I’ve been a Marvel fan over DC since I started reading comics—the first single issues I ever bought were the starts of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel run and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. Marvel continues to put out some amazing, progressive, and inclusive stories from its B-list characters, but at the same time it’s also putting out some of the most tone-deaf unpleasantness I’ve ever seen from a major media company in its flagship titles. What’s most frustrating in this whole complex fiasco is that, in making these terrible writing choices, Marvel is not just being problematic and offensive, but is actually dramatically undermining the entire history of the characters they’re messing with.
There’s an association between Jews and finance that goes back a thousand years into European history. The natural strife between creditors and debtors made moneylending an extremely unpopular profession, so much so that the Third Council of Lateran in 1179 threatened Christians with excommunication if they lent money at interest—expanding a 4th century prohibition against usury. Jews were exempt from this threat—and prohibited from most other trades—and so Jewish communities in Europe filled this loathed-but-needed economic niche.
The union of ongoing bigotry with intense financial resentment laid the foundation for a permanent form of anti-Semitism in the Western world. The massacres of Jews by Crusaders in the 11th century dovetails with conspiracy theories about the 2008 financial crash.
These intense associations between Jews and financial trades permeate modern pop culture as well, so much so that even works by Jewish or philo-Semitic creators still reflect some of these old elements, whether or not they carry the hostility. These can be physical:
Long, hooked nose, sunken eyes, payot (sidelocks), swarthy or sallow skin, all connoted a malevolent, alien intruder to European society. Personally, Jews were portrayed as conniving, greedy, and fundamentally untrustworthy. Moreover, they were capable of corrupting innocent Christians, bribing them or otherwise rendering them financially subservient. Corruption carried a sexual element as well, arousing particular fears. We can see a number of these stereotypes in today’s pop culture.
I’m not entirely sure what Marvel, a company who has otherwise done very well recently at promoting diversity, is trying to accomplish with the new comic Hank Johnson: Agent of HYDRA. It seemed like I’d just finished discussing anti-Semitism in the MCU and then news about this new comic was released. I was regretfully unable to discuss this issue immediately, because I was dealing with getting married and then getting a new job (yay!). But now I have some time on my hands, so let’s talk about Hank Johnson: Agent of HYDRA.
When I was in grad school I had a Biblical Studies instructor who was from Romania. He was a member of the Romanian Orthodox Church, but he seemed to have a great love of Judaism and was an active advocate against anti-Semitism. I remember him sadly telling us how he was sometimes uncomfortable when he went back to Europe to visit family because he claimed that anti-Semitism was once again on the rise. That was three years ago. Now it seems like I can’t go a day without reading about how anti-Semitism is on the rise not just in Europe but in the U.S. as well. And sadly we can see this attitude reflected in our own geek culture. Today I am going to specifically talk about the anti-Semitism in the X-Men/Marvel Movie Universe.