Stucky: A Timeline of Social Change by Prithiva Sharma

We’re Out in the Open, a Steve Rogers/James “Bucky” Barnes (Stucky) narrative is one of the more popular ones in online fandom culture. The ship has more than 50k fanfictions on Ao3[1] alone, not counting the ones on other sites like fanfiction.net or Fanlore, as well as a Wikipedia page[2]. 

Within the larger framework project, Steve/Bucky’s pairing allows the tracing of a temporal narrative – a timeline of changes in social conditions and attitudes, and the way sometimes opinions and perceptions aren’t at the same path of change as society at large. With Steve and Bucky, tracing this timeline is easy because they’re two characters who have surpassed their times, literally. Both Steve and Bucky are a part of the 21st century today, born in late 1920s. They’ve lived through a whole century, and while their conditions didn’t allow them to see the changes as they happened, they are metaphorical figures for the passing of time into a new worldview. One of my main reasons for devoting so much time and love to this ship is its potential to help trace the changes in societal conditions and in LGBTQ+ perceptions through the eyes of characters that have lived in both eras – the Prohibition and the age of legalization of gay marriage.

Most frequently, the narratives in Stucky (or Stevebucky) fanfictions focus on fleshing out Steve Rogers’ personal politics, and the character becomes a figure through which issues like body image, sexuality (especially the concept of “coming out”), friendships and love are explored. Another important thing about the Stucky pairing is how it blurs the lines between homosociality and homosexuality, and portrays how they are complimentary, or at least, closely related, instead of oppositional or separate. This is because with Steve and Bucky, even if one were to take the romantic angle out of the equation, it is a friendship surpassing all odds. Joe Russo, one of the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War and most recently, Avengers: Endgame, calls Steve and Bucky’s relationship a “love story,” in the way that these are two men thrust into times completely different from theirs, who have an emotional connection that lasted through torture, brainwashing and a whole century. 

The relationship between Steve and Bucky is traced majorly through the trope of memory in Canon Divergent/Convergent fics; and even a slight use of Canon Compliance warrants the use of memory as a literary device. This element is important for the reason that for Steve, as he crashed with the plane at the end of World War 2 and then woke up in the 21st century – a completely different world for him – all he had was his memories. He slept through 70 odd years in the ice but to him, the war was fresh – probably a week ago. 

In stark juxtaposition, Bucky had his memories ripped from him. He never consented to forget all his life, including his name. The memories that form the foundation of what Steve Rogers is are the very same memories Bucky struggles to recollect.

When Steve sees Bucky for the first time in the 21st century, Bucky is brainwashed and an assassin sent out for Steve. One of the most important characteristics of Steve Rogers is his readiness to fight. He’s been fighting for survival his whole life – with his sick body, with bullies who thought he was too weak, with the poverty of the depression – but in that moment, when he sees Bucky, all the fight goes out of him. He is no longer looking at an assassin he needs to take down. He is looking at the most beloved person in his life, his best friend, the one who was half the foundation of who he is as a person. 

The trope of memory here facilitates the progression of the narrative. The narratives are built of fragments from Steve’s past, used to trace how things have changed or not. The bits and pieces of memories all throughout these films help in establishing Steve as a character rooted in his past, which he is holding onto to keep his head above water in this new century. It also acts as a device to help see how Steve’s life went well beyond what he projects it to be in the 21st century – it reflects just how Steve Roger’s mind and being is different from that of Captain America. 

The memories also help trace the changes not only in Steve, as a person, but also in the social conditions he came from and the ones he is now living in. While the purpose of the fics maybe is majorly to establish/explore the romantic dynamic between the two, it also explores the possible trajectory of how systematic and structural changes don’t necessarily mean a change in society’s attitudes; and how those attitudes can accelerate or slow down any attempts to make changes. It also reflects how attitudes are, sometimes, a result of presumptions. This comes from people’s opinions on Steve and their propensity to decide what “nationalistic American values” would mean to Steve – and using that to propel their own attitudes and opinions further.

One of the last major things in Stucky fanfictions, besides the romantic angle and the use of the characters as catalysts for social commentary, is the representation of how Steve Rogers was turned into a symbol. His memories become even more precious in this regard, since they are what remind him constantly that he exists outside of his status as the “symbol of American values.” 


Footnotes:

[1] Archive of Our Own (archiveofourown.org)

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stucky_(fandom)

Bibliography:

Coppa, Francesca. “A Hollywood of Our Own: Media Fandom as Female Artworld.” In Women Do Genre in Film and Television, edited by Mary Harrod and Katarzyna Paszkiewicz, 213–232. 2017.

Faraci, Devin. Birth. Movies. Death. May 15, 2016. https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2016/05/15/stand-by-your-man-steve-and-bucky-at-the-center-of-civil-war (accessed September 28, 2019).

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