A couple of weeks ago I changed my cell phone plan which these days means I get access to more of the interconnected corporate hegemony being put out into the cultural zeitgeist these days. In this case I now have access to Disney Plus, or Disney + as the branding bros would have it.
I really couldn’t have cared less about getting Disney + as I am beyond the age of having children who would watch cartoons and not yet to the point of having grandkids who would. But since Disney has been buying up intellectual property as if they couldn’t possibly come up with something themselves (and yes that is a dig at how Disney has treated their creative “partners”) having the network has given me a chance to take a gander at the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that I’ve heard so much about.
I have a special fondness for Marvel comic books. Back in the day when a 25 cent weekly allowance was enough for two comics and three pieces of penny candy, I bucked the trends and fanboyed for Marvel over D.C. Comics. Frankly I didn’t understand why my friends didn’t favor The Fantastic Four over Superman or Spiderman over Batman. I mean, we lived in New York, the Marvel characters protected New York, why would you favor some guy from another planet who lived in a made up city called Metropolis over someone protecting YOU in the very real city where you lived? And really, this guy puts on a pair of glasses and nobody recognizes him? At least Iron Man had a metal helmet covering his entire head so of course you couldn’t know it was Tony Stark.
But times passes and my magazine reading advanced from comic books to Mad Magazine to the National Lampoon and then out into adulthood. Yeah, I went to see Christopher Reeve as Superman and Michael Keaton as Batman, but those were one off experiences that were not repeated for the numerous sequels. By the time of the reimagining of Batman by Christopher Nolan, superhero movies were out of my flightpath. In fact I became that guy who went to see Cosmopolis at some Hellplaza 64 screen monstrosity and complained to the management that the walls are so thin I could hear the cheering for The Dark Knight Rises.
Thus I have not seen in their entirety any of the twenty-five or so movies that have made zillions of dollars and have audiences salivating for more. I don’t know Chris Evans from Chris Pine. I’ve been told they are both captains, but of what I can’t remember. Scrolling through the list of Marvel films available on the network I get lost trying to remember if Loki is a villain, a hero, a god, a spaceman, or just whatever the hell he really is. Apparently there are multiple universes in which there are multiple Spidermen, women, dogs, cats, and taxi cab drivers. And there are guardians of the galaxy and one of them is the shoeshine guy from Parks and Rec?
And to think one of the reasons my childhood friends didn’t like the Marvel comics was that they were too complex.
But here’s the thing I’ve come to realize. All superhero movies are fascist.
I can hear the collective groan from so many of you out there but hear me out.
One of the prime tenets of any fascist thinking is the notion that one man, and one man alone, can save the society. It is the concept of the “superman” or as Nietzsche said in Also sprach Zarathustra, the Ubermensch. In fascism society does not advance by collectively coming together to overcome their obstacles, rather one man bends the society to his will and thus society benefits. Only one man can save the day. Call him Superman, or Iron Man, or it can even be a Wonder Woman, but normal people can only play Sancho Panza to the great hero, they can’t possibly save themselves.
And heaven forbid the idea they all band together to save themselves and establish a just and humane society. I mean that’s nothing but communism!
Megalomaniacs love a superhero story, so long as they are the superhero. Hitler was a devotee of Nietzsche and absolutely loved the music of Neitzsche’s musical disciple Richard Strauss. I know you’ve been hearing those low pedal organ notes in your head for the past few moments. Well time for the kettle drums. The Ubermensch rises up from humanity, aware of his unique powers but not quite ready to show them, goes on a spiritual quest to realize his destiny, then has an ordeal of fire that settles once and for all that he is the one true savior. That pretty much sums up every superhero origin story.
But humanity doesn’t need a superhero to solve it’s problems. In fact the superhero gets in the way of humanity solving it’s problems. “Oh someone will come along and fix it” has become our rote answer to any problem, “it’s not up to me”. And then one day someone comes along and says in effect “Yes, I am the one you have been looking for. I can fix your problems. I can take away your pain. I can be the hero of the story. You just have to believe in me.”
Hitler said it. Mussolini said it. Stalin said it. Pol Pot said it.
And yeah, Donald Trump said it.
I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order.
Did Donald Trump get elected because of all the superhero movies that have flooded the cineplexes in the past ten years? I’m not going to pin that blip in the body politic totally on Hollywood. There were many factors that lead to his election. But think about how his most fervent followers talked about him. He was held out as the only hope for a nation that had lost it’s way, the only man who could save the republic from the horrors of the looney left, the only one with the power and prestige to return the USA to it’s proper place in the pantheon of nations. In other words, they held him out as the only man who can save us.
A superhero to save us, just like in the movies.
By the way Hollywood has helped prepare the public before for a new kind of leader. Let me point out that in the years proceeding 2008 and the election of Barack Obama the following men all played the POTUS: Morgan Freeman, Dennis Haysbert, D.B. Woodside, Louis Gossett Jr., Terry Crews, and Danny Glover. I bet you can guess what they all have in common.
It wasn’t that they were wearing tights and a cape.
Moonwatcher, the original superhero, begins his hero’s odyssey