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Thanos vs Dark Brandon: Reading the Presidencies of Trump and Biden through Superheroes

Schmid brownbag talk
Thursday, September 28, 2023, 12:25 pm – 1:25 pm

Abstract / This talk develops two arguments simultaneously. On the one hand, I argue that popular culture and world politics function as a continuum or nexus that are incrementally connected and flow together through what we see as International Relations. This not only blurs lines between reality and fiction but further shapes various themes and tropes of the discipline. On the other hand, the specific argument of the talk looks at the long-standing American superhero genre and the way it has underpinned and co-constituted historical and contemporary politics. While Trump has been likening himself to the Marvel supervillain Thanos, Biden has recently been visually and digitally affiliated with the figure of (Dark) Brandon. Both speak to a bigger American culture that becomes globalized through digital spaces and produces an increasing number of inherently political artefacts. Both, superheroes and the American presidency, are subjected to American myth-making and notions of force and violence in US national identity. The negotiation of violent resolutions to conflict presented in superhero narratives ultimately informs the basis of political reality and normalises what we perceive as the modus operandi of world politics. 

Bio / Julian Schmid is a visiting research fellow in International Security at CEU and a lecturer at CEU, Sciences Po Paris and Charles University. His current research interests encompass areas such as security discourses, political communication, US foreign policy, critical terrorism and military studies, as well as visual and digital politics and he is currently working on a monograph with Edinburgh University Press titled “Marvel, DC and US Security: The Superhero Genre and Foreign Policy in the 21st Century.” He is also a lecturer at Charles University and Sciences Po Paris and has previously taught on courses at the University of Warwick, Virginia Tech, Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Lausanne, the Vienna School of International Studies, Central European University, and Coimbra University.