THE BOYS, S3 — American Past Meets Present
An entertaining dispute of "This is not what America stands for."
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Underneath its gratuitous gore, corporate mockery, and outrageous debauchery (superhero orgy), The Boys is a satirization of America’s culture of exhaustive patriotism crossed with unfettered capitalist power. Such themes have been a constant for the series, but season three goes a step further, taking on traditional media’s depiction of American mythos, past and present.
While most blockbuster movies and streaming shows celebrate the United States as a bastion of militarized decency, usually positing us as an unimpeachable hero battling a foreign enemy, The Boys journeys the unrealistic route to a more realistic conclusion.
Instead of the cliche of an embattled, virtuous protagonist overcoming his flaws to save American and non-American civilians (that last part is important to the Hollywood-Pentagon connection), season 3 of the show examines our history with a pair of anti-(super)heroes.
Homelander That I Love
First, there is Homelander, the show’s villain. As the most powerful “supe,” Homelander has the ability to kill anyone, fly anywhere, destroy anything, and never face any consequences. (Sound familiar?) Clad in a Star-Spangled cape, this Aryan blonde Superman-knock-off serves as a manifestation of our generally-positive national self-image covering deeply immoral acts.
In the first seasons, Homelander gives the media a friendly, positive shine, celebrating his team’s diversity and “condemning” a hate crime he inspired, all while inflicting mass misery at whim. But in season three, Homelander’s public relations approach shifts from “smile and wave” political correctness to dismissing criticism as “cancel culture run amok.” The tactic differs, but the result is the same: a placation of the American public to serve his personal interests.
While the character’s blonde hair and patriotic obsequiousness cause many to draw a connection between the supe and Donald Trump, Homelander is a much more apt manifestation of our society. While he wears the mask of heroism and inclusion, he cares little for the innocents he’s killed (below pic unrelated), supports brutal enforcement on Black Americans, and pays lip service to diversity initiatives while remaining fundamentally bigoted.
The Good Ole’ Days
Facing off against the manifestation of modern America is Soldier Boy, a mid-20th-century superhero who escapes isolated captivity to find himself in a world he doesn’t recognize. (Think “Captain America,” but with 1940s social views. Yikes.)
Before the audience meets Soldier Boy, we’re introduced to him through the rose-tinted propaganda and media appearances of his 20th-century heyday. We watch him heroically lead the invasion of Normandy, guest star on a 1960s singing show, and hear cookie-cutter tales about his heroic legacy: he fought the Nazis, battled the Communists, and ultimately gave his life defending the values of democracy and justice.
But when Soldier Boy, and the 20th-century America he represents, is seen up close, The Boys shows how “the good old days” weren’t always good. In fact, they were often really shitty. Soldier Boy is violent, racist, misogynistic, and makes life horrible for anyone not sitting atop the social hierarchy.
The time-traveling super-soldier is no fan of the multi-racial, tolerant society he finds himself in. In between snorting benzos and praising Bill Cosby, we see the dirty details of the clean and polished story of America’s heyday.
After beating the Nazis,
America Soldier Boy spent the next few decades leading the right-wing Contra death squads, creating a million “Me Too” stories, slaughtering civilians, and working with the CIA to sell crack in Black neighborhoods.
And in a very on-the-nose mockery of Captain America (and the public relations image of America he represents), Soldier Boy’s weapon of choice is a shield. But what appears as a defensive instrument —a metaphor for America’s “protection” of democracy, freedom, and equality — is used to smash skulls, break bones, and enact the violent will of an often-evil superpower.
All in all, Soldier Boy perfectly enshrines contemporary America’s relationship with our “golden days.” We tell ourselves the heroic stories, exaggerate our morals in song and show, and ignore the fact that the 20th-century reality was filled with state-supported murder and oppression.
Past Meets Present
Naturally, the season concludes with a past-meets-present encounter between Homelander and Soldier Boy. Like a racist
cop supe attacking a BLM protestor, the show beats the audience over the head with the metaphor, establishing direct parentage between our vile past, tumultuous present, and the potentially even more-evil future.
While season 4 is sure to further test the FCC’s limits for blood, gore, and super-powered sex stuff, The Boys has set itself up perfectly for symbolic predictions on where American society is headed.
(Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t look good.)
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What did you think about season 3 of The Boys? Let me know in the comments below.
Stuff I like (And You Should, Too)
I wrote for Jacobin magazine about Denver’s STAR program, a non-police emergency response unit treating mental health-related crimes. Jacobin is one of my favorite publications, so it’s an honor to write for them about such an important topic.I wrote for about Denver’s STAR program, an incredibly effective non-police emergency response unit. Check it out!
Jacobin @jacobinDenver’s STAR program sends paramedics and behavioral health clinicians instead of police to respond to 911 calls related to mental health issues, poverty, and substance abuse. It’s led to a 34 percent drop in crime in its operating districts since 2020. https://t.co/rgu8kNYazM
2. Check out Kate Raphael’s piece “Vacation Rehab.”
3. I saw Halsey live at Red Rocks Amphitheater this week. Along with being a great show, she took the time to talk about her abortion experience and the need to protect reproductive rights. Go Halsey!
4. Speaking of abortion rights, you should be aware of PlanCPills.org. It’s a fantastic organization that delivers abortion pills through the mail.
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