Truth, justice, and the cinematic way

    Why would an American-made cinematic marvel (no pun intended), featuring very pro-American characters, be released in U.S. cineplexes more than a week after international moviegoers got a peek?

    It’s no coincidence that Marvel’s epic undertaking “The Avengers” was released on May 4, 2012. The film opened in 10 countries on Wednesday, April 25, while nearly 30 countries experienced Iron Man and Co. between April 26 and 27.

    Why would an American-made cinematic marvel (no pun intended), featuring very pro-American characters, be released in U.S. cineplexes more than a week after international moviegoers got a peek?

    You gotta hand it to the powers that be at Marvel and Disney for releasing a 140-minute, thinly-veiled propaganda piece during the week commemorating the one year-anniversary of the day America united in celebration over the discovery and defeat of its most elusive villain.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Forget the Dr. Pepper promotional campaign. Debuting a comic book-inspired epic dripping with American pride three days after the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of Navy SEALS practically sells itself.

    Patriotic cross-promotion aside, bin Laden represented a new breed of enemy when he was revealed as the Man Behind the September 11th Attacks in 2001. He didn’t wear a uniform, nor did his associates. He didn’t seek world domination, and he didn’t fight wars with tanks, missiles, or troops of heavily armed soldiers. Bin Laden’s recipe for destruction was decidedly viral. He used our systems against us, directing the 19 hijackers on how to gain access and blend in, like a virus disguising itself as a naturally belonging entity. By the time the nation’s protective agents could detect the problem, that virus had already launched an attack that, in the end, claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

    When the dust cleared and the battle lines were drawn, bin Laden took on a particularly comic book villain-esque existence. He lived in underground lairs and taunted the forces that sought to bring his reign of terror to an end with videos. What made him more dangerous than a scepter-wielding baddie was his grasp on his followers. How could one man convince so many men to commit such violent, coordinated attacks with significant numbers of lives lost?

    The forces that allowed bin Laden to gain popularity are the same forces that elevated Adolf Hitler from a pissed-off art student to the architect of the Holocaust. There were no death rays or mass hypnosis, but the powers of persuasion and timing allowed him to attract and organize supporters. Hitler took advantage of Germans’ fears and uncertainties during an era of rampant inflation and food shortages, and he managed to unite his countrymen over a perceived threat.

    In bin Laden’s case, he went from a jaded veteran of the Soviet War in Afghanistan to a charismatic preacher of Muslim values. It was his ability to cloak his hatred of Americans (his former financiers during the war against the Soviets) with the desire to protect Muslim beliefs that made him so appealing to his followers around the world.

    His David-versus-Goliath crusade against the United States made him a hero of sorts to Muslim extremists, but as major new agencies reported last week, he was a notorious micromanager, and insisted on disseminating important communication in written letters, as opposed to emails or cell phone calls. A certain irony presents itself in his demise: bin Laden rejected technology, but in all likelihood was found and killed by his enemies’ skillful use of it.

    So, the stateside debut of “The Avengers” is particularly well-timed. But America’s particular love of superhero movies is no coincidence, either.

    At a time when the branches of government are divided over arguments for healthcare, marriage and the economy, and the men and women of the armed forces are engaged in a seemingly endless war in the very country where the hunt for our arch nemesis began, it’s comforting to see America actually win vicariously through the efforts of a celluloid hero.

    The same held true for audiences’ insatiable appetite for “Star Wars” in 1977. Americans cheered Luke Skywalker’s victory over Darth Vader and the sinister Empire slightly two years after the end of the war in Vietnam.

    While we cringed over the sneak attacks of one-man operations against U.S. troops in Vietnam, we wallowed in the success of Luke, his tiny starfighter, and his faithful droid R2-D2, as they destroyed an entire enemy space station — with a single proton torpedo, no less.Like bin Laden, we too embrace the concept of one person having the power to bring about the kind of large-scale change we believe in.

    As long as it’s in the safety of a movie theater.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal