(Pop) Cultural travel, Manu-scripts

War, Politics and Superheroes

This blog is gonna rise from the ashes. A lot of things changed in short amount of time. I moved back from the US, changed job… Now I am ready to start new plans more than ever! I was thinking about a new category for this blog for a long time now, and after thinking about a few names I settled for “Manu-scripts” will be a subcategory of “(Pop) Cultural Travel”. I already developped a bit the “All that glitters” part with Conventions, and Comic Cons review. I want to stick to Pop Culture but developp something slightly different : Tv shows, movies, songs, comics, books… everything that was once a script.

This year I have decided to share a bit more what I am working on, especially about my studies. I am currently researching and writing for my master’s thesis on Militainment. What is Militainment?  Militainment is a portmanteau for Military Entertainement (see Detective Pop Culture youtube video on the matter for more development of the idea). I am researching how the US military influences Pop Culture and American values (and vice versa). My friends know how the MCU is important to me. I am focusing on Marvel Comics and their on-screen adaptations. Name it: Captain America and WWII, Bucky Barnes and The Cold War, The Punisher and Vietnam and then Post 9/11 War on Terror, the Blaxpoitation of Superheroes/Soldiers, Women on the battlefield… These are my main subjects.

Today, I will talk about one of my first read, War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film.

The reference for further quotes: DiPaolo, Marc. War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film. McFarland & Co Inc. March 2011.

I really enjoyed reading this opus as the author demonstrates perfectly how comics and American History and Values are deeply entwined in a social and economic context. These are the following chapters:

Introduction : Are Superheroes Republicans? On the Avengers, Star Treck, and Watchmen

Chapter 1: Batman as Terrorist, Technocrat and Feudal lord

Chapter 2: Wonder Woman as World War II Veteran, Feminist Icon, and Sex Symbol

Chapter 3: Spider-man as Benedict Arnold, Objectivist and Class Warrior.

Chapter 4: The Punisher as Murderous Immigration Officer and Vietnam War Veteran.

Chapter 5 : Superman vs. Ronal Reagan and the Ku Klux Klan

Chapter 6 : The Special Relationship  : Britain and America in James Bond, Doctor Who and Hellblazer

Chapter 7: Tortured Consciences: Jack Bauer, the Invisible Woman and George W. Bush’s America

Chapter 8: Gay Rights, Civil Rights and Nazism in the X-men Universe

Chapter 9: In Brightest Day, in Darkest Knight: President Obama vs. the Zombie Apocalypse

Of course I focused more on the Marvel side of this work, but read every single page as every chapter will be useful to starting writing my thesis. I took notes of many important key words and anecdotes.

The most revealing chapters to me were Chapter 2, on Wonder Woman and her journey as a non-military ideologue through War War II, the make gaze and feminist agenda over the decades. Chapter 4, The Punisher, also gave me lots of information on the pre-Netflix adaptations of the character and its ties with Vietnam War, mafia and his Italian origins.

Key words: Great Depression, Swinging Sixties, Liberal Seventies, establishment superheroes, War on terror, American imperialism, Military Industrial Complex, PTSD, WII, Cold War, Vietnam, 9/11, Vigilante, Veterans, Torture, Patriarchal culture, Male Gaze, Masculinity, Progressivism, Patriotism.

 

War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film, more recent

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By chapters:

Chapter 1: Batman as Terrorist, Technocrat and Feudal lord

If the chapter first seemed pretty useless for me – I particularly dislike Batman despite his importance in Pop Culture and its successful adaptations – as I will study only Marvel comics and not DC; the study allowed me to take some notes on notions I could exploit later. For instance, the masculine representation of guns that is not used by all super-heroes and that brings debate on their ideology of killing or not. This is particularly important for the idea of a soldier, defending his country or assaulting another. Another crucial idea is the internal conflict of the Dark Knight to choose between Freedom and Security for Gotham’s inhabitants, ringing a bell with the context of Civil War and Captain America’s or Iron man’s ideologies.

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Chapter 2: Wonder Woman as World War II Veteran, Feminist Icon, and Sex Symbol

I was already familiar with Wonder Woman and origins and ideology: socialism, feminism and pacifism as I studied before for a previous essay. But this part underlines various notions it was good to remember so I could use them as a comparison for Marvel women during War, such as Agent Carter and Captain Marvel in a “dominant patriarchal cultural climate” (p.75). Indeed, this chapter explore the idea of “male-gaze” and the evolution of a character under different writers and decades, breaking sometimes what the character stands for and its core ideology. The most important sentence of the chapter according to me is: “One of the problems many superheroes face is that, over the years, they become rarified and sanitized caricatures of themselves, burdened by decades worth of previous adventures continuity.” (p.89)

 

Did you know? The Amazon’s power was “revealed to be superior technology fueled by the discovery of a rare element unearthed in the mines Paradise Island” (p.80) Vibranium? No, Feminum.

 

Chapter 3: Spider-man as Benedict Arnold, Objectivist and Class Warrior.

This part is particularly interesting with its take on the Civil War storyline; it links the fictional world with the War on Terror and Bush’s era, while having an “exterior” point of view. Spider-man is the “Every-day man Superhero” (p.93), torn between his ambition and admiration for Iron-Man and his Registration Act; and his moral compass longing for Captain America’s side, the fugitives fighting for Freedom. “Certainly, Stark is a patriot in his desire to protect American lives and public safety, but is not Spider-man at least as patriotic, if not more so, for questioning and defying Stark ?” (p.100)

 

Did you know? In the original Civil War comic, Peter is pushed by Tony Stark to reveal his identity and endorse the Registration Act. When Spider-man sees his friends hunted down and imprisoned without trial, he swap sides and become a fugitive, following Captain America.

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Chapter 4: The Punisher as Murderous Immigration Officer and Vietnam War Veteran.

This is the chapter I was the most looking for to read, as media and analysis of the character are rare, but interesting. It develops information I did not know at all about Frank Castle especially about the different origins and creation of his alter ego The Punisher in the first cinematic adaptations of his adventures, and a few comparisons with Sylvester Stalone’s Rambo. The essay develops perfectly the climate during the Vietnam War in America, which help be build an historic and economic basis for my research. The notion of vigilantism is important, as they are “Judge, Jury and Executioner” (p. 129) and the thin line between killing a criminal and an innocent. An interesting parallel is made between Castle and Captain America, a key point I could use in my development.

 

Did you know? In the original comics, Frank Castiglione (son of Sicilian immigrants, which then took the name Castle) served Vietnam. In various versions he was also a police officer before becoming a mass-murdering vigilante or… a priest.

In a non-canon Spoof/Spin-off, The Punisher married… Wonder Woman. They even have a son. But when she saw she couldn’t change him, she left him and took the child custody. (p.129)

During Civil War comics, Iron man decides to recruit former criminals (Bulleye, Green Gobli, Venom) so Castle takes Captain America’s side rescuing Spider-man from an attack. He then murder two criminal-recruits and get beaten by Captain America for it, as he doesn’t fight back. Indeed, Captain America was Frank’s hero. “Same guy, different war”, according to Spiderman. (p 128)

 

Chapter 5: Superman vs. Ronal Reagan and the Ku Klux Klan

The Chapter expands in lots of medical aspects and analyses of the Christopher Reeves’ movies but gives a crucial political context during Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Obama eras; commenting on “Superman death” and the success of The Punisher-like superheroes. It gives a good explanation of a pre-Marvel’s Civil War background.

 

Chapter 6: The Special Relationship: Britain and America in James Bond, Doctor Who and Hellblazer

As the title shows, this chapter focuses on the ties between America and its Parent country. If I found this section less interesting as it does not concern the thematic I chose, it offers an interesting view on the James Bond storyline as well as a take on the different reincarnation of the Doctor and their love or hatred to the United States.

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Chapter 7: Tortured Consciences: Jack Bauer, the Invisible Woman and George W. Bush’s America

This part is really revealing of America’s state of mind during Bush’s presidency. This essay is important, as it can easily be linked to the Punisher and other Superhero-military examples. It draws the Unites States as an example, which decisions are judged by the whole world and can legitimate or forbid other nations’ use of torture as interrogating.

Did you know? After 9/11, depictions of torture on television multiplied by six in the US, and it was most likely to see the protagonist torturing an opponent for the greater good, whereas it was never the case before.

 

Chapter 8: Gay Rights, Civil Rights and Nazism in the X-men Universe

X-men are a metaphor for segregated and oppressed minorities: sexually, representing the LGBTQ community, religiously, most of its members being Jewish, or ethnically, pursuing a goal of incorporating more non-white superheroes. In this vein, and in link with mu subject, the chapter comments on the existence of other Marvel’s characters, such as Nick Fury and The Falcon and the blaxpoitation of white characters turning black.

Did you know? Nick fury ethnicity in the comics (The Ultimates) was changed after Samuel L. Jackson portrayal in the MCU (p. 240).

 

Chapter 9: In Brightest Day, in Darkest Knight: President Obama vs. the Zombie Apocalypse

This chapter serves as an epilogue, demonstrating the use of real-life politicians as comic book superheroes or caricatured characters in satire graphic novels. It also embodies the feeling of fresh air during Barack Obama’s presidency leading to the resurrection of superheroes believing in America, such as Captain America. Finally, it concludes that frustratingly, “our real-life heroes tend to be far less perfect than Superman”. (p. 277)

I will be following, Marc DiPaolo next analyses of Pop Culture and I recommend a 100% this book. What do you think about this new content? Is there something you would like me to talk about?

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