Image credits: SKetch (Instagram: @sketchbysk)
“With great power comes great responsibility”, these words, said by Uncle Ben in the Spiderman comics and movies, became Peter Parker’s guiding principles in his pursuit against crime. The same principles apply to most mainstream superheroes that choose to use their powers for the benefit of humanity and often seem to only do the “right” thing. Amazon Prime Video’s hit show ‘The Boys’ takes a more realistic view of superheroes, where these super-powered individuals are employed by a powerful corporation Vought International, which markets and monetizes them. Most of these heroes are arrogant and corrupt outside of the public eye. While the show is meant to be extremely weird and unrealistic, something about it makes it seem very real…
“Sounds like the American thing to do, sounds like the right thing to do” while this may sound like a line from President Trump’s rally speeches, and in all probability is – it was actually said by Homelander, the American flag-cape-wearing leader of the Seven (Vought’s strongest superhero team) during a believe expo for “honest Christians”.
The most powerful superhero has much more in common with Donald Trump than you might think. Both Homelander and Trump are in positions of extreme power and seem to want to use their powers to protect the American citizens from the evils the rest of the world hurls at their country. While American presidents through the 21st century have championed globalization and have actively tried to create a global community, we have witnessed a globalization backlash under Trump’s presidency with the intention of protecting American interests. Similarly, Homelander is different from the traditional superhero who wants to protect the world and chooses to project himself as America’s savior. We see clear instances of this when the Corporate executives of Vought tell Homelander his brand is “America, baseball and sunshine”. When after a focus group comes up with the tagline of “Saving The World”, Homelander bulldozes his way through corporate to make it “Saving America”. Trump speaks about the Chinese stealing American jobs and Mexicans raping American women and Homelander is on a mission to protect Americans from “foreign” extremists. While Trump uses isolated incidents and stereotypes around non-white demographics being involved in criminal activities or stealing jobs to build hype for his immigration policies and the border wall, Homelander uses a plane highjacking as an opportunity to make a case for superheroes in the military. Both Trump and Homelander hence seem to strive in situations of chaos, choosing to add to the chaos in order to further their personal agendas.
Gökarıksel et al in their work categorize this ability to amass a following by propagating fear through partly rooted facts as “demographic fever dreams”. The nightmarish “dream” implies an orientation toward the future, that is demographically apocalyptic for the dominating population hence calling for active, often violent intervention. While we have seen politicians use rhetoric about the class divide to appeal to sections of the masses, the fever dream created by Trump is quite different as it manages to break class barriers by uniting white Americans across class divisions through an embodied fear of the toxic other. The same demographic fever dream is quite openly displayed in the setting of ‘The Boys’. Eric Kripke the creator of the television series quite explicitly stated that he tried to bring out “the worst of politics”. The show as he states is very reflective of the world we are currently living in – “a blurred line between authoritarianism, fascism, and celebrity.” While ‘The Boys’ captures these themes it also shows how Homelander (just like Trump) projects himself as the hero who is going to protect “his people” from these external threats.
Not only do Homelander and Trump have the same rhetoric and use demographic differences as a political tool but they also have very similar personality traits. Homelander is self-centered, craves public approval, and is highly concerned about his ratings. He has a team of PR specialists running his social media accounts to make sure his public image remains untainted and constantly keeps a check on his public rating. A superpowered being that has the ability to destroy anyone or anything seems more affected by his public reputation than terrorists and supervillains. Homelander in one instance lets a plane filled with passengers crash so that his inability to save all passengers doesn’t impact his and his team’s image. The most panic you see on the face of this superhero is when he finds out his approval ratings fell by 9 points.
Blonde hair, white male, cheeky smile, self-obsessed, xenophobic, erratic, and a public image built over love for his country. Is Homelander Donald Trump in a cape?
Karantaj Singh finished his undergraduate in History and International Relations. He is now pursuing a minor in Media Studies and Politics during his time at the Ashoka Scholars Programme. He enjoys gaming and comics in his free time.
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