Arrow is a Liberal Ally’s Cookie Begging Fantasy

That’s kind of obvious to anyone who’s seen the show or is familiar with the Green Arrow character.  It’s basically a superhero version of Robin Hood.

Even so, the fantasy is an interesting one, primarily because while it’s trying to be progressive, Arrow still really shies away from going full out 99%.


I’m enjoying this show, but it’s riddled with crime drama weirdness. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s look at it this way.

Oliver Queen is a rich white guy who has a traumatic experience, realizes that he’s been part of the system that contributes to the problems that exist in his hometown, and decides that he’s going to do something about it.  In the show, Oliver’s impetus comes from his father explaining that he was a very bad man, and there’s a massive list of people who have made life in Starling City very difficult for everyone who isn’t a one-percenter.  It’s apparently not enough that Oliver just decide to clean up white collar crime in Starling City because it’s the right thing to do; he also has to have a personal stake in redeeming his father’s legacy.

On the one hand, that personal stake is probably necessary because it makes for some good drama.  If Oliver were just a white knight who was doing the right thing because it’s the right thing, then he’d end up being more like Superman (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Superman exists as the platonic ideal of a selfless superhero; he’s not such a great character model for a gritty drama that’s trying to ground superheroics in reality) rather than Batman (if you strip away the overarching missions, they’re the same character but with different gimmicks).  Anyway, that personal stake is there because it helps us relate to the character.

The problem with all of these personal motivations is that they undermine the show’s apparent liberal politics.  Oliver’s an ally for the underclass, but his mission doesn’t really address larger systemic problems.  Starling City’s a wreck because of lots of corruption and white collar crime, but there’s never any talk about how the social systems in place might be contributing to the problems too (it’s almost like we’re living in a pseudo-Randian fantasy world where all the rich people, if they aren’t criminals, are perfectly moral people who don’t do anything questionable with their vast amounts of wealth).  Our cast of beautiful people are busy fighting crime and the problems that it causes, but they seem to be blinded to the fact that crime’s usually a symptom of a flawed social system.

I think that problem’s best encapsulated in the Season 1 episode “Legacies” which deals with Oliver trying to stop a family of bank robbers who were driven to crime after their father lost his job due to overseas outsourcing.  Oliver’s reluctant to get involved with the robbers because they aren’t part of his mission, but his partner, Diggle (it rhymes with giggle!), argues that Oliver should widen his net to deal with more than just the white collar crime he’s been fighting.  I think Oliver’s reluctance to get involved is actually the right call in this case.  His mission, while still very narrow, focuses on the larger problem that’s causing this family to be bank robbers.  If we’re to believe that Oliver’s uniquely suited to fighting white collar crime, then it’s a waste of his resources to go after bank robbers that the police could ostensibly handle on their own.  Instead of sticking to that point, the episode says that Oliver’s diverting his efforts towards dealing with symptomatic problems like bank robbery actually makes him more of a hero.

Here’s where the fantasy really sticks out.

Remember, Green Arrow is supposed to be the super liberal version of Batman (Batman, by contrast, is actually pretty conservative with his emphasis on making sure criminals don’t escape justice), but we’ve just seen an episode that lauds Oliver for losing focus on the larger issues that he’s fighting against to do some work that’s symbolically satisfying, but less impactful.  It’s classic cookie-begging, and it highlights how Arrow exists as a fantasy for people who want to identify as liberal but don’t actually want to consider how they can realistically advance liberal causes (we’ll say nothing about the white male savior narrative, because it should be obvious that this is a major problem in most superhero stories).

One thought on “Arrow is a Liberal Ally’s Cookie Begging Fantasy

  1. Pingback: Alright, I Finished Arrow Season 2 | Catchy Title Goes Here

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