Thanks to the Supreme Court's rulings "The Boys" dystopian America is closer to reality than ever

Not all heroes wear capes, the saying goes. There is no parallel warning that the scariest supervillains wear robes

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published July 5, 2024 12:00PM (EDT)

The Boys (Prime Video)
The Boys (Prime Video)

It’s been a long time since the Fourth of July meant anything besides the barebones version of what it is, which is a day off from work and a fine excuse to cook ribs. Holding your pet through their traumatized shuddering as neighbors set off illegal fireworks might also be in the cards, along with the traditional night-sky scanning (or TV viewing) for pyrotechnics.

Americans aren’t alone in reflexively observing holidays without contemplating their true origins or meaning.  

But the July 4th that followed the wide release of a seven-minute audio recording of wailing migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border depressed anybody with a conscience.

Two weeks later the same country that enabled that inhumanity nationally televised its Independence Day celebrations. The show must always go on.

That wasn’t long ago  – 2018, a mere six years removed, but distant enough for us to land on what may be the last July 4 when the mildly privileged can claim that freedom is anything other than a buzzword.

Fox News pundits weaponized the word freedom eons ago while programmers on Rupert Murdoch’s broadcast division reveled in the creative latitude it gave them. Where would we be without the balm offered by “The Simpsons” and later, “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and Seth MacFarlane’s other portals to checking out mentally?

Disney owns those series now, and Marvel, the studio that altered the summer blockbuster landscape. Disney+ devotes a full vertical to mainstreamed comic book might-means-right fantasies of superpowered men and women fighting for truth and justice, terms that are synonymous with the American way.

You could spend a full holiday weekend marathoning Avengers adventures to feel better. Or, you could prepare yourself for the dark days ahead by absorbing the full gut punch of “The Boys”' fourth season so far.

The peak superhero era inspired Darick Robertson and Garth Ennis to invert Marvel’s and DC Comics’ icons in their comic books.

America’s steady perversion of freedom’s meaning informs Eric Kripke’s adaptation for Prime Video which, in its fourth season premiere, shows its speculative fiction version of America meeting up with our reality.

Homelander (Antony Starr), a physically invulnerable but psychologically thin-skinned Superman, is acquitted of laser-beaming a man’s head off in front of dozens of witnesses who cheer him for it.

He’s already seized control of Vought, the global corporation that created him in a lab as part of a massive act of societal engineering. Filling the world with superheroes and transforming them into celebrities trains the masses to embrace them, and the conglomerate they represent, as a public good guided by the highest moral standards.

TV and movies are critical to Vought’s brand supremacy – which is fine! That’s how capitalism works! Besides, heroes are exciting. In the right amount, i.e. complete overload, they can entertain us into embracing our destruction.

The BoysThe Boys (Prime Video)

The newest member of The Seven, Firecracker (Valorie Curry), is an overt Christian fascist who becomes the star of Vought News overnight.

At the company’s version of Comic-Con she introduces her cinematic debut on Vought Faith, “Firecracker: The Lord’s Soldier” with a trailer that could double as an ad for the Epoch Times. On her Vought News primetime show, she transforms Starlight (Erin Moriarty), the face of this show’s protest movement, into an enemy of the state and calls for “open season” on her supporters.

But the unstable nuke lurking in “The Boys” since its start was the brazen comingling of Vought and its supers with American politics.

Sure, the United States gladly uses any assistance the Seven and Vought could provide in its foreign adventures. With domestic legislation, senators and congressional officials draw a line between the state and supers.

That’s pretty much been erased in the world of “The Boys,” and ours.

Kripke always designed the show as a critique of MAGA and Donald Trump, who would probably see it as a compliment that the show’s creator made Homelander his stand-in in all ways save for his superpower. Trump can’t shoot death rays from his eyeballs. Yet.

But thanks to his installed loyalists on the Supreme Court, he has absolute immunity to criminal prosecution for any crimes he committed while he was president or any he will certainly commit if he wins the office again, so long as those crimes are deemed “official” acts.

The Nation’s justice correspondent Elie Mystal breaks down what this means in his column “The President Can Now Assassinate You, Officially”:

[U]nlike other officials, presidents are now entitled to absolute immunity from criminal charges. Even a cop can be charged with, say, murder, even if they argue that killing people is part of their jobs. But not presidents. Presidents can murder, rape, steal, and pretty much do whatever they want, so long as they argue that murdering, raping, or stealing is part of the official job of the president of the United States. There is no crime that pierces the veil of absolute immunity.

And there is essentially nothing we can do to change it.

“The Boys” show that in practice and at its most extreme. Homelander kills his fans to use their bodies as props and murders low-level Vought employees as a matter of course. With him calling the shots and his team stacked with loyalists, Homelander’s fourth season arc is in near sync with ours, a thought that grows more frightening as the story progresses.

People will read this as hysteria, I’m sure.  “The Boys” is still a show that recently featured flying killer sheep and an octobunny. Put that aside and look at what the land’s top justices have done to our legal protections. 

The BoysThe Boys (Prime Video)

Let’s rewind to 2018 again, which was also the year the Republican Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh, tilting the Supreme Court definitively right. Kavanaugh assured Senators during his hearing that he considered Roe v. Wade to be “settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court,” which is exactly what conservatives thought would reassure the public.

Four years later he participated in overturning that precedent. In late June of this year he and the other conservatives on the bench, three of which were installed by Trump, overturned the doctrine established by 1984’s Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council that instructed justices to defer to the opinions of government agency experts when determining how best to enforce laws passed by Congress.

Heroes are exciting. In the right amount, they can entertain us into embracing our destruction.

The new ruling gives the judiciary branch the final say, superseding any expert input from agencies in charge of keeping our water drinkable or preventing the banking industry from diddling us into the next Great Recession.

In "The Boys" July 4 episode, “Dirty Business,” Claudia Doumit’s secretly superpowered vice president Victoria Neuman gathers a cabal of Federalist Society bigwigs in a mansion owned by fellow super Tek Knight (Derek Wilson). Knight brags about his family amassing its wealth through hunting enslaved people.

Now he maintains it by running a network of privatized prisons, which Homelander and Neuman plan to repurpose for their political needs. This is all part of a larger plan to unseat the president by invoking the 25th Amendment. He’s too much of “a doddering slave to the woke mob,” Homelander says.

The power brokers balk at this. "How do you propose to handle the Justice Department?” one asks. Homelander answers that they’ll be his appointees. What about the military's reaction, or OPEC’s? What happens if civil servants resign en masse?

When asked about their uncanny habit of predicting the future, fantasy and sci-fi writers often say they’re simply looking at the world as it exists and gaming out possibilities from there.  Based on what Neuman tells the naysayers, "The Boys" writers must have consulted the Heritage Foundation’s very real Project 2025 and the Trump campaign’s Agenda 47 for inspiration. They weren’t so much predicting the future as following proposals Trump advisers have already laid out.  

Corporate media isn’t sufficiently publicizing these plans, leaving it to the likes of, say, John Oliver to sound the alarm on “Last Week Tonight.”

“The Boys” doesn’t present a direct equivalent to these Orwellian-sounding proposals to end democracy. Smart. Doing so would give those downplaying the existential threat to the American experiment something to point at while calling millions of anxious Cassandras ridiculous.

Instead, the episode’s writer Anslem Richardson penned a power and funding pitch for Victoria that explains why Republicans are so gung-ho to install a king and hand him absolute power, as the Supreme Court did on Monday.

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“Truth is, America is not a democracy,” Neuman tells her would-be supporters.  “The word democracy makes people feel safe, but the Founders never trusted the masses, because the truth is the masses are . . . stupid. Anyone who owns a ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ mug shouldn't have a say in how our country is run.”

The BoysThe Boys (Prime Video)

On Trump’s Agenda 47 page he lists his plan to convene a White House task force called “Salute to America 250” on Day One – the only day he’ll act like a dictator, he promises!  Its sole responsibility will be to program a year of festivities leading up to a July 4, 2026, celebration centered on Iowa’s state fair.

This reads like a play for the "Live, Laugh, Love" crowd whose approval of wholesome things like butter sculptures and pie-eating contests might lead them to ignore his other plans to “root out” radical left-wing “vermin.”

History distant and near tells us what such dehumanizing language leads to especially when presented beside proposals that sound suspiciously like a modern recreation of Kraft durch Freude, the “Strength Through Joy” program that arose in 1933 to build popular support for another regime that consolidated power into one man.

So what are We, the People, to the rich who are running and ruining things? A labor force that needs “a kind but firm hand,” she says.  “Corporations are the real superpowers here. You should be able to operate without any regulation or restriction whatsoever. After all, you’re billionaires. You are smart enough to know what's best.”

Which means leaving it up to the system to take care of them, offering up the masses for work or slaughter in the bargain. That’s how it goes on “The Boys,” and the direction America is headed.

No matter what happens, though, it’s nice to know we’ll probably still get the day off.

New episodes of "The Boys" debut Thursdays on Prime Video.


By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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