There were a lot of things to love about the recent DCTV Crossover event Crisis on Earth-X (Crisis hereafter). Things like gays, lesbians, and bisexuals kicking ass and taking names. There was lots of queer kissing. Iris and Barry finally got married—though it might be best not to mention how Oliver and Felicity hijacked their wedding and made it about themselves.
There were also some sad moments (Stein!!) and some wtf moments (Barry letting Thawne go and the aforementioned hijacking of the Westallen wedding). But by far what struck me as the most poorly thought out aspect was the use of Nazis. Yes, I’m a fan of punching Nazis as much as the next anti-fascist queer woman, but the execution of the villains leaves so much to be desired that I wish they’d gone with literally anything else. Why?
It’s Disrespectful to the Character of Supergirl
Look for “Superman” and “Judaism” on the internet and you’ll find a whole host of articles devoted to discussing the Jewish roots of our alien hero from Krypton. He’s an alien refugee whose entire planet and culture are destroyed, who has to live and fit in among a foreign culture, and the only connection to his past, heritage, family, and culture is vague memory and inherited records. He must constantly disguise himself in order to avoid misunderstanding and potential fear, harm, or even persecution (e.g., ostracization). It’s about as blatant a representation of diaspora Judaism as one can get without making him an actual space Jew. Kara is his cousin, and she shares all of the same history, backstory, and symbolism.
DCTV turned her into a Nazi.
It’s just as bad, if not worse than Marvel with Captain America. The heirs of the house of El are so clearly an analogue for diaspora Judaism, and they turned one of Kara’s doppelgangers into a literal Nazi. Not just Hydra…an actual Nazi. There are just some heroes you don’t turn into Nazis, heroes like Wonder Woman, Superman, Supergirl, Captain America. Heroes who are Jewish or who represent a significant aspect of Jewish experience are ones you just don’t touch. And/or ones that make a career out of fighting Nazism or fascism.
Granted, the writers room may not have been aware of the Jewish roots and symbolism surrounding the Supers, though I think you have to be pretty dense not to see it. But I’m not even sure that makes it better. A quick google search would have clarified this. And coming fast on the heels of the Captain America nonsense, ‘not knowing’ isn’t a legitimate excuse any more. It’s as if they didn’t look past her physical description. DC, you have to do better than this. Do your research before you turn a superhero into a Nazi, even in an alternate universe (AU).
The Worldbuilding Implications Were Not Followed Through
We’re meat to believe this is a present AU, that this is what a present-day America would look like had Nazi Germany won World War II (WWII). But this makes no sense. I’ll be perfectly graphic and blunt, because no one seems to be talking about this: if the Nazis had won, there would be no present-day concentration camps. Or, better put, there might be concentration camps, but the people in them wouldn’t be Jews. There would be no Jews in this AU because they’d all have been killed during or just after the war. There would be no Romani, no people with physical or mental disabilities, no openly LGBT people. No communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, or political dissidents. The Polish and Slavs would have been wiped out as well.
Likely, there wouldn’t be any non-Aryan looking people at all. As my best friend put it to me when we were talking about it, “this kind of evil wouldn’t sleep for long.” The Nazis would kill off everyone on their initial kill list then move on to other “undesirables.” Because Nazism is master racism that advocated for the genocide of millions of people.
The world DCTV envisioned looks more like what one would expect soon after the war, not almost 80 years later. The Ray would not have felt safe enough to be the level of ‘out’ required to end up in a concentration camp. There would have been decades of socialization and visible death and torture for LGBT persons to keep him in the closet. Likewise any Jews that survived would have buried their heritage so deep they’d be externally indistinguishable from goyim. Felicity probably wouldn’t even exist in this timeline because her parents and grandparents would have been killed. It’s as if the entirety of their thought in creating this AU was “we want Nazis everywhere for the heroes to punch” and left it at that.
I know the picture of a more accurate Nazi AU is grim, but that’s my point. A world in which Nazis had won WWII would be hellish. Not just a militaristic state with labor camps and arm bands. Because Nazi ideology wasn’t just bigoted and repressive, though it was those things. It was more than that, though, which brings me to my next point:
It Fails to Acknowledge What Makes Nazism So Repugnant
The writers clearly didn’t think through the full implications of what Nazi ideology entails in order to accurately represent what Earth-X would look like. Forcing people into camps and making them wear arm bands depicting their so-called ‘crimes’ is bigoted and oppressive. However, the deeper moral repugnance of Nazi fascism was the murder of millions of people. Nazi ideology advocated for the decimation of populations of people deemed ‘unworthy’ or ‘subhuman.’ Nazis committed genocide, full stop. That’s what makes Nazi ideology so terrifying and evil—the belief that some people just don’t ‘deserve’ to exist and should die so that ‘better’ people can take their place.
This was not represented on screen at all. Had the team writing this crossover actually recognized this, the world they would have created would have been vastly different and much darker. Probably too dark to put on screen, especially for a family-friendly show. But this is precisely why someone should have questioned whether or not this was the story they should have told. The answer to the question of accurately reflecting the depravity of Nazi ideology isn’t to tone it down or only show the less dark aspects. If you can’t be both honest and sensitive in your depiction of something horrific, you pick something else. Or you find a cipher or analogy that works but isn’t dishonest.
The Takeaways are Confusing and Overly Simplistic
It’s not wrong per se, but it isn’t nuanced enough to be right. The writers, perhaps unintentionally, watered down Nazi ideology by leaving out the most morally reprehensible acts committed in its name. Setting aside the insulting choice to turn Kara into a Nazi in the first place, in theory, having Supergirl and Overgirl together is an excellent way to explicate what makes a hero and a villain. I say in theory, because I’m not altogether certain what my takeaway from Crisis should be where Supergirl is concerned.
Given the rest of her arc this season, it’s difficult not to walk away with the impression that Kara is just one lost boyfriend away from becoming a [genocide-advocating] Nazi. What else are we to get from the juxtaposition of her “I don’t want to be Kara anymore because I lost Mon-El” and Overgirl than that, in another life, Kara’s loss could be twisted into something repugnant and now that she sees that, she’ll make a different choice when dealing with her grief? Again, not a bad idea in theory, but in execution, it’s sorely lacking. That’s mostly just offensively poor writing. If the goal was to help Kara see that losing Mon-El shouldn’t cause her to lose faith in humanity or her desire to help people, there are better and more thoughtful ways to do that without going full Nazi.
And yes, there may be value in showing that our heroes aren’t all that different from those we deem morally reprehensible. I’m usually a huge fan of, especially Supergirl’s, thematic insistence on choices distinguishing heroes and villains. In Crisis, our Kara is a hero because she chooses to use her powers to help people where Overgirl uses them to oppress people. Yet, as Abigail Nussbaum pointed out on Twitter, both ultimately believe themselves above the law, at least as depicted on screen:
“It hangs the difference between its heroes and villains on kindness and the desire to protect the weak, rather than persecuting them…But a world in which we depend on the kindness of people who consider themselves above the law is not a good one, and that’s something superhero stories can’t admit.”
However, even this doesn’t make sense of Kara’s character. Part of what has set her apart is her willingness to work within the law. At least in S1 she believed that she out to submit to human laws and be held by human standards. That’s why she works with the DEO rather than be a lone wolf like her cousin. When she took the law into her own hands to protect her family, she was called out for it and eventually admitted she’d gone too far. Even if we accept that losing one’s boyfriend is a legitimate reason to no longer believe human laws apply to you (and I don’t buy it, personally), Nussbaum’s comments are still correct. A world that depends on a superpowered being’s altruism isn’t really a good world, but we’re supposed to accept it because she’s kind.
The line between Kara and Overgirl as presented is artificial at best, contrived at worst. Yes, she makes different choices, but the root flaw of believing oneself above the law is not addressed. That should be her, and our, ultimate takeaway from this: that even good heroes need boundaries. Violence is not redemptive. Supergirl believed this in S1, back when she talked first and punched later, but that aspect of her character seems to have been lost in the last season or two. Yes, her choices matter and I’m glad ‘our’ Kara doesn’t use her power to oppress human beings. However, Crisis sidesteps the issue her relationship to humanity and human law rather than confronting it.
I don’t think they intended to be morally simplistic. In fact, I 100% believe that the team behind Crisis had good intentions going into this. That they focused so heavily on LGBT characters—both having queer characters beat up Nazis and in the romantic/sexual subplots—speaks to good intent. I think they wanted to have gay superheroes beat up Nazis and attempt a bit of cultural critique along the way. That’s not a bad goal at all.
At the same time, the failure to acknowledge and represent what actually makes Nazi ideology reprehensible does, however unintentionally, fit into the alarming perception by some in our society that Nazism really “isn’t all that bad.” Now, I admit that Nazis as uncritically and unequivocal villains has existed long before the DCTV crossover. Nazis have been used as generic evil villains for decades. Up until recently, one didn’t have to explain why Nazis were evil because everyone accepted that they were.
Yet if the recent pushback against games like Wolfenstein is any indication, that perception is changing. What once would have been a non-negotiable—that it’s as unequivocally morally unambiguous to mow down Nazis in a game as it is to blast zombies—is facing resistance. Unfortunately, we can’t assume that everyone understands why and agrees with the statement that Nazism is a repugnant ideology anymore. While I sympathize with the desire to jump in and proclaim Nazis to be evil and have heroes punch them, failing to understand how the conversation around Nazis has changed is careless.
And to be clear, I’m not advocating for a dehumanization of Nazis into evil caricatures. That doesn’t help anyone, either. That kind of depiction allows people to pretend they’re not so bad by comparison and ignore how their own toxic beliefs hurt people too. There’s a time and a place to acknowledge the banality of evil—the idea that evil doesn’t always look monstrous on the outside. I think that was the goal of having love be the root of Dark Arrow’s and Overgirl’s actions, and it’s one aspect I think worked well.
Ultimately, though, the writers wanted us to know that Nazis are evil and need to be resisted, they just failed to fully explicate why. And, in doing so, they unwittingly played into a narrative that’s creeping into our social discourse at an alarming rate.
In The End, It Doesn’t Even Matter That They’re Nazis
Really, any form of military state or fascism would work with this plot. In fact, other than symbolism, nothing stood out as specifically associated with Nazi ideology. At least, nothing that couldn’t be found in other fascist or fascist-leaning regimes. As mentioned above, concentration, labor, or internment camps and badges denoting ‘crimes’ can be found outside of Nazism. What separates Nazism from other brands of fascism is the attendant genocide of those who do not fit the racial, heteronormative, and political ‘ideal’. Crisis went with a kind of generic fascism with little to no explicit ties to Nazism that weren’t put there on purpose via symbols. This could have been anything other than Nazi fascism and nothing would have been lost in the story. Given how dangerous leaving out the most repugnant aspects can be, why bother making them Nazis in the first place?
Other than scoring cheap points with liberal-leaning audiences, there was no need to go this route. An oppressive government could have been invoked with just as many opportunities for social commentary. As it stands now, there were so many missed opportunities and dropped balls that it hardly seems worth going in this direction. The end of the miniseries is hardly uplifting. Other than The Ray and Felicity, our heroes paid little attention to any other prisoners in the camps; they’re just set dressing. Then there’s the reality that even with Overgirl and Dark Arrow dead, there are still plenty of people poised to continue this regime in their absence.
Now, maybe the upcoming cartoon series Freedom Fighters: The Ray will deal with this. Then again, it might not. It seems the executive producers themselves can’t decide where in the continuity the series will fall. With Melissa Benoist poised to voice Overgirl in the series, it seems more likely we’re getting an origin story in the animated cartoon, at least early on.
Still, not everyone who watches the live-action TV shows will watch the animated show. It seems kind of awful to me to leave Earth-X in the hands of Nazis and yet still try to declare the resolution of Crisis as some kind of victory for our heroes. Nazism is still the ruling force on Earth-X. They may have killed some key players, but there are still thousands of people in camps on Earth-X and the Nazis will likely just recoup their losses and crack down even more fiercely.
So yeah, Nazis are bad and heroes should punch them. But then our heroes leave and go back to their happy lives while thousands suffer.
Sure, The Ray and the Freedom Fighters are still there, so that’s not nothing. But it seems…odd to me that if your ultimate message is that we need to destroy Nazi ideology because it’s evil, why leave the fate of Earth-X so open-ended? Why couldn’t they have gone with generic fascism? Or, they could have brought back Astra and Non from S1 and given us an Earth-X ruled by their military state. Because it didn’t have to be Nazis to make the story work, why did they go with Nazis?
Other than cheap brownie points, I can’t think of a reason.
Why I’m Not Surprised
The bottom line is that I don’t trust this team of writers to handle this with delicacy. The group of writers and producers on Crisis is the same team that dealt with slavery with what amounts to a handwave and #NotAllDaxamites. This is the same team that had Kara apologize to Mon-El for not making him feel safe enough to open up about his past (i.e., being a slaveholder). The same team for whom there were literally zero consequences for Mon-El being a slaveholder who lied about it so that his would-be girlfriend wouldn’t not like him for it (which, come on, it’s totally reasonable to not want to date a guy who owned slaves). He ultimately got to date the protagonist. (His leaving Earth doesn’t count because that was not a consequence of him being a slave owner.)
Excuse me if I wasn’t holding my breath for them to handle Nazis with the degree of sensitivity this topic deserves. Nazis were an excuse to make topical references and score ‘points’ against Marvel. But they’re really not doing all that better than Marvel did when you start scratching the surface.
Let’s face it, DCTV wanted a generically evil enemy that they didn’t need to explain to their audiences and maybe throw in some hamfisted social commentary and get some seal claps from it. But in the process, they made an iconic hero who represents disapora Judaism a Nazi, failed to accurately represent what makes Nazism so evil and dangerous in the first place, and barely gave the rest of the implications more than a passing acknowledgement. They wanted gay heroes punching Nazis because they knew audiences would cheer for it. (I get it. I really, really do. I, too, am a salty queer who wants to punch Nazis.) That’s not a particularly bad reason for the choices they made, but it’s not a particularly good one either.
With actual fascism, white supremacy, and Nazism in particular becoming more and more visible and socially acceptable in the United States, it behooves creators to treat this repugnant ideology with seriousness and care. Nazis shouldn’t be used to handwave exposition of truly evil worldviews or just to get seal claps. When there are people who actually believe in what Nazis stood for—the genocide of entire races of people—failing to show the depths of the depravity of that ideology is careless. If you just want martial law and internment camps but aren’t willing to explicitly talk about genocide, don’t go full Nazi.
Not everything has to be Nazis. And if you do go full Nazi, you have to be willing to actually think through the implications and talk about the truly horrific, repugnant aspects of it. We don’t live in a world where you can give us half-ass depictions anymore.
Images courtesy of The CW
Editor’s note, 12/1/2017 12:51 PST: A correction has been made from “Wally” to “Barry” in the first paragraph.