By: Jaylen Pearson
When The Punisher series was first announced, I was excited, because Marvel Netflix series has been good with their content and releases for the most part. Although, once the announcement sunk in, that excitement soon dissipated. Frank Castle is a messy character to begin with. Essentially, he is an angry white man with a gun who murders people because he’s upset with the world. He perpetuates toxic masculinity in so many ways; his origin story is the most efficient example there is. Instead of mourning his family, Castle goes on a furious killing spree. By doing this, he becomes an example of the toxic idea of a “real man”: a man who is always strong, never emotional, and quick to react with violence.
There are also elements of fascism in the Punisher’s character. Fascism is defined as a totalitarian state which restricts liberty and debate and maintains absolute control over its people. People who stand against this state are killed without trial. Under a fascist state, there are no times of peace, there is only warfare. Castle shows this in his black and white view of the world that deals with crime and executes people mercilessly. In Castle’s view, there is a line, and if you cross it, then you die. There is no due process or reasoning. If someone does something that Castle does not agree with, then he kills them. This authoritative point of view is very toxic and it is more than likely that Castle has killed many good people that made one wrong choice. Fascism is a dangerous and problematic political ideology that Frank Castle fully endorses. Given how Marvel Netflix mishandled the racism behind Iron Fist, I did not have much hope for The Punisher. And, I was right.
In The Punisher Netflix series, it glorifies all the toxic elements of the comic. It also adds racism, and pro-military imagery. In the series, Frank Castle is the same pissed off white guy that he is in the comics. He still murders people because he’s upset, just like in the comics.Thus, he still has the same toxic image of what a “real man” should be like. While the show does give him a few moments of emotions, they are overwhelmed by the images of Castle screaming as he guns people down. The show has, in total, given two instances which he passed down this toxicity to kids. The first is in a flashback with Castle and his son. Castle is talking about his life as a soldier with his kids and his son says an islamophobic slur. Castle should have sat his son down and talked to him about why he does what he does. Instead, he grips his son up and threatens him. The second time is when Castle sits down with Micro’s son and talks to him about his recent bullying. What could have been an empathetic yet touching moment turns completely awry, Castle takes his son by knife point and threatens to kill him. Both instances were examples of abuse. Toxic masculinity is passed down when we teach boys to use force and aggression to deal with all their problems.
The fascist elements of the character are still present in the show. There are multiple times that Castle could have brought the antagonists of the series to justice without killing. It would have saved time and lives. Despite this, Castle chooses to murder them instead. They crossed his authoritative viewpoint and now they have to die, according to him. The only instance that Castle does not murder someone is during the final fight with Billy. That was just because he wanted him to suffer more. The show even goes as far as to justify and glorify this fascist view by having multiple characters state that Castle is not so bad because the people he murders were criminals. He is even called a hero many times because of it.
The racism and pro-military imagery of the show tie into each other. The series delves into an illegal American military operation in which innocent civilians in Afghanistan were kidnapped and murdered by American soldiers. However, it also provides the audience with the rhetoric that suggests that these soldiers are heroes. The audience sees their life struggles as the show attempts to humanize them and make them likeable. Meanwhile, the innocent Afghanistan civilians who tortured and murdered are not even shown in this light, except for one. The only reason we see this one is for the sake of the plot. Majority of these soldiers are white, whereas the innocents killed are all Arabs. The show discounts the lives of innocent Arabs who are murdered and tries to make us sympathize with their white murderers. There is even a scene that we find out that Castle murdered an Arab man who did nothing wrong. However, Castle simply says that he is sorry and gets off for the murder without even a being reprimanded. This man is dead but his killer gets to admit he killed him and walk free.
Among all these harrowing themes and topics, there is one story arc that I want to mention which revolves around Lewis. Lewis is a soldier who has recently returned with PTSD. Lewis gets upset with the way he sees America going and decides to wage a war against the government. He blows up government buildings across New York and this killed a couple of dozens of people. He declares that “you are with him or you die”, showing the same fascist aspects as Castle. However, the show tries to make him seem as he is some sort of tragic character who we should show feel sorry for. Although, I know that if he was a person of color, it would be a lot different. Lewis would have been absolutely villainized. Nonetheless, because he is a white man, he gets to be a sad and tragic character. The show perpetrates an issue in America were white murderers and terrorists are described as good people who went down a bad path. White men can kill hundreds of people and still be looked at as sympathetic. The series shows that racist concept with Lewis.
I’m not surprised that The Punisher had some toxicity in it. Military-centric shows generally do. If the show does get a second season, I hope that these things get improved on. I know they likely won’t though.
Editor: Ammaarah Mookadam
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.