“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture; just get people to stop reading them.”
— Ray Bradbury
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the most sophisticated of the Marvel movies.
That this is of course essentially akin to being the tallest dwarf is not unimportant but does not mean the film isn’t entertaining, or even a solid example of the genre more or less at its best.
However we turn our attention to a crucial sequence in the film as an example of not just the lack of sophistication in the writing and directing but as an example of the industrial scale manner in which the films both generate and reflect a hollowing out of critical thinking.
On their way to see the Helicarriers, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) explains to Captain America (Chris Evans) that his world view was formed if not entirely, then substantially by his father’s experience of systemic bigotry and violence in America.
A .25 caliber automatic and a wad of cash in a bag and Fury Senior was forced to navigate the blunt reality of Jim Crow and Apartheid.
This acts as Fury’s anchor; the context of his hard-ass persona and the reason he is committed to preventive strikes against evil and predators. And more importantly it creates an out for Marvel because criticism is referred back to Fury as victim of systemic bigotry and thus, the film(s) and characters are immune to criticism.
This leads to his explanation that the carriers will allow for the destruction of enemies before they can strike.
Captain America however, upholding the virtue of the ideal, responds that the carriers and preemptive executions without juries or evidence, is “not freedom but fear.”
This of course is a (faux) critique of the post 9/11 tyranny and the mass surveillance state.
The same point was made in Star Trek Into Darkness with a shuttle named “Warrant” the coordinates of the Dreadnaught matching the largest oil field in Libya, and Kirk eventually coming to his senses and refusing to execute Khan without a trial.
The movie was savaged by critics in what to any seasoned observer, appears to have been a concerted campaign organized by the contemporary corporate machine’s Section 31.
In the case of Captain America, what we are presented with is a Nick Fury who is provided by the writer/directors with a shield (sic) which explains and excuses the fact that he is advocating fascism – no trials, no evidence, only algorithms that allow one to dispense with the mess of civil liberties.
Because the film appears to offer a woke acknowledgment of bigotry it hides behind imitation decency and moves on to the next perfectly choreographed action sequence.
Captain America is presented as a legitimate subversive because of course, it is in theory anti-American to advocate state sanctioned murder or state sponsored terrorism.
Following this Cap (sic) bolts and Fury unknowingly working alongside Hydra, follows orders and uses the system to either contain or execute Cap.
Hydra is revealed as the dark heart at the center of SHIELD and Fury is targeted for execution by Hydra’s hitman, (Sebastian Stan) The Winter Soldier.
But at no point does anyone follow up on the fact that Fury was/remains a fascist advocating state terror.(see note below about Avengers: Endgame)
The standard response is – it’s just a comic book movie.
However, any attempt to treat it as just a comic book movie, is treated as elitism and snobbery.
Attempts to take the genre seriously and thus subject it to an excavation and critique simply repeats the process.
This is down not just to the domination of “culture” by media empires that control the “reviews” and deny that they are infomercials and paid propaganda, but also is a result of the public school factories which have long since stopped teaching logic or critical thinking.
As a result attempts at criticism, built on logic, and thus able to highlight the illogic of the product are treated to endless move the goalpost “arguments” which refuse to acknowledge their own illogic let alone the illogic of the product.
If you don’t like it why bother speaking about it, is a common response as if there is only the binary choice between adulation or silence.
That this cult like, neo-fascist behavior is a direct result of the media monopolies and their Borg (sic!) “resistance is futile” control, and the failed education system, of course goes without discussion.
The first rule of the Culture Industry and Mass Produced industrial scale faux culture is, you don’t discuss the Culture Industry, or that we are being drowned in what amounts to a tyrannical flood of banality, and paint by numbers imitations or simulacrums of authentic art.
The fact is not just that Fury espouses fascism 101, or even that it reflects the demagoguery of any number of contemporary politicians, but that his switch from jack booted eye-patch wearing thug to rebel with a cause, occurs essentially in the blink of one eye.
As a result either his fascism is immune to criticism or it is so gossamer as to be immune to criticism while also simultaneously reducing criticism to a stifled yawn as the crowd shouts its obedience.
This is a repeated trope from the first Avenger’s movie in which Stark uncovers Fury hiding the production of what amounts to WMD from the team. However, there are no authentic consequences and the assembly line moves on to the next plot point.
In Civil War the process is repeated during a scene where the team argues about the Accords. Cap calls out Stark’s views and Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) dismisses the point by saying Cap only thinks he knows what Stark is thinking. He then offers a dialogue beat by complaining about misuse of the garbage disposal and asking rhetorically who has been dumping coffee grounds down the drain.
This is designed to divert and establish the quotidian reality (i.e., authenticity) of the characters.
But then the scene pivots and Stark, without admitting it or seemingly being self aware, states exactly the point he had just dismissed as false.
As a result the film has no authentic memory which frees the audience from the responsibility of having a memory. In place of authentic memory their are “Easter eggs” which offer faux memory points that are in truth part of a circular orbit that exists within a closed system of self referential celebration, denial and avoidance.
This of course is the bedrock of a cult.
The cult is both the specific film(s) but is also how the films reflect the cult of The Culture Industry.
False logic is ignored but references to previous films are celebrated.
This eliminates authentic criticism because authentic critiques become useless.
This in turn reflects the rapid fire switch topics, move the goalpost, lack of an attention span, shallow prone to hysteria fits of the contemporary zeitgeist.
But if you don’t like it, don’t watch it.
As if someone selling postcards to a hanging, or Christmas cards in June, isn’t as much cause for anxiety as rising oceans or a malignant troll in The White House saying he doesn’t disagree with the suggestion, that his term should be extended by two years whether or not he loses the next “election.”
Captain America: The Winter Soldier apes the themes of the spy thriller – the genre now dominated by the Bourne, Mission Impossible and Bond franchises (and take note of the deployment of “franchise” which collapses the distance between cinema as art and fast food or 7-Eleven) or the Tom Clancy factory.
The film has its charms; it is well done and succeeds (problematically) in spite of its flaws but none of that eliminates the fact that it is intrinsically a form of manipulation that does not admit either to itself or its audience that it is engaged in manipulation.
Meta references to super heroes, or other films (Cap’s notebook refers to Star Trek/Star Wars and the films consistently refer to the “real world” – The Beatles, Indiana Jones, etc.) do not constitute admitting that the characters and the films are riding two horses with one ass nor does it excuse the toxic aspect of the films being pillars supporting a culture of conformity or the inherent terror of banality as a function of conformity.
Having switched from fascist to rebel, who is to say Nick Fury can’t or wont reverse course, or for that matter that he could not be repurposed by actual tyrants to sell the product and make the trains run on time.
Postscript: during one of the “time heist” sequences in Endgame, Stark says in passing, to Cap, that SHIELD, is a “quasi-fascistic organization.”
That is clearly a cynical attempt to preempt the criticism of the genre and the other aspect of the legacy of the comic books – both Marvel and DC – the “heroes” are essentially terrorists and in many instances, fascists.
Except for when they’re not and fight against both.