Superheroes, Movies, and the State
How the U.S. Government Shapes Cinematic Universes
Tricia Jenkins and Tom Secker
Tricia Jenkins and Tom Secker deliver a highly original exploration of how the government-entertainment complex has influenced the world’s most popular movie genre—superhero films. Superheroes, Movies, and the State sets a new standard for exploring the government-Hollywood relationship as it persuasively documents the critical role different government agencies have played in shaping characters, stories, and even the ideas behind the hottest entertainment products. Jenkins and Secker cover a wide range of US government and quasi-governmental agencies who act to influence the content of superhero movies, including the Department of Defense, the National Academy of Sciences’ Science and Entertainment Exchange and, to a lesser extent, the FBI and the CIA.
Superheroes, Movies, and the State deploys a thematic framework to analyze how five of the key themes of our time—militarism, political radicalism and subversion, the exploration of space, the role of science and technology, and representation and identity—manifest in the superhero genre, and the role of the government in molding narratives around these topics. The book includes interviews with both producers and influencer insiders and covers a wide range of superhero products, from 1970s TV shows up to the most recent movie and TV releases, including the first major analysis of the hit Amazon show The Boys. In addition, it is the first deep exploration of NASA’s Hollywood office and the first detailed account of the role of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, which has worked on thousands of products since its creation in 2008 but is little known outside of the industry. Superheroes, Movies, and the State offers an innovative blend of research methods and interpretive frameworks, combining both production histories and deep readings of superhero texts to clearly reveal how the government-entertainment complex works in the world of blockbuster cinema to shape public perceptions of the United States, war, science, and much, much more.
“Hollywood teems with the US national security state! Like one of the crowd-pleasing multisuperhero crossover movies discussed herein, this book unites two compelling subjects in one remarkable narrative. Jenkins and Secker show how the US military, NASA, and the CIA have successfully shaped the superhero genre even as that genre became a key mechanism by which Americans imagine and reimagine their relationship with the world. Lively, perceptive, and based on painstaking research, including specially declassified documents, this is a vital contribution to the understanding of post-9/11 culture in the United States.”
—Nicholas J. Cull, professor of communication, University of Southern California, and coauthor of Projecting Tomorrow: Science Fiction and Popular Cinema
“This is the best book on the US federal government’s hand in Hollywood’s production of Marvel and DC superhero movies. Jenkins and Secker shed light on a sometimes collaborative and sometimes conflicted relationship between the state’s public affairs offices and the Hollywood studios behind the world’s most globally popular entertainment genre. This is a one-of-a-kind contribution to scholarly and public knowledge about the US state-Hollywood relationship and the geopolitics of creating, telling, selling, and watching superhero movies.”
—Tanner Mirrlees, president, Canadian Communication Association
“Tricia Jenkins and Tom Secker have brought several strands together in this book, and the result is a cogent discussion of the twenty-first-century relationship between superheroes, technology, surveillance, and state-sanctioned violence. Although previous work has taken up this topic in the years since 9/11, Superheroes, Movies, and the State makes a substantial intervention by couching contemporary readings in a longer history of cooperation between Hollywood and Washington that goes beyond the familiar stories of cinematic propaganda and the Office of War Information. The result is a carefully researched, readable, and useful cultural history that occasions important new considerations of the ubiquitous and evolving superhero story.”
—Robert Moses Peaslee, associate professor, Journalism & Creative Media Industries, Texas Tech University, and coeditor of The Supervillain Reader
“A well-researched and sophisticated investigation of how a variety of government agencies, from NASA and the CDC to the CIA and DOD, promote themselves and their agendas through superhero films. As Jenkins and Secker show, the battles between these agencies for control of the government narrative is, itself, epic!”
—Stacy Takacs, author of Terrorism TV: Popular Entertainment in Post-9/11 America
“I did not believe it possible to uncover sufficient evidence of government script manipulation to create a book specifically on superheroes. I was wrong—and Secker and Jenkins demonstrate it in glorious detail. The collaboration between the US national security state and comic book fiction is an injustice against the film-watching public, especially young people, and the details of how tight a grip the United States wields over these products was stunning even to me.”
—Matthew Alford, author of Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy and producer of the documentary The Writer with No HandsSee fewer reviews...