Disability, Christmas cheer, and vigilantism

A reflection on Marvel Studios’ “Hawkeye” and the dangers of vigilantism

While Marvel Studios’ “Hawkeye” may have the lowest ratings of any of their Disney+ TV shows, I have to say that it is one of my favorites thus far. Initially, I was unsure how they would make an entire series based on Clint Barton — arguably one of the MCU’s least popular characters — but I was ultimately pleasantly surprised with a lot of the creative choices made and the ties back to the comics the MCU is based on.
Firstly, we need to address Clint Barton as a character. In the comics, Barton is not just hard of hearing; he is closer to being completely deaf. I am not as familiar with the comics as other people, but I did think it was interesting that they erased this from his character entirely for the majority of his time in the MCU. I am very glad that they reinstated this facet of Barton’s character, as there is not much — if any — disability representation in the MCU, and I think that is really important.
I was also surprised that they made it a sort of Christmas special. When I first saw the trailer, I feared we may have been in for another “Star Wars Holiday Special” disaster. I think the amount of emphasis they placed on Barton wanting to be home for Christmas was a happy medium in which the viewers can empathize with him wanting to be with his family, but also not be inundated with stereotypical Christmas cheer. Furthermore, it worked with the plot, and the setting felt intentional, as opposed to just taking place during Christmastime for no apparent reason. I appreciated the balance they found and I think it worked really well.
I think my least favorite part of the show was the emphasis on vigilantism. If you did not know, vigilantism — the execution of law enforcement by non-governing authorities and outside of existing laws — is the core of almost every superhero movie, and the driving issue behind “Captain America: Civil War.” This is the problem I have with most hero movies; it is why I do not enjoy Batman, the crime-fighting vigilante whose only power is being a rich orphan. It is why I think Superman is an irresponsible fiend. And, despite my undying love for the MCU, it is why I cannot watch “The Avengers” without thinking of all the collateral damage they leave in the wake of justice. I often wonder to myself how many cars died in the making of these movies, and how insurance companies deal with the undoubtedly expensive repairs and replacements necessary after an Avengers battle.
My biggest problem with vigilantism is the idea that a given person knows better than everyone else. This is why in “Civil War,” I was ultimately Team Tony. My beef with Team Cap is that there is no reason other than arrogance for Steve Rogers to believe that he should be the ruling authority on where the Avengers “need” to be. I do think that the Sokovia Accords were deeply, deeply flawed; that is an undeniable fact. Steve’s concern with being sent places they should not be to help government agendas, or conversely, not being allowed to go places they “should” be, is valid, but is ultimately outrageously arrogant. Do not get me wrong, I hate excessive government control. I am aware how being “Team Tony” makes me sound. In the end, I am not so much “Team Tony” as I am “Team Cap Isn’t the Be-All-End-All Authority and No One Should Have That PowerTM.”
I have said all that to say this: vigilantism is a dangerously arrogant concept that puts “heroes” on a pedestal upon which they can ignore the consequences of their actions. In “Hawkeye,” we see Barton take Kate Bishop, a promising young “hero,” under his wing as they work to uncover a plot involving gangs, Ronin, and Kate’s family relationships. At first, this may seem like an inspiring plotline, as Kate becomes an unstoppable hero, but I argue that that is in fact the problem. Kate is now a vigilante acting outside of the law, which is wholly illegal. Vigilantes simply punch and fight their way out of all sticky situations, and it is just plain unnecessary. The vigilantism we are bombarded with is altogether unacceptable in modern society.
Addressing the issue of vigilantism in the MCU begs the question: how does this impact the world that we live in? I do not think vigilantism propaganda is inherently a bad thing. On the contrary, I think it is important for young children of any gender to have strong role models to look up to as they begin setting their own moral compass. A young person who admires Captain America may feel empowered to stand up against the people bullying them or others, and one who admires Iron Man may take up an interest in mechanical engineering and real-world problem solving. I do not think there is harm in children playing superheroes on the playground. The problem occurs when they take the idea of vigilantism into their adult life, and treat it as an accepted and expected norm.
My fear is that, when people of any age accept vigilantism and extreme levels of violence as acceptable, we see a newfound lack of empathy with those hurt in the name of justice. The first example that comes to mind is the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the capitol. The people that took part in this act of domestic terrorism genuinely seem to think they were doing the right thing — that they not only had a right, but a duty to take matters into their own hands and enact their own power and violence to try and rectify their situation. They did not care how many people were hurt, and who exactly they hurt; they wanted to cause damage to local property and threaten the lives of other humans in the name of America. If undertaking this sort of vigilantism is what it means to be an American, then I want no part in modern-day patriotism.
I do not know if vigilantism in superhero movies is creating a generation of people with little to no regard for the consequences of justice. What I do know is that vigilantism is dangerous, and I think a lot of people today have a hard time separating what is acceptable on the big screen and what is acceptable in the world we live in. While I for one certainly understand the difference, and the majority of Marvel fans do, there are certainly an alarming number of people who do not seem to understand that superheroes and safe vigilantism should remain as it is: fictional.