Amazon’s The Boys Isn’t Just About Superheroes | MIC 20

I feel like I should do some more media criticism. In this video I sing the praises of “The Boys” a new Amazon streaming show that satirizes the Military Industrial Complex pretty heavily. It’s a good show, and I’m sure it will be disappointing when the 2nd season backs off on all the political content. But I’m not sure that this video does a good job laying out why I found the Boys so noteworthy.

In the video I point out that most of the rest of Amazon’s prestige products are implicitly or explicitly pro-war, and even pro war on terror, which is pretty insane in 2019. But I don’t underline the degree to which almost everything we watch, consume and walk through in the United States today carries some sort of pro-militarism bias. From the national anthem at sports games, to the absurdly one-sided reporting on foreign policy to everything in between, everything works to force us towards war. Maybe that’s why Amazon feels comfortable putting out one niche genre show that lightly satirizes the MIC. Amazon knows this show is just a drop in the bucket, that helps it seem a little more independent from the Pentagon it is currently trying to win a 10 billion dollar contract from.

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Video Transcript after the jump…

Hey there, Amazon’s new television show The Boys is smarter than you think. As a young man, I used to really love hyper-violent content. As I have gotten older, however, I have gotten less and less interested in it. One of the turning points in my taste for gore was the comic book series the Boys, first released in 2006. Garth Ennis, the writer, had produced some of my all time favorite characters and storylines, stuff I still adore to this day, but the over the top violence and nihilism in the Boys was just something I felt I had seen before, and that I had outgrown. I dropped the series pretty quickly.

That’s why I am so surprised and pleased by Amazon’s television version of Ennis’s series. Make no mistake, it is egregiously, over the top hyper violent, and I would not recommend it to anybody without a high tolerance for that sort of thing. But what the show does, much more than the source material, is take concrete aim at one of the world’s most deserving targets, the US military Industrial Complex.

The comic book played with these themes as well, but in the show, which is a lot less surreal, the critique actually has some bite. Captain America: Winter Soldier, a film from 2014, was the previous high point for political commentary in super hero media. In it, Captain America realizes that he has been betrayed by his superiors in the US government. It’s great fun, but the film chickens out. It relies on the idea of some secret society with hidden powers and evil supervillain agendas.

In the Boys, the agenda of the bad guys, if the term even applies, is exactly the real world agenda of every US and European defence contractor.

Hello, I’m Madeline Stilwell, senior vice president of hero management here at Vought International.

Vought international is trying to get the US military to buy more of its weapons than the other guys weapons. It’s weapons just happen to be super heroes. The show goes so far as to mention the names of real US Defense contractors as the competition, which I found surprising and a bit thrilling.

I found the show to be horrifically true to life in the way that there weren’t any supervillains other than the people who were supposed to be protecting us. The Boys, the avenging antiheroes at the center of the show, were all fans and supporters of the heroes they target before they were betrayed in a variety of horrific ways. The other terrorists and petty criminals in the show were just convenient props for the real forces at work. This made me think quite directly of ISIS and Al Queda, organizations which are very much the consequence, unintended and intended, of the Superpower forces unleashed by the United States. Also, the show’s depiction of the CIA made a lot of sense too. They didnt know much, and they were much more interested in defending bureaucratic territory than they were in defending the country.

For the super hero defence contractor at the heart of the show, the worse things got, the more successful they were. Any peek at the stock price of a defense company like Raytheon over the course of our forever failing forever war will tell you that that’s the case in the real world as well. In another context I might have found the hyper violence of the show distasteful, but I think it serves a real purpose in the Boys.

We are so desperate for non glorious depictions of war in mass media, that many commentators pointed to one of the final episodes of Game of Thrones as useful. The hope was that viewers might connect a few scenes from a dragon show to the horrors wrought by US munitions in Iraq and Yemen. I think Amazon’s the Boys and its violence does a much better job of this. The violence is casual, massive, and often played for laughs. The callous sacrifice of life for profit portrayed on the Boys strikes me as a lot more true to the headlines than any of the glorious agony on the Dragon show.

Amazon’s the Boys is a grim, gritty and very effective critique of modern politics and war. The message is pretty clear, and consistently delivered across the series. This is surprising, because Amazon’s high budget TV output has been very pro war so far. The Man in the High Castle is a pretty but ridiculous fable about the Nazi occupation of the United States. Jack Ryan was so nauseatingly pro war on terror that I couldn’t make it past the first episode. Jack Ryan Season 2 is apparently based in Venezuela, which is pretty gross.

Pro-war content makes sense for Amazon, which is currently trying to win a 10 billion dollar contract from the Pentagon. That’s another reason The Boys is such a pleasant surprise. Amazon is acting against its interest by producing something this anti-arms industry. There are obviously dozens of TV shows and movies that do a better, more respectful job of depicting modern war on the ground. But the first season of the Boys is the best pop culture representation of the grubby politics and economics behind our modern wars that I have ever seen. If you don’t mind the Gore, I think it’s very worth checking out.

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