When I think over the filmic media I tend to consume, I can’t help but notice an unfortunate trend: friendship, particularly male friendship, is hard to find. If Walter White has a friend in Breaking Bad, it would be Elliot Schwartz – and the last vestiges of the friendly part of their relationship is twenty years in the past and buried underneath the relational rubble of professional and romantic rivalry. In Mad Men, Don Draper’s only friend is Roger Sterling, but it might be more accurate to regard them as drinking buddies or companions of circumstance. In The Walking Dead, Rick’s friendship with Shane turns to attempted murder within four episodes. Movies and shows that portray male friendship tend to be comedies where the relationship is both strange and borderline homoerotic (think JD and Turk in Scrubs, Troy and Abed in Community, or Peter and Sydney in I Love You, Man) or adapted from non-contemporary literature, the most obvious examples being Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson or Sam and Frodo.
That is what troubles me about the Twitter campaign to #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend: it redefines the rare portrayal of a loving male friendship as one of latent homosexual desire. This thought process is summarized well by Jen Yamato: “Give the Marvel superhero a man to love,” she says in The Daily Caller, “because he pretty much already has one.” Many in the Marvel audience, and indeed, audiences at large, seem to have trouble conceptualizing such a relationship between two men as anything other than erotic in nature. But C.S. Lewis obliterated this fallacy in The Four Loves: “Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend.”
Having positive examples of loving, healthy friendship is both necessary and beautiful – and increasingly so for the target demographic of superhero movies, namely teenaged and young-adult males. The notion that one can care passionately about another human being without the desire or possibility of sex with that person has gone missing from pop culture narratives. So by all means, give Captain America a boyfriend – the superhero genre has been a powerful genre for themes of gay rights and equality. But it shouldn’t be Bucky. Instead, let’s preserve the idea that friendship and romantic love are different things, both rare and valuable, both with the ability to inspire courage and self-sacrifice.