This morning, I awoke to the news that a video posted by Donald Trump’s campaign team had been removed from Twitter and Facebook due to false claims about the severity of the coronavirus for children. The video wrongly claims that almost all children are immune to the disease.
Misinformation, in any field, can be detrimental to progress. Added to that, it’s unethical as it promotes conjecture, and this conjecture competes with the objective, unbiased conclusions of investigators for media coverage.
While most media sources typically avoid reporting conjecture, the ever-changing, scrollable landscape of social media provides misinformation with the ideal vehicle to carry its often pseudo-scientific conclusions.
Focusing solely on the coronavirus, many individuals and groups, who in many cases have not consulted or collaborated with reputable scientists and investigators following proper scientific practice, have taken advantage of the social media vehicle to transport their opinions and views. Donald Trump and his campaign accounts are just the tip of the iceberg, so it’s important to stress that they shouldn’t take the full brunt of criticism. Nevertheless, they have access to one of the largest audiences, meaning that they can share their opinions and statements with an expectant global audience.
If such misinformation dissemination were taking place in a film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it would be fair to assume that Donald Trump would be more of a villain than a hero. Of course, Trump is a hero to some, but the majority of people around the world view Trump as a villain.
But which MCU villain does Donald Trump most resemble? Let’s go through some candidates before settling on an answer.
It’s not Thanos, Loki, or the scientific villains
First off, although Trump used Thanos’ likeness in an online promotion campaign, he is miles away from the Mad Titan. He may secretly harbour dreams of world or universe domination, but unlike Thanos, Trump has yet to act on them (which would be a terrible, terrible idea in any case). On the other hand, Thanos is the real-deal, and fortunately for everyone on Earth, he’s not the President of the United States.
Another prominent MCU villain is Loki, the adopted brother of Thor, whose inherent need for mischief causes Thor and the Avengers all manner of problems. Like Thanos, Loki harbours rule and domination, but at a smaller scale. In Thor (2011), Loki temporarily takes rule of Asgard, while in The Avengers (2012), Loki sets his sights on Earth. In both instances, he is thwarted by Thor and the Avengers. Nevertheless, later in the MCU, Loki does stealthily take over the throne of Asgard, when he masquerades as his father Odin. Once again, Thor infers with his brother’s plans. Similar to Loki, it can argued that Trump has a mischievous streak, but unlike Loki, Trump has the throne that he desired. Despite efforts to remove him, Trump still retains it. Perhaps Joe “Thor” Biden might change that later this year.
What about the scientists and engineers who became MCU villains? Darren Cross, Adrian Toomes, Quentin Beck, Ivan Vanko, Justin Hammer, Obadiah Stane, and Aldrich Killian all created technologies to supplement their questionable activities. Is Trump close to any of these? The unequivocal answer is no. Why you may ask? Well, when one suggests that injecting oneself with bleach is a viable and safe way to treat any infection, it is clear that one does not possess any proper scientific understanding about the severity of toxic and harmful manmade chemicals. Obviously this doesn’t make for a very good science-based villain. By the way, the one here is the current President of the United States.
The HYDRA connection
So who is left then? Dormammu from Doctor Strange (2016)? I don’t think so. Or Ultron – the AI entity who tried to destroy the Earth in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Nope, he’s not like the vibranium-coated robot either.
The answer is a character who dresses like Trump, speaks like Trump, and somewhat acts like Trump. That character is Alexander Pierce, played by Robert Redford, who appeared in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Pierce was one of HYDRA’s leaders (HYDRA is a fictional evil organisation who want nothing more than world domination). He was HYDRA’s top operative as he managed to operate without suspicion as one of SHIELD’s leaders (SHIELD is a fictional US-based counter-terrorism and intelligence agency). Pierce wasn’t the only HYDRA agent operating inside SHIELD, which of course helped Pierce and HYDRA expedite their evil plans.
I won’t get into all of the details of Pierce’s plans from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it goes without saying that it ended in failure. However, let’s take a looks at some of the things Pierce carried our as leader of SHIELD.
First, he lied to his employees (well the non-HYDRA SHIELD employees anyway). When Captain America (Steve Rogers) goes rogue after his trusted ally Nick Fury was “assassinated” by HYDRA (Rogers didn’t know that then), Pierce outright lies to everyone at SHIELD by saying that Rogers lied to them. He has no qualms about misinforming SHIELD employees, particularly when he plans to jettison the non-HYDRA operatives soon after. Sound familiar?
Second, Pierce colluded with unsavoury individuals. Many of these were affiliated with HYDRA, as would be expected. In the film, he plans to launch a number of Insight Helicarriers that can eliminate enemies of HYDRA, and by association enemies of Pierce. Those on the target list include Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange, and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) – basically anyone who might challenge his authority. Déjà vu anyone?
Finally, Pierce sought to manipulate the course of history for his own benefit. In the film, Pierce’s tools are not the passing of new bills that give him additional powers or immunity to legal challenges, or the signing of executive orders for federal governments. Instead, Pierce and HYDRA use extremely sinister means, one of which is the brain-washed, cryopreserved assassin known as the Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes). At one stage Pierce tells Barnes that “Your work has been a gift to mankind. You shaped the century.” Thankfully Donald Trump does not have access to the Winter Soldier to “shape the century”. Nonetheless, he has access to resources that can help him to steer policy in a direction that best suits his agenda.
Although not having any superpowers, Pierce proves to be a formidable foe. In the aftermath of Fury’s apparent assassination, Pierce and Rogers meet at SHIELD headquarters in Washington. During their conversation Pierce remarks that “to build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down. And that makes enemies.” In Pierce’s case, tearing down the old world necessitates extreme physical force, and the enemies are those that most people view as heroes.
In reality, inaction, manipulation, misinformation, and collusion can disrupt and dissolve elements of society. It can promote the villains as the heroes, and vice versa. As a scientist, it perplexes me that the accuracy of the data from scientific investigations presented by so many ethical scientists is immediately questioned by some elements of the social media world.
In light of the current pandemic enveloping the world, there is an even greater need to avoid misinformation and inaction, given the urgency to deal with the severity of the pandemic.
Follow the advice of reputable media sources whose conclusions are transparently supported by science, and communicated by trusted scientists. There will be a trusted and effective treatment, but its development will take a little more time and patience on the world’s behalf.
In the mean time, avoid the musings of the Alexander Pierces of this world, because it won’t help us “Trump” this pandemic.
It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) fans following the release of Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd film in MCU superhero expanse. Jubilant highs have been intermixed with shocking lows as the remaining Avengers attempted to undo the actions from Avengers: Infinity War of the Mad Titan Thanos. There have been goodbyes for iconic characters, the appointment of new leaders, and the establishment of new teams.
Unsurprisingly, I’ve seen the film a few times (six to be precise and maybe more soon), and every time that I’ve watched Avengers: Endgame, I’ve spotted something new. So here’s the first of five quirky lessons or observations (without giving too many spoilers) from Avengers: Endgame:
1. Hawkeye Speaks Japanese
One character absent from Avengers: Infinity War was Clint Barton (Hawkeye). After his actions in violation of the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War, Barton finds himself under house arrest, just like Scott Lang in Ant-Man and the Wasp. In the opening scenes of Avengers: Endgame we see Barton with his family on his farm. We catch a glimpse of the house arrest ankle bracelet as he teaches archery to his daughter Lila. Barton seems at peace as he enjoys spending time with his family. This serenity is destroyed in a matter of moments when Barton’s family are turned to dust by the Decimation (Thanos’ finger snap from Avengers: Infinity War). Barton doesn’t take the loss of his family well and assumes a new persona – Ronin. He goes on a worldwide rampage against organised crime as he takes on criminals in countries such as Mexico and Japan. We see Ronin in action in the latter as it takes out the Yakuza in Tokyo. During a fight with one of the Yakuza leaders, Barton speaks Japanese. Should we be surprised that a spy can speak multiple languages? Probably not.
2. The Creator of Thanos is in the Film
After the Avengers fail to stop Thanos from destroying the Infinity Stones there is a time-jump of five years. It’s the year 2023 and the Avengers are trying to move on. Steve Rogers runs a support group for people who lost friends and family in the snap. One member of the group is Joe Russo, one of the directors of Avengers: Endgame. Another member of the group is Jim Starlin, the comic book artist who created Thanos in the early 1970s. Nice cameo.
3. Steve Rogers is a Terrible Cook
While Steve Rogers runs a support group for people, Natasha Romanoff has seemingly taken charge of the Avengers and their allies. We see Natasha in a conference call with Okoye, Captain Marvel, Rocket, Nebula, and War Machine. She reminds her friends that everything that happens anywhere in the universe goes through her. War Machine is the last to terminate communication, but informs her that an incident in Mexico is more than likely the doing of Clint Barton. After War Machine hangs up, Natasha starts to cry at the thought of her dear friend Barton on a rampage around the world. At that moment, Steve Rogers enters the room and says, “I would offer to cook you dinner, but you seem pretty miserable already.” Despite coming out of the ice more than 10 years before it seems that Rogers has still to learn how to cook a decent meal. Still he must be better than the Vision in Captain America: Civil War!
4. Thor, Korg and Miek play Fortnite
Thanks to the quantum technology and Pym’s particles of Scott Lang and the genius of Tony Stark, the Avengers set in motion a plan to undo the Decimation. But they need a team, so the Hulk and Rocket head to New Asgard, which is located in Tønsberg in Norway, to convince Thor to join the cause. However, Thor has not dealt well with the events of Avengers: Infinity War as he has turned to alcohol and bad eating habits to get over his failure to stop Thanos in Wakanda. In addition to enjoying a few too many beers, Thor also enjoys playing Fortnite, the online video game, with his good buddies Korg and Miek. Interesting way to process his perceived failure to stop the Mad Titan. If he’s been playing Fortnite for five years, we’ve got to assume that he’s probably not bad at it.
5. No mention of X-Men: Days of Future Past
As the Avengers prepare to test their quantum-based time travel technology, a number of characters discuss the implications and rules of time travel. James Rhodes and Scott Lang list a whole bunch of time travel films such as Hot Tub Time Machine, Terminator, Wrinkle in Time, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. However, there’s no mention of the 2014 film X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which time travel plays a key role. Of course X-Men: Days of Future Past was produced 20th Century Fox and is not associated with the MCU. But it would have been cool if they had mentioned the X-Men film in the list. On the other hand, it’s likely that the X-Men will become part of the MCU in the near future following the acquisition of 20th Century Fox by Disney.
Within the MCU there must surely be superhero films. Perhaps the adventures of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Nastasha Romanoff, and Thor have been made into films within the MCU. This was almost revealed in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. In Marvel Comics, Simon Williams (better known as Wonder Man) is a retired superhero-turned actor. The actor Nathan Fillion (of Castle fame) had been cast as Simon Williams and was supposed to appear in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 on a number of film posters, one of which was for a film entitled “Tony Stark”. Perhaps in the future we will see Wonder Man make an appearance in the MCU, either as a famous actor or as a superhero.
And that’s it, the first five quirky lessons or observations from Avengers: Endgame. Stay tuned for more!
Always think super!