Propaganda, Pop Culture, and Politics


When Marvel hit the big screen in a big way, the comic book universe experienced a resurgence in their fandom. I was one of the consumers who immediately became a fan. I wasn’t a part of the comic book era, but the X-Men and Spiderman animated series were my childhood- Saturday morning was nothing without them. I decided that I had to start way back at the beginning of the superhero universe- comic books became a part of my life. I couldn’t decide on a single favourite hero, and so I purchased the Avengers Omnibus Volume #1 to stay connected to as many of them as possible.

The comic was brilliant. The images were vibrant, the lettering impeccable. Each story contained so much written content, which was my favourite thing about them. My biggest issue with the comics was the blatant propaganda- an issue that we still contend with in the general cinematic sphere.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed the propagandist undertones- many wrote in to Stan Lee and Don Heck to explain their concerns. In The Avengers issue #22, “The Road Back“, Canadian David Mackidd wrote in to say this:

“Dear Stan and Don,

I have written to discuss a recent controversy that has popped up in the Fan Pages- whether or not you should use Communists and other political figures as villains in your stories. I, myself, am strongly against this for this reason: While this practice should not have any serious effect on your more mature readers, you have in your reading audience some children of a juvenile and immature age whose minds and convictions are strongly prejudiced by such stories…Don’t you think that it is right that these children should be allowed to reach a mature age and make up their own minds about such important subjects as political beliefs? After all there are perhaps thousands of individuals in the world who believe in Communism or Socialism whose intentions are every bit as well meaning as most Americans! Is it fair to slander these innocent people with your stories? I fully realize that your stories are aimed at the bad side of Communism, but they still shed a bad light on the well-meaning persons, too. I don’t think that it is the place of comic magazines to spread anti-communist propaganda… I think that you as editors should not take part in this argument, especially when young minds are concerned…What do you say?”

 Stan and Don’s answer followed:

“…As these words are being written, American lives are being lost in Viet Nam, in physical combat with communists. A cold war is in progress, between the free world and the communists. A continual propaganda barrage against the United States is constantly beamed to the rest of the world by communist nations. Now then, if this doesn’t qualify the reds to be used as “bad guys” in an occasional adventure yarn, then we’ll have to take a refresher course in semantics! As for influencing younger minds, we’d rather they read our little fantastic fables than the pages of Pravda! ‘Nuff said!”

Tony's Captors spoke a mix of Middle Eastern and South Asian languages, from Urdu to Pashto. They also randomly speak Hungarian.
Tony’s Captors spoke a mix of Middle Eastern and South Asian languages, from Urdu to Pashto. They also randomly speak Hungarian.

I had the same questions as David before I read his letter to the editors, but mine were targeted at Marvel movies. In our age, the propaganda moved from a literary platform to a cinematic one, and impressionable young minds were sucked into the fray. We can see this in the first Ironman movie as compared to the comic book. Tony Stark is captured by Vietnamese terrorists in the first issue- the introduction of Ironman comics coincided with the Vietnam War. In the movie, his enemies became an amalgamation of Middle Eastern and South Asian men; either all people of my skin colour were enemies, or it just hadn’t been decided which type of “brown” was to be held in American disregard. This is not the only instance of this happening, especially outside of the Marvel cinematic universe. The reasons for the propaganda against specific country can be explained by way of politics and economics.

In his book, “In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India”, Edward Luce has much to say of America’s relationships with India and China, both growing economic super powers. “…India is seen as the only country that could counterbalance China’s rise as a global power. America has watched China’s emergence with growing anxiety… The world appears to be on a trajectory where relations between the three big powers will outweigh all other ties as the twenty first century unfolds. The nodal point in the triangle is, of course, the United States. Short of war, however, the United States cannot prevent China from rising as a global power. So America will continue to assist India’s rise as a counterbalancing force…”

America’s fear of China’s power isn’t only demonstrated in its political plays. It’s also a message that has been distributed to the masses. In 2012, the movie “Red Dawn” was released. As China threatens America’s economic power, the movie was supposed to be about an American struggle against Chinese troops who colonize the country. The film was supposed to be released in 2010, but to maintain access to a Chinese box office, the Chinese enemies were traded in for North Korean enemies. One Asian villain was traded for another. Movie goers tweeted their racist feelings without hesitation, and many grouped all Asians as collective villains:

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 8.22.28 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 8.22.03 PMThe interesting thing about “Red Dawn” was that it was a remake of an older film. In the first “Red Dawn”, the villains were portrayed by Russians, who were the enemies of the States at the time. Propaganda really does seem to work on the immature and the ignorant with ease.

Negative stereotypes and portrayals affect our  ability to consider one another as equals, and it’s especially damaging when these ideals are pushed onto younger, innocent minds. It’s a problematic situation for me, especially because I want to enjoy Marvel movies, and other films. Fortunately, I can see the blatant racism clearly- and understand that it stems from fear of the other. Unfortunately, I’m left with a feeling of helplessness when I cannot change what has already been created. We need to create dialogue, and recognize these prejudiced ideals even while enjoying everything else about the literature and cinema that is created for us. Once we are more aware of the issue, we may be able to overcome the racist tones that keep us distant and indifferent to one another. One can only hope.


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