Much like President Obama and marriage equality, my thoughts on “The Avengers” continue to evolve. In my previous review, I implied that the film’s politics do not fall stay strictly within party lines. I still think that statement is true, but its implications say something important.
Given the politics of today, “The Avengers” is in fact a moderate movie. Embedded in its plot is support for a strong military defense, which was once only a Republican ideal. But most Congressional Democrats, as well as our Democratic president, have supported military interventions that several decades ago would certainly have been anathema to liberals. Obama, for example, escalated the War in Afghanistan and launched a military intervention in Libya without congressional approval.
But things used to be different. Back in 1980, President Carter’s single term famously ended without a shot being fired. This proved to be a liability in his re-election campaign, when Reagan mocked him for it. In fact, it proved to be such a winner on the campaign trail that some conservatives are still mocking him for it. In retrospect, Carter’s loss represented the end of a Democratic party that believed in strength through peace, as Democrats who ran on peace and compassion (Mondale and Dukakis) were eviscerated in the next two presidential elections. They have since learned their lesson.
Carter’s defeat at the hands of Reagan coincides with the birth of the modern-day action film. Movies like “First Blood,” “Red Dawn,” and “The Terminator” were all released during Reagan’s first term, and they reflect his emphasis on escalation of the Cold War and a massive increase in defense budgets. Those values were mainstreamed in the 1980s, and nearly every action movie since then has reflected them. Indeed, an action movie that supports diplomacy as a first option would result in cognitive dissonance.
Still, it is important to note that the violence and military propaganda in “The Avengers” does not signal an intent by the filmmakers to imbue the movie with conservative values. This is the part where I tell you that writer/director Joss Whedon actually contributed the maximum amount to both Obama’s re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee. But this shouldn’t be a surprise. In showing how the superheroes defeat the bad guy only through teamwork and sacrifice, the film promotes a sense of community over the conservative notion of individualism, which nearly every other action movie perpetuates.
But this does not mean that “The Avengers” is a liberal film. Rather, the fact that an Obama-supporting Democrat has made this kind of action shows just how mainstream once-conservative ideas have become. In this way, “The Avengers” may as well have been made by Obama himself, who has retained the imagery and words of the counter-culture and its values of teamwork, cooperation, and harmony – but has undermined it with a willingness to shoot first and ask questions later.