I have an Army/We have a Hulk : Thinking Politics in The Avengers
by john a. sweeney — University of Hawaii at Manoa, Dept. of Political Science
May 09, 2012 – 00:00
Disclaimer: I like the Hulk.
I think my affinity stems from viewing him as a monster rather than a hero. As an ambiguous anti-hero, the Hulk embodies a horror that disrupts one’s sense of things, and I get the sense that he never seems to be in control of his extraordinary power, which is tied to his immense rage. This double articulation is useful for thinking the conditions of possibility for politics in our historical moment, specifically as bodies subject to the machinations of Late Capitalism, which Jameson conceives of “catastrophe and progress all together.” Might the Hulk be a hero precisely because he is a monster?
In The Avengers, tensions between “Earth’s mightiest heroes” are as integral to the workings of the film as the CGI-driven fight scenes, and one of the key, if not crucial, questions of the film centers on the mutative horror of the Hulk. Will he be a member of the team or is he beyond reproach? When asked by Captain America to get angry so that he can Hulk-out, Dr. Banner confesses, "That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry." If he is always angry, what is it that brings about his mutation? Articulating the monsterous heroism necessitated in today’s world, Dr. Banner voices a politics that reframes the paradoxical logic of Late Capitalism. His mutative capacity ruptures the catastrophe/progress binary. In what ways, then, are the very conditions of possibility for politics yoked to presencing a mutative capacity? Is there an inherent horror to politics?
Reframing the political, Rancière distinguishes between politics and policing, which is to say radical redistributions of sense (i.e. politics) versus the normative dimensions of politics-proper (i.e. policing). For Rancière, politics lies in moments that call the very logic and sense of our age into question. Thus, there is a certain mutative horror to politics—one that collapses the paradoxical logic of our historical moment. This Rancièrian dynamic arises in an exchange between Iron Man and Loki, the film’s antagonist.
After Iron Man coolly outlines the sides, Loki brazenly retorts, "I have an army" to which Tony replies, "We have a Hulk!" This riposte encapsulates Rancière’s politics/policing distinction, and as it is the Hulk who eventually (and brutally) dispatches the petulant Loki, the ambiguous anti-hero embodies a radically mutative politics—one that transverses the paradoxical logic of our age through the horror of his monstrous heroism. In other words, Hulk smash!