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Step 31: Punisher

When police conflate the punisher with American allegiance are we witnessing a symbol run amuck?

Conflating dark vigilantism of the Punisher with “protect and serve” sends a confusing message. Sure, Police want to be badass warriors, but have we strayed into the Baudrillard realm where the symbolic signifier has lost it’s true cause? Is this a place devoid of irony or meaning? Do we have a rudderless symbol serving incongruous desires and just running amuck?

music courtesy of Feslyian Studios [link]

THE PUNISHER, is a comic book character who is an ex-military, badass vigilante. He is all dark and broody, and smashy and gunsy.

In 2019 the Punisher death’s head skull logo became conflated with the police movement ‘blue lives matter’ and ‘the thin blue line.’ What we want to do, is not only recognize where this comes from, but how it works in our society, despite it’s myriad contradictions.

PART I:
becoming the punisher

Did you know that baby birds, shortly after their eyes open, instinctually know the shape of a predator bird’s silhouette? They are born with this knowledge. When a non-predator flies over, they just keep on chirping and pooping, but the second a predator’s silhouette comes into view they shut up and scrunch down. This is called the Hawk/Goose effect.

Now, police, once wearing brown or light blue, have almost uniformly shifted to black. Pair this up with bulky body armor, sunglasses to prevent reading the eyes, monosyllabic encounters, and a utility belt laden with human submission tools, and we see the shaping of a predator. 

Here, we begin to engage with the aesthetics, the construction of symbols and a form that signals something… in this case power and violence. 

In his comic Strip, “About Face,” Nate Powell maps out this transition of the militarized “eternal warrior” as “forever innocent,” linked to fighting for “lost causes” of the past, like Vietnam or the Confederacy. This misspent youth fighting other men’s wars means they are ultimately innocent, and used. 

Upon returning home from an unpopular war, they bring back the military signs as “a shield against shame and trauma.” As Powell says, with the cooptation of punisher’s death head logo “power lay in its apolitical mass appeal, cool stuff to buy, while functioning to normalize a paramilitary, proto-fascist presence.” … equally, the flag is rebranded, as the “thin blue line”, now a

“fully masculinized militarized icon, eager to make way for an authoritarian future.” 

Nate Powell

Stripped of symbolic color, it’s black and white redesign, remarketing, and re-branding… some might say desecration… asserts any spectrum is weakness. It now signals “allegiance” (or a higher moral code) that is aggressively above the rule-of-law.

PART II:
bureaucracy 

Now, the real gift of a vigilante, is he gets things done with none of that fussy red-tape of bureaucratic legalization. 

Red-tape? How does you paperwork hold up to my tactical knife? 

Equally, people have lost their place in the system, and the future is moving beyond them and their skills. To take action, to get results, is to be USEFUL. This dream of action is a dream of freedom.

But when the bureaucracy in place is to prevent coercion and abuse by civil servants, yet the police see themselves as warriors and sheepdogs embrace the contradictory vigilante symbol… one must pause and consider the implications of this desire portrayal.

What we see is that those promoting the punisher flag align with a morality and allegiance ‘beyond the law’ and are merely shackled by the law, not servants of it. With the darker implication being that once the shackles are removed… dissenters are in for a world of hurt.

PART III:
empty symbols

This a more Baudrillard conception of the world.

The world since modernity has exploded, or broken apart the complicated rich histories of all things. It can now travel lighter, and faster, but the means to get that speed was to remove the cumbersome baggage linking it to authentic ideals. The ‘process’ is liberated from ‘meaning,’ thus the process is a simulation without governing ideals, leaving it in a state of indeterminacy or uncertainty. 

From this place, any meaning can be attributed, but equally (now that it is not weighed down with all that meaning and ideals that you have to reference) the symbol moves faster, dispersing outwards to proliferate, maintaining only the superficial aspect. In this simulated state Baudrillard shows that “evil” and “good” coexist, losing meaning as well without difference.

Anything that has lost it’s idea is a man without a shadow. Disconnected from reality, and running ahead with rampant virility.

So, when you see a punisher skull, with a thin-blue-line flag, with trumps hair or a MAGA hat, saying ‘blue lives matter’ all smashed into one thing on a cop car…  ~ well, the accumulation of multiple effects is actually a disappearance of causes. (similar to good and evil coexisting.)

Through an excess of functionality (multiple contradictory and partial ideologies), it is rebranded with a murderous vitality. Still, devoid of clear, consistent ideology, it manifests a rebellious urgency and the need for movement, progress, and affiliation… this is drawn from the most superficial levels and now manifested as the deepest motivation, an allegiant belief. 

In short, its contradictory messages empower an anti-logic, an obstinate rejection (abreaction) of the status quo and the rules of communication. It signals, like a dark superhero, a willingness to win through pain and loss… a sacrificial dark knight tilting at windmills. 

What does matter is it clearly bonds wide swaths of our population. The punisher+think-blue-line mash-up is the culmination of reductionist superficial appearances over functional, idea driven processes, like policy reform.

Yet, that comes from somewhere: a failure in the system. The bricolage ethos manifest in allegiant loyalty and vigilantism expounds a moral truth “beyond the rule of law,” and it speaks of a dark desire rising and swelling. 

Beware paramilitaries. The next step is the authoritarian state. 

Timothy Snyder

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REFERENCES / RESOURCES

Nate Powell “About Face” [link]

Artnet [link]

Vulture [link]

Kentucky police [link]

Hawk/Goose Effect [link]

Baudrillard: The Transparency of Evil [link]

Radley Balko: Rise of the Warrior Cop [link]

Alan Moore, The Watchmen [link]

Canary, White Nationalism and The Landscape of Ideology with Kelly Kroener and Jesse Meredith [link]

MOVIES & TV

The Punisher [link]

Deadpool [link]

The Watchmen [link]

The Watchmen (HBO series) [link]

Team America: World Police [link]

Southpark

By Ryder Richards

Ryder is an artist based in Texas who happens to do other things, like reading, writing, and woodworking.

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