Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Crimes Against Characters: Captain Nope And Practical Decisions

I'd been debating with myself over starting a blog like this for a while. The main reason I didn't go ahead is, well, do I really need one more project? And it's not like what I have to say is all that important, grand scheme of things.

Then this happened.

Not my Captain America. Never. And I still didn't make the connection because I was too busy being angry, hurt, and pretty much every other possible emotion because I saw that right after watching Captain America: Civil War.

That was not a good week for me.

No, I was just going to boil in my own impotence until I read this response. (The only source I know of is an image hosted by Pinterest, though it looks like a Tumblr post. If I knew where the original was, I'd link to it. All I've done is correct the capitalization.)

Let me explain something

Even if this is brainwashing

Even if this is just an act

Even if this gets retconned

Even if this is nothing more than a dumb publicity stunt

It is part of an on-going trend at Marvel that shows the appalling lack of respect they have for Jewish characters and creators and the bizarre, sickening romanticizing of Hydra, a Nazi organization.

Steve Rogers is the creation of two Jewish men who took a stand against Nazism at a time when it was not popular to do so, and they received many threats for doing so. He was intended to be political; the first thing you see him do is punch Hitler in the face. Even if this new twist ends up being reversed or made into an elaborate ruse, we now know that Marvel is willing to jeopardize this legacy for publicity. They don't see it as disrespectful to toy around and twist the creation of two Jewish men like this.

Wanda Maximoff and Pietro Maximoff, the Jewish-Romani children of Holocaust survivors, are actively having their Jewish heritage erased by Marvel higher ups who say thing [sic] like "Can you point me to a single story, just one, in which the 'fact' that Wanda and Pietro come from a Jewish background is in any way relevant?" Not only this, but their Jewish identities are being erased in the MCU and replaced with Christian identities (Wanda has a cross hanging in her room), while also re-imagining them as Hydra Nazi volunteers. This from the same MCU that routinely hires Jewish actors and actresses and then erases their identities such as with Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, RDJ, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Paul Rudd; in the cases of some Jewish actors like Jon Berthanal, they actively replace his Jewish identity with a Christian one by making the Punisher a (lapsed) Catholic.

All the while they continue to glamorize the Nazi organization Hydra, playing up the meme of "Hail Hydra," having their employees wear Hydra merch and describe themselves as Hydra in their Twitter bios. They even released a comic about an agent of Hydra, intended to be a comedy, slice of life thing. You were intended to feel bad for Hank, the protagonist, because he just saw it as a job and joined because of the tough economy, ignoring the fact that this was the case for many real world Nazis as well. Magneto, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, was villainized and basically held responsible for endangering the world because he attempted to kill the Red Skull, a Nazi who was setting up new concentration camps. It was also the title in which his paternal relationship with Wanda and Pietro was erased. The series name was Axis.

This is not cute. This is not the type of stuff that can or should be ignored. This is just further proof of a seriously alarming trend going on at Marvel, where they think flirting with Nazi organizations is fun and ignoring and actively erasing the identities of Jewish characters and the contributions fo Jewish Creators is okay. Do. No. Ignore. This.
Hoo boy. Where to begin?

First, I should mention something about myself. I haven't read many of the comics. Hardly any, in fact. There just weren't that many brick-and-mortar stores that sold comics of any sort around where I grew up and even if there were, I didn't have the cash. Buying online is an option now, but it wasn't when I was a kid and there's still the matter of my nearly nonexistent personal funds. So a lot of what I know about any comic book character comes from the various adaptations and fan pages. Also a few books on comics that I picked up from the library.

So, on to this 'alarming trend.'

Let's start with Magneto. Was the Axis series written so the readers were supposed to see Magnetto as the villain, or was he just treated as the villain in-universe? The original post doesn't say, though I wouldn't be surprised at the latter. Marvel has a long history of making the good guys hated by those in power. Just look at almost all of Spider-Man's appearances or, better yet, The Hulk. One of the central themes of the X-Men is discrimination, primarily the mistreatment of mutants at the hands of normal humans. In Captain America: Civil War, Cap and the other Avengers are treated like criminals almost from the first scene, but they're still the heroes. Magnetto himself, what I've seen of him, comes across as less a hero or villain and more an example of what happens when you let hatred consume you.

As for his children, being ethnically Jewish doesn't mean the twins follow that faith. As far as I'm aware, Wanda and Pietro have never had a terribly good relationship with their father, or even each other depending on the adaptation. I can easily see a few versions of Wanda converting to something (anything) else just out of spite.

There's also the matter of age. As a Holocaust survivor, Magnetto would have to be pushing 100 right now. That's pretty old to have children as young as Wanda and Pietro are usually portrayed (teens to mid-twenties at the latest). Nativehueofresolution doesn't say if Magnetto still has a familial relationship with the twins in Axis, just that the paternal relationship was retconned. He could be their grandfather for all I know.

They certainly aren't related to Magnetto at all in the MCU simply because Marvel doesn't have the movie rights for that character. Or any of the other X-Men. Heck, they can't even say the word 'mutant' in their movies.

This gets into the crazy world of licensing laws, which I'm not even going to try to fully understand or explain. Short version, when Sony wanted to make X-Men movies, Marvel agreed and sold them the exclusive rights to use those characters in live-action films. Same thing happened when Fox wanted to make Spider-Man movies. Now that Marvel can make their own movies, they're trying to get control of those characters back. Grandually. Legally. In a way that won't make those other companies hate them. That means negotiation and compromise

In the case of the twins, that means changing their shared background and not using their codenames. Note how just about everyone else is called by their codename at least once and the ones who aren't have their name referenced in some other way. Instead of being the children of a holocaust survivor, they were fairly normal teens in a tiny Eastern European country, probably Slavic, that's been at war with itself and its neighbors on and off for most of its history. An agent of Hydra shows up and tells them he'll give them power to fight against their oppressors. Did they know they were signing up with Hydra at the time? Remember, Hydra's infiltration of SHIELD wasn't made public until after the twins were enhanced. They easily could've thought they were working for SHIELD until it was too late.

As for them being Christian, that just further separates them from their X-Men counterparts. Maybe it was unnecessary. Maybe it was part of the deal with Sony. I don't know. No one's raising a fuss over the changes to Zemo's backstory and personality, which are much more obvious than the changes done to the twins.

So, what about Hank the Hydra Agent? I haven't read the comic, so I don't know any more about it that what's said here. One thing that popped out immediately was this line, "he just saw it as a job and joined because of the tough economy, ignoring the fact that this was the case for many real world Nazis as well."

Were they ignoring that fact? History lesson time!

World War I left Germany a complete economic wreck. The Treaty of Versailles seemed intent on destroying what was left of the country. Then the Great Depression hit and everyone suffered. Adolf Hitler set himself up as Germany's savior. He gave them a reason to feel pride again. Many people joined because they could get jobs, they could do something that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Hindsight is 20/20. You'd think people would know better now, but a lot of us don't. People easily forget the lessons of history. People often overlook how something affects others because it isn't affecting them. Sure, maybe Hank's sympathetic, maybe he's just a work-a-day slob who isn't evil and really doesn't fully understand the kind of monster he's working for.

May I direct your attention to this 1943 Disney short, Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi.

While the short avoids humanizing the Nazi leadership by use of grotesque characture and having all the dialog in unsubtitled German, it does a great job humanizing the little boy Hans. I, at least, felt sorry for him and his mother and the last shot of the gravestones brings home that there are lots of little boys like Hans, all brainwashed into thinking exactly what the party wants them to think. Thankfully, the Third Reich didn't last long enough for Hans' generation to reach the battlefield. Still, the people dying on the fields of Europe weren't the true villains, the adults were subjected to many of the same kinds of pressures.

Hank in the comic obviously wasn't brainwashed from childhood, but he could've easily been lied to and cajoled, especially if he isn't a particularly bright or well-educated guy to begin with. For all I know, his comic could be roughly equivalent to Disney's Education for Death short.

Next, the accusation that the the MCU is 'erasing' the Jewish heritage of their various actors. I have honestly no idea what is meant by that. Yes, Natalie Portman is using a stage name. She had that name long before her role in Thor. (In case you don't know, she played Padme/Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. She's credited as Natalie Portman.) It's also a common practice among actors with 'odd' names. Bruce Boxleitner, of Tron and Babylon 5 fame, is notable for not using a stage name at a time when that would've been almost required.

Kat Dennings is also using a stage name that originated long before she got a role with Marvel.

Robert Downey Jr. is ethnically Jewish on his father's side. I've seen no indication that anyone in his family is a practicing Jew.

Based on the comment about the Punisher's actor (whose name is spelled Bernthal, by the way) the closest I can come to a guess is that Nativehueofresolution's problem is that Jewish actors are playing non-Jewish roles. That is beyond rediculous. Despite the various memes and comparisons, Marvel actors are not Marvel characters. These are roles, and when the cameras are off I'm sure they're just as observant as they were before getting the part.

Good grief, most of the cast of Hogan's Heroes were not only Jews, but had fought against the Nazis in WWII. That includes those playing German characters. General Burkhalter was played by Leon Askin, who immigrated to the United States in 1940 and served as a staff sergeant in the US Armed Forces. Major Hochstetter was played by American born Jewish actor Howard Caine. Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink) fled Nazi Germany after spending three years in a concentration camp. His parents died there. John Banner (Sergeant Shultz) has a similar story. Mr. Klemperer defended taking the role thus, "I am an actor. If I can play Richard III, I can play a Nazi."

And if Mr. Klemperer can play a Nazi, any other Jew can play a Christian. These actors are hired based on talent and the needs of the part, not on religious affiliation.

Now, I don't know if certain Marvel employees are required to identify as Hydra on social media, but the only ones I've seen do so play Hydra characters. All the actors get into character once in a while online. Selling Hydra T-shirts seems less okay, but, remember, it's been possible to buy Star Wars Stormtooper costumes for Halloween long before the prequel trilogy was even planned. The Empire's entire aesthetic was heavily influenced by Nazi Germany with the Stormtroopers named after the English translation of the Nazi military units.

I'm certainly not going to defend Marvel for everything. Turning Cap into a life-long Hydra agent is tasteless at best. Be angry at that. Better yet, let Marvel know you're angry. Let Marvel know just how thoroughly they've screwed up with this one. But, please, before making this into a conspiracy or accusing them of anything greater, remember that Marvel is a business. There's a lot more writing comics and shooting movies than just the story.

No comments:

Post a Comment