Pop Rhetoric: Blockbusters may be predicting the 2016 US election

It's been pointed out many times that art imitates life, but sometimes the resemblance can be alarmingly uncanny. With the release of this summer’s highly anticipated Captain America: Civil War, Hollywood has given us yet another superhero movie that seems to perfectly capture the tone of the ongoing American presidential race.

It all started with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which hit theatres in late March. That month, the US presidential campaign hit unprecedented lows, with “Little” Marco Rubio, “Lyin'” Ted Cruz, and “the Drumpf” Donald Trump trading catty schoolyard insults that ultimately led the latter to defend the size of his very own “Trump Tower” during a prime-time debate. After a month of watching the American political process descend into a dismal cycle of name-calling, mudslinging, and even occasional violence, Batman v Superman was just as demoralizing to watch. The film consists of nearly two hours of moping about dead parents, crying, and drinking alone. The action culminates in the titular heroes finally meeting in a run-down district of Gotham City to pummel each other in the pouring rain. For audiences already disappointed from watching the American political process devolve into a catfight, the film's dreary tone should be all too familiar.

With the release of Captain America: Civil War, it seems increasingly likely that this year's superhero movies really are mimicking the tone of the unfolding presidential race. In Civil War, Hollywood has taken two iconic superheroes—in this case Captain America and Iron Man—and pitted them against each other in a no-win situation. The impossible choice between Team Cap and Team Iron Man is an appropriate metaphor for the tough choice many Americans are now coming to realize they might face in November: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. For some, the decision might be easy, but the two candidates pose quite a dilemma for others. Polls show that Trump and Clinton are by far the two most widely disliked presidential candidates since polling on the subject began—they are both even less popular than the losing candidates of the last 10 presidential elections. The dilemma represented onscreen, a difficult choice between two beloved heroes, echoes another kind of choice voters are already contemplating between two despised candidates.


The fact that the only people still laughing come August will be the kind who, as a previous Batman film warned us, “just want to watch the world burn” is deeply troubling.

Yes, the similarities between this year's blockbusters and the presidential race are probably just coincidences, but by dismissing the pattern as a fluke we would lose a valuable opportunity to make some predictions. If Batman v Superman and Civil War really are signs that Hollywood has been inadvertently predicting the twists and turns of the 2016 campaign so far, then maybe upcoming movies could hold important clues about the outcome of the election.

As a major superhero film premiering in early August, DC Comics' Suicide Squad could tell us something about the Republican National Convention scheduled for late July. The film tells the story of a group of Batman super-villains on a suicide mission for the US government. Recent trailers, featuring plenty of wisecracks from lead characters, suggest that Suicide Squad will have a lighter tone than Batman v Superman. However, in Suicide Squad's trailers, the only characters that seem to be enjoying themselves are the psychotic ones, like Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn and her infamous boyfriend, The Joker (played this time by Jared Leto). The fact that the only people still laughing come August will be the kind who, as The Dark Knight warned us, “just want to watch the world burn” is deeply troubling. The preemptive insanity of Suicide Squad seems to have forecasted the Trump nomination.

Without another major superhero film premiering until after the Nov. 8 election, the best bet for a prediction here lies with the December release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Star Wars films are, after all, essentially superhero movies in space. As the trailer shows, Rogue One features a female lead character, and brings back Rebel leader Mon Mothma (known in the original films as the only other woman in the galaxy besides Princess Leia). The strong female presence could hint at an upcoming Hillary Clinton presidency. But the underdog nature of the Rebel Alliance's fight against the tyrannical Galactic Empire also suggests that America might soon find itself under the tiny iron fist of a Darth Trump. Impossible to see, the future is.

While Hollywood maybe be doing its best to reflect the downward spiral that is the ongoing presidential race in film, it truly is impossible to know what the endgame is. After all, this year's presidential contest has certainly been stranger than fiction.


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