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.”