The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: a federalist review

Updated: May 10, 2021

Marvel Studios, you can do better

Spoiler Alert: Details of the first season of the show will be used in this analysis.


Disclaimer: Here I will analyze only some aspects of the series and I will discard others like Black Lives Matter, the psychological issues of Bucky/Winter Soldier, who should take Captain America’s shield. Here, I am trying to check if there is any side of the series interesting for the Young World Federalists.

 

I had low expectations but still


Let’s be clear, WandaVision as a marvel product was better than this one. However, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is considered one of the most political TV series/movies of Marvel Studios.


Given the topics envisioned in the series, federalists in our Discord channel freaked out for the show. The introduction of the Flag-Smashers surprised a lot of us: "These people, they want a world that's unified without borders. So you could see why a lot of people are into that".


In the beginning, I was worried, as I wrote to Charles Marsh - Co-Chair of our Organizing Committee, that the series could end up essentially arguing that “international cooperation is good but let’s not exaggerate guys”. In the end, from a certain perspective, it was even worse. The series is totally related to US issues and only barely dealt with global problems. Basically, what we got from the series is: if we, the American people, can do better and fix our problems, we can lead and save the world again! This is nothing new for Marvel (comics or Studios) but what is quite disappointing for me is the use of some specific global issues while at the same time, continuously repeating the same usual story.


The Storyline


After 5 years, thanks to the Avengers, the people who disappeared after Thanos’ snap reappeared in different parts of the world – the so-called “Blip”. The international organization called the “Global Repatriation Council - GRC” had been set up to deal with the global instability and refugee crisis that came after the "Blip". It can be imagined that the people working across the world, they'd overseen a period where borders were evaporating, people (maybe) were moving freely, and everyone was able to work and live wherever they wanted. This idea, of a world defined by global solidarity and cooperation, was sadly neglected in this story, and only touched on briefly. Now, however, some were seeking to return to the status quo, and the GRC was trying to force people to resettle in their own countries and reset the world as it was before the snap. We understand that the GRC is not acting in a very humanitarian way with the refugees. For this reason, the Flag-Smashers were born.


The Flag-Smashers want to come back to the time before the “Blip”, believing that the world was better before the “Blip” because it was acting as one in face of the emergency caused by Thanos’ actions.


First problem: we understand this very vaguely and the Flag-Smashers themselves do not explain how. Second problem: throughout the entire series, we do not know exactly what the Flag-Smashers want. We understand they are against the GRC, the governments of the world, they have a motto like “One World, One people” (that does not really mean anything), they are against inequalities, they are against the ill-treatment of the refugees. Sincerely, for me, this sounds more like Occupy Wall Street with steroids (the serum) than a bunch of “compagni che sbagliano”. [1]


At least, the real Flag-Smasher in the comics was pretty clear in his anti-nationalist sentiments “we pledge allegiance to no flags”, he said. Although, even here the anti-nationalist feeling of the Flag-Smashers is pretty vague.



Source: Marvel Team-Up Vol 2 #3, November 1997

It would have been better to a) state the current situation of the world clearly and not with some random information, b) understand exactly is the ideology of the Flag-Smashers. I’m not asking for a manifesto but at least something more than a motto and some vague idea of justice! c) have at least a decent political monologue from one of the Flag-smashers. Even the following one would have been already something more than what I saw in the tv series:



Source: Marvel Team-Up Vol 2 #3, November 1997

Marvel, you can do better: The parallels with US politics is fine... until a certain point


You can quite easily draw parallelisms between certain characters in this story:

  • Karli Morgenthau represents the left of the Democratic Party, a sort of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez;

  • Sam Wilson is the moderate part of the Democratic Party that understands the problem but who is wiser than the left extremists;

  • John Walker is the confused Republican Party divided between a willingness to do the right thing and the American aggressive nationalism;

  • GRC is the “real powers” – corporations, governments, and international institutions.

Am I wrong? Think about this: the only real dialogue in this story is between Sam and Karli, and Sam andJohn. There is no dialogue between Karli and John, only fights. Karli tries every time to convince Sam to become part of her group and Sam tries to convince her that he understands the problem but the method is wrong. John and Sam ended up cooperating because “we are all Americans here!” Moreover, what is Karli’s nationality? Do you know? No, and you know why? Because it is not relevant! Make no mistake here, Karli is not an extreme version of Greta Thunberg but she is more like a typical US-Zoomer leftie.


What would have been better? Well, first of all, not use global issues as a tool to talk about US politics. US politics is not equal to world politics and it is time the US viewers start to understand that. Introducing more non-US characters that do not have US views and give them a bit of personality would be a good start.


Marvel, you can do better: Not necessarily everything has to end in the USA.


Remember: “Riga, a city near the Baltic Sea” (sic!). It is not important what happens in Berlin, Riga, Tunisia, or Madripoor. Everything starts and especially ends in the USA. Not only the characters but even the physical places in this series are the quintessential representation of methodological nationalism. [2]


But what about the borders that seem quite central in the series? The “reestablishment of the borders” is the main goal of the GRC but there is no clear discussion on borders here. In principle, the borders were not canceled even before the “Blip”, at least from what we know. So what do the Flag-Smashers mean exactly? Actually, it is all about refugees and their treatment. There is no clear analysis of the international system here. Not a debate on why borders are important or why they should not be. It is more like the “refugees/migrants have to be treated well because they are persons”. Full stop. No more than this. You can understand this from some of Karli’s statements and in Sam’s final speech.


One thing to save: The discussions over the concept of “power”


Not by mistake, the first character to introduce the problem of power seriously in the series is Zemo. A guy who was reading Machiavelli in his first scene emphasizes that he is interested in the concept of “political power”. “The Prince” is one of the most important books about political realism and it is mostly related to political power and the relations among countries. Of course, as usual, the only guys who read Machiavelli are bad guys in the movies. When we see a good guy reading Machiavelli in a movie/series, it will be a great day for humanity! Inspired by my reading of Altiero Spinelli’s Italian preface to the Manifesto of European Federalists (another manifesto written in the ‘50s after the Ventotene Manifesto) I would say: less Marx, more Machiavelli.


Who has the power? What will they do with this power? Who will be accountable for it? These are indeed interesting topics introduced by Zemo.


This issue came back again in Sam’s final speech when he said “[…] the question is, who was in the room with you when you’re making those decisions? Is it the people you’re going to impact? Or is it just more people like you?” Here again, the problem of accountability when we talked about global decisions. That’s good Marvel!