Superhero TV Shows Take on White Supremacy.

AuthorGeorge, Joe

"Ripped from the headlines." That's the tagline for the long-running Law & Order television series franchise, promising realistic storylines where fictional police officers grapple with real-world issues. One might think that this approach would lead to many episodes about white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other forms of nationalist violence.

To be sure, a handful of Law & Order episodes have indeed dealt with neo-Nazis, and even comedies such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Black-ish have portrayed racism in various forms. But most shows choose to ignore radical racial hate.

But that's not the case with action shows. Whether it's the drug runners that Walter White (Bryan Cranston) defeats in the final episode of Breaking Bad or the biker gang threatening Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) in the first season of True Detective, violent white nationalists make clear bad guys, simple villains to be defeated by the show's (usually white) heroes.

With that simplicity also comes a refusal to acknowledge the depths of white supremacy in American society. When Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) transforms from the villain of Justified in the first season to the show's sympathetic antihero, the plotline suggests that his old Nazi crowd is just the lunatic fringe. Like most television shows, Justified never explores the tendrils of white supremacy in American culture and seats of power.

While the recent wave of superhero shows seems to suggest that television is getting more unreal, in comparison to grounded action series, the opposite has happened. Taking advantage of the distance from reality provided by the series' fantastic premises, superhero shows such as Peacemaker and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier use white supremacists not just as baddies for the good guys to punch, but as deep-seated threats.

Watchmen, the 2019 HBO series created by Damon Lindelof, is another example. A sequel to the influential 1980s comic book series from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen takes place in an alternate reality in which a god-like superhero called Doctor Manhattan changed the shape of world politics.

The show follows a Black superhero/police officer called Sister Night (Regina King), who battles a neo-Nazi army named the Seventh Kavalry. The Seventh Kavalry has members in the police forces and in high political office...

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