6 Disturbing Messages You Never Noticed In Marvel Movies
Let's agree on two things: 1) Marvel films aren't political, and 2) that doesn't mean they don't have political messages. The way Ghostbusters accidentally warned my generation about the dickless EPA, great films can inadvertently contain hilariously misguided world views. And since they encompass like 80 percent of family entertainment, it's probably important that we look at the Avengers films for what they (accidentally) say about the government and power.
Spoilers: It's pretty f-ed in the D. For a series raising a generation of future world leaders, we should hope to the One-Above-All that the political lessons of these films don't rub off. Otherwise we're looking forward to a world where problematic ideologies spread quicker than Stark DNA at the Playboy Mansion ...
In Marvel, Government Regulations Are Downright Evil
There's a big difference between a healthy, conservative aversion to bloated bureaucracy and literally thinking that the government is trying to enslave you for some kind of ideological assimilation ... or perhaps envelope your naked hollowed corpse like a Borg snuff film. But in the Marvel universe, that's actually the case thanks to Hydra taking secret control over the federal powers. It's basically the nightmare which jolts Alex Jones from his burlap sarcophagus every morning -- that one day the regulatory octo-grip of the establishment will buckle into a sinister vice as the Obama family simultaneously removes their people-masks to reveal dragonoid sin armor. It would look something like this:
Except, somehow, they would all manage to be super charming about it.
Or, if you prefer, fill in whatever reptilian fiend you envision for the compound-harbored survivalist's bad trip when he thinks of Trump. It doesn't matter the political affiliation; in the world of Tony Stark, big government only exists to sinisterly inhibit the human race from protecting itself. If it's not Hydra or a luminescent Guy Pearce secretly controlling the vice president, it's the UN and S.H.I.E.L.D. locking up heroes while hypocritically siphoning their god-given powers. In the real world, that fantasy is the equivalent of the CIA jailing Elon Musk so they can steal his sustainable Tesla batteries, or on a smaller scale, taking away a farmer's guns and seizing his luscious cranberry crop for equal distribution by Big Tart.
Our heroes, on the other hand, are the rogue outsiders taking back control for the people. You know, just like how Trump is attempting to undo the pesky federal protections for the Bears Ears National Monument in order to "return control to the people."
Trump squeezing into a skin-tight Cap suit would be pretty hilarious, too.
Only back in the waking world, federally protecting Bears Ears is giving it back to the people. It's a land that, when declared a monument by Obama, was met with celebration by the local tribes and people fighting to protect it. Only in two places is fighting that kind of regulation a good thing: in Trump's angry brain, and in the plot of a Marvel movie (where it would be taken over to build an underground Hydra base).
And that's weird, right? Like, lord knows we all cheered when Tony Stark told the government that he "privatized world peace," but the reality equivalent of a drunkard CEO refusing government regulations on his firetruck-red rocketeer armor is something even our very unpopular president would call "a bit much." So why is it OK in Marvel's pretend universe? Well ...
In The Avengers World, Warmongering And Xenophobia Is Justified
Putting political affiliation aside, anyone who has actually looked into the idea of risking the economy on a giant Mexico wall knows it's a fundamentally bad idea. To stress this: I'm not debating the importance of border security or other methods for strengthening immigration reform; I'm saying that trying to reduce immigration by building a giant doom barrier is like a child's solution. That is ... unless you live in the Marvel universe, where our biggest threat is literally aliens.
"When the cosmos sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're bringing murderers. They're bringing evil gods. They're mad titans."
Imagine for a second that you're a regular politician in the Avengers' States Of America, and for the last ten years you've been told that some day a big hypothetical boogeyman was preparing to knock at Earth's door, and the only way to stop it was to pour support into a small group of reckless people trained to beat it up with hammers and arrows. No one in their sound mind would see that plan as a wise investment ... because no one existing in those films can see the cutaways to Thanos sitting on his space throne collecting mystic knuckle jewelry. And even if they did ... I feel like that kind of horseshit razamataz would require some sort of narrative context.
This is what I imagine to be the motivation behind Trump's terrible Muslim ban: some twisted mental image of ISIS slowly assembling the next unspeakable super weapon ... and the only way to stop them is to close our borders. The POTUS is, in the mind of his supporters, Nick Fury battening down the hatches for the inevitable storm. Only for the rest of us... brute, xenophobic force is not a measured precaution. Just like how in the real world, a government agent screaming about a blue swole-demon would be immediately and rightfully committed.
Dressing like a Matrix villain doesn't instill authoritative confidence, either.
As we've already pointed out -- the Avengers collectively cause like 80 percent of the problems they fight. They're seriously lucky that extra 20 percent even exists to justify their continued existence. And thanks to that added threat, things like poverty and global warming and civil equality can wait when there are literally monsters to fight.
I guess what I'm saying is: Folk like Trump better hope some kind of sinister uber-immigrant shows up at our borders with sais or some shit, because otherwise all the money and support he's funneling from environmental and social programs will be a big stupid waste. Luckily, at least individual companies are stepping in to pick up the renewable slack ... which is oddly similar to my next point ...
Related: Covid-19 Is Exposing Xenophobia
Heros And Villains Have Corporate Logos (And That's Weirdly Fine)
If you recall, the 80s and 90s featured action heroes just as seemingly unkillable as superheroes -- with the one exception that they tended to be gruff underdogs or the occasional robot from the future. It was just as silly as today -- but lacking that sweet, sweet branding.
How else would we know who's saving us without some snazzy logo?
Superheroes aren't just people, they're brands. They have a color scheme. They have catchy logos. And in a lot of cases, they even represent a corporate sponsor like Stark Industries or Wayne Enterprises. And the villains are no different with Oscorp and AIM and H.A.M.M.E.R. and Lexcorp. In the Marvel and DC universes, the government takes a back seat while CEOs fist it out over the world's affairs. It's capitalism at its most exciting and influential. Also, it's a completely dystopian idea being presented as good. Can you imagine a world where the stock market could influence whether or not we'll be equipped to fight a horde of portal worms? How does the free market account for corporate sponsorship of a Norse God? It's kind of hard to compete with Stark products when they're paying rent for a Sokovian telekinetic with the power to incinerate strongholds.
I reckon the reason we don't mind is because the real world is oddly similar to a way less harmful degree. After all, companies like Google and Apple possess the ability to lock the FBI out of phones and computers, and private companies like SpaceX are planning fucking moon missions. No doubt Elon Musk owns some kind of gun that turns people into red mist. Heck, you could even argue that they are already saving lives with their fancy-as-dick products.
And they don't even shoot lasers or anything!
Oh also, brands take down powerful people like Bill O'Reilly by pulling ads, or influence state LGBT laws by avoiding business in certain areas. I mean, shit ... the current United States president is a brand. Trump has a logo, an agent, a tacky color scheme. Now imagine instead of shitty casinos and real estate, he actually ran something with a scary amount of power. Like ... I dunno, Facebook.
Mind you, I'm not saying it's bad that Apple knows all our secrets or that Elon Musk is revamping American infrastructure -- just that it's weird as hell that they have that kind of power. And even weirder is the fact that we're all okay with it. And even weirder than that weirdness is the fact that we're okay with it because (for the most part) it is okay. Because unlike the Marvel universe, the most any corporation wants to do (so far) with their overreaching power is sell us junk. And we love junk.
"But corporations don't have distinct personalities or make snarky quips" you say, having never been on Twitter before, apparently.
At this point, we're basically one armored suit away from an actual Tony Stark -- the difference being that it'll be way less fun when he's compromising actual U.S./Middle East relations with rogue explosions.
It's Worse To Expose Corruption Of Power Than Be The One Abusing It
Here's a question: Ever heard of the MUSCULAR program? No, don't just pretend you know what I'm talking about; there's no one around to impress because you're reading this on the toilet.
Second question: Ever heard of Edward Snowden? Yeah you have, poopy. He's the guy who exposed the MUSCULAR program, which is when the NSA tapped into Google and Yahoo's pipes and collected way way too much information about the American people. Now why is it that Edward Snowden is somehow more infamous than what he exposed? Why is it that after all these years he is still being punished while the NSA has admittedly made very few changes in their spying habits?
Because we never gave a single shit. Not even the one you're flexing out right now. Nor do we care that Marvel heroes are people like Tony Stark -- a billionaire jackass abusing his power for mostly personal reasons. Nor do we really question why someone like Bruce Wayne would spend his money punching the mentally ill instead of fixing Gotham's infrastructure. We don't care because it's fun to watch. Sure -- Batman's dad built that train to help the economically disadvantaged get around, but no one wants two hours of him un-exploding it into shambles.
Batman Begins ... to Plan for Several Socioeconomic Changes in Gotham
You know who does get villainized in the Marvel and DC universe? The party-pooping people who whistleblow. According to this world, it's those who speak up against corruption who end up being actually evil ... or at best a blackmailing dickwad like the guy in The Dark Knight. When the Ancient One was abusing dark magic to extend life, Mordo is the only one who cares -- which ultimately turns him into the bad guy. When Justin Hammer and Congress speak out against Tony Stark's abuse of power, they end up being secretly evil for doing it. This also applies to DC, as evil folk like Lex Luthor and Harvey Two-Face are perpetually fed up with vigilante power and corrupt police. Since when was demanding accountability a villainous trait?
The justification is always that in these specific scenarios, Superman and Iron Man are good -- even though most of the public have no evidence to believe that. And yet the films treat reasonable doubt like some kind of narratively punishable offense.
She wants to hold Superman accountable? Clearly she needs to drink piss and explode.
See ... In all the cases I've mentioned, the screenwriters have specifically created a situation where the naysayer turns out to either be wrong or have nefarious motivations ... therefore justifying the audience's dislike of their sourpussery. But the non-fictional version of these "villains" are the Woodwards and Bernsteins of the world. They're the people in the movie Spotlight. The congressional hearings for braggart shit-heaps like Martin Shkreli. And guess who that makes the heroes?
Being A Rich, Boastful, Prick Is Totally Fine In The Marvel Universe
Let's talk about arcs. We first meet Tony Stark as a war-loving arms dealer with a cocky-as-balls demeanor. Throughout the series, he perpetually swings between advocating for accountability and arrogantly creating some terrifying metallic behemoth. He quits making weapons at the end of one film before helping S.H.I.E.L.D. build hovercraft warships in the next. He blows up his Iron Man suits, only to create a fucking army of them in Age Of Ultron. And throughout it all, he remains a boastful, womanizing jerk butting heads with essentially everyone. For all his talking about maturing as a person, we haven't actually seen too much growth from his character.
Same with Doctor Strange, who begins the film as a know-it-all surgeon repelled by the rules ... only to join the Kamar-Taj and learn to be a "humble" caped sorcerer by once again breaking all of the goddamn rules.
"Eat shit, Hermione."
He fools around with a time amulet he was specifically told to avoid, and instead of that defiance biting him in the ass ... he ends up saving the day with it. Because in the Marvel universe you can be an aggressively pompous showboat so long as the ends justify the dickhead means. Thor was banished for his pride, but never earns his goodwill back through modesty or kindness. Like Iron Man in Avengers he sacrifices himself to save others, somehow overwriting that original disgrace without actually having to change his attitude.
Because we don't want them to stop being funny jerks, but rather do something heroic to justify why people tolerate the abuse. The message is clear: You can be a perpetual fuck-cannister of disrespect so long as you do it in a funny way -- something I'm pretty sure this guy thinks is happening to him:
Just be grateful that he probably can't grow a goatee.
As I already mentioned, Martin Shkreli is exactly the kind of wannabe badass who'd build a dangerous robot suit and flip everyone off when asked to literally cool his jets. Think about that the next time you watch one of these films.
Holding Powerful People Accountable Is Somehow A Debatable Idea
Now -- you probably noticed that I've conveniently ignored Civil War, the movie that addresses the Avengers recognizing their past abuses of power. Having destroyed cities almost as much as they've saved them, shown very little respect for authorities, and generally added chaos to the planet, Civil War was the film where Stark and Rogers sparred over the responsibility and accountability they previously ignored. And so clearly that negates everything I'm harping about here, right?
Actually, Civil War makes it worse. Because instead of treating the consequences of being a city-leveling vigliante corporation like an inevitability ... the film made it a debatable topic. Instead of them immediately conceding to obviously needed restrictions, we saw two admirable characters taking different sides as if ignoring the UN's pleas was a reasonable option.
Nothing says "We don't need restrictions" like blowing up an airport.
In other words, they taught the controversy, not the fucking truth, which is that the Avengers absolutely should go to jail for what they are doing. Unquestionable to your and my personal enjoyment of their adventures, they are lawfully in the wrong and bordering on terrorism in their actions. That's not an opinion. Tony Stark made a war suit and personally went over to the Middle East and started shooting people. It doesn't matter if he did it for heroics; just the airspace violations alone is enough for handcuffs. I'm not saying they wouldn't get off easy or be pardoned by the president for saving New York -- I'm merely saying that they're ignoring even the most basic of judicial standards. They've declared themselves to be above the law at all times, and whether or not that's a good thing is somehow a debatable topic?
Imagine if someone had the power to level buildings while also running a corporation and being an arrogant prick about it. In the real world we'd hold that person accountable and not simply debate the morals of their actions, right? Am I right?
Please tell me I'm right.
Look, I really enjoy all of these films. But there's always been some underlying horror about them in terms of what they say about America. I could never figure out what it was until I rewatched the 2004 film Team America: World Police. When the film was made a decade ago, during the War on Terror in Iraq, it was considered a terrific satire on America's tone-deaf ability to impose our will on the world. It made fun of the cheap, trivial, Michael Bay-ism of death and destruction.
And holy shit, you guys ... it's the exact same plot and aesthetic of The Avengers. All of it. Their adventures tearing around the globe in super jets ...
... obliviously inflicting their will on other countries in the form of explosions ...
... and then calling it a day at their swanky lair/bar where they have martinis and worry about their own personal drama.
Like the upcoming puppet fuck-scene.
But the big difference is that Marvel isn't being satirical about their characters bombing around the world inflicting destruction and hanging out in their swanky base. What was satire about America's arrogance ten years ago is being played totally straight today ... and to the absolute delight of audiences. And that's pretty fucking insane.
Hey hey ho ho Dave is on Twitter.
For things about superheroes you'll wish we never mentioned, check out 5 Deeply Troubling Questions The Marvel Movies Don't Address and 5 Problems In The Background Of Every Superhero Movie.
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