The Avengers, Why We Need Heroic Storylines, and What Entertainment People Can Do About It

by Little Miss Attila on May 18, 2012

Roger L. Simon and Lionel Chetwynd note all the subversively pro-American messaging in The Avengers (in the middle third of this installment of Poliwood):

(Via Instapundit.)

The spouse and I made it a point to see The Avengers within a week of its release, because I wanted to experience the story before people got sloppy and started letting spoilers drop all over the internet.

I have become a bit of a Joss Whedon fan lately, having discovered that the Firefly series—and Serenity—live up to their billing. Whedon and I are a good match; I am a dialogue-snob, and that is one of his several strengths. Obviously, I have a lot of pleasure ahead of me, catching up with Buffy and Dr. Horrible; how you all must envy me!

I was pretty curious about what a hybrid Whedon-blockbuster production would look like. If one looks carefully, one definitely sees where he is subordinating himself to the Marvel franchise, but that doesn’t take away the joy of seeing his work writ large, with the biggest of budgets.

What Whedon’s politics actually are remains obscure to me, and that’s a good thing. (I have been told that he is an atheist, but that makes no never-mind, either.) Recall the fundamental message that Chetwynd and Simon touch on in the Poliwood sequence, for would-be promoters of free market values in the entertainment industry: Don’t make “conservative” films: make good narrative films with a broad appeal that don’t tear down faith, family, or our national ideals. We don’t want to emulate the most didactic, annoying lefty filmmakers; we want to sweet-talk our way into enough development money to kick their asses at the box office. And when we do, we’ll be far subtler about it than George Clooney is. At least, that’s my hope.

It’s worth noting that both hardcore libertarians and the unfortunates who lived in many of the OWS encampments, protesting . . . something unexplained . . . tend to be Firefly fans. A lot of lefty would-be individualists don’t quite realize how much power they want to give to the state, and so cannot (or do not bother to) reconcile their individuality to their desire for domination by the government. But if there’s one thing Firefly was against, it was government domination.

We on the right are consistent about this, and we are willing to deal with the contradictions that must occur between that and our desire to live with some law and order, with some moral norms. The city park-usurpers don’t.

I really did love The Avengers. This was a beautiful, pro-American, elegant action film. And it used classic comic book tropes without being formulaic—but then, that’s why they hired Whedon. He has his idiosyncracies, but he wasn’t going to give us a warmed-over comic book, and then go home for dinner. He would—he did—make what was classic into something still that. But also fresh and novel.

The movie’s message was a clear one: sometimes, we all have to stand up. Everyone loves to roll their eyes at flag-waving, after all—until the Twin Towers are destroyed, and suddenly it’s cool to wear a flag pin on their lapels again. For a few years. A threat to your country—or your planet—is a time to set differences aside and . . . well, maybe even get along with people you don’t ordinarily like to work with. Including people like Tony Stark who can be real pricks.

Sequences set in the streets of New York City were hard to watch, at times, because the real New York had been the site of a genuine terrorist attack in 2001. But I’m glad that the movie stuck with the iconic city that stands for American commerce. (That’s the rule: if it’s a detective story, the default is Los Angeles. If it’s superheroes, you’ll want to start in New York. Mobsters, Chicago or Las Vegas. Know why you picked the classic location. Know why you went with something different.)

The only real “beach head” conservatives have in the entertainment industry is in action films and TV shows. It appears to be more respectable to be a star (or, in Clint Eastwood’s case, a director and producer) if one is involved in films with the classic heroic storylines that appear in action movies (and war stories, and Westerns).

It’s as if there is a school of thought within the Hollywood establishment that, “well, what can one expect? So-and-so made his money promoting this black-and-white notion that there really is some honest good in the world—and some outright evil—and he (it’s usually a he) has taken it very much to heart.” They make allowances for that “old-fashioned” idea having seeped into the poor unfortunate’s consciousness. Also, Robert Downey, Jr. has undeniable onscreen charisma. As do Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, and Tom Selleck. As did John Wayne. And on and on.

When these types of films succeed, they succeed very well. It would be lovely to see those who made their fortunes in these genres help to fund semi-conservative production companies (ones that employ people across the ideological spectrum, of course, for maximum intellectual cross-pollination). Such enterprises might create other types of narrative films that would reinforce the virtues we see denigrated in popular culture—such as the desirability of family ties, the value of the individual, the human yearning for freedom, the role that faith can sometimes play in personal development, and the need we all have to be more than part of a great machine, or servants to an almighty state.

Again: I don’t care what Whedon’s intellectual underpinnings are. He can be right or left. The important thing is that he is a good writer who is excellent at touching on the themes of loyalty, faith, equality that isn’t sameness, and the need to decide, from time to time, which authorities should be obeyed—and which should be resisted.

That’s the model, Hollywood. Are you ready? Now get going.

“Politics are downstream from culture.”
—Andrew Breitbart

(X-posted at The Conservatory)

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The Avengers, Why We Need Heroic Storylines, and What Entertainment People Can Do About It
May 18, 2012 at 3:00 pm

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colforward May 18, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Consider adding the show Angel to your list. It is a Buffy spin-off that happened after season 5 (I think) you may want to wait and start Angle after it is clear re the spin off so some overlapping story line don’t spoil it for you. While this show isn’t solely the baby of Whedon his writing partner Tim Menear write some wonderful dialog too.

One of the most memorable lines I’ve ever heard on a tv show is when after months of despair and personal set backs Angel has an epiphany and utters this line to a woman he save from a suicide attempt probable not exact but darn close …” In the grand scheme there is no divine plan … I realized that nothing we do Matters.” and after a pause when the person he is talking to agrees in her despair he explains ..” if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.” For some reason in context I found this to be moving and personally applicable. When I am down and don’t want to meet my work of family obligation or am feeling petulant and petty . I remember this and am inspired to do the right thing

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Richard McEnroe May 19, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Colforward in the recent story arc of Avengers, Steve Rogers having been appointed the new head of SHIELD is beginning to feel the pressure of the conflict between standing for “American” ideals and “Government” ideals.

He complains to Thor that just once he’d like an old-fashioned, clean-cut “win” he can point at. Thor just waves at New York out the window and says, “the city stands. There is your victory, every day.” (Brian Bendis is frankly a better writer than 99% of Hollywood screenwriters, as they prove every time they try to improve on “that comic book crap”).

Joy, you may not know or care what Whedon’s politics are, but they matter. Joe Johnston, the director of the Captain America movie, had a serious bug up his ass about not portraying a guy dressed as a flag as a flag-waver. His unsubtle parodying of that position, turning Cap in a recycled Tyrone Power and War Bonds hustler, did not, in my opinion, sit comfortably with the audience (Remember, even in LA they cheered the Marines in Battle: Los Angeles. A little flagwaving is welcome if properly done.) Whedon’s introduction of Cap to the fight, when he stands between the old man and Loki, is much more what Cap and America at its best are about. But scuttlebutt is, Whedon had to be told to cut back on his politics in the Avengers script, with the only truly irrelevant and noticeably fragment being Fury’s fatuous “We’ve made some mistakes; some quite recently.” It’s got nuthin ta do wit nuthin else in da conversation, it sticks out like a sore tumb, yaknowwatImean?

The other lead characters are much more in line with Hollywood’s worldview and self-image, and thus easier for Whedon to get a handle on. Tony Stark for example is the Hollywood dream, wealthy enough to insouciantly dismiss speed limits and subpoenae alike, an undeniable genius who can get away with telling other people he’s an undeniable genius and get away with it. The guy everyone calls first no matter how big an ass he is, because he has the goods.

The Hulk is every Hollywood celebrity who can endorse their pet cause as holy writ and feels not the least hesitation at unloading his anger at anyone who disagrees with him (and Whedon used to work for Roseanne Barr way back when, which gives him a direct experiential feel for the character).

The other characters don’t fare as well, for reasons both of Joss’ own storytelling tropes and his character. Natasha doesn’t come across as much more than a fitter Buffy, because Joss won’t challenge himself to write a flawed woman. Remember, this is a guy who used to run his scripts past one of his woman professors to make sure he was treating his women characters “properly.” This is a guy who HUGE BUFFY SPOILER DELETED and thus reduced HUGE BUFFY SPOILER DELETED to a pointless tantrum rather than a genuine dramatic tragedy in the Aristotelian sense. As for Coulson, well, Whedon always has to have his Wash, his HUGE BUFFY SPOILER DELETED; he goes for the cheap kill.

Thor is perhaps the least accessible character to the Hollywood worldview, as he has literally nothing to do with it (unless you want to compare him and Loki to Tom and Dick Smothers, maybe, or the Sheens). Even Cap relates to it more closely in that they hate him and the white horse he road in on, so at least they can relate that far. But Thor is basically just there to hit shit and Hawkeye’s just there.

I just checked the length of this comment and it’s long enough I’ll probably have to make it a post at Three Beers Later. I’ll let you know if I add anything, but be warned, I won’t be deleting spoilers there.

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Richard McEnroe May 19, 2012 at 4:44 pm

In case I left the bold open…

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Chris Muir May 20, 2012 at 9:20 am

“It would be lovely to see those who made their fortunes in these genres help to fund semi-conservative production companies (ones that employ people across the ideological spectrum, of course, for maximum intellectual cross-pollination).”

roger that.

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ZZMike May 25, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Another movie, otherwise eminently missable for a number of reasons, “Battleship”, does have a fair number of lines that reflect patriotic sentiment – acknowledging the “Old Salts” (who may very well be actual veterans), for example, restarting the USS Missouri (though where the ammunition came from is left to the viewer). And they got a lot of cooperation from the Navy.

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