On 15 June 2016, Marvel released the first issue of Christopher Hastings and Langdon Foss’ bitingly brilliant political satire comic Vote Loki. I wrote a post as soon as I finished the first issue raving about it. This week the fourth and final issue of the miniseries was released and with each month its cultural commentary has only grown more accurate. Vote Loki reflects the current American political process and our growing body of vocal, apathetic, and (proudly) uninformed voters with more truthfulness than any of us should be comfortable with. Hastings and Foss have created a comic book that we, as the American people, need…even if it makes us uncomfortable. This book’s a cultural MUST READ.
The comic follows Asgardia’s (not so) favorite son Loki Laufeyson, the Lord of all Liars, on his quest to be elected President of the United States of America. After foiling a Hydra assassination attempt on the not-directly-named-but-so-obviously Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Loki teases the media with his potential run for office. As the media storm begins to swirl around him, people are drawn to the novelty and entertainment of Loki running for office. The public is captivated – What will he say next? What will he do next? He’s so different! However Daily Bugle reporter Nina Contreras sees the danger and begins her quest to dismantle Loki’s campaign by proving how dangerous, unqualified, and untrustworthy a candidate he is. Yet nothing seems to slow the media darling’s rise, with people embracing him for simply being an outspoken spectacle advocating vague policies.
As satire goes, Vote Loki is one of the best contemporary examples I’ve seen. Satire is, in brief, a literary tool used to lampoon the stupidity and/or vices of a people, especially in regard to politics and current events, through the use of humor, ridicule, and caricatures. In the comic, Loki brags about being an overt liar, mocks the other candidates, and even advocates and engages in vigilante militarized terrorist actions against the destabilized Latveria (an Eastern European country once ruled by Dr. Doom). As he does so, an increasingly large (and disturbing) percentage of the American people love him for this. For reasons Nina can’t fathom, the American people seem determined (and excited??) to elect a super villain President of the United States. As satire, this is spot on.
At this very moment, we are a mere forty-eight days away from the presidential election in the United States. According to the New York Times (note, these statistics were updated right before I posted this piece and may not be current), the national polling average has Hillary Clinton at 44% with Donald Trump at 42%. FiveThirtyEight gives Clinton a 57.2% chance of winning the presidency to Trump’s 42.7%. Regardless of the fact that these numbers fluctuate daily, Trump’s rise boggles the rational mind. Yes, the Clinton name carries with it all sorts of stigmas (real or imagined) from decades in politics. And, yes, there will always be the manufactured “liberal/conservative” divide that traps many of us into thinking we have to vote consistently for one party because they alone represent our ideals. But there’s still no reason a man who’s campaigned as Donald Trump has campaigned should be anywhere near the White House.
The American Civil Liberties Union has put together a twenty-seven page document explaining all the ways Trump’s policies, if enacted, would be unconstitutional. His fascist tendencies are even more unnerving. Reddit (in a rare moment of Reddit being super helpful for something other than trippy fan theories) has compiled a list of cited and documented moments where Trump has openly done, said, or promised something on the campaign trail that is legitimately fascist. His campaign began as a joke. As a culture we laughed at the idea of this angry, irrational, completely unqualified man ever taking the highest office in the country. “What will he do next?” we wondered. Then he secured the Republican Party nomination. Now, as poll numbers illustrate, he’s a legitimate contender for the presidency of the United States of America. To be as unapologetically direct as I can be this is not okay.
Now there are many eloquent and informed articles already written chronicling the danger of Trump with greater detail than I could ever provide here. So I’m not seeking to reinvent the wheel nor do I want to write a lesser version of what’s already been written. Rather, my aim is to illustrate how Vote Loki‘s brilliant satire captures this disturbing moment in American politics and how we ended up here.
When the United States first gained its independence from England and began charting its own course with this then-new system of government, those in the intellectual salons and upper circles across Europe pejoratively referred to it as “the American experiment.” And it was believed to be destined to fail. However, I think we now stand at the true proving ground for the American Experiment. Our government was never designed to function with politicians whose only goal (beyond reelection) is to stop the goals of the other party. It was never designed to function with blind allegiance to ideology. It was never designed to function with an electorate that wasn’t just uninformed but proudly uninformed. It was never designed to function when we as a people refuse to listen to a contrary opinion and honestly believe that whatever we believe is true simply because we believe it regardless of facts.
In the very first issue, Loki (in another guise) talks to Nina in the Spin Room as they wait for Hillary and Trump to show up. He tells her, “…the voters just decide which story they believe. Facts and studies can be presented for either side. But if you believe the story, then information that disproves it only hardens your belief.” When did this trend begin? Worse yet, when did this become okay?? If we honestly think that we can discount anything as false because we don’t like it and we sincerely believe it’s false because we don’t like it then intellectual discourse (let alone any chance at real progress) is dead. We no longer want truth. In many instances, we won’t accept it! Loki uses this disturbing trend to catapult himself into the race.
How can we be okay with this?? Yet we are. After Loki stops the Hydra assassins he becomes a media darling. He begins to blow up on social media underscoring a) how we get our news, b) the importance we place on factual reporting, and c) how short our attention span is as we’re apparently unable to process an argument lengthier than 140 characters. Recounting his actions and what he said a morning news show calls it all, “A lot o fun, Ted. Now let’s talk weather.” He’s also featured on SNL. These panels illustrate how we are all entertained by the new/different. We see it as harmless…never worrying about the consequences or the cost of our entertainment.
Politics isn’t supposed to be entertaining! It isn’t supposed to be a game! We are talking about things that affect people’s lives, both in this country and abroad. We can’t rally around the megalomaniacs because they are fun to watch or because we are so grumpy and disenfranchised that we imagine they are better than the (admittedly) at times flawed system we have. Nina understands this, calling in to J. Jonah Jameson’s show to challenge Loki.
We look at all this as funny so we allow it to proceed but this isn’t a game and Nina’s point is as powerful as it is valid. In the second issue, political talk show host Billy McRiver states, “What was once an amusing sideshow in this election cycle is quickly becoming a political force.” This is exactly what’s happened in real life!!!
Loki holds a rally in Texas and it illustrates the circus these things can become. He tells the chanting, riotous crowd “Ha ha! Yes! I love it! I love each and every one of you. Except…I don’t actually know any of you! So I guess that was a liiiiiiieee!!!” The crowd goes nuts, professing their love for him all of the same. This is no different than when Trump voices racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, violent, hawkish, close-minded rhetoric at his rallies (along with doing everything from implying violent threats against Hillary Clinton to openly mocking those with disabilities) and the crowds go wild.
Loki goes on to tell his supporters, “I don’t like how the media is trying to portray you – yes, you – right now. They’re saying you’re psychos! They think only a crazy person would support Loki. They think you’re feeble-minded and you’ve fallen under a magic spell. They think you’re stupid” Does this sound familiar?? Loki goes on to proclaim, “I’m here to make things SANE AGAIN!” Yet what Loki is advocating is far from sanity just as what Trump is championing is not now, nor has it ever been, what America stands for. Those who believe it is have fabricated an illusion of America to endorse their hate.
Therein lies the real danger – those who want to forge our country in that mold. The scariest part is that there seems to be this insidious undercurrent of Americans that are revealing their true racist, sexist, jingoistic, tendencies. And now Trump gives them an outlet and voice for their insanity. He almost legitimizes them, and it’s sickening. Yes, we live in a country where freedom of speech is one of our foundational Constitutional rights. But the freedom to say anything certainly doesn’t mean everything someone says is worthy of being heard or even considered.
We must become comfortable saying – That is not okay. It’s not okay to hate someone because of their religion. It’s not okay to hate someone because of their skin color. It’s not okay to close all of our borders, abandoning what this country has always stood for. It’s not okay to use “bomb them all” as foreign policy. It’s not okay to pretend a religion isn’t a religion to justify your hate. It’s not okay to forcibly remove people from this country because you’ve projected your close-minded fears onto them. That isn’t what America stands for. You’re wrong. But those who flock to his rallies, who cheer his intolerant, hateful rhetoric and spout their own feel they are not only justified in doing so but they believe that’s what it means to be American. Despite the fact that everything from the Constitution to our own national history proves this is wrong, their numbers are growing at a terrifying rate.
So, yes, the idea of America electing a super villain isn’t all that far off. In fact, given Trump’s policies, I think I’d feel safer with Loki in the White House. Hell, at least he’s had his Loki: Agent of Asgard phase! But it is vital that we remember it’s not simply Donald Trump that the comic is indicting with its satire. That lets us all off the hook, undeservingly. Rather, Hastings and Foss are taking a direct (and accurate) swing at the American public. We have allowed the country to come to this point. We have allowed a man who clearly doesn’t respect or honor the Constitution to be in a position where he can attain the highest elected office in this land. We have decided it’s alright to refuse to listen to each other, refuse to live and act with and in compassion, and to instead honor ignorance, hatred, and fear.
We have brought ourselves to this point…and we can hold ourselves responsible and right these wrongs. We can demand that government govern again. We can force those hate-filled mindsets back into the dark, shameful corners they once occupied until, by our constant challenge of love and compassion, they too are finally transformed. This is not simply something we can do but something we must do. Otherwise we have abandoned what this country is supposed to be, allowing it to ideologically burn to the ground in the fires of intolerance, ignorance, and apathy. But I believe there’s more to us than that.
The final issue of Vote Loki didn’t end the way I was expecting, but it certainly gave me a lot to think about. I won’t spoil anything because I want you to read it for yourself. If I’m being honest, I want you to read the whole miniseries…and then read it again and again. That’s what I plan to do. Christopher Hastings and Langdon Foss are both powerful and intelligent satirists as well as the cultural prophets we need.