Selling the Big Lies About Schools and Teachers on Sci-Fi Fantasy TV

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“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
Malcolm X

I’m with Brother Malcolm on this.

The media matters. And not just the news.

We learn what is real from the stories we tell ourselves and allow to be told about us. We construct our view of reality based on fairy tales, soap operas, rap lyrics and energy drink commercials.

There are cultural truths left unspoken that govern the very way we think. When the media speaks, we listen.

How dangerous, then, that we allow money to write the script. We let the 1% define who is an enemy and who is a friend. It’s no surprise that this almost always aligns with their interests.

As a public school teacher, I am an enemy of the plutocracy. I dare to teach children – even poor children, especially poor children – that knowledge is free. I stand in the way of the monetization of our schools. So I am a frequent target of attack.

It happened most recently in such a subtle way you might not even notice it. Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers briefly shifting the narrative of science fiction/fantasy to increase the bottom line.

Marvel Studios is often concerned with escapism. But this season, two of its television shows – Marvel’s Agents of Shield and Daredevil – offered brief propaganda amid the comic book action.

Agents of Shield is a superhero/spy drama that connects the production company’s big budget blockbuster films – Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers, etc. It follows the escapades of a well-meaning intelligence agency made up of folks without super powers trying to deal with a world where super heroes are becoming more common.

This season on the ABC drama, one of the major arcs focused on Skye, a young woman just getting used to her super powers, and her quest to find her mother and father both of whom had abandoned her as a baby.

When she finally meets her dad, Cal, he is a mentally unbalanced enemy of Shield . However, as time goes on, Skye begins to see a nicer side to him.

In episode 2X18 “Frenemy of my Enemy,” the two spend the day together walking around Milwaukie and have a conversation about why she had been deserted as an infant. It was all rather interesting until they walked through a puddle of stinking corporate school reform.

Cal talks about how he and Skye’s mom had planned to raise her before they were thwarted by the evil Hydra organization. He talks about the nice middle class suburb where he had bought a home. He talks about the cute local businesses. And to show what an awe shucks great dad he might have been, he rhapsodizes about a really good local charter school where they were going to send her.

Skye: So, you had a … you had a practice here?

Cal: Yeah, before I met your mother.

Skye: She was a doctor, too?

Cal: Studying to be one. She had a natural gift for it … compassionate, beyond intelligent, wise … always five steps ahead of me. She wanted to finish med school here. Oh, and there was this great, little charter school just around the corner.

Skye: A charter school for medicine?

Cal: What? [Chuckling] Oh, no, not for her … for you. Oh, it was gonna’ be perfect. I was gonna’ drop you off every morning and pick you up, help you with your science fair project … the volcano, because who doesn’t love a volcano, right? We’d go to the father-daughter dances together, get ice cream. Ah, the life we could have had … should have had…

A charter school!?

Are you freaking kidding me!?

First of all, let’s talk continuity error. The first charter school law wasn’t even passed until 1991 in Minnesota. Skye was born in 1988. There were no charter schools in existence when Cal was musing about sending his infant daughter to one. Moreover, Wisconsin didn’t allow charter schools until 1993, long after Skye was separated from her parents!

But putting aside issues of believability (This is a show where people have super powers, after all) the charter school reference is hardly organic. It’s used as an emotional shorthand to show that Cal was a good father once. And you know what else is all warm and fuzzy? Those plucky charter schools. Shouldn’t you consider enrolling your child in one today?

However, charter schools have a terrible academic record. They either do no better than traditional public schools or – in most cases – much worse. In fact, for-profit charters are notorious because – unlike public schools – they don’t have to spend all of their budgets on kids. They’re big business producing huge profits for investors at the expense of student learning. Just google “charter school scandals.”

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of that lucrative taxpayer money may be finding its way into Marvel’s coffers to buy advertising space on Agents of Shield.

Product placement: drinking a Coke, driving a Toyota and – now – if only daddy could have sent me to a charter school.

Instead Skye had to deal with a life in an orphanage, at foster homes and – yuck! – the public school system!

Even worse, though, is the outright libel on Daredevil, a show delivered streaming on Netflix.

Most of the time it’s a pretty good action thriller about a blind lawyer who moonlights as a vigilante superhero fighting crime. (Yeah. He has superpowers, too, kinda.)

One of the supporting characters is Ben Urich, a grizzled seen-it-all investigative reporter. While New York’s Hell’s Kitchen is being taken over by the evil businessman, Wilson Fisk, some of Daredevil’s friends try to convince Urich to write about Fisk in the newspaper.

In episode 1X04 “In The Blood,” Urich warns feisty secretary Karen Page about how dangerous it is to go after nefarious evil organizations – like the mob, corporate polluters, the VA and – gasp – the teachers union!

Karen goads him by saying, “I read every big story with your byline. The VA kickbacks, toxic runoff, the Teachers Union scandal. Hell, you pretty much brought down the Italian mob back when I was in diapers. What ever happened to that reporter, Mr. Urich?”

(Later)

Ben Urich: You said you read a bunch of my articles. Remember the one about the, uh the runoff? What that company was dumping into the river?

Karen Page: Yeah, sure.

Ben Urich: Fished the guy that tipped me off out of that same river a month later. And that fella trying to clean up the Teachers Union? Moved out of state after flyers went up saying he was a pedophile. They underestimated what people in power will do to stay there.

So in the Marvel Universe, the ultimate evils are Red Skull, Loki, Thanos and public school teachers.

I’ve got to tell you my union must really be slacking. We never seem to get to world domination at our meetings.

I pay my dues. How come I’ve never gotten to whack anyone? Why haven’t any of our members – who by law can’t have a criminal record to work with children – why haven’t any of us ever slandered each other as pedophiles? All we do is talk about how to make our school better for both the students and our members.

But those big corporations drooling all over themselves at the prospect of privatizing public education dollars sure do hate us. We’re the last line of defense stopping them from stealing from the piggy bank of tax money put aside to educate your child.

So it’s no wonder some of their shadowy money donated by multi-billionaires like the Koch Brothers and the Walton family probably made its way into Marvel’s bank account.

I can’t prove that Marvel Studios took a cent to write either of those episodes. The Daredevil script was written by Joe Pokaski, a television writer for other genre shows like Heroes and also a Marvel comic book author. The Shield episode was written by Monica Owusu-Breen, one of the show’s co-executive producers. She also has a long career writing for television.

Maybe they each just have personal axes to grind.

Or maybe vampire organizations trying to bleed public money into their bank books might use some of that blood money to soften their image and take down their enemies.

Hey, Daredevil! Hey, Agents of Shield! Maybe if you really want to root out evil, your next mission should be at Marvel Studios! Because making nefarious charter schools look just swell and attacking school teachers – that’s not something heroes do.


NOTES:

“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.”
Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman
Manufacturing Consent

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”
Adolph Hitler


-This article also was published on the Badass Teacher Association Blog.

-The article inspired fellow blogger Peter Greene to write a post, “Privatizer Product Placement,” asking readers to contact Marvel Studios and ask the company to stop putting anti-school propaganda in its TV shows.

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11 thoughts on “Selling the Big Lies About Schools and Teachers on Sci-Fi Fantasy TV

  1. Is it possible — and in some ways perhaps this is worse — that this is the laziest kind of group think? That tv people don’t have the time or patience for nuance? They use some kind of cheap magic 8 ball of tropes and themes. Like Mad Libs. Give me one noun = bad, and one noun = sunshine and rainbows. Consider how often tv uses “drunk driver” as the ultimate martyrdom for a deceased loved one. It’s like shorthand. I think it’s appalling, and tv critics should start calling writers on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. HOUSE OF MOUSE: Don’t forget Marvel was acquired a few years back by Disney, the megaconglomerate that has perfected datamining and marketing to small children

    Like

  3. I sent a long message via email to marvel comics public relations. I also shared with other via FB. Everyone who reads and understands how this kind of propaganda works should be contacting this company and registering a complaint.

    Like

  4. Reblogged this on Exceptional Delaware and commented:
    To add some perspective here, Netflix is run by Reed Hastings, a longtime corporate education reform supporter. As well, Marvel is owned by Disney. I haven’t heard of them dabbling in this realm, so if anyone can show where they have I would be more than happy to see it. What kills me is that the Marvel heroes are supposed to look out for the little guy, the man on the street. Welcome to the new age of Marvel! I’ve been a fan since 1977, but ever since Disney took over, it’s been about the bottom line. What’s next, a public service message from Spider-Man telling parents “opt-out isn’t cool, kids need to be tested”?

    Like

    • Well, the Peter Parker Spider-Man, maybe not, but the Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales, has not getting chosen in a charter school lottery inspired by Waiting for Superman as part of his back story.

      The Mary Sue Blog (http://www.themarysue.com/ultimate-spider-man-education/) mentioned that Joe Quesada suggested the writer, Brian Michael Bendis, watch the documentary. The blog post ends by saying it’s most likely not an endorsement for charter schools, which being an isolated things, is easily dismissed. However, with these two things, it might be a sign that Marvel is endorsing charter schools.

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  5. […] We’ve all seen “Waiting for Superman,” the infamous union bashing, charter loving propaganda film packaged as a documentary. Its popularity was helped with outreach and engagement funds by the Waltons and a host of other privatizers. It’s far from the only effort by market-driven billionaires to infiltrate popular culture with corporate education reform. They tried to sell the parent trigger law with “Won’t Back Down,” but no one was buying. Efforts continue in Marvel Studios television shows. […]

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