“Spider-Man: Homecoming” was not a particularly important nor life-altering must-see movie of the summer. But when I left the theater, something was off. I couldn’t figure out why I was so bothered by the edgy, cynical character that Zendaya plays; I agreed with everything she was saying! When she looked up at the Washington Monument and refused to go inside because it was built by slaves, I was slow-clapping along with her. The movie mentions, but fails to unpack or address, other societal problems through a liberal lens, from the correcting of “Indian” to “Native American” to a visible demonstration of the tension between white- and blue-collar workers. I’m pretty sure this is the first Marvel film to open with a line shutting down racism.
But at another point in the film, Zendaya’s character mentions that she’s going to protest without detailing what exactly she’s protesting. In this, her “cool” revolutionary attitude transformed into something reminiscent of the notorious Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial — idealizing a purposeless gathering of people who “protest” because it’s fun and hip, not as substantial, tactical resistance to state violence.
It appears, then, that Zendaya’s character was written as an archetype — to make the film seem “woke.”
We see this capitalization on radical anti-capitalist movements outside the movie theater, too. Walk into any shopping mall in the United States and I bet you can find five different blouses with the word FEMINIST emblazoned on them. Maybe in sequins. I wonder: Do the people purchasing these cute tees that broadcast their liberal beliefs realize that partaking in this transaction supports the capitalist pressures of fast fashion, an industry that often employs women in underprivileged countries to work in dangerous conditions? Do they realize supporting stores like H&M supports the hyper-competitive capitalist system that breeds inequality, not only socioeconomically but amongst sexes, sexualities, races, religions and ethnicities?
It raises these questions: Are we bad people for buying these shirts? Are we bad people for paying $8 at Goodrich Quality Theaters to watch Tom Holland take his shirt off and Zendaya recite carefully crafted lines about political awareness? How many elephants are your elephant pants saving after the cotton has been grown and fertilized and processed and dyed and packaged and shipped to your house?
This is where the jury’s still out. Because even though there’s something inherently antithetical to corporations and businesses making money off our anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist, pro-equity mentality, perhaps there is something to be said about how proud people are to be radical, liberal and feminist in 2017. Maybe it’s a good thing that we are wearing our identities on our sleeves – literally – if that means conversations are starting and people are joining the movement. Maybe some people will walk away from this Spider-Man movie inspired by Zendaya’s character and participate in the next protest or vigil on campus. If you go to a protest just to post about it on social media, despite its paid ads and sponsorships, you still went, right? You were counted just like everyone who didn’t post about it. You might have been less engaged, doing it for liberal brownie points, but you did go.
It’s impossible to tell what the net impact of this marketing technique is going to be. If some commercial producer thought that showing Kendall Jenner in a protest would get more people to buy Pepsi, doesn’t that say something wonderful about our political landscape, even if the video was crude and disingenuous? It does signal that the exercise of our First Amendment rights of assembly and free speech are important to young people. We are getting political, and we are demanding to be heard.
If these capitalist trends are mere reflections of our cultural values in the 21st century, then it’s incredibly exciting that feminist T-shirts and elephant pants are flying off shelves. Even if the wrong entities are receiving the monetary benefits, at least our children are growing up in a world where it’s cool to care about real issues in real time. Perhaps the next step is recognizing that our values are being exploited and realizing that we don’t need the Toms, the FEMINIST tees or the elephant pants to make our point.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not preaching to be holier-than-thou. I shop at these malls. I pay for these movies. I try my best, but I know that in my everyday actions and purchases I, too, am surely supporting and upholding power structures that I would find morally unacceptable if I looked a little closer. We live, work and play in a capitalist society, and it’s only fair that we treat ourselves with some patience and forgiveness when we get sucked into its ploys, while still holding industries accountable for their paradoxical products and marketing strategies.
Rachel Beglin is an LSA senior.