X Close

Donald Trump: from superhero to zero Marvel culture chimed perfectly with the early, cinematic age of Trump. Riot and pandemic will end it

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)


June 17, 2020   4 mins

The Breitbart doctrine states that politics is downstream from culture: change the culture, and you change the politics. If you agree, you will also agree that modern cinema was a gift to Donald Trump and his white supremacists. He began in television — he was, I joke, the apprentice — but his possibilities were cinematic.

Cinema is America’s native culture. It was glorious, but not recently; it has been eroded to a series of franchises, particularly Marvel’s the Avengers, which has, over 23 films, raised $23 billion. Avengers Endgame is the highest-grossing film in history and, apart from the fact that it features an alien enemy and brightly-coloured superheroes, I couldn’t tell you anything about it, and I watched it. Except that I suspect the American neo-Nazi Richard Spencer loved it.

The modern superhero film was born from the disaster film. This is important. America loves disaster films, which play out its endings, like a child imagining itself dead for the pleasure of knowing it isn’t. It is a game it plays with itself, and it’s an old game: space aliens in the 1950s; animals and technology in the 1970s; climate disaster in the 1990s, before it became too imminent to enjoy.

Then the disaster film became the superhero film. The semi-ordinary protagonist — the American everyman, flawed, generic but essentially sane — retired. He was too adult for the infantilised viewer to identify with. He was replaced by a relic from the mid 20th century — the superhero. Now there is nothing else to admire on screen, except wizards perhaps, but they are old, and Jedi knights, and they are space aliens. Modern cinematic heroes are defiantly inhuman. If that feels self-hating, and incurious — there is no finding here, there is not even any seeking — it is.

But there is always peril. That is the first principle of disaster cinema. You are in danger from vast, uncontrollable events that require vast and violent solutions because searching for your real enemy — yourself — is less exciting. The second principle is more important still: the protector in this time of peril will not be, in any terms you would recognise, a heroic man. He will probably be an idiot. I wonder if cinema persuaded the credulous in America that it needed Donald Trump, and if it also persuaded the less credulous in America that it needn’t really fear him. The threat on the screen isn’t real. Perhaps Trump isn’t either.

The superhero is made exceptional by tragedy: Batman (bereavement and trauma), Iron Man (the same), Hulk (an accident at work) and Magneto, the mutant survivor of Auschwitz. The scene where Magneto raises the barbed wire of Auschwitz is typical of the genre, because it is emotionally and intellectually deadening. You feel nothing. It is nothing. I couldn’t watch the X-Men after that.

Or he is made exceptional by powers: Batman, who battled the ever-disgusting poor of Gotham, a city wracked by crime wave, where socialists and even environmentalists — Poison Ivy? — are deadly; Iron Man and Hulk again; multiple X-Men; Thor and his fascinating hammer. Then there is Captain America, made heroic by patriotic serum. It can happen to anyone.

Under the super-heroism, though, is misery. Iron Man calls himself a “genius, billionaire playboy, philanthropist”. Those are not the words of a hero, who must have self-knowledge, but a narcissist in the shadow of his father. (That is not unusual. Thor — about whom his father Odin essentially said the same — and Batman are likewise afflicted.) The superhero is often depressive. He cannot form stable relationships. He may inherit a great fortune, which either contributes to, or is the entire sum of, his heroism. They do not read books because anti-intellectualism is essential; readers are weak. The only intellectual superhero in cinema is Professor X of X-Men, and he is punished for his doctoral thesis by confinement to a wheelchair; and Dr Strange, and he is strange.

The modern superhero, then, is a wealthy, angry narcissist who is haunted by his father, doesn’t read books and dreams of control: I was disappointed to learn that Avengers Assemble isn’t a film about a support group because, if it were, Donald Trump could be in it. There are a few women (the penitent Black Widow, which is a sucker punch) and minorities (Black Panther) but this is opportunism, if briefly consoling.

Diversity is laughable in superhero culture, because the idea of a politically functional, or even politically aware, superhero, is ludicrous. There are no social democratic superheroes. They are, rather, a strain of super-policeman protecting — or “dominating” to use Trump’s phrase — a world in danger. The superhero does not work with the failing agents of democracy. They may be well-meaning, these pitiful agents of democracy, but they cannot save us. Something else must rise.

Alan Moore, the creator of Watchmen, believes the popularity of the superhero film is rooted in infantilism and cowardice: “Mass-market superhero movies seem to be abetting an audience who do not wish to relinquish their grip on (a) their relatively reassuring childhoods, or (b) the relatively reassuring 20th century. The continuing popularity of these movies to me suggests some kind of deliberate, self-imposed state of emotional arrest. The superheroes themselves would seem to be largely employed as cowardice compensators, perhaps a bit like the handgun on the nightstand”. He says that the explicitly racist The Birth of a Nation (1915) was the first superhero film and calls the genre, “the white supremacist dream of the master race”.

If the superhero culture twinned perfectly with the early age of Trump, narcissist to narcissist, perhaps pandemic and crisis — where peril is real, and the saviour must be human — will end it. We will see how the up-coming Marvel films perform. It will be telling.  I suspect they will fall out of the sky.


Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.

TanyaGold1

Join the discussion


Rejoignez des lecteurs partageant les mĂȘmes idĂ©es qui soutiennent notre journalisme en devenant abonnĂ©s payants.

Subscribe

To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

11 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Andrew Best
Andrew Best
4 years ago

More rubbish from Tanya again
Trump is not a white supremacist but don’t let facts get in the way of your leftie rubbish.
Maybe people watch superhero films because their escapism?
Otherwise everything you watch or listen to has been infected by the left wing agenda, listen to the radio for music sorry we much push BLM are lovely, you are not.
Watch TV sorry we must educate you about how evil you are
Can we not have any simple pleasures any more or must every aspect of our lives be taken over your left wing politics?
P.s. 2000ad a British comic since 1977 is far better than marvel of DC but how would you know, too low brow I am sure?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

Well said, spot on!
Your mention of 2000 AD, reminds me of its progenitor, The Eagle, with its super hero Dan Dare (the Biggles of Outer Space!).
The enemy then was the super evil, Mekon, leader of the dastardly Treens. Now that was an enemy you could respect, unlike the contemporary ‘woke worms’.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago

You are deluding yourself, but not us. Red Neck and Blue Collar America adore Mr Trump. Why? He does what he says, it’s that simple.
Virtually all previous Presidents since Nixon, have been utter charlatans, as have most British Prime Ministers.
As to this repetitive charge of narcissism, come off it, by comparative analysis with the morons who vegetate in Hollywood, Trump is an angel. Open your eyes, while there is still time.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
4 years ago

Sorry UnHerd, every article by Tanya is rubbish. Same when she writes for the DT. Sadly DT blocks now-a-days the comment section under her opinion pieces

David George
David George
4 years ago

Hardly surprising that DT blocks comments.
They should be deeply embarrassed but why even have her essays up in the first place.

Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
4 years ago

Look I’m no Trump fan, but Surely you could come up with better criticism of him than this? This piece is incoherent and loses any sense of direction after the first sentence. What really was this about? I’ve learnt you don’t like super hero movies, but you appear to have watched a lot of them. Why!

I’m not over fond of them either, but your use of them as an attack on Trump could charitably called contrived.

I’ll probably show greater discrimination in the articles I read going forward, why don’t you do the same for the movies you watch?

Mike SampleName
Mike SampleName
4 years ago

I get a lot of exposure to superheroes, having a 9yo son. Your portrayal of them is wildly out, to put it mildly.
Anti-intellectualism is possibly the most out there. Batman, an example you use, is lauded most for his intelligence and deductive powers – he’s not called “The World’s Greatest Detective” for nothing… And your reference to Prof X is ridiculous. His wheelchair is a symbol of showing that physical prowess is not everything, he can do more with his mind than most others can with world-shattering biceps.
For representation, Marvel and DC are stuffed full of female, non-white and non-hetero characters. Two minutes on the relevant Wikis would tell you that.
To say you’re misrepresenting to try and prove your point is an understatement. Poison Ivy an environmentalist? Well, yeh, technically she is… She also would like to remove humanity altogether.
I don’t deny that the attraction of superheroes is something which can be debated, but it seems an essential part of human psychology – we used to have stories of Heracles, Gilgamesh, Bran the Blessed or Loki to immerse ourselves in, this is simply the modern equivalent.

Stan Lenartowicz
Stan Lenartowicz
4 years ago

Still doing the self loathing thing I see….

Bill Gaffney
Bill Gaffney
4 years ago

Another pathetic diatribe by a pathetic, little Child who would have difficulty finding her okole with both hands, a 1:50 and a Sherpa guide. Life, Child, isn’t Horrywood. One of these days misguided, ignorant Child you might become aware of how insignificant and utterly ignorant are your rants. However…it is doubtful.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
4 years ago

If the superhero culture twinned perfectly with the early age of Trump

Er, it didn’t. The first Batman films were in the 90s, Captain America was in the cinemas before anyone dreamt that Trump would be president, Ironman ditto, the first X-men was from the year 2000, Spiderman films early 2000s.

The whole article is based on at least one false premise. And it reads like a haphazard collection of notes rather than an essay.

Arnold Fishman
Arnold Fishman
4 years ago

clearly this author is not a libertarian but leftist. fortunately its not whether Trump is a zero or less than perfect or less than a superhero, but whether God chose this man to lead America in this hour. for those with faith in the promises of the bible, we believe that God alone raises up leaders and delivers. Hopefully with God’s help, he is the man for the hour and also for the next hour too.