Rogers have such a poor opinion of Tony Stark? Stark's behavior doesn't resemble a bully's so much as it does a person who has their own personal demons, something that Rogers should be well acquainted with his military background. As for Stark boasting, if you did it then it ain't boasting but I can't remember boasting which is not at all the same thing as being cocky. I can't recall Stark ever claiming achievements he hadn't done. Rogers personally killed people though you could make the argument that they deserved it. He wasn't moral enough to go Conscientious Objector. – Richard Chambers 2 days ago

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