Superheroes for the Empire

Estébanez, Lorenzo
Date Written:  2014-03-01
Publisher:  Against the Current
Year Published:  2014
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20381

Estébanez examines the parallels between pop culture superhero fiction and contemporary politics as writers are inspired to make implicit statements about current ideologies.



The different ways audiences received both films' messages shows that ideology is more effectively communicated when it's invisible. Similarly, of several superhero films released in 2012 -- "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Amazing Spider-Man," and "Chronicle" -- only the former had a clear message against populist uprising, while the latter two communicated that message insidiously.

"Dark Knight Rises" was singled out for its anti-Occupy message. In the third act, the villain Bane unleashes popular outrage against the status quo using the language of economic justice. Over the course of a brief montage, things go very French Revolution very quickly in Gotham City.

The implication that many picked up on in Nolan's film is that the existing order is upheld for the good of society -- rather than solely for elite plutocrats like Bruce Wayne. The message was so clearly received that Nolan himself assured viewers that the film "wasn’t political,"as though such a thing could ever be possible.

No one asked similar questions of Mark Webb or Josh Trank, because their films eschewed overt, politically resonant imagery. Where Nolan's hero was a billionaire ninja, Webb and Trank's heroes were regular teenagers. The villains in "Spider-Man" and "Chronicle," though, were motivated by a desire to stop greater criminality. The law being enforced out by the heroes of "Spider-Man" and "Chronicle," is the sort of justice that protects the powerful against accountability from the masses they exploit.

Where "Dark Knight Rises" evoked the dangers of too much democracy in a blunt, obvious way; "Spider-Man" and "Chronicle" evinced these ideas much more effectively, masking the ideological underpinnings under their gee-whiz spectacle. With the deceptive oratorical finesse worthy of Barack Obama himself, whose presidency has articulated a clear vision of elite impunity, these films offer audiences a conception of order where justice protects the powerful from the exploited -- and show how easy it is to escape criticism by eschewing overtly politicized imagery

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