Brilliantly Bingeworthy: The Boys

If you are stuck at home this weekend due to work, illness, pandemic-induced isolation, or boredom, you may be tempted to binge a tv show. We live in a binge culture with services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon giving us the power of unparalleled access and choice. The question for most people is, “What should I watch?” I suggest you cozy up in a blanket and watch an Amazon original titled The Boys.

Superhero shows dominate our current movie landscape, but they are often repetitive and the characters tend to lack complexity. Now, imagine a show in which every hero was an abhorrently arrogant asshole. The Boys integrates those egotistical, immoral heroes into our real-life social systems to create a show that will undoubtedly leave you speechless with the progression of events in each episode. We live in a culture where people idealize celebrities, billionaires, and things perceived as bigger and better than themselves. Yet, Marvel movie heroes often reject or remain moral in the face of their celebrity status, but The Boys highlights that celebrity would inflate the fiery egos of these already all-powerful beings.

Each 60-minute episode unveils details that gracefully elevate the ever-thickening plot. It’s outrageous and amoral, telling a nasty side of the ‘what-if’ regarding superheroes.

The series also gives a very vivacious retelling of how the press, media, corporations, and political rhetoric can spin convincing deceitful narratives to control our everyday lives. Critics have commented on the show’s critiques of neoliberalism, the military, white nationalism, and other events that the show and its characters seem to parallel.  Some commentators have even interpreted the contents of the show as “rejecting heroes” and overtly opposing Neoliberal Ideology. Indeed, we can see how Superman and Captain America are utilized by Marvel and DC comics to promote U.S. hegemony, the military-industrial complex, and (often inadvertently) white nationalism. Regardless, the imagery, rhetoric, and overall subject matter are present for audience analysis and discussion regarding what these elements might mean.

Among the many notable names involved in creating and producing the series (such as Seth Rogen), Eric Kripke — the creator responsible for The CW‘s long-standing series Supernatural (2005-2020) — appears in the credits as writer, producer, and developer. Actor Jim Beaver, aka Bobby Singer from Kripke’s Supernatural, also makes appearances in the series as US Secretary of Defense. Beaver’s character frequently meets with the big-wig administrators at the superhero corporation known as Vought. He represents the marriage of the political class, the military, and corporations.

In true reunion fashion, Jensen Ackles – the heartthrob best known for portraying the eldest brother in Supernatural – will join the cast in season 3 (premiering on June 3rd, 2022) as a Captain America-style superhero. Ackles’ character is likely to lean into the overtly misogynistic and misguided masculinity roots of Captain America’s origin story.

With its intense imagery, subversive complexities, and expansive continuity, The Boys has everything to keep viewers invested for a mere eight episodes per season.

The icing on the cake: it’s a funny show.

The show takes aim at everything in our modern society from the racism and bigotry embedded into American culture to corporate greed spurring on performative wokeness among celebrities. The rag-tag group of protagonists are fragile, apathetic, and often unaware of structural issues within their society. In many ways, they are the audience: jaded, angry, and also unable to channel this energy into meaningful attacks on the established powers in our society.

The fun also borders on the absolute ridiculous as the Aquaman-style character often talks to fish in stores and is sexually attracted to an octopus.

The only observation of the series that should elect reproval is the only Asian female lead who doesn’t speak at all.

Not to give too much away, but the character portrayed by Karen Fukuhara is essentially mute as a result of trauma and communicates through a secret form of sign language. She is the only Asian female (and person) in the show thus far. Yet, viewers will go on for the entire two seasons without hearing Fukuhara’s character speak a single audible word — not even in whatever her native language is (presumably Japanese).

This observation is suspiciously reminiscent of Gwen Stefani’s music era with the Harajuku girls— four Japanese dancers who “were reportedly contractually obligated to only speak Japanese in public”. Stefani’s act with the Harajuku girls received the earliest and most vocal criticism from comedian Margaret Cho back in 2005, who stated that their presentation as “characters” in “Japanese schoolgirl uniform” during the musician’s act was somewhat equivalent to Blackface. Cho was shedding light on how the Harajuku girls’ apparent contribution to Stefani’s album Love, Angel, Music, Baby was comparable to that of “puppets” or props, which was later further criticized for its caricature since the theme and artistry of the album relied so much on strictly utilizing their culture to support the album theme. Adding insult to injury, the women were meant to follow Stefani everywhere. In light of the trending accountability culture that’s evoked discussions about cultural appropriation & insensitivity, this criticism of Stefani’s theme has resurfaced.

It’s not a good representation — it’s confining and that impacts the perception/social imagination being built about Asian women.

It’s also worth mentioning that sensationalizing Asian women have been placed in Eric Kripke’s work before. A running gag in Kripke’s Supernatural featured Dean Winchester displaying a regular objectifying interest in Asian women with frequent skin magazines. The extent of Asian female representation rested there— at least within the first five seasons of the show that Kripke worked on as a lead writer.

Overall, The Boys is a hilarious, ridiculous, and outrageous show that also taps into an important cultural moment in our society. It is bold and original in its discussion of racism, bigotry, and corruption in the United States. The show questions our belief in heroes and the goodness of corporations, and it makes us laugh while doing it.

LaTaè Johnson
Contributor at Talks with Taé (YouTube & Podcast Series) | Website | + posts

LaTaè Johnson is a 2021 graduate of Arcadia University’s International Peace & Conflict Resolution master’s program. Her natural inclination for inquisition has guided her to follow her every curiosity. Although this impulse was not always embraced in the high school setting, by the undergraduate and graduate periods of her education, she was been able to harness and rein in on this strength while studying the intersectional disciplines of international and peace studies that welcomed that curiosity and willfulness to analyze the interconnectivity of everything

-- often especially relating to identity, culture, and politics. The discipline and determination that blossomed through those formative years resulted in studying abroad, a year-long internship at the Foreign Policy Research Institute of Philadelphia, the creation of a documentary series The Local-Global History of Philadelphia which focuses on representation for immigrant groups in Philadelphia and aims to connect local and global community, and gaining experience in political organizing. Post-grad, LaTaé currently finds herself a high school teacher by day during the fall and winter, but a journalist by night -- year-round! Both of which satisfy her undying attachment to incessant learning and analysis.

 

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