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is a book going over the events of the Marvel
Cinematic Universe from Phase 1 to 3 and trying to get some
socio-political meaning and significance behind its popularity. It
was written and self-published by the youtuber Zaratthustra's
Serpent during the lock-down period, after the Avengers: Endgame
movie. ZS, is one of the few remaining "anti-sjw" liberal
YouTubers who have not drifted to the right nor grifted to the
Kraut and Tea, Amazing Atheist cough)
at any rate he is the last one of that breed worth watching
without feeling just like nothing more than a throwback.
The reason he is worth watching and his book is worth reading is
because he has something which most "skeptics", "anti-theists",
"anti-feminists" lacked and that is a sense of history. As a
right-wing reactionary I still think it is a wrong sense of
history but at any rate it is still there.
I was not impressed by the book cover, it looked a little bit too
new-agey. It features a blue hand about snap its fingers on a
water-coloury fireworks background. I imagine this was to
represent the Thanos snap in front of a galaxy or universe. The
book title "Universe Now" is not that memorable either. As for the
sub-title "How The MCU Changed Our World," my immediate
reaction was to think that it had not really changed my world.
The book starts with ZS laying out his view, which I was familiar
with since I had watched his videos, that the high culture of
today was the pop culture of the past, implying that the MCU which
is the pop culture of today might be considered to be high culture
in the future. Some of my reactionary friends would probably agree
with this prediction but I don't think they would consider it a
good thing. ZS believes that when it comes to art there is no
expert opinion like in specialised fields like medicine and so in
effect the opinion of the many outweighs the opinion of the few.
In my opinion, the opinion of the many is directed by a few, the
question always is "which few" is it at that moment doing the
directing. This isn't to say that the masses and mobs don't have
their spontaneous bandwagons and witch-hunts.
It has become popular to hate the MCU, just like it was popular to
hate the Twilight Saga
. I did not hate the Twilight
at the time because I was not online or in the west, so
I was unaware that it was hated so much (for being popular) until
much later. Because of this I have come to regard much of the
hatred against the MCU as just posturing. This isn't to say I like
the MCU, I am just indifferent to it. It is not impressive to me
but it is not horrible either by western pop culture standards.
As Zarathustra correctly points out in the most interesting early
section of the book, the MCU brought elements of television tv
series, such as an ongoing plot and story arcs spanning multiple
movies, to cinema. The problem is that I had already seen this
been done many decades earlier in Japanese anime and manga
adaptations with less inconsistencies so it wasn't that impressive
to me. I don't understand why it was that impressive to ZS either
given that he had already seen it done in western TV, maybe it's
just cause the cinema's screen is bigger.
I found the early parts where ZS talks about "the making of" and
production side trivia of the MCU to be the most interesting and
convincing part of the book. It helped me gain some appreciation
of what went into making the MCU by ZS's decoupling of the
creators behind the MCU from Marvel Entertainment's corporate
The sociological parts on the other hand, about what the MCU means
for society, felt a bit too Peterson-esque head canon. Jordan
Peterson's bible analysis videos where he carves out secular
self-help guru messages always felt theologically questionable and
a distraction from the transcendent by explaining the "meaning"
all away. By "head canon" I mean extracting meanings from the text
which are not obviously there but which cannot be conclusively
proven not to be there either.
It's not as bad as Peterson here and there is some merit to the
parallels ZS likes to draw like when he likens the Thor movies to
an allegory about western Europeans coming to terms with their
imperialist past. But the problem that I have here as I had with
Peterson, is that you don't really need the text to make any of
these points. Nor do I need the text to reject any of these
points. It's almost like the text gets in the way of the message
being told, if anything. It's like the text is being awkwardly
used as a trampoline for a message it may or may not have been
meant to convey, or a very, very simple message. For example ZS
might say that Captain America is supposed to show the kind of
healthy nationalism necessary for our nation, but somebody else
more cynical might say that they are just throwing in a bone there
to superficially placate the patriotic faction in the audience.
There is a youtuber called Black Pilled, who makes hollywood film
analysis videos which argue that every film classic was a piece of
subversion every step of the way because of this or that message
which though not immediately obvious, you need someone with an eye
for it, like Black Pilled, to point it out for you. Black Pilled
may be right about the subversion or he may be wrong but I was
rarely ever truly convinced. Maybe I could agree that
hollywood has served in subverting western civilisation with
liberalism and wokeism and whatnot but whether this or that
specific example in a film was really an instance of subversion or
not, it was not immediately clear to me.
ZS is kind of doing the inverse of Black Pilled, arguing that the
MCU films provided a less toxic place, a less subverted
environment to disentangle and overcome the divisions which seem
implacable in our own universe. The answer which he comes up is
that we don't know how good we have it cause we haven't had to
live under a real authoritarian regime so we better defend western
liberal democracy. Regardless of whether you agree with this
message or not, would this interpretation of the Marvel Cinematic
Universe have come to your mind had someone not told you about it?
It would not have come to my mind at least. Sure the MCU is
vaguely pro-western, nazis are bad, megalomaniacs are bad etc...
And sure if you asked the creators of the MCU they would say they
are in favour of western democracy but I was not sold that this
was really the
message. Sure it was a celebration of
western culture, not many places other than hollywood and outside
the west can make special effects that look as good, etc...
I have not watched most of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe
films, and I have no intention to either after reading this book.
ZS colourfully retells the story of each films he analyses, and I
kind of read it wanting to know what will happen next. If anything
I am convinced that if there was anything of any value to be
absorbed from the MCU I have already received it by reading his
Maybe I should explain what I mean by "a lack of a sense of
history" in modern pop culture like the MCU. Obviously fiction is
not actual history, science fiction in particular, unless it is a
fantasy setting like Star Wars, has a tendency of feeling outdated
and narrowly sometimes to the degree of scaremongering ("oh no the
robots are taking over") be concerned with current issues which
soon become dated. ZS narrowly avoids this pitfall in his analysis
by placing the MCU in a wider historical narrative about pop
culture going back to the 18th or at most the 17th century, that
is the length of this memory of history but on closer inspection
it is just based in the 20th century and the earlier stuff is just
a preamble to that.
I must confess that I have never liked superhero stories that much
because the main characters are effectively celebrities in their
universe, and as Zarathustra points out, in this day and age
people do not look to celebrities for social commentary but rather
to e-celebs like Mr Zarathustra himself who feel more like
"/ourguy/", as in "one of us," rather than "one of them" with
their over-polished, creepily-faux-familiar ADHD-riddled script
and video editing.
Despite Zarathustra's efforts to characterize the MCU as
essentially democratic because it is "popular culture", it still
is not really folk culture. The direction of culture is still from
the top to the bottom, essentially undemocratic. I cannot expect
to reach out to the creators of the MCU, and expect them to
respond to me as readily as Zarathustra would, and yet I have
enjoyed myself and learned a lot more watching Zarathustra's
videos than by watching any MCU movie.
Obviously a lot of work has gone behind this book, it is 300 pages
long and goes so many movies, in fact I wouldn't be surprised if
because of this he neglected his youtube channel, if that is the
case then it was a mistake, at least in the short to medium term
because obviously youtube has a larger reach than books these days
- because youtube is free. Then again books have a higher
longevity, and despite what Zarathustra might sometimes say,
durability has value.