- January 11, 2021
Are Superheroes Inherently Fascist?
Are superheroes inherently fascist? No, I don’t really think they are, but I do see how someone could say that. Fascism is a word that’s commonly mis-defined or misinterpreted, and now the superhero is the victim of this.
When defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, facism is “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual  that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
Yeah, that’s a mouthful.
Defining “Inherently Fascist”
By that definition though, superheroes are not fascists. Maybe a few supervillains or two, maybe even an out-of-canon “what if” story fits that definition like Injustice, but those stories are not heroic portrayals. They don’t even claim to be.
Now what does ‘inherently’ mean? I ask because it’s popular and common to say that superheroes are ‘inherently fascist’ rather than plain old fascist. ‘Inherently,’ by the Merriam-Webster dictionary means “by natural character or ability,” which is actually kind of vague. Someone could honestly take it to mean that anyone with the natural ability to be fascist, is inherently fascist. This would then mean that anyone with the power to be fascist, therefore is. This is ridiculous because we all have the ability to be fascist. This definition makes the whole question of ‘are superheroes inherently fascist’ pointless to the nth degree.
Other sources, such as Dictionary.com, defined ‘inherently’ to mean “a natural, necessary, or inseparable element or quality.” This actually does give us an idea of what it would mean to be inherently fascist.
Philosophy of the Superhero
One way we could define inherently fascist could be to have natural, necessary, or inseparables elements of a political philosophy, movement, or regime, that exalts nation and often race above the individual, and that movement stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader. If this isn’t how you define inherently fascist, please hold your pitchforks. I promise I`m going to tackle other definitions later, this is just the first one.
So are superheroes inherently fascist? Maybe by this definition.
Are they Driven by Hate? No
First, for any definition to be true, superheroes as a literary conceit have to be inherently fascist on the majority. Otherwise you’re judging the majority by the minority, and that would be many bad things. So, do most superheroes have elements that exalt their nation, race, or person in a way that`s autocratic?
This would mean that superheroes are actively putting a type of person or group of persons above others. They are also making all the decisions, with no ability for others outside of that group to make decisions for themselves, you know, like a Nazi.
And no, the majority of superheroes being white does not exalt one group over another. Having a large amount of white people in power does not mean they are saying that white people are better than anyone else, or should make the decisions for anyone else.
For a superhero to exalt one race over another, the story has to literally say that to be true. The story has to purposely say that these heroes are better intrinsically because they are white or because they are superheroes. Not only do superheroes stories not do this today, many go out of their way to say the exact opposite. If there are ones that did, they are retconned and/or ostracized for being a product of its time. Such stories are emblematic of the morals of their writers, not the genre itself.
Let`s Not Sound Like Hypocrites
You cannot blame a genre because a minority few created a piece of art with something vile in it. How often has the fantasy genre been filled with humans and elves ruling over so-called lesser races? How many show all races segregated to keep the lesser species separate? Too many to count, but we don’t blame the genre for the tendencies of the writers. We just blame the writers.
So, yes, you can say that one example is inherently fascist should you find it by this definition. But you cannot, or at least shouldn`t, say superheroes themselves are inherently fascist based on a minority of examples. Especially if you wouldn`t do the same with every other piece of fiction. Superheroes should be no exception for better or worse.
Superheroes inherently by design can’t do something like exalt one race, sex, or religion. If they do, they are purposely causing innocent civilians harm. They`re not living up to the definition of a superhero if they behave this way. The definition being a hero with superpowered abilities, and heroes, by definition, need to have noble qualities.
There’s nothing noble about being racist, sexist, or prejudiced. Once a character`s examples of prejudiced behavior are not outliers, they cannot be considered a superhero.
Government of the Superhero
Now, what if we focus the meaning of being inherently fascist? Instead, it focuses on being something that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader. This could affect whether we can more definitively say superheroes are inherently fascist.
When we focus on the part of fascism that necessitates one kind of person over another, the argument that superheroes are inherently fascist doesn’t hold water. The second a supposed superhero does such a thing, they can’t be considered a superhero. They would just be a character with superpowers, who at best does good things for one group of people. At worst, they’re a terrible person pretending or mistakenly believing themselves to be a superhero.
Someone who believes that such a person is a superhero, is likely a despicable human being, and likely evil.
But for superheroes to be inherently fascist, in that they stand for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader? That’s a different thing entirely, and there may be some room for that.
The Few Do Not Make the Many
You can certainly prove that specific incarnations of superheroes are inherently fascist by that definition. Frank Miller’s Batman & Superman from the Dark Knight Returns act as if they believe in a centralized autocratic government. Batman in the Dark Knight Returns would have Gotham’s citizens abide by his rules and beliefs. At the same time, the Superman of that book would have you obey the President of the U.S. at the threat of violence.
There are certainly a number of superheroes and alternate versions of popular superheroes who fit this mold. But to say that the majority of superheroes do, especially that the main versions of them do, doesn’t hold water. The main versions of Superman and Batman would be rather disgusted by their Dark Knight Returns counterparts.
Rather than name all the heroes who don’t stand for an autocratic regime, I’m just going to place a collage of the many heroes who don’t. I’m willing to bet there are more who don’t do this than those who do.
Their Fearsome Might
Glen Weldon of NPR wrote an opinion article that superheroes are fascist ideals in a fashion that’s close to the second definition that I have offered. In his November 16, 2016 article, “Superheroes And The F-Word: Grappling With The Ugly Truth Under The Capes,” he states that “superheroes are fascist ideals,” in that “they exist to symbolize the notion that might equals right, that a select few should dictate the fate of the world, and that the status quo is to be protected at all costs.”
To say that they exist to symbolize that might equals right is to take the villains out of the equation. Superheroes do not go around punching people who have different opinions than them, by and large. They punch villains who are hurting innocent civilians. To say might equals right, implies that they were not right in their convictions until they punched the villain. Superheroes were right when they said that hurting people is wrong before they threw the punch.
The Enemies they Fight
This idea ignores the evil and the wrong superheroes consistently face. It is not might equals right when Batman fights the Joker. The Joker is a serial killer who is mass murdering people around Gotham for his own pleasure.
It is not might equals right when Superman stops Lex Luthor from victimizing, robbing, and endangering Metropolis to make money and float his ego.
Nor is it is not might equals right when Wonder Woman or Captain America punch evil-doing Nazis in the face.
They are factually fighting people who wish to do innocent people harm on a regular basis. That is the story that is being consistently told. Stories are not often being told about superheroes subjugating the wills of other people on the basis that they are stronger.
The Dream they Fight for
The stuff about dictating the fate of the world? The simple fact that despite all of the superheroes’ best efforts, despite every battle they fight, their worlds remain places of good and evil, means that they are not dictating anything. Superheroes want the world to be all good, to be all peace and tranquil, and they’re not. Wanting the world to be a certain way does not mean someone is dictating it. If wanting the world to improve is dictating, then anytime any of us want change we are dictating.
If saying that the world should be a certain way is dictating, than we’ve all dictated for a better world at one time or another, and then we are all inherently fascist.
And as to the idea of the status quo being protected at all costs? The majority of superheroes do not want there to be a status quo of the constant fighting and battling. They hate the status quo, that’s why they are superheroes in the first place.
Status of the Superhero
But, let’s say that even the second definition of being inherently fascist isn’t broad enough, and is actually too specific. Let’s say that to be inherently fascist, superheroes only need to stand for severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.
Superheroes don’t stand for economic regimentation. I’m sorry, but in all honesty, most comic book writing isn’t clever enough to tackle what those words mean. For those who do, the fact that most superheroes are middle to lower class. This means they would be the ones oppressed, not oppressing. Despite what Batman and Iron Man may have you think, most superheroes are not rich. Batman isn’t even a billionaire anymore.
When stories do talk about the social class system brought about by the economy, the superheroes are trying to give back to the community in a way that flies over the heads of most readers anyway. Look at any Daredevil run.
To prove my point, I would like to direct you to the long list of examples collected by Ashley|TheBatfamily, of Batman using his money to fix Gotham. I’m just not going to read them off for you, just read as many as you want then come back.
Are they Wealthy?
I want people to know, because yes, despite what people who’ve never read a Batman comic may think, Batman does use his money to fix poverty. It does not mean he can’t be Batman at the same time. The reason poverty in Gotham is never fixed is because the world is fictional. The story would end if poverty was cured, not because Batman doesn’t use his money to help the poor. And most certainly not because he just wants to beat people up.
He, and other rich superheroes like Black Panther and Green Arrow, use their money in a multitude of ways. It just never matters in the face of super villains, because again, the world is fictional. Sure, in the real world, the philanthropy work that Batman does as Bruce Wayne would actually work. Here`s the thing, it’s not real, and people don’t read comic books for stories about the real world. So, Gotham will likely never be a good place to live in any permanent sense, ever.
And in terms of social regimentation? That goes back into the whole idea of promoting one kind of person above another. At the very least separating them, which is a sin a superhero cannot do and call themselves a superhero. You can’t even say that superheroes target poor people without showing off how uninformed you are.
Status of the Supervillain
Believe it or not, the majority of supervillains are actually pretty well-off, more than superheroes. Even the goons that supervillains hire are often private armies, who are also really well off, if they’re even human. Sometimes they’re robots, literal monsters, and alien nations hellbent on taking over the world. These kind of monsters are far outside the realm of middle and lower class citizens.
I really hope people aren’t equating the actually impoverished with White Martians and Skrulls. That says more about what you think about poor people or your willingness to speak on things you haven’t researched.
Essentially, if someone actually goes through the modern origin stories and M.O.’s of supervillains, you will notice something. The vast majority of them seem to either come from money, make a lot of money, or magically conjure up money.
Even thugs who follow the Joker are people he targets because of their violent potential. Someone just looking to get paid won`t last in a supervillain’s gang because they aren’t evil.
Those who fall through the cracks and join supervillains out of poverty are the same people who get job offers from Batman and quick painless arrests from Superman.
Though if you want to argue that superheroes are fascist against rich people, I’m not necessarily opposed to that idea. Not actually how it works but we can all have our fantasies.
Tactics of the Superhero
In all honesty, the only thing to me that truly fits every superhero is the forcible suppression of opposition.
They do all violently attack their opposition, that’s undeniable, but the opposition are supervillains. The question then becomes, is it still inherent fascism if superheroes are defending themselves and the public? These are supervillains who would objectively harm society. Like, that’s not up for discussion, the supervillains are physically attacking, killing, and kidnapping people.
And if it is, then any institution made to protect the general public must than be considered fascist too. While modern police behavior is not something people feel uncomfortable calling fascist, making it so any police replacement falls under the label is a dangerous thing. Honestly, it’s not something I know how to argue for or against.
Whether or not any institution or idea is fascist for suppressing a harmful and violent opposition, is not something I know. I admit to that. I don’t know if we can all concisely agree on such a thing. Even more than that, I don’t have an argument for or against it.
I am willing to cede that superheroes are inherently fascist if violently oppressing a harmful opposition of supervillains counts as being inherently fascist.
Agency of the Superhero
If even that definition doesn’t do it for you, well at that point you honestly don’t know the basic definition of fascism.
But I’ll humor you.
The popular basic finish line that superheroes apparently all cross that makes them inherently fascist that I see online all the time, is the fact they as individuals, are the only ones with agency. They are the only ones who act and therefore are the only ones who can affect change in the world.
The problem with this is twofold. Just because superheroes in this world are the only ones acting, does not mean that no one else can. Lets ignore how this would make most protagonists inherently fascists across all genres. There is nothing stopping normal people in the DC or Marvel universe from improving their lives on their own. They can protest superheroes, demand stricter detention facilities, petition for the death penalties for villains, and maybe… just maybe… not stand by and doing absolutely nothing when evil is afoot. Not every civilian stands by and does nothing, but more often than not, the civilians of the DC and Marvel universe sit around doing nothing. Maybe that`s more emblematic of the writers and of the people in our time.
Superman’s Great Dream
But if a superhero is inherently fascist because he is the only one to act, then who protects anyone? Does the act of doing good by keeping bad people from hurting others make someone a fascist? If that’s all it takes, than truly our own real world deserves to spin itself into a fireball. If we believe it is wrong to go out and help others when we have the power to help, then we are pathetic. Wanting to help when nobody else will should be considered fascism.
Superman is not fascist for saving the day. Him saving the day does not mean you cannot. It does mean that you can and you should.
You should help the people around you. Pay attention, make calls, and donate money when there’s poverty, famine, and disease around the world. Make your voice heard and attack the institutions that corrupt society.
Don’t attack fictional characters who are analogies for what it would look like if you stood up for something like they do. Because you can do something, and if you did, you wouldn’t even be able to consider any superhero a fascist without painting yourself and every morally good cause you fight for, fascist as well.
There is a clear problem for me whenever I hear anyone calling guys like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman a fascist.
Anyone who knows these heroes past watching a movie or two, knows that they fight to protect people from villains, criminals, and corrupt institutions. They know that the point is to inspire hope in the readers and the people of their worlds to take back their lives for themselves. They are about protecting other people until people themselves step up. Superman’s goal, more than any other superhero, is to help people do what he does.
Superheroes want to empower people, that’s the average core of a superhero’s character, the opposite of facism in everyway. A person cannot empower people as superheroes try to do, while somehow at the same time dictating other people’s fates.
Sure, in elseworld stories like Injustice, Earth X, or Red Son, there are superpowered characters who believe they are empowering the people by taking things like free will away, but they are also, inherently, failing as superheroes.
Importantly, the more we twist what it means to be fascist and what fascism is, we run the risk of being vulnerable to real fascism. If we don’t understand what this dangerous and hateful form of government truly is, if we don’t understand how people truly follow it actually behave, then we are susceptible to it.
Do your research, understand what it is your saying. Being authoritarian does not make someone a fascist. Being on the political right or left does not make someone a fascist.
And in all honestly, maybe we should spend more time trying to tear down actual real life villains, and challenging supposed real life heroes, more than we do fictional ones.