This is a post in three parts. I think three. At least two. Well, we’ll see what happens.
We binged watched the new Netflix series, The Punisher, this past week. Now I’ll preface this review by saying the Punisher is not one of my favorite Marvel characters. He’s probably not even in the top twenty. I tend to like my super heroes to be supery and heroic, not sadistic and violent. In Marvel (and DC) canon, most heroes prefer not having to kill their enemies, although that remnant of the old comic book code has changed in recent decades. But, in most cases when they do kill, they do so only because there is no other choice and they feel a great deal of regret and self-loathing at having done so.
The Punisher feels no guilt at all. The Punisher serves as a foil to that code of conduct, the personification of the phrase “judge, jury, and executioner.” I make no statement on the rightness of his code of conduct in comparison to other heroes, only point it out so we can reflect on it.
There have been a number of Punisher movies from the 90’s through the early 2000’s. None of them did particularly well, though I have to admit I have a fondness for the short film “Dirty Laundry” that was made in 2012, with Thomas Jane reprising his 2004 movie role, and Ron Perlman as a broken down liquor store owner. This was not a comic book movie, but a better, “real-life” sort of film that took the Punisher out of the silliness of some of the films and put him on the streets doing what he does. Interestingly, Jon Berenthal, who plays the Punisher in the Netflix series, says it was this short that he used as inspiration for his portrayal of the character.
The Punisher had an arc in season two of Daredevil, and I found it enjoyable. It was the classic setup of two good guys with different methods, though both come from the same background of anger and loss. I liked the juxtaposition of the two vigilantes, and they way they put both in close proximity with each other so we could see their humanity as well. The arguments from others about how they were the same and both worthy of condemnation was also well done, and all-in-all it was a pleasant surprise (though the rest of season two was much less enjoyable… I simply didn’t enjoy Electra and that whole love-angst thing Matt went through… but I digress).
The upshot is I went into the new series not expecting to be blown away, nor let down. I figured it would be a “meh, this is fine” sort of feeling. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the series. The acting was good for the most part, and I think Berenthal makes a excellent Punisher, though after his turn on the Walking Dead I didn’t really expect that. I enjoyed the somewhat nuanced take the series had on PTSD and soldiers returning from war, their struggles with reintegrating with society, and the by and large excellent representation each actor gave to that. Each of them is dealing with the problem in different ways, and their pain, confusion, and anguish shown through without it becoming hammy.
Yes, this series is violent. Let’s get that out in the open right away. There are bloody deaths and gory deaths and explosive deaths and stabby deaths. I couldn’t tell you what the body count was, but combatants died in droves. If you’re not into blood and guts and gore, this is not the series for you. I’m not a huge fan, but I knew going in what this would be, so it didn’t bother me. I did remark, though, on how often Frank was injured and then fine a short time later. How many ways can you get shot and stabbed and hurt and still keep coming back for more? So many other minor characters died from similar wounds. But hey… comic book. Fiction. I let that go.
We get the usual cross over with the other series, this time in the character of Karen Page, whose relationship with Frank is complicated and strange and very well done. She both abhors his violent ways, but admires his code of honor, carries her own weapon but isn’t strongly pro-gun. In that context, we also get a second amendment argument which is the only weak part of the series. Instead of an honest debate over the pros and cons of gun ownership, the anti-gun side is represented by a spineless congressman who is happy to hire personal body guards to protect himself and will sacrifice a woman to save his sorry ass, then spin a story about how heroic he was. It was lame, to be honest. He didn’t need to be such an asshole, and they could have done this with more deftness, given how well they dealt with so many other issues and struggles. I am both a gun owner as well as a strong believer in the need for better background checks, limiting access to guns for those with mental health issues, and so on. You can be both, contrary to the position of the NRA and other right-wing corporate shills.
We also get an examination of what justice means. What happens when the justice system fails the people. This wasn’t as nuanced as the commentary on PTSD, but is still an important aspect of this version of the Punisher. And that is what leads me into the second part of this post…
I found myself going through this weekend angry and depressed. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on these emotions and didn’t understand where they sprang from. But I gradually came to realize that my feelings were the result of the tax bill vote in the Senate. The majority of Americans seem smart enough to realize how the tax bill was a huge giveaway to the rich, with precious few (and all temporary) benefits to the majority of working Americans. Unless you make over $75,000 a year, you WILL see your tax bill increase by 2027. That’s a given, according to the CBO and JTC, both congressional bi-partisan committees. In the meantime, trickle down (which has never worked) is supposed to create lots of new jobs and higher wages to offset the trillion dollar deficit this will create. But since that never has happened in the history of tax cuts which benefit the rich, we will see the deficit explode. And the GOP will use that as an excuse to go after our social safety net, conveniently ignoring that they promised these tax cuts would “pay for themselves” and there would be no increase in the deficit.
This bill does not hurt me. It helps me to the tune of thousands of dollars of tax relief a year. My taxes will never go back up because I make enough money to overcome that hump. But it hurts a hell of a lot of people I love and care about. It severely damages small business by removing many of the deductions they use, and increasing their health insurance costs. And the planned actions to cut or kill Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security will affect even more, and probably affect me when I hit my retirement age. And it angers me that, in a bill where they took away a teacher’s tiny $250 deduction for school supplies they buy and which most people agree they deserve given how starved for money schools are and how often they have to buy things their kids need, they gave rich folks tax breaks for use of their private jets and on their golf courses. It’s a pathetic money grab, given billions to the rich while raising taxes on the majority of working families in America, while at the same time carving huge chunks away from services that help folks become upwardly mobile.
So it angered me. It angers me because the GOP refuses to listen to America, to the vast majority of people who oppose their plans. I think this tax bill had about a 25% approval rating with the public. Over 50% disapproved of it. The rest were unsure. But they passed it anyways, and we are all majorly fucked, because as much as we may hate taxes, we all love the benefits they provide. Good roads, schools, clean water, police protection… it’s an endless list of things that make our country better. We can discuss and argue which services we really need, but when our country is spending well north of a Trillion dollars a year on defense spending, but says it can’t afford the things common Americans need to be healthy and productive, then we are in a place where dystopia is knocking on our doorsteps.
We feel impotent right now. And in our impotence, we dream of lashing out. We dream of Punishing people for what they are doing. But unlike fictional hero Frank Castle, we can’t. The vast majority of us aren’t going to raise weapons and gun down people for the destruction of the American middle class. We aren’t going to hang them from meat hooks for a criminal justice system that is unbalanced and filled with injustices, that gives a pass to rich people and treats the poor like scum. But boy would we like to. And that’s why the Punisher caught hold of me this week and pulled me in more than I expected.
We all dream of that sort of revenge. Well, okay, probably not all, but many of us do. We dream of getting back at those we see doing harm every day. At a system that has sold itself to corrupt corporate control for the price of a re-election campaign. Money has flooded our system and corrupted everything we love, and for that we can blame a conservative supreme court that said money is free speech. It is not. Money corrupts free speech, money washes out speech. Those who have the most money will always have the most speech. The voice of the people, the poor who have no money, the middle class who gives small donations to a few candidates, those voices are lost in a sea of green backs.
The destruction of our country is ongoing now. They are dismantling every system and service that helps the people. They are building the Ayn Rand dystopia of their wet dreams, one where the only thing that matters – and maybe one day, the only folks who will get the right to vote – will be those with money. The “job creators” (though many are idle rich who create no jobs), the corporate bosses (who pay themselves tens of millions of dollars a year while claiming they can’t pay their workers a living wage or benefits), the political elite. Since WWII, these systems have helped us become a country with an upwardly mobile middle class. The social safety net helped save people when life goes the wrong way and wiped out their savings, if they had any. It saved my family when my dad was injured at work, they refused his workers compensation, and he got laid off for over two years. They encourage us to spend, then mock the poor for spending every last penny they have, as if there was any other choice.
We’ll survive this. I have faith that, in time, the American people will once more march for justice and dignity and a fair chance at a decent life. They will recognize that there are structural impediments to improving their lot, and that the rich consume far more than the rest of us, and thus should pay far more in taxes. That if you’re going to insist your workers live in poverty, then you are going to help pay for the services those poor people deserve and need. We will find a way. And that is why I do not pick up my weapons and ride down to DC and put a bullet in the brain of every single last one of these mother fuckers who is ruining our country in the name of their power grab. I have faith. Frank had none.
I write this, but it doesn’t really help. Does it ever? We will get through this somehow, I have to believe that. Eventually, enough Americans will fall away from the GOP after realizing how they’ve been fooled by false promises, by a party that doesn’t have any moral center and uses their beliefs as a tool to get votes, but doesn’t actually share them. That the media should be held to a standard of truth, but that doesn’t make them “liberal”. Just because you don’t agree with the truth doesn’t make it a political slant.
I can’t fault Frank Castle for his choices. I simply can’t share them. But boy, did I enjoy watching him mow down the corrupt assholes he faced, and I hope to see that (metaphorically) happen to our current overlords.