Book probes the politics of Marvel movies

The book asks, "What lessons are this entertainment juggernaut teaching audiences about politics, society, power, gender, and inequality?" (Credit: Road Trip with Raj/Unsplash)

A new book looks at the political messages of the Marvel cinematic universe.

In their new book, The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Duke University political scientist Nicholas Carnes and coauthor Lilly J. Goren of Carroll University ask, “What lessons are this entertainment juggernaut teaching audiences about politics, society, power, gender, and inequality?”

Read a transcript of the podcast episode here.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is the most expansive and widely viewed fictional narrative in the history of cinema. In 2009, Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, including its subsidiary film production company, Marvel Studios. Since then, the MCU—the collection of multimedia Marvel Studios products that share a single fictional storyline—has grown from two feature films to thirty interconnected movies, nine streaming Disney+ series, a half dozen short films, and more than thirty print titles. By 2022, eight of the 25 highest grossing films of all time are MCU movies.

The MCU is a deeply political universe. Intentionally or not, the MCU sends fans scores of messages about a wide range of subjects related to government, public policy, and society. Some are overt, like the contentious debate about government and accountability at the heart of Captain America: Civil War. More often, however, the politics of the MCU are subtle, like the changing role of women from supporting characters (like Black Widow in Iron Man 2) to leading heroes (like Black Widow in Black Widow).

The MCU is not only a product of contemporary politics, but also seems to be in direct response to the problems of the day. Racial injustice, environmental catastrophe, and political misinformation are both contemporary social ills and key thematic elements of recent MCU blockbusters.

In The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022), more than 25 leading scholars examine these complex themes. Part one explores how the origin stories depict political issues; part two examines how the MCU depicts classic political themes like government and power; and part three explores questions of diversity and representation in the MCU.

The volume’s various chapters examine a wide range of topics: Black Panther and the “racial contract;” Captain America and the political philosophy of James Madison; Dr. Strange and colonial imperialism; S.H.I.E.L.D. and civil-military relations; Spider-Man and environmentalism; and Captain Marvel and second-wave feminism.

Source: Duke University