The Reactionary Politics of Comic-Book Movies: NY Times Critics Unleash Ideological Attack on Our Beloved Superheroes

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by Anthony Kaufman
June 28, 2012 1:56 PM
2 Comments
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The New York Times headline reads "Super-Dreams of An Alternate World Order: The Amazing Spider-Man and the Modern Comic Book Movies." But it could just as easily have read "The Reactionary Jingoism of Comic-Book Movies." If ever there was a time that Times critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis showed off their lefty credentials, it's in this back-and-forth about the aspirational American global order of these films and the corporate Hollywood machine that produces it--a view that I've been espousing for some time on this blog.

As Dargis writes, "On one level the allure of comic book movies is obvious, because, among other attractions, they tap into deeply rooted national myths, including that of American Eden (Superman’s Smallville); the Western hero (who’s separate from the world and also its savior); and American exceptionalism (that this country is different from all others because of its mission to make 'the world safe for democracy,' as Woodrow Wilson and, I believe, Iron Man, both put it)."

Further on, Scott reveals the political hypocrisy that belies these films: "Much as they may fetishize courage and individualism, these movies are above all devoted to the protection of a status quo only tangentially (or tendentiously) related to truth, justice and the American Way. The DC and Marvel superheroes, champions of democracy in the ’40s and ’50s and pop rebels in the ’60s and ’70s, have become, in the 21st century, avatars of reaction."

It's no surprise to me, but Dargis also uses her New York Times pulpit to explore the racist and sexist underpinnings of everything from "Superman" to "Batman," which, as she rightfully notes, originated in mythologies from over 50 years ago and which the country seem to still be stuck in today. As she writes, "The world has moved on — there’s an African-American man in the Oval Office, a woman is the secretary of state — but the movie superhero remains stuck in a pre-feminist, pre-civil rights logic that dictates that a bunch of white dudes, as in 'The Avengers,' will save the world for the grateful multiracial, multicultural multitudes. What a bunch of super-nonsense."

If that weren't patriotic enough for you on this Independence Day's eve, Scott goes after the crass corporate bottom line that drives the franchises. "There is something paradoxical about the modern ascendance of the superhero: world domination is what these guys were born to fight, and here they are chasing after it in a fairly literal way," he writes, likening superheroes to "the rise of Hollywood itself."

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2 Comments

  • Nick | November 1, 2012 11:15 PMReply

    The scores of comic book-based movies that have been made during the last decade are more of a symptom of a disease than the disease itself. It's just like contemporary nerd culture (with nerd being shorthand for economically comfortable, obsessive consumer) that is generally uninterested in how pop culture affects society, other than in a strict ephemeral way. In other way I see the proliferation of these kinds of movies (just like the popularization of the nerd as a commercial entity) a consequence of a detached, alienated society. Yes, a handful of those movies have been enjoyable, albeit forgettable, but I'm hoping for some change.

  • No | June 28, 2012 2:16 PMReply

    "There is something paradoxical about the modern ascendance of the superhero: world domination is what these guys were born to fight, and here they are chasing after it in a fairly literal way," he writes, likening superheroes to "the rise of Hollywood itself."

    This isn't too surprising since Hollywood, unlike some other areas of the marketplace, is a capital-oriented business that rise or falls based on market selections, i.e., the film-going audience. Conservatives often complain about lefty Hollywood, but I said, it is probably the only aspect of quaint traditional, old school capitalism, unlike Wall Street which has been shown to be rigged by government induced legislation that allows banks to take incredible risks and then is bailed out with taxpayers' money.

    The superhero fixation underscores that Hollywood would rather use comic books as source material than explore the world of women, blacks, Latinos, Asians, working class whites, and gay folks.

    In the realm of world domination, which has a better face? US military imperialism or US cultural imperialism?

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