The Avengers: propaganda or not?
With this article the author will try to look at the Avengers in order to show how easily facts can be distorted and how easy it is for people like Alex Jones to call any superhero film propaganda.
Now let me just say at the beginning that I liked the Avengers very much because it was just a fun action comedy/superhero film and I am looking forward to seeing both TASM and TDKR in the future. What I don’t like is self-promoters like Alex Jones advertising their own programes by taking films that haven’t come out yet and making wild assumptions about their political stance and claiming that they are propaganda. Since Alex Jones had a go at TDKR I thought to myself « Alex Jones CAN read propaganda into the film if that’s what he expects to find in the film and he will always find SOMEONE stupid enough to take him seriously». Since TDKR has yet to come out I am going to conduct the same experiment on the superhero film that I HAVE seen: the Avengers. Bear in mind that the following is NOT my opinion about the Avengers but it’s a discussion of what one COULD read into these hollywood blockbusters if one were REALLY trying and REALLY cynical. So for the sake of the experiment I am not going to mince words here and I will impose onto the film a political message it clearly does NOT have (don’t be silly), while at the same time explaining why this is stupid to begin with. I will then come to a conclusion. Okay, here goes:
First of all, the basic premise of the Avengers is very simple : faceless outside force (aliens, or Iran if that’s what you want to read into it) threatens us (or the US if that’s what you want to read into it) and therefore the defenders of freedom (the corporate egomaniac who is certain to put all monetary and financial cosiderations aside for other people, the patriot, the scientist, the hot chick, the religious idol and the guy shooting arrows) need to get together to fight off this common enemy. Cynics could say « when have I heard this before? Was it in 2001, 2003? Maybe I’ll recall later. » It is adly a fact that in American films this is the ONLY scenarios you ever get in these big blockbusters (God forbid the US is ever shown as an invader slaughtering innocent people abroad with drone strikes and chemical warfare) and for those of you who say «well this film is a metaphor that can be applied to ANY invasion of any country in the world», I could stop you right there by claiming that this film could potentially say : if someone causes you problems, don’t question anything and use violence as a means to solve those problems. I could say that it seems odd that this film comes out after nearly a year of the mass media telling us how Iran intends to invade and that pre-emptive war is good and that a nuclear war is likely to be the case. But then I would make that film political and use certain aspects of the film and certain political subjects to suit my purposes.
A big problem is Captain America, the undoubting patriot soldier. If I were disillusioned I could say he stands for the big ideals that the US always claims to represent when in fact the movie shows that they’re just as ready to destroy everything as the aliens are. I COULD say the movie never questions the idea of dying for your country, no matter what it does or stands for (I could claim it even makes Tony Stark a hero for trying to sacrifice himself for his country). Are soldiers always heroes? I don’t know. I’d say they’re heroes to the people they fight for (but not always). We have some good examples where soldiers are brutalising civilians and if i were a cynic I could use that to support a political argument. I could also say soldiers are not heroes when they fight for the other side, right? Because we are ALWAYS right, no? Oh the audience gets the idea that SHIELD is not telling the Avengers the truth for a big part of the movie but audience members are at the same time constantly reminded that Loki is worse than anything the US gvt. can do and the solution to stop the alien invasion proposed by the US gvt. is so inhumane and excessive that Captain America would be expected to raise at least an eyebrow and say « excuse me?» but no. I could say : «he just continues fighting off the evil foreigners...aehm I mean aliens and once everything is done he’s ot going to question ANY of those decisions, which makes him a patriot and a hero, apparently.» But I could offend people by criticising how this American patriot saves the Germans who clearly cannot hope to achieve anything if the US is not playing world police 24/7. But that again,would say more about my political beliefs than it would about the film itself.
The audience and the people at the end of the film are obviously cheering once Tony Stark saves humanity. I could use examples to support a very cynical point of view on how all this happened at the expense of a whole race of beings and use political examples like the cheering of Rick perry when he claimed that Texas executed more prisoners than other US states, or how some people cheered when Ron Paul was asked whether or not a sick man without money and healthcare should be left to die in the streets. These are very specific examples that do exist but I would be making the film political once more.
There are other elements one could distort. Like for example the idea that safety and security of the US supercedes EVERYTHING else. Police state, anyone? SHIELD wants to cube to build weapons against superhumans at first, right? Some of us would say the’re right to be vigilant and trying to keep people like Thor and Hulk at bay, while others could say « what’s going to stop them from developing new weapons against normal people if they are at some point deemed a threat to the idea of what society should look like according to SHIELD? » that’s a valid question but it depends on where you fall on the issue of security and all sides can be distorted to suit a person’s messages.
Other questions are : why did they choose renewable energy as a cover for developing weapons? Was it because it’s something that is just very popular right now or is it because you don’t want to offend corporate oligarchs in the oil and gas industry by presenting renewable energy sources, like solar, wind, etc . in a positive light? The best way not to offend them is by saying that any claims to invest in renewable energy are just a sham and are really cover-ups for nefarious purposes (insert silly evil laugh here). This is the sort of logic that is easily made becausen the film is apolitical enough to allow both an interpretation of the film that supports renewable energy and one that rejects it or maybe it’s just in there to have SOME kind of political sophistication.
But the one that’s probably going to make the most cynical people laugh is the idea of Tony Stark helping ANYBODY except himself. As a narcissist his psychiatric makeup should logically prevent him from caring about ANYTHING except himself. He learns about sacrificing himself for others (unlikely without therapy) but once again, at the expense of an entire race he knew NOTHING about other than they were his enemy. Anything beyond that is none of his business and the idea of a rich person like him posing as a defender of the poor could be offensive if i were to use that to support a certain point of view, and I could use as support for that the very fact that the wealthiest people in the US get so many breaks. I could go and say « here’s how you help poor people : you push for wealthy individuals paying more taxes so that those who have nothing don’t bear the burden of paying for the mistakes and crimes of the financial sector and big business, you don’t whine about regulations, you don’t create weapons, you ask for the establishment not to cater to you and you go into therapy to get that narcissism in check. » Now that response is loaded with political ideology, something Alex jones is also very familiar with. Some of you reading this would probably say «I can’t believe someone like Mitt Romney taking a nuclear missile and sacrificing himself just to save the average Joe on the street ». It’d be hard to argue against that in the current economic climate were it not such a specific example. There certainly are wealthy philantropists in the US today but since that does not suit my argument i would probably not use it if i wanted to espouse a certain political message, right?
What one could attack is the idea of superheroes constantly protecting the status quo but then again you’d have to be against the idea to begin with and you’d have to discard superheros like Green Arrow or ANARKY, who are VERY anti-establishment. I could wave my arms in the air and shout : «Well done, Avengers, you saved the face of the establishment. And what’s more, you had no other choice because all of us would’ve died if you didn’t. That’s a nice lesson : save your rotten society or suffer something far worse. It’s either you or the invaders, right? The end (your life) justifies the means (no mercy for your enemies), right? I also hope the Japanese got all this nice little subtext as well. » But that would be mean-spirited and again, I would impose my views onto the film when in fact I know NOTHING about the people who made it. It could be incidentally true but I cannot affirm as fact that the film is propaganda just because something LOOKS suspicious or because i somehow feel offended by something in the film. I’d need hard facts (which I do not have and probably never will) and until then I cannot claim that the film is propaganda nor, to be honest, do I have any wish to do so because it is just an action comedy.
All these ideas sound awful and revolting, don’t they? Sounds like something only a conspiracy nut could come up with if he devoted enough time to it, doesn’t it ? You’re right, I could be using imagery and pieces of dialogue to support a certain political message but that would mean that i really wanted to make it political, even though i have NOTHING to gain from it WHATSOEVER. It’s the beauty of cinema that we can all read different things into different films and share different interpretations with one another and I would hate to impose my views on others but alex jones is convinced that he’s right about everything so he’ll force it down your throats. What I have a problem with is people imposig a political message onto films and claiming that they are propaganda when in fact they are meant to be films that everyone can enjoy on a different level. It probably says more about the person spouting this garbage than it says about the film and while there certainly is a point to be made about imagery being used to send us subliminal messages we have to remind ourselves : they’re just movies and I will make my choices myself. The problem with this sort of experiment is that ANY current political controversy can be used to justify the interpretation that a film is propaganda. Just because Alex Jones says a film is propaganda that doesn’t make it true and just because I distorted the facts in the Avengers to suit this experiment, does not mean that that’s what the Avengers is trying to do either. It rather shows us that ANYTHING in a film can be connected to ANYTHING that we’re for or against politically, and trying to force one way of thinking and interpreting on all of us is propaganda in itself.
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