Snarcasm: Great, now they’re putting politics into MY Captain America!

A few years ago, I did a frequent column called “Snarcasm,” where I would break down a ridiculous piece of film writing using both snark and sarcasm (I’ve never been a creative person). Well, lately, I’ve been meaning to bring the format back again, because let’s face it, the internet seems to just be getting worse.

Which brings us to a publication that certainly knows what it’s like to stick around purely for name recognition. Writing for New York Toast (joking), John Poddy (also joking, but with love) titles his necessary think piece thusly:

“Disney’s Ugly Transformation Of A US War Hero Into A Villain”

Hm…

You know…

Could use a little more impact, right? Feels calmer than I how I personally read it.

Let’s try:

“DISNEY’S UGLY TRANSFORMATION OF A US WAR HERO INTO A VILLAIN”

Much better.

All right, Poddy, what’s on your mind? I’m ready to hear you out about Disney, Marvel, and—

The same week President Joe Biden announced he would pull all US forces from Afghanistan,

Can you imagine starting an internet article about Marvel with breaking news about Joe Biden?

Something tells me Poddy begins most conversations this way.

Disney+ turned an Afghan war-veteran character on its hottest new show into an out-and-out villain

This is definitely the type of sentence you write when you have no idea what you just watched, or you just don’t care and are letting the whims of your keyboard whisk you away to a dreamland known as the Marvel Cinematic Pundit Complex.

as the character himself revealed that his three Medals of Honor had been awarded not for bravery, selflessness and going above and beyond the call of duty but rather for something vaguely evil.

So a few things on this. First, Disney+ didn’t “do” anything, here, it was the writer and creative team behind the show, which is bankrolled by Disney. But of course, your sentence has gotta be punchy, see?

Second, and this is really quite minor in the grand scheme, said veteran character did not turn into a villain this week. He turned into a villain last week when he decapitated a man in cold blood who was surrendering.

You know, the war crime.

Alas, Poddy clearly takes issue with the idea that storytellers have presented the absolutely novel idea that people in the military, even veterans with medals, are capable of atrocities. Never been done before, you see. Stories don’t work like that, Poddy said as he swallowed a handful of sunflower seeds without tasting or chewing them.

Of course, we should hear Poddy out. Give him a chance to make his case. That’s what Snarcasm is all about, kids.

Poddy goes on to explain what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is and makes a claim as to why it’s been such a massive success creatively.

 Its fare is not merely successful but beloved, and you know why?

…because things that are successful are usually successful because people like them?

Because the MCU is fun. It’s playful, high-spirited, emotionally resonant entertainment that knows how not to take itself too seriously.

This is true some of the time. But Poddy makes it sound like the MCU has always been a nonstop goof fest, which it most certainly has not. The end of Avengers: Infinity War killed off half the main cast and its sequel spent the first hour wallowing in that grief. Some of these movies are as dark and serious as they are “playful,” so it’s totally false to ascribe a light tone solely to the success of the franchise. It’s like saying McDonald’s is successful because the Golden Arches are easy to spot.

I mean sure, it helps.

Until now, the emotional resonance has come from the MCU’s exploration of what it means to be a hero. 

Again, this is a pretty unreasonable oversimplification. Yes, a lot of the stories in a lot of the Marvel films are about heroism to a great extent, particularly Captain America. But they’ve also explored these characters beyond just saving the day. The pure ecstasy of The Avengers wasn’t because you felt like New York was in true danger. It was because these were well-realized characters interacting in bombastic scenes at the same time in a way that no other movie franchise had ever even come close to pulling off before.

But “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is trying for something darker and deeper — a reckoning with racism and the monstrousness of American society.

I actually think Poddy has never seen any of the Captain America movies. Or if he has, he was too busy staring at his sunflower seeds with remorseful anticipation when he was supposed to be following the plot.

TFATWS is not trying anything darker or deeper than what Winter Soldier and Civil War already laid out. Not really. The racism angle is certainly a step forward in many respects, but the show doesn’t go “deeper” with these political issues than it already did with how fascism is ingrained in the American establishment, a la Winter Soldier, the movie where it’s revealed that a large contingent of our military is made up of secret Nazi equivalents.

But no, Poddy claims, Marvel has never been dark or deep, it’s always been fun! Look, over there, it’s Ant-Man! He’s…getting fired from Baskin Robbins because felons are given fewer chances to re-acclimate to society. Oh no. Uh, uh, look, over there! It’s Star Lord! He’s…finding out his own father murdered his mom using cancer.

Marvel movies are fun!

So we learn, for example, that the serum used to turn the neurasthenic Steve Rogers into the strapping Captain America was later injected into the bodies of African Americans in a comic-book version of the Tuskegee experiments.

Worth noting that a lot of people like me in this country never even learned about the Tuskegee experiments until we were adults. Know why? Because a lot of us went to schools in conservative areas where the textbooks leave out uncomfortable periods of American history. So we get what we friggin deserve when Marvel and Disney of all entities have to take it upon themselves to reflect even a fraction of history that should be common knowledge among white students who might actually learn about this for the first time from a YouTube video explaining Easter eggs or some nonsense.

If you think this through for half a second, 

You’d already be thinking through it more thoroughly than John Poddy.

it’s a Rube Goldberg plot point.

I actually agree with this, but not for the reason he’s about to give.

If the US military were an arm and enforcer of white supremacy, why would it have been trying to make super-beings out of black men?

Yes, yes, why would the U.S. military force Black soldiers to partake in a science experiment against their will that they know will probably kill them, as the episode explains? Would a white supremacist do such a thing?

Let’s take Poddy’s unfortunate advice and “think this through.” Would the military make super-beings out of Black men because they think it would be cool and fun for Black men to become stronger and more powerful? If so, it sure is weird when the one soldier who doesn’t die from it is experimented on and put in jail until a nurse takes pity on him and helps him fake his own death.

Seriously, this is all explained in this episode. The whole point of the experiment was to use Black men as disposable test subjects. Didn’t matter if they died, so long as they can perfect the serum for when the “real” super soldiers get made. There’s no ambiguity, here. This is precisely what the show is saying, up front and in Poddy’s face.

To Poddy’s credit, however, this is definitely a hard thing to understand when you, yourself, are being pretty racist.

One of the things we learned about Captain America is that he could not be controlled or defeated by any other living being.

…uh, citation needed? Captain America is not invincible, and that’s never been a “thing” we “learned.” The movies show him losing fights pretty regularly. This is just absurd, but that seems to be Poddy’s brand. Just saying random junk and hoping people’s eyes are too glazed over to notice it.

That’s why we have Snarcasm, of course.

So how was the military able to imprison the black man on whom it had successfully experimented and continue to torture him for 30 years?

I actually think Poddy is trolling us at this point. He literally set up a fake premise that these super soldiers are basically Superman and then used the fake premise to make a pointlessly stupid (and I don’t say that lightly) argument.

We’ve literally seen super soldiers in this show getting hurt, defeated, and killed by…lots of things? I actually am starting to wonder if Poddy hasn’t seen a single second of this show and only knows about it via a secondhand explanation from Zack Snyder.

But logic be damned when the point you’re trying to make is that America is evil.

Oh, hold on, he’s actually pretty close to getting the point.

“Them stars and stripes don’t mean nothing good to me,” says this victim/superhero.

PODDY, YOU’RE SO CLOSE! THINK THIS THROUGH FOR HALF A SECOND, PODDY, I BEG YOU!

We also learn that our terrible authorities threw yet another person into jail to keep her silent — Sharon Carter, a government agent and ally of the old Captain America. “The whole hero thing is a joke,” she bitterly informs the title characters when they encounter her.

We seriously throwing Sharon into this, too? Pretty sure the show makes it clear why she would be so bitter, considering they pardoned the assassin with super powers before her, the person who essentially stole office supplies. But go off, I guess.

The didactic anti-Americanism here is a little like getting a lecture on proper nutrition from the guy at a concession stand as he sells you a giant box of diabetes-causing candy.

There is such an amazing difference between being “anti-America” and being “anti-status quo.” The whole point of this episode is Sam reclaiming the America he wants to see and represent, despite its failings. And anyone who says America doesn’t have failings is about as tasteless as that weird candy you’re apparently craving right now, Poddy.

Pro tip. If a diet vanilla Marvel show comes off like a “lecture,” then it’s not because the substance is all that complex. It’s because you’re an extremely fragile person who needs to be spoon-fed agreeable entertainment that doesn’t challenge a single thing you already believe or make you think, even for half a second.

And what of John Walker, the new Captain America?

Ah, yes, what of the other John?! Almost forgot about him.

He confesses to a friend that “the things that we had to do in Afghanistan to be awarded those medals felt a long way from being right.”

Look, I’ve never served in the military, but I’m going to stake a wild guess that killing other human beings is pretty traumatic. Even after the fact. Post the event, if you will. Gosh, I wonder if there’s a name for that.

He’s calling himself a war criminal rather than a hero

Pretty sure questioning your actions during a war is absolutely not the same thing as calling yourself a war criminal, but hey, it’s not like Poddy understands what words mean, so we should give him a break, maybe.

and says that becoming Captain America is important to him because it will allow him to do good at last. Then, 10 minutes later, Walker uses his shield to beat a man to death in a public square.

Maybe Poddy does get it and he’s just trying to put us through the exercise of confirming for ourselves what is already absolutely obvious.

But ok, real quick, let’s address this very difficult thing to parse. John Walker feels like what he did in Afghanistan was “bad.” He never specifies, but we can probably assume it has something to do with how they tried resolving conflicts in the region, as well as the overall morality of being in Afghanistan in the first place. This would certainly inform why a role as Captain America could possibly help him feel more directly “useful” to his country, and the show does lay some groundwork for how his motivations are more “America First” for lack of a better term, while the Flag Smashers are advocating for an open borders world.

Now, this interpretation is entirely subjective, and the show clearly makes this aspect of John Walker’s character ambiguous on purpose, because that way, they can hopefully satisfy a wider range of of people who might find the politics of the show uncomfortable.

In Poddy’s case, he’s willfully choosing to interpret the show in a way that is so beyond a charitable reading of the subtext, that I have no choice but to return the favor, myself. This isn’t a case of someone reacting poorly to a theme in a show after careful analysis, this is a case of someone reacting poorly to a theme in a show and choosing to vomit out his take without thinking it through…for half a second.

The symbolic meaning is clear. America is compromised at best and pernicious at worst, 

Yes, yes, keep going.

and John Walker is a more honest representation of the truth about the United States than Steve Rogers ever was.

Yes! Wait, no, Poddy, don’t say anything else! You get it! You actually get it! End the article right here, Poddy, you can do it! You can make at least one good point!

Ten years ago,

Uh oh.

such a depiction of an American veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would not have been possible

*laughs in Hurt Locker*

certainly not in escapist fare.

*laughs in Green Zone*

 Everyone knew to say “Thank you for your service” even (or maybe especially) if you hated the wars.

I mean, this is literally still a thing far and wide in this country. As long as you stay off Twitter. Even this show, which makes a villain out of such a war vet, takes an entire scene to pinpoint how Walker was “made” by the American military, not his own personal failings. The show puts almost all of the machinations of the plot at the feet of the military establishment, not the veterans. If you want a real example of American culture coming out strong against veterans, we have the attitudes during and right after the Vietnam War. There really is no comparison, but you must remember that Poddy views himself as a victim/superhero.

Now the largest and most successful entertainment company on Earth — whose success is based in large measure on its ability to appeal to Americans as various as those who vote for AOC and those who vote for Marjorie Taylor Greene

What’s funny about this is how ignorant it is of how fiercely the American right has been bemoaning the liberal politics of Marvel movies for years. They’ve complained about the new Spider-Man movies being performatively diverse, Captain Marvel being anti-dudes, and yes, Steve Rogers being way less of a conservative archetype than they’d personally like to see. But now that Marvel has dominated the planet in terms of box office and pop culture, history demands to be rewritten. It was never a socially centrist string of movies that swung from pro-military to anti-military depending on the director. It was always just a swirl of club soda ice cream anyone could enjoy without any flavor, whatsoever, which is definitely why it was so successful. It didn’t take any risks, you see.

What’s even funnier is that a lot of left-leaning people actually agree with Poddy, here, but for the exact opposite reason. I’m not falling on the sword for the MCU, to be clear. If anything, I’m just annoyed that Poddy can’t dedicate any of his word count to legitimate, deserving criticisms. There’s no need to make up reasons to dislike this show, Poddy! They exist, we promise!

has made a bad guy out of a character it invented who’s not only a decorated veteran but the most decorated veteran of the past 20 years.

Categorically false statement alert.

The show is not making a “bad guy” out of Captain America. It’s saying the bad guy can’t be Captain America, no matter how hard he tries. Not for nothing, but John Walker/U.S. Agent was invented as a darker version of the character in the first place, and I don’t blame Poddy for having no idea about the context of the comics. But I do blame him for seeing a war veteran named Sam Wilson who does take up the shield and reflect those values by the end of this episode and then conclude that the show’s stance is to trash the idea of there being a Captain America. It’s almost like Poddy can’t wrap his head around there being a Black Captain America, which funny enough is the entire point of this series.

Seriously, we should all take a moment and reflect on how massively Poddy missed the point of the entire show, here, considering his takeaway from this episode is that Captain America is and always has been evil. It’s like someone tried to give Poddy the point with a high five and he ducked and rolled over into a bush while yelling profanity about AOC.

It’s no wonder Biden felt free to make the announcement he did,

Yes! Yes, Poddy, Joe Biden, celebrated Marvel fan feels an ounce of comfort from a Marvel show doing something completely unrelated to American foreign policy, yes!

I actually do wonder if Poddy is just annoyed at that Avengers: Endgame meme video with Joe Biden’s face stitched over Captain America. If that’s the case, maybe the two of us actually can agree on something, here.

given that the company bearing Walt Disney’s name has become part of the campaign to tarnish America’s image as a force for good in the world.

Hi, Poddy. Ask just about anyone out in the world and they’ll tell you that America — the country I love and am a forever citizen of — requires absolutely zero help in having a tarnished image. A lot of it has to do with the fact that people like you get to write about superhero movies for publications as widely read as the New York Toast and articles like this are the result.

But hey, kids, you be the judge. Would you like your Marvel show to be a complicated, thrilling examination of not the world as we desire it to be, but as a world that can resolve its past mistakes and fix them in pursuit of a brighter future? Or, would you rather have Poddy’s funhouse mirror version, where Sam Wilson hands the shield over to John Walker and tells him, “No, no, I was wrong, Captain White America. You were right all along, especially with the war crime thing. America has never been racist or bad or even racist! Thank goodness this is what Marvel movies have always been like.”


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