Survival Journalism

Op-Ed

The Subtle Propaganda of Super Heroes

Happy Fourth of July 2014!

             I haven’t seen “The Black Panther” and undoubtedly won’t.  I lost what little interest I might have had when I found out Bobby Seale wasn’t in it.  But apparently, not many movie-goers share that perspective as it has become one of the most profitable films of all time.

            Superheroes are popular diversions in societies devoid of hope where citizens feel they have no real control over their own lives, let alone the world in which they live.  They have become the most popular method for distributing American propaganda since the death of John Wayne.  And now they have been turned into tools of the capitalist elite.  Considering that repugnant element of our society cares little about anything but the profit motive, I have no doubt we will soon be seeing new superheroes who are Latino and gay and disabled until we make it all the way to the heroic “Mixed-race, gender-confused person in a wheelchair.”

            That’s the way capitalism works.  You find an idea that made someone money and you beat it to death to squeeze out every last penny with no regard to the effect of your actions on the industry, the nation or the world.  It requires no conscience; a conscience is, in fact, a detriment.  It has no room for integrity; integrity is a weakness inflicting the guy in the soup line.  And it could care less if the information it is dispensing is honest or dishonest.

            Generally speaking, if any information causes you to feel better about your life and more accepting of your place in society without changing it in any productive way or helping you understand it better, you are dealing with capitalist propaganda.  And if the best source of hope it can provide is, “Maybe a superhero will save you,” you’re probably being manipulated.

            Those of us who grew up during the Cold War have a great deal of difficulty determining when we’re being manipulated.  It began early for us, with the cartoons of our youth pitting resourceful (and always triumphant) American heroes like Rocky and Bullwinkle against evil duos like Boris Badenov and Natasha.  It included so many western gunslingers who shot first and didn’t bother to ask questions later that is sad, but accurate, to say the television programming of my youth was just as thick with gun-toting cowboys and cigarette ads as today’s primetime is inundated with gun-toting cops and pharmaceutical ads; apparently indicating the standard America corporate message has never advanced beyond, “Love your gun and become an addict.”

            But for the younger generations who weren’t force-fed anti-communist brainwashing during their early development and who don’t rely on traditional sources for their entertainment, the situation is rapidly changing.  A 2016 Study by Harvard University determined that only 42% of millennials support capitalism as an economic system and 51% oppose it. Those must be shocking numbers not only for my generation but also for those Americans who were born in the era of Reagan and Ayn Rand when “liberal” somehow became a dirty word.

            Young people are once again renouncing the propaganda of their parents as they did fifty years ago.  Unfortunately, we all know how that turned out.  If they want to permanently change a world that desperately needs to be changed, they must learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.  Reagan took power (and began the assault on many of the progressive gains and empathetic perspectives of the Sixties and Seventies) only after the battlefield was cleared by “heroic” rugged individualists like Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood who wiped out the “punks” seeking to disrupt the peaceful lives of white people; the latter turning large caliber bullets into veritable objects of worship before he went nuts and started talking to empty chairs.

            And they did it with movies.

            Nearly fifty years after the Reagan Clampdown on creative expression – please don’t kid yourself into believing it was anything but that – we have reached the point where conservative control of the subtler forms of propaganda have almost completely removed progressive ideas from the public forum while the corpulent white Judeo-Christian men with all the money continue to lament the assault of the “liberal media” on their God-given right to be stupid.  As one who has attempted to market a science fiction novel that is intensely political to American agents and publishers, I can report that the common response a writer receives in this situation is, “Americans don’t want politics in their science fiction.”  Meanwhile, Americans flock to the cinema to see films like Avatar and V for Vendetta

The truth is, publishers, don’t want Americans to examine their nation through the lens of the SF genre.  They might learn something other than which bullet makes the biggest splatter when you shoot a “punk.”  And a dystopian future might look a little too much like their dystopian present.

But I guess if you’re going to produce mindless escapism, making a black guy a hero for a change is a step in the right direction.  

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