On Monday, TIME magazine published an article called, “We’re Re-examining How We Portray Cops Onscreen. Now It’s Time to Talk About Superheroes,” in which the author, a staff writer for the magazine, rips into cops and superheroes simultaneously, stating, “What are superheroes except cops with capes who enact justice with their powers?”
Near the beginning of the piece, the author, Eliana Dockterman, argues that onscreen portrayals of police are too often positive, writing, “Legal procedurals and shoot-em-up action movies have long presented a skewed perception of the justice system in America, in which the police are almost always positioned as the good guys. These ‘good cop’ narratives are rarely balanced out with stories of systemic racism in the criminal justice system. The ‘bad guys’ they pursue are often people of color, their characters undeveloped beyond their criminality.”
Dockterman then segues to linking those members of law enforcement with superheroes. “But as we engage in this long overdue conversation about law enforcement, it’s high time we also talk about the most popular characters in film, the ones who decide the parameters of justice and often enact them with violence: superheroes,” she writes.
She notes that superheroes have become “icons to more than just our children,” acknowledging that they are “beacons of inspiration,” including among protesters, who have “dressed as Spider-Man and Batman have turned up at recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations.”
While this inspiration appears to be positive, in Dockterman’s view it carries an insidious underlying message: figures there to promote justice, like law enforcement, are generally good.
“And yet what are superheroes except cops with capes who enact justice with their powers?” she asks.
Dockterman posits that most superheroes are white and “either function as an extension of a broken U.S. justice system or as vigilantes without any checks on their powers,” then continues, “In fact, real-life police officers sometimes adopt the symbolism of these rogue anti-heroes.”
She goes on to espouse the claim of “systemic racism” within the law enforcement community of the superhero universe, which she suggests has historically featured too many white men and which does not adequately “reckon with issues of systemic racism—let alone sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of bigotry embedded in the justice system or the inherent biases these superheroes might carry with them as they patrol the streets, or the universe.”
Dockterman has expressed her feelings about roles being dominated by white men before. In July 2019, writing about the prospect of the new James Bond reportedly being played by a woman, actress Lashana Lynch, Dockterman opined, “Lynch’s ascension signals major progress for a franchise that has long felt trapped in the 20th century. Up until this point, the role of the world’s greatest secret agent has been played exclusively by white men. What’s more, James Bond’s sexism, racism and general recklessness have proven impossible to ignore in the year 2019.”
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