THE COMIC BOOK INDUSTRY
IS AWASH IN PROPAGANDA
I was a big comic book reader as a kid. Superman was a favorite. Batman, too, though not as much. The outlandish villains of Gotham always struck me as a little silly.
Then too, there was George Reeves’ weekly portrayals of the Man of Steel on TV — which I never missed — and the Saturday morning cartoon rendition, poorly drawn and cheaply produced, but adequate to stoke fantasies about having “powers beyond those of mortal men.”
Yeah, Soop was my guy. Besides, I could identify with nerdish Clark Kent.
From about college on, I lost touch with the comings and goings of those various pulp crusaders. Except for the 1980s movie incarnation, starring the unfortunate Christopher Reeve, Superman had become an artifact of my childhood.
Nowadays, comic books are a huge business. You could make a plausible case that their customers are the most loyal in the publishing industry. Comics (and their spawn, the so-called “graphic novels”) are pretty much the only form of print literature some people read.
We’re up to our caped shoulders in super heroes, though not just. There are other popular comic genres as well.
What a surprise to discover last week that Archie and his fellow denizens of mythical “Riverdale” are still around. It appears there are even multiple editions in which the adventures of the freckled teen icon are tracked through different periods of his life.
I would’ve figured Archie was as passé as Little Lulu. But then, maybe Little Lulu is still around too. I’m woefully out of touch.
What brought Archie to my attention was, of course, his by-now-widely discussed death in the series that charts his adult doings, Life with Archie. As everyone knows, the lad was gunned down — a rather grim end to a narrative which I recall centering mainly on Archie’s frustrated attempts to woo the vain and self-absorbed Veronica, much to the chagrin of his unrequited would-be paramour, the every-gal Betty.
Has the Life with Archie series been exploring gritty social themes all the years I’ve been otherwise occupied? Guess so. It seems to have taken a turn toward literary complexity as well.
The series has followed multiple divergent plot lines, even projecting Archie’s future, should he marry either Veronica or Betty. Both those options were precluded when Archie met a heroic demise taking a bullet intended for an openly gay senator who’s a wounded military veteran and a staunch advocate of gun control. This character, I find, has been in the strip for four years, and even figures in a comic book series of his own.
Writing on the website, Comics Alliance, pop culture critic Chris Sims reflects on the evolution of Archie…
“It’s been very interesting to watch Archie Comics transform from a company built on eternally unchanging teenage shenanigans in a peaceful, small town to the culturally progressive company that grabs headlines at every turn with how it’s rebuilding Riverdale for the modern comics reader. But besides the stories that strike chords within contemporary political conversations, it’s been fun seeing just how Archie tackles these ‘Big Event’ elements that we’ve seen in other American comics.”
Boy, I gotta get out more.
Who would have anticipated such contributions to contemporary political conversations coming from Riverdale? For that matter, who would ever have foreseen girl-crazy, fun-loving Archie Andrews as the face of a culturally progressive company?
Now, you might ask why, if Archie’s creators wanted their character to die heroically, he couldn’t have given his life stopping a baby carriage from rolling in front of a truck.
Silly you. That would be a foolish query, of course. We live in a time of total-saturation propaganda bombing. A culturally progressive company doesn’t strike chords within contemporary political conversations by showing mere altruism. There’s too much at stake — like changing society from top to bottom.
Reacting with disdain for this latest propaganda barrage, Catholic apologist Mark Shea posted a wry observation on Facebook…
“The spectacle of Archie RFK’d as a martyr to gay rights is like somebody thinking it’s a good idea to depict Winnie the Pooh gnawing his own leg off in a bear trap to promote animal rights.”
Shea has a point. But it really makes perfect sense that Archie would give his life for a gay friend, especially one who’s into gun-control. A culturally progressive company would naturally want to cover as many culturally progressive bases as possible.
I predict that, with Archie removed as the object of their long-running competition, Veronica and Betty will soon discover their suppressed feelings for each other. Can their gay wedding be far off? God help any Christian photographers or wedding cake bakers in Riverdale.
Comic books have been politicized for quite some time now. My old hero, Superman, renounced his American citizenship back in 2011, guilt-ridden over all those years of blind commitment to “truth, justice and the American way.” Many comics have explored themes of an unconstrained United States trampling about the globe like an out-of-control bull elephant forcing other nations to do its will.
Back in June, The Wall Street Journal featured an op-ed by veteran comic writer Chuck Dixon and illustrator Paul Rivouche critiquing the leftish sermonizing that’s become standard fare…
“Our fear is that today’s young comic-book readers are being ill-served by a medium that often presents heroes as morally compromised or no different from the criminals they battle. With the rise of moral relativism, ‘truth, justice and the American way’ have lost their meaning.”
Dixon and Rivouche note how, from the beginning of comic books…
“Superman and other ‘superheroes’ like Batman went out of their way to distinguish themselves from villains like Lex Luthor or the Joker. Superman even battled Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II.”
That began to change in the 1970s, when Dixon and Rivouche were starting in the business. By then, the Comics Code Authority, which had set industry standards for two decades, altered its guidelines…
“to allow for ‘sympathetic depiction of criminal behavior … [and] corruption among public officials’ but only ‘as long as it is portrayed as exceptional and the culprit is punished.’”
Even with this adjustment, however…
“there were still good guys and bad guys. Nobody cared what an artist’s politics were if you could draw or write and hand work in on schedule. Comics were a brotherhood beyond politics.”
By the ’90s that was all gone…
“The industry weakened and eventually threw out the CCA, and editors began to resist hiring conservative artists….
“The superheroes also changed. Batman became dark and ambiguous, a kind of brooding monster. Superman became less patriotic, culminating in his decision to renounce his citizenship so he wouldn’t be seen as an extension of U.S. foreign policy. A new code, less explicit but far stronger, replaced the old: a code of political correctness and moral ambiguity. If you disagreed with mostly left-leaning editors, you stayed silent.”
And so, Leftists who, in the spirit of Mao Tse Tung, have made their “long march through the institutions,” marched through the comic book industry as well, and took over.
It was a smart move. Comic books are a very direct form of communication, making (for the most part) minimal demands on the intellectual effort of the reader. They’re also a potent medium of persuasion. Large ideas can be put forth boldly in an environment where alternative views are easily misrepresented or ignored completely. And naturally, if you’re goal is to change society from top to bottom, you’ll want to use every means at your disposal and hit every key ideological point.
But I can’t help wondering if all this total-saturation propaganda bombing doesn’t reflect the inherent weakness of the progressive vision. Perhaps, deep in their innermost heart of hearts, Lefties know that if they don’t caulk every seam, some tiny shaft of reality might shine through, and that could signal the beginning of doubt, revealing the whole edifice they’ve constructed as an illusion.
I’ve been reading the wartime diary of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda mastermind. Translated and edited by Louis P. Lochner, who had run the Associated Press Berlin bureau before World War II, these memoirs offer some fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses into the working of the Hitler regime. They also reveal certain self-deceptive aspects of Goebbels’ thinking which are highly suggestive of what we see on the current progressive scene.
At one point in November 1943, Goebbels inspects the heartbreaking damage done throughout the Berlin area by Allied bombing, and he reflects poignantly on the suffering experienced by the German people…
“What a life we are leading! Who could have prophesied that at our cradle! I don’t believe anyone can lead a more dramatic and nerve-wracking life.”
Recovering from his sympathetic reverie, he asserts…
“Nevertheless, [this trying experience] has great and impelling impulses. One must throw oneself into this life with abandon both to taste it to the full and to help shape it. Later generations will not only admire us but be jealous that life entrusted us with such tremendous tasks.”
Here was a man for whom propaganda was life itself — who was convinced (and not without reason) that it had played a critical role in the rise of Nazism, and that it would yet inspire his countrymen on to ultimate victory. Despite the ruin that lay around him and the defeat whose inevitability was increasingly clear, Goebbels had unshakable faith in the power of words and images to shape life as he and Hitler wished it to be.
Well, you know how things turned out.
Great and impelling impulses. Tremendous tasks. This is the faith of the modern Left — they, who in their single-minded devotion to propaganda, are Joseph Goebbels’ true heirs.
Don’t expect to see Archie’s Riverdale friends making a strong pitch for Ted Cruz in the next presidential campaign.
And here’s the Wall Street Journal piece by Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivouche, who see contemporary comics as pretty much tools of the Left. Their assessment is sobering, but they end with a clarion call: “It’s time to take back comics.” From their lips to God’s ear…