On the extremely dark satirical show, “The Boys,” about psychotic superheroes and their corporate and military ties, the white supremacist leader of them all, Homelander, a kind of Superman knock-off, announces to a broadcast audience of hundreds of millions, “I’m through being persecuted for my strength.” Although having been a murderous, narcissistic rapist throughout his career with impunity, he’s now had enough. From now on he’s going to say what’s on his mind. “I’m not one of you. You are weak. I’m better than you. I’m through apologizing for that,” he says.
It's a timely speech, given that we, the ünterpeople, who believe we should at least have a partial say in the color and texture of the tyranny governing us, are being backed up against the wall by the self-designated übermenschen. In Nietzsche’s dichotomy, the übermenschen, the selfish and self-aggrandizing who believe they deserve more and need follow no morality but their own, are realists, and the rest of us, who aspire to a society out from under the boot of such oppressive narcissists, are dreamers.
That’s a strong rhetorical current in US popular discourse. And it’s not solely the province of the right wing. Recall how often the pejorative phrases, “Bernie will just wave his magic wand,” or “leftist progressives want to give everyone a pony” have been repeated by centrists to bash the less-than-acquiescent left since 2016. Prepare for such rhetorical slime balloons to be wielded again over the next two years, kind of like a magic wand, to sprinkle condescension over every demand from their base a Centrist Democrat doesn’t find it expedient to support.
In the “strong” view, then, the “weak” are meant to drudge along, serving and slaving, pleasing and groveling, sickening and dying, never complaining, never resisting on pain of injury, deprivation, or death. And this they call “realistic.”
So, who’s the real dreamer? Those who want to contribute to society however much or little they’re able and be given back enough to thrive pleasantly, or those who want to rip us off without our objecting? Those who want “be all they can be” regardless of who they destroy
along the way, lift themselves above the herd as heroes and kings, and achieve riches and ease beyond their wildest fantasies at the expense of communal peace and the preservation of a beautiful world that belongs to all? And without the rest of us speaking a word of condemnation, let alone criticism?
Who’s really living in a fantasy here? Who is weaving a fairytale? There are atheists who mock those who worship invisible divinities, but these same atheists turn right around and worship humans as if they’re divine, taking a flesh-and-blood person and imbuing them with godly powers. Those who give to charity to gain merit with a god or to align with the values of a long- dead spiritual leader seem to me less childish than someone who demands millions of weak people starve quietly so the person they idolize can be rewarded with ungodly wealth.
The show I mentioned at the top, “The Boys,” plays the satirical game of asking, “what if a destructive social idea were actually true?” In this case, the idea is that the self-proclaimed übermensch is real and deserves more. What if they actually were über? What if your delusional Nietzschean fantasy were true? And the answer the show discovers by exploring its satirical thought experiment is, “if there were real übermenschen, and they were privileged the way our pretend übermenschen are, things would be even worse.”
It's a perceptive statement on how the capitalist myth of social Darwinism indoctrinates its subjects.
The Golden Age of streaming entertainment has given us other popular allegorical condemnations of capitalist inequality. The Netflix fantasy from Korea, “Squid Game,” in which contestants are compelled to fight to their deaths to entertain the überwealthy, diagrams the infantilization of those overburdened by debt. Apple TV’s “Severance” illustrates through a science fiction narrative device the Marxist concept of alienation of labor and the way we submit to and collaborate in our own enslavement.
These three offerings, as I said, are popular. They articulate persistent obstacles society stumbles over by bowing to profit-driven priorities and a manufactured aristocracy. Other offerings, of
course, such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” HBO’s “The Watchmen,” Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and “Us,” along with variations on survival-against-the-vicious-mob of this-or-that socio-economic group allegorize other issues with varying levels of nuance. Such dystopias had a rebirth with “Children of Men” back in 2006 and have been accumulating ever since, but really pointed dystopian critiques of capitalism have been a long time coming and were certainly never expected to be this popular.
The rise in popularity of anti-capitalist dystopian fictions is understandable. After all, the fossil fuel industry that’s been ruling the world economy for over a hundred years seems poised to topple. While the end of petro-tyranny is both inevitable and welcome, humans are innately aware that such a giant cannot be felled without taking a great deal of civilization and possibly the planet down with it. Capitalism is poised at a critical and dangerous brink, and we all know it.
So, naturally dystopias critiquing capitalism are popular. It's more difficult to fathom why such critiques have not taken hold in the actual, supposedly factual news.
Or is it difficult to fathom? News in the USA has never adhered overly close to events in the real world, especially when such events demonstrate how abominable US policies are. So, the relationship between the US military, the teetering fossil fuel industry, and the threats to civilization from climate change and global heating are never made much of.
You won’t see Anderson Cooper, Tucker Carlson, Brian Williams, Jake Tapper, or any mass market anchor-talent elucidate the way a manufactured spectacle of colorful millionaires and billionaires enjoying their privileges feeds the militarism of our economy, siphoning resources from public schools, public shelter, and public health.
You won’t see any mass-market anchor-clown detail the over-burdening of our economy with debt instruments while making the connection to the way usurious debt conduces community and domestic violence, let alone how it dissolves familial and communal relationships in less extreme ways, increasing social instability.
The Onion might touch on how dehumanizing it is to work at a meaningless job under threat of becoming homeless, but you won’t read about it in the New York Times.
And that’s because it’s all too real. The owners of news don’t like hearing the truth about themselves and the nation and world they own stock in. They’re much more comfortable with alternative truth, where everything old is new again, everything black is white, every day is night, and every fantasy is real. Reality doesn’t sell unless it’s fictionalized. Reality can only be tolerated by the owning class if it’s positioned as an artistic product.
Is it possible the dreamers of a live-and-help-live society have had it right all along? Yes it is. Does the craft of channeling one’s imagination hold more possibilities for moving the people and creating popular rebellion than the art of spinning reality to fit a nation’s propaganda does? We can only hope. I’d like to think so. Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!