When I started this blog, it was so I could make my voice heard. That’s still its purpose. So, let’s talk about comics and politics.
Note for the above image: upside-down text signifies subversion.
We like to complain about politics in our favorite media. Part of me understands the frustration. Comics, for example, are an escape for many from the uncomfortable realities of the world we live in. Captain America’s adventures are an exciting and colorful alternative to the daily grind of a 9-5. There’s a certain satisfaction in seeing him work out a solution, often with his fists.
Still, Captain America is himself a political statement.
In fact, so are many of our favorite heroes and comics. In Captain America #1, Steve punches Adolf Hitler, immediately setting himself up as an example of American morality. The phrase “Who Watches The Watchmen?” opens an anti-Reagan dialogue about who our leaders answer to and, according to Moore, how little we should blindly trust those leaders to look out for our well-being without some measure of reservation or fear. Batman is, in most incarnations, staunchly anti-gun. Superman is a literal alien refugee. Stan Lee created the X-Men as a “parable about prejudice and fear,” because “people fear things that are different,” a lesson America is still learning given that 76% of the U.S. LGBTQ population lives in states where conversion therapy for minors is still perfectly legal.
More recently, Image’s wildly popular Saga is about the difficulties of an interracial relationship in a world resistant to change. In our own world, a mere stock photo of an interracial couple in an advertisement draws ire. Marvel’s Kamala Khan is a young Pakistani-Muslim girl trying to navigate dual identities. She’s a topical commentary on the current political climate, considering that Americans of her faith might be asked to register in an act that sounds alarmingly like something Captain America himself strongly opposed.
That’s not to say that such political commentary is always well executed. A recent issue of Captain America: Sam Wilson fell flat in trying to satirize PC culture, for instance. Although we are obviously under no obligation to tolerate a bigoted or discriminatory agenda in what we consume, the point is that, like this writer, creators do inject their political viewpoints into their work on the regular, whether that be in Captain America in 1941 or Captain America in 2017.
What I’m trying to say is: comics are, by their very nature, political. All art is. Artists do not exist in a vacuum, and so as my good friend Eliot says, “no art is free from the expression of its creator’s self– personal beliefs, hopes, fears, etc.” There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, if most of the above examples are any indication, allowing it to happen is exactly how great art is made (though I will say that we should not encourage hardship in order to produce commentary and, by proxy, great art). Despite its fantasy elements, entertainment should play on something relatable and real in order to gain traction, and touching on politics is a way to strike that balance.
The issue with framing entertainment in this way is that the complaints then shift from “there shouldn’t be politics in my favorite media” to “there shouldn’t be politics I disagree with in my favorite media,” and that latter statement generates conflict. No one wants to admit that their views might lean away from those of the Good Guys. But if a Captain against a national registration act for minorities, a billionaire against guns and an illegal alien are supposed to be the heroes, then how did Trump get elected?