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Marvel Studios' agenda: Communism or commercialism

In the April 21 issue of “The Weekly Standard” magazine, their movie critic, John Podhoretz, accused Marvel Studios of ushering superhero movies into a “Commie Age”. Podhoretz claims that their films, Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in particular, are prime examples of liberal fear mongering and billionaire condemnation. Nowhere in his piece does he actually approach proving his point. Even taking his words at face value, one cannot conclude that there are any Communist leanings. Anti-capitalist? Maybe. Socialist? Not likely as this is Marvel, a subsidiary of Disney, a company that created the world's most famous elephant (ironically), Dumbo. Podhoretz is simply scapegoating and misconstruing comic-book films to further his own political agenda, just as Nancy Grace did recently with professional wrestling.

Photo by Spencer Platt

The message in Iron Man 3 is not that wealth itself is evil, rather that the pursuit of wealth and power at any cost is evil. Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, is the protagonist and titular character who starts off in the first film as, practically, a war profiteer, a drunk, and a womanizer. It takes him being held hostage, seeing his weapons in the hands of terrorists, to cause him to change his life's direction. Still filthy rich and deeply flawed as a human being, it's Tony's good intentions that make him heroic. He uses his wealth and influence to improve the world, even making some profit along the way, in some cases. Gasp!

Aldrich Killian, the professional rival of Stark in the latest film, uses his technology and resources to give himself superpowers. He recruits physically and mentally damaged vets and promises to make them even more than whole again, just so he can use them in his war against Stark. All of this is done in the service of pursuit of more power and even greater riches. His recruits and innocent bystanders alike die in this pursuit. He even gives the world the Mandarin, an actor masquerading as a terrorist cell leader, to deflect the blame for his crimes. Killian is clearly guilty of more than just great affluence.

The fact that Podhoretz uses the argument that the Mandarin campaign is similar to that of leftists using Sep 11 attacks as proof of advancement of “the corporatist neo-conservative agenda to take over the world”. He doesn't even have this correct. The Mandarin is a red herring, a sacrificial lamb, the bogeyman. If this sounds familiar, it should. Saddam Hussein was blamed for 9/11, wrongfully, and paid with his life. Now, Hussein was hardly a good guy but the impetus for his removal had nothing to do with justice, vengeance, or bringing democracy to Iraq. Bush and company used fear in the wake of 9/11 to justify invading Iraq on the false pretense that Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. For whatever means this was done, the M.O. is the same. This isn't difficult to decode.

As broached in the latest Captain America, the concept of government agencies being infiltrated by enemy organizations is hardly new. The James Bond franchise is built on it but Podhoretz acts as if Hydra's hostile takeover of S.H.I.E.L.D. is wholly impossible. He then compares superhero movies to Westerns and how the dynamic of heroes and villains changed in the late 1940s. He accuses legendary directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks of being blatantly liberal in their films' messages, seemingly to their detriment. Never mind the fact that, historically, most of the most revered Westerns of all time were made during or after this period.

Someone watching Unforgiven, one of the best films ever on top of a phenomenal Western, doesn't root for William Munny because he was once a truly evil man or that he is hunting down men that cut up a prostitute. People can relate to him because he was doing it to make money to provide for his children. They cheer when he walks into the saloon to confront the corrupt sheriff that killed his friend. The anti-hero is a widely accepted archetype, especially in modern film. There are areas of gray. Not all films can be Frank Capra. Some require some interpretation from the audience. One would think that Podhoretz enjoys The Searchers, however, and for all the wrong reasons.

Last, but not least, there is the fact that these are movies. As a movie critic, one would expect Podhoretz to recognize that storytelling styles evolve. However, the core tenets of silver screen good and evil remain. A hero is only as good as his nemesis is bad. In this style of film, the enemy must be sensationalized. Without an air of omnipotence to the villain, the hero doesn't appear to overcome anything. Why need a superhero at all if a couple of crossing guards can take care of the problem with nothing more than a whistle and a stern warning? Why have films at all? There's enough real conflict in the world, why invent fake conflict?

Marvel may not be making “good” movies, in the traditional sense, or overly intelligent movies but they sure as hell are entertaining. They are also very American, at least the basic idea of American as the country was founded. They also don't try to insult their audience. They want them to have a good time and make a little coin, not take over the world. If there is a message beyond fighting the good fight, it's commercialism and not communism. These Avengers fight against oppression, not invite and nourish it with dismissive, divisive, and holier-than-thou attitudes. In all our best interests, maybe in the future Mr. Podhoretz will leave the snark to Stark and the patriotism to Captain America.

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