Why Zorro Is the Superhero of Liberals

Zorro - The Curse of CapistranoThe last couple of nights, I’ve watched the 1975 Zorro starring Alain Delon and Stanley Baker. Regular readers can perhaps guess how I came upon the film, given that Stanley Baker was the star and co-producer of Zulu — a film much on my mind of late. Zorro was one of Baker’s last films before dying at the young age of 48 due to lung cancer. In Zorro, he plays the bad guy. And French actor Alain Delon has the pleasure of playing two roles: the dashing Zorro and his simpering alter ego Diego de la Vega, the governor of Nueva Aragón. But I’ll write about the film over on Psychotronic Review. Here I want to talk about the politics of the film.

The truth is that it’s hard not to talk about the politics of Zorro. The character and the stories that relate to him are political in nature. Part of that is because they are set in a particular time and place. And the fact that they don’t take place in the US allows them to be more honest about class. Even today, it’s hard to get most Americans to discuss class. And Zorro is all about class.

Zorro vs Lone Ranger

The closest superhero to Zorro is The Lone Ranger. But note that in the latter’s case, his villains tend to be standard outlaws. Zorro, on the other hand, is a class traitor. He is a man determined to protect the lower class from the greed of his own ruling class. But more than that, the stories usually involve the poor and how they can be a force for their own salvation. They needn’t depend upon one iconoclastic rich man to save them.

There is a big difference between the leader who says “Follow me because together we are strong” and the leader who says “Follow me because I am strong.”

Of course, this isn’t surprising. Zorro first appeared in a pulp series The Curse of Capistrano in 1919. And it was an attack on the Mexican aristocracy. It was written by Johnston McCulley — a very white man with a very white name. So Zorro was not the creation of self-criticism any more than True Lies was. (Note: I’m not comparing Zorro to that ghastly bit of American propaganda.)

Fascism of Superheroes

But the biggest problem with the superhero genre is that it is fascist in nature. It tells ordinary men and women that they are powerless and that they must bow down to their betters. It is no coincidence that the most famous superhero, Superman, is the literal translation of Nietzsche’s Übermensch.

There is a big difference between the leader who says “Follow me because together we are strong” and the leader who says “Follow me because I am strong.” And certainly, there are some fascistic elements to Zorro, but he’s the least objectionable well-known superhero. And that’s why he’s the superhero who liberals can support.

Collective Action

What Americans — perhaps more than any modern people — need to understand is that our strength lies in our ability to work together. We see this in every presidential election that we have. Look back at 2008 where we elected Obama and then sat back and waited for Obama to save us. This is not only a criticism of all of us. It’s also a criticism of Obama himself, because he certainly showed no interest in keeping his base pushing for liberal change (perhaps because Obama wasn’t very interested in liberal change).

Maybe it would have been different if Hillary Clinton had become president because she’s a woman. I truly don’t know, because her campaign was largely about her resume. I understand that with a resume such as hers, it’s hard not to make it your calling card. Regardless, we’ll never know. Instead of finding out, we elected a man who considers himself the Übermensch rather than the immature trust-fund child that he is.

Regardless, if there is a liberal would-be novelist out there, they might try their hand at a take on Zorro — one that downplays the sword and the whip even more and makes him above all an organizer and inspiration of fellow humans. Because it’s all there in the character. Not a lot of work would need to be done on the character. Sadly, a lot of work has to be done on ourselves to organize and inspire our way to a more liberal nation.

Afterword

Recently, I saw a bit of Real Time With Bill Maher. There’s so much that annoys me about Maher that I avoid him these days. But he still has his moments. And he made a joke to the effect that had Hillary Clinton become president, she would have been a first: the first president who didn’t play golf. I really liked that. Because I despise the game of golf. It is a game that seems to be popular because of its implicit classism. I really think that playing golf should be disqualifying for being president. Note that Bernie Sanders didn’t play golf. So neither of the two major Democratic presidential nominees played golf. That says something. It also says something that we elected a man who didn’t just play golf but who owned golf courses. Is it any wonder that we’re in so much trouble right now.

27 thoughts on “Why Zorro Is the Superhero of Liberals

    • Here’s a weird thing. Some golf courses are letting young people play soccer golf in order to keep visitors coming. It’s exactly what it sounds like, with players kicking a soccer ball towards the hole. Because there’s no running, players don’t need cleats, so the only equipment is a soccer ball. Much, much cheaper than what you need for golf! And if you kick the ball into a pond, it floats.

      • Here in Marquette, disc golf has become the rage among the young. I used to fling a Frisbee(r) or two back in the day, but I’m as bad at disc golf as I am at the original.

        • To get a Frisbee anywhere near a putting green, I’d probably have to roll it on its side. I can’t kick soccer balls well, either. If only there were a sport that involved kicking rocks down a road. I’m brilliant at that.

  1. Bernie was actually a pretty good basketball player when he was young! And Lincoln was a big baseball guy. I wonder if Trump will ever try throwing out an opening pitch …

    I was a huge fan of both Zorro and the Lone Ranger when I was little. I suppose I liked masks?

    Interesting the characters Zorro’s inspired. The obvious one is “V” in “V For Vendetta.” More of a stretch is the Dread Pirate Roberts in “The Princess Bride.” What makes that one a fun connection is that whether or not William Golding was thinking of Zorro, the writers of the 1998 Zorro movie were definitely thinking of Dread Pirate Roberts.

    • Also Batman, the rich fop with a masked alter ego. It’s not a coincidence that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed after watching a Zorro movie.

  2. Golf: What can you say about a sport where “below par” is the goal? No wonder politicians like it. ;)

  3. We should note that Zorro has no superpowers. He’s “normal”. Possession of superpowers alters the basic dynamics of power. A handful of people can kill any human. Whether or not they should is another question, of course, but in order to rule a human needs support of other humans. Superman, however, is not so easy to stop. Mark Waid’s comic book series Irredeemable is about a Superman-level superhero who turns evil. He’s not easy to stop.

    • I’d like to check that out, because I’ve noted this problem with Superman in Man of Steel. As I’ve noted many times, these characters are good definitionally. It’s very much like being a slave to a loving master: they will allow you to do whatever you want. Yet you are still a slave. And the moment they want to use that power against you, they can. What if Superman started listening to Alex Jones?

      But I disagree on the other issue. As Syndrome notes in The Incredibles, not all superheroes have super powers. I define a superhero as anyone who would be seen as a demigod. Zorro, in almost all renderings, is so good with sword and whip that he is well beyond simple human. He’s very much like Hercules in those old 1950s, early 1960s films like Hercules Unchained.

      • Batman would be the archetype here. He’s even beaten Superman in some stories.

        Note: In most modern versions Zorro inspired Bruce Wayne to become Batman. See http://comicsalliance.com/ask-chris-314-batman-mark-of-zorro/

        However, One can argue that Batman is as much a fascist as any superhero, particularly as written by Frank Miller.

        Donald Trump thinks he’s Batman, when he’s really just the spoiled millionaire playboy that Bruce Wayne pretends to be.

    • Right! I remember in the 1990s, there was this big thing with conservatives on the local level were trying to make golf courses labeled open spaces — like a park where children could play. I’m sure that golf is as interesting as any other sport and certainly I have no problem with people enjoying it. But from a social standpoint, it is pernicious in so many ways.

      • It would be great if politicians (I know, Carter is a physicist) actually knew something about science, though it probably wouldn’t make a difference.

  4. In the classic 1940 version of the character, The Mark of Zorro, Tyrone Power playing Zorro though he wins all his duels, still winds up in the hoosegow. He is only saved when a bunch of his smelly peasant admirers bust up the joint and liberate him. Of course they then turn around and restore Diego’s rich landlord Dad as “Alcalde” (mayor/judge), but who would really want the aggravation of doing that job anyway?

    Zorro’s opposite number and predecessor is of course the Scarlet Pimpernel, an English gentleman who when he wasn’t swanning around the gaming tables, had a secret sideline in rescuing aristos from the grasp of the French revolutionaries. Probably not an accident that those tales (which I also enjoy) were created by a Baroness. Or that Zorro author McCulley started as a reporter, back before that occupation became one of the preserves of the privileged.

    As for Superman, I’m sure it’s also no coincidence that Siegel and Schuster’s Übermensch was created as a villain. In his final original form, however, Superman was instead a champion of the little guy. And again, a working class reporter during his down time. Those are Superman’s roots, despite the wretched Donner’s lamentably successful attempt to recast him as a Jesus analogue. Supes’ really important superpower is not strength or flight, but the ability to find a morally correct course of action in any situation. Mr Kent/El is the first among superhero equals not due to his powers, but due to his ethics. It’s true though, that Superman’s other talents make him powerful enough that he is only rarely reduced to choosing the lesser of evils. Instead, he finds a better solution. Once upon a time, that was an American ideal.

    Well, back to the reality of Frank’s concluding remarks. The fact that some people believe simply putting a woman in charge of things would yield better political results dumfounds me. I can’t decide which is more reprehensible about this notion, the historical ignorance or the naked sexism. But let’s talk resume. Bush the elder had an excellent resume. In fact, so did Reagan and even W. Keep your credentialism and give me something I can use.

    Finally, for your edification – a bunch of photos of Hillary playing golf with the other bigwigs.

    http://www.golf.com/photos/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-hit-golf-course

    No further comment.

    • What you describe about Superman is what I like about Captain Picard and Doctor Who — how they make the morally correct decisions. Doctor Who especially, even though he’s practically indestructible, worries about his friends. And both consider violence the last resort.

      I’m not sure what your last paragraph means. I thought Frank’s remarks were about golf.

      • James,
        I don’t understand myself why these misc bits about Hillary’s campaign got injected between Zorro and the golf bits. Certainly, that campaign had nothing to do with collective action, except by billionaires and PR macnines. You may take it that I’m just reading through the post and following Frank’s lead.

        • OK, I get it more now. Sorry I missed earlier what you were aiming at.

          I’m only authorized to speak for Frank in a power-of-attorney fashion once he’s drooling uncontrollably, but here’s my take on citizen democracy with Obama v. Clinton.

          I voted for Clinton in the 2000 primaries. Specifically because her record as senator indicated she was more of a pure politician; AKA, someone who’s flexible to public opinion. Obama struck me (and still does) as a True Believer on all this New Economy nonsense. While his platform proposals were more liberal than hers, I tend not to take platforms seriously, and I thought that Clinton would be more susceptible to pressure from the Left, IF WE COULD DELIVER IT. Obviously, now, we’ll never know.

          I’m imagining that’s what Frank was talking about. Not that Clinton was any kind of superhero. Just the opposite; because liberals often regarded Obama as a superhero, and did not push him much (the Keystone pipeline protests were a notable exception), Clinton would be seen of less as a messianic savior figure, and more someone liberals would continue trying to influence after the election.

          Which is important stuff! Presidents do not tend to support important legislation without enormous popular pressure.

          As for whether or not anyone in the Democratic Party power structure decided Clinton was their preferred nominee because of her gender, I strongly doubt this. It probably had everything to do with her history of successful fundraising and name-recognition among Democratic voters. I personally believe Biden or Warren would have been better candidates, but neither had the party standing Clinton did. It was, essentially, her turn, and it worked out as well as Bob Dole getting his turn in 1996.

    • The OP did not mention Hillary Clinton qua woman, so your comment is not relevant to the OP’s last paragraph. Anyway, things did not work out so well with Ms. Thatcher, clearly – there’s no particular reason to think any single individual woman will improve things.

      Getting away from individuals, as we must if we want a serious conversation about governance, I still think it would be nice to have a ‘cooling-off’ period for the boys, wherein only women can run for elected office for a limited time. Why not? System, not individuals. All political parties would be forced to discuss some under-represented views and nominate some under-represented people.

      I won’t watch Bill Maher ever again. I’m not sure he ever had anything going for him really; he just seems to have said things I wanted to hear in the past. Glorified shock-jock with a bizarre obsession with vaccines? I’m not sure, but I won’t bother addressing it.

      • I’d go for that! An all-girl Congress. Wouldn’t change anything, but it’d still be nice to see.

        Incidentally, one argument used both against/for suffrage was that if women had the vote, America wouldn’t be tough enough/cruel enough to easily approve of war. Turns out, ladies can be jingos, too! Who woulda thunk?

        Maher has always been a gifted joke-writer with a sharp delivery; his style is so smooth that it makes the jokes seem wittier than they are.

        Unfortunately, he’s made his career mark not on what he’s best at (joke writing, joke telling) but what he’s mediocre at (being a middle-aged enfant terrible). His HBO show often has truly noxious guests like Grover Norquist, yet Maher doesn’t challenge them in any serious way. It took Larry Wilmore to tell Milo “shut the fuck up.” Watching Maher suck up to anyone who shares his “edgy” (aka, completely punching downward) views on social issues and religious tolerance is almost embarrassing.

        My favorite part of his old “Politically Incorrect” show was when, sometimes at the end, he’d do a bit where he just tried out jokes he’d written with a friend. And I still enjoy him when he’s interacting with other comics, like Al Franken. His interview with Obama wasn’t bad. But then Obama was probably our funniest President.

        • If it were true that women legislators would be less inclined to go to war, that would be a point in favor of women legislators. It appears ‘opposite day’ started a long time ago and never ended!

      • And almost on friggin’ clue, Maher delivers a charming episode with a riff about the dangerous notion of superheroes. Good grief, man. Just be awful or interesting, stop mixing it up! When a bootleg of your show appears on my YouTube feed, I don’t know whether to fix a nice drink or take Pepto-Bismol. (This is never a problem with John Oliver or Samantha Bee.)

  5. In the most recent Supergirl ep, “Resist”, media mogul Cat Grant calls upon the people to fight back against alien invaders:

    “Now I can imagine that you’re feeling afraid and feeling like your world is spinning out of control. But believe me, you have a power. And right now, you have a job to do. Resist. Resist these invaders with everything you’ve got. They come with empty promises and closed fists. They promise to make our world great again, and yet they know nothing about the people who make this world great.”

    The major players in addition to Supergirl are women. Specifically the President and the Queen leading the invasion.

  6. This is one of the reasons liberals are more likely to go for Marvel superheroes rather than DC superheroes. The former are usually ordinary enough people who have been given special gifts, often of a mixed nature. The latter are extra-ordinary people given amazing gifts that they must use to save others. There’s a definite political difference. The Marvel X-Men know there is a good side and they want to be on it, but they know it is a choice they have to make, and that no one of the X-Men can fight and win alone. Sometimes, the X-Men even need ordinary people to pitch in and work with them. The DC Superman and Batman pointedly fought alone. Their powers were so extraordinary that only unnatural forces could challenge them. Ordinary people are at best scenery in their god-like conflicts.

    From a religious point of view, it’s like the Bible and its sequel. Old Testament heroes were usually a mixed bag, and the Bible made a point of this. Moses never entered the promised land. David could not build the temple. Esther could not stop the pogrom; she could only arrange for defense. Samson, well he was more an object lesson than a man. In contrast, the New Testament has a chosen one, not a chosen people, and he had a distinct gift and a distinct destiny. His job was to save all of humanity from all sin and all evil for all time, and he demanded extraordinary devotion from his followers, but they were still followers.

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