Why “The Boys” is Excellent Social Commentary

Updated 6/13/2022

Television entertainment often includes a dose of social criticism (just as it, unfortunately more often, includes a heaping helping of state propaganda.) Some of the more audacious TV series, such as the 2004–2008 ABC series “Boston Legal,” have dared to wield a fair amount of snark in references to the neocon faction and its dominant role in US foreign policy. However, the new series “The Boys” has gone farther than any of its predecessors in providing a metaphor that captures the sordid underbelly of the neocon ethos.

Homelander

For those of you who haven’t watched it, the Amazon Prime series entitled “The Boys” depicts a fantasy version of the US in which superheroes are relatively numerous, “differently-abled” individuals. However, unlike the traditional presentation of these creatures as plucky altruists, in this series they are like a gang of sleazebag Hollywood icons, represented by the Vought Corporation, a giant talent agency that micro-manages their careers, covers up their sexual peccadilloes, and arranges their acts of derring-do as carefully scripted photo-ops. This agency aspires to make its stable of heroes a component of the US military in order to get a slice of the Defense Department’s fabulous budget. “The Boys” refers to a rag-tag group of vigilantes who want to expose and ruin the whole project.

The cleverly-named Homelander is the perfect metaphor for neoconservatism. In front of the cameras, he is resplendent in his American flag cape and brimming with platitudes about freedom and democracy, seasoned with the occasional quotes from the Bible. Off-camera, he is brutal, sadistic, arrogant, and utterly amoral — a bonafide sociopath. He dominates The Seven, an Avengers-style team of superheroes who are the star property of the Vought Corporation.

“We came, we saw, he died!”

The series probably has more sex- and violence-porn than it really needs, but perhaps the garish extremes to which it goes reflect the horrific real-life consequences that the neocon policies have produced in the past decades. After all, what was done to Colonel Gaddafi in real life is as shocking and disgusting as anything that happens in this TV series.

The series could have been brought into closer correspondence with the real world, had there been some fawning Cable News anchors clamoring for The Seven to be brought into the military, and vilifying some hapless citizens who question the wisdom of doing so. The character of Vought Corporation exec Madelyn Stillwell aptly depicts the greed and hubris of the Military-Industrial Complex.

I will warn you that the conclusion of Season 1 was just about the most depressing thing I have ever seen. I presume that was intended to compel us all to watch Season 2 in hopes of a happier ending. Regardless, I encourage the reader to watch this series, and the next time you see an American politician sanctimoniously thundering forth on Twitter or cable news, demanding that the US punish some other nation for alleged violations of the principles of Human Rights™ and Democracy™, think of Homelander.

Here comes the Season 3 update:

As the popular series marches on, it is becoming harder to recommend it to the viewer, as the level of gross-out, in terms of the ridiculously graphic blood and gore, as well as some less-than-enchanting sexual content, continues to exceed all expectations. However, the series continues to be politically interesting.

In episode 3, there is a bit of backstory where it is revealed that back in the 1980s, the character of Mallory, a CIA officer who is sympathetic to the vigilante team, was in Nicaragua assisting the US-sponsored “Contra” Regime Change project there. The scriptwriters include a show-off reference to the fact that the Contras were funded by cocaine trafficking by the U.S. government, with the target demographic being minority neighborhoods in American cities.

The version in the series is not entirely historically correct; the responsible agency is said to be the CIA, a mistake made by Congresswoman Maxine Waters and others who attempted to make a stink about it during the 1990s. The real culprit was the little known “Special Situations Group”, a task force set up during the Reagan administration and given authority over all covert operations, under the leadership of Vice President George H.W. Bush. A deal was made with the Colombian cocaine cartels, where the U.S. would agree to turn a blind eye to most of their smuggling, in return for a cut of the action, provided that the government develop a new target audience for the drugs that didn’t cut into the traditional cartel markets among affluent pop stars and Wall Street predators. Out of this arrangement was born the “crack” cocaine epidemic; crack was cheaper and more addictive, and from its original test market in South Central Los Angeles, it was franchised out into the ghettos in all American urban centers.

So, if “The Boys” doesn’t get the story quite right, it is interesting, and embarassing to neoconservatives, that they bring it up, after it had been largely buried.

The series also includes some smirking references to the neocons’ current infatuation with “woke” culture; there is a Disneyland-like theme park created by the Vought Corporation to boost marketing of “The Seven”, and it is festooned with rainbow flags to show solidarity with LGBTQ activism. This sequence includes an elaborate parody of a actual Pepsi commercial which stars Kendall Jenner, virtue-signalling as many aspects of “woke” culture as possible.

The Pepsi parody includes a black superhero named “A-Train”, who can no longer use his super-speed without risking a fatal heart attack, so he makes a pathetic attempt to boost his popularity ratings (a constant theme in this story, as the superheroes are sold to the public the way all celebrities are) by adopting a new, Afrocentric costume and attempting to pander to the Black Lives Matter demographic.

There are still four episodes to go in the new season, and apparently the series is slated for a fourth season as well.

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Marisol is an arts aficionado and a social media habitué.

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