Government Oppression in The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Pop culture is more important than public school. At least when it comes to molding the next generation of policymakers. Young people might not want to discuss the subtlety and nuance of geopolitical policy, but they might be willing to talk about the latest Disney+ show.
The late Andrew Breitbart was right when he noted that “politics is downstream from culture.” Music, movies and social media today are ploughing the field for the government tomorrow. One could argue that the creators of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have more influence on the next decade than current members of Congress. Cultural leaders create. People consume that creation. Politicians, eventually, react to that consumption.
The President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, is laying a significant portion of the foundation upon which the next generation of leaders will stand. The MCU is everywhere. Not only is creating popular culture crucial, engaging with it as conservatives and libertarians is equally important. Only by engaging with it can one point out its flaws and emphasize what it gets right.
Marvel’s six episode Disney+ show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier provides an excellent case study. The main antagonist, Karli Morganthau, is the 19 year old leader of a group known as the Flag Smashers. The show deals with a number of pertinent social issues in a thoughtful way; including racism and excessive force by law enforcement. The Flag Smashers, however, are focused on fighting the show’s equivalent of a United Nations agency called the Global Repatriation Council.
The GRC’s motto is “Reset. Restore. Rebuild.” It is ominously similar to Joe Biden’s “Build back better“ and as meaningless as the UN’s actual slogan “Peace, dignity and equality on a healthy planet.” The Flag Smashers strenuously and violently object to the methods used by the GRC as it resets, restores and rebuilds. The GRC is forcibly relocating millions of people after half of the earth’s population has unexpectedly returned after being gone for five years. (See Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame for how that happened, the backstory is quite robust!))
The Falcon, whose mother named him Samuel Wilson, has a conversation with Morganthau in episode 4. Wilson is sympathetic to Morganthau’s cause but wants the Flag Smashers to stop using violence. She says, “You want me to stop because people are gettin’ hurt, right? But, Sam, what if I’m making the world a better place?” She adds “Everything I do is to end supremacy. These corporations and the beasts who run them, they’re the supremacists.”
Hit pause on your remote. The upstream pop culture world just presented a teaching moment that most certainly has downstream political implications. Ask “why is she mad at corporations?” Corporations have done absolutely nothing to Morganthau, the Flag Smashers, or their cause. Her anger should be directed at the GRC, a government entity. It is the GRC that is using government agents, police, and state-sponsored soldiers to forcibly relocate the people Morganthau claims to represent.
Morganthau, though a fictional character, represents misguided youth in the United States who earnestly believe big corporations are to blame, when the government should be their actual focus. That misguided earnestness is crystal clear in this portrayal of a comic book character – if one makes the effort to see it. If Morganthau’s line goes without critique it will plant seeds in the minds of millions of young people.
The Flag Smashers’ slogan is “One world. One people.” Yet another noble sounding, but empty mantra. The repeated slogan provides another chance to stop and discuss how this fictional character’s words match her actions. How can Morganthau believe in “one world and one people” if she is willing to kill some of the people in that world? Her actions show that she really means “one world and one people as long as they all agree with me.” The people who do not agree with her are her enemy. Slogans are easy. Showing where they lead is crucial. Pop culture gives us that chance.
Even if conservatives and libertarians are not regularly involved in making the pop culture product being consumed today, we must actively engage with it. We must use silly comic book stories to point out real world consequences. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, for one example of many, lets us point out the fallacy of confusing government force with market choice. It would be naive to think that it’s just Karli Morganthau making this mistake.
Dialogue in a silly television show based on comic book characters is not meaningless. Do not let it flow unchallenged from fiction to reality.