In the wake of the political upheaval of 2016, cultural critics predicted that the Trump presidency would, for all of its inevitable calamities, bring about a golden age for political art. They were wrong. Instead of a flowering of genius works of protest art, the past two years have brought a deluge of half-assed attempts at political commentary. We’ve seen enough faux-woke pop songs, prestige TV plots based around “Fake News”, and Oscar-bait that pontificates on “American Culture” over the last couple of years that even the biggest news junkie must be sick of art that tries to be topical — to be important.
The most shocking thing about Avengers: Infinity War, the nineteenth film in the all-conquering Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU), is that it is, for the most part, coherent. For the bulk of its two-and-a-half hour runtime, Infinity War operates as if it’s just another movie — one with clearly sketched characters, some of whom have arcs of their very own, and a plot that builds to a climax befitting the movie’s overwrought title. This may sound like damning with faint praise, but just clearing that low bar of coherency is something to celebrate. Considering the vast amounts of capital (of both the narrative and literal kinds) invested over the past decade into the MCU by its owners at Disney, it was always more likely that Infinity War was going to be a mediocre, focus-grouped-to-death product that muddled through its contractually-obligated crossovers with all the joy of negotiating a corporate merger.
I have a weakness for protest art. I’m one of the few remaining fans of Phil Ochs, arguably one of the greatest protest singers of all time. Sixty years ago, he had a friendly rivalry with Bob Dylan. To our generation, he’s virtually unknown.
A short story
American politics has reached a point of stagnation. Liberals and conservatives stand in perpetual opposition and display no intention of pursuing thoughtful future avenues. The wisdom of past voices is forgotten and identity is defined in terms of difference and not shared dreams. For both liberals and conservatives, there is a dire need for redefinition. But recognition must come first.