How "The Boys" criticize modernity

Stylish, funny, and violent. Consider the impact of "The Boys" on criticism of modern culture.

How "The Boys" criticize modernity

In 2019, the Amazon Prime streaming platform premiered "The Boys" series. This is another cinematic adaptation of DC comics, which are famous for their gloom, black humor, and violence. That is why the series amazed both viewers and critics with undisguised brutality and cruelty, which is skillfully used to narrate the story and criticize modern society of consumption. Today we will try to look at the famous TV series from an atypical point of view.

Art by @nadi_bulochka

Satire over Marvel

An inexperienced viewer will probably not be able to notice the image of Marvel, a giant, a monopolist of the entertainment industry, behind tons of blood and black humor. The cinematic universe, toys, merch, namely fan service has captured the minds of many people. And don't get me wrong, I am not opposed to the Marvel franchise - all I say is just a statement of fact that the majority of the filmmaking market is occupied by men and women in spandex.

From that point of view, the idea of "The Boys" is quite  similar to  Zack Snyder's "Watchmen": the figure of superhuman gives an opportunity to manipulate public consciousness. That is why the main antagonists of the series are superheroes, who, however, operate under the protection of the "Vought International" corporation. "The Boys" present the universe where superheroes are products owned by companies: each has its own "Justice League", its own "Avengers". At this stage, you can see the correspondence between the image of the corporation and Marvel. The correspondence becomes even more obvious when you realize, both "Vought International" in the series and Marvel Studios use different characters, their origins, to make money. As you know Marvel Studios owned by The Walt Disney Company, which is considered as selfish "corporation of evil" - and this stereotype was transferred directly to the series.

Of course, we are unlikely to ever see something like "The Boys" from Disney, because "The Boys" by means of violence, f-words, and black humor exposes the self-interest and greed of the modern system. We consume content that is served only from the side that is beneficial to the studios. The show makes fun of this superficiality and shows a completely different side. And it is the contrast that creates the satiric effect.

Photo taken from

In fact, this is not just a satire, but a deconstruction of the image of a superhero movie genre. Local superheroes are people corrupted by impunity. They combine both the image of superhuman and the image of showmen who only care about money, attention, and fame. The metaphor here is obvious: in the real world, we get shows not only on screens, but also outside of it, at evening shows, interviews, etc. Not bad for just an eccentric series, huh?

It is very ironic that the main character becomes an unremarkable guy, Hughie. He does not have super abilities and he does not know about the superheroes behind the scenes, in general, a common man. However, he is forced to stand against the system when a loved one suffers from superheroes. Even then, the corporation is unable to admit guilt: they continue to manipulate the mass consciousness just to keep a profit.

Against the system

Undoubtedly satire and deconstruction already represent a kind of protest, a denial of the canons of the genre. However, it is also wrong to believe that everything ends with satire. The fact is that the series criticizes the problems of Western society in the face of entertainment consumption and the illusion of individuality. In "The boys" there is no threat to humanity as in "The Avengers". The real threat is the supers themselves, and what people see is just a show which gives an opportunity to escape into the world of illusion.

The photo taken from Scuffed

The Showrunner of the series, Eric Kripke, openly turns the entertainment industry inside out and criticizes its hypocrisy. Manipulation of the political and social agenda; scheduling and making deliberate superhero movies; other people's problems, as a way of making money - you will see all this in the face of the "Vought International" corporation.

At this point, superhero life is meaningless, so they find relief in drugs, alcohol, fame, and murder. However, these people are interesting to follow because the script breakdown happens: supers on the stage versus their inner state. From the first side, they only seem to be bad guys, but as in any good work, the characters develop and change precisely because the creators show the inconsistency of the system, from the point of view of mass media, migration, religion, addiction, cheating in sport and so on.

Visual style

Great example to meet the style of "The Boys"

"The Boys" masterfully manage to create a visual image of a gloomy alternative reality. And we should pay tribute to the scriptwriters and artists who did a great job at the pre-production stage making different characters and a catchy atmosphere. Harsh colors and low saturation constructed an original look of the series. You will not see any epic action scene like in Marvel movies, namely because the creators have no task to entertain you - they tell the story. If you are a fan of David Fincher's cinematography, you will definitely recognize blue and yellow color schemes, which creates an uncomfortable atmosphere.

Another feature is the presence effect. So cinematographers, Dan Stoloff, Dylan Macleod, Evans Brown, Jeremy Benning, and Jeff Cutter, use the handheld camera a lot to gain this presence, documentary effect. The fact is that this technique inspires maximum immersion and confidence in the viewer. But this is not the only technique to achieve a realistic look. In "The Boys" they use a lot of familiar to our reality media look such as YouTube videos, Instagram broadcast, Twitter and Facebook, TV reports, and, indeed, memes. Of course, their counterparts are presented in the series, but we can easily recognize their image.

In this formula, violence finds its place as a catalyst for action and plot development. Violence is a beacon for us, pointing out the flaws in the system. And the gloominess of the picture largely depends on the fact that the saturation is so lowered that the blood has a black color.

All this creates a unique style, the universe of the series, in which the classic superhero costumes are deliberately sexualized and patriotic. And it is precisely due to the caricatured representation, satire and, the "loud" message that watching "The Boys" is an interesting experience that I can recommend to absolutely everyone.

Time to watch "The Boys"

This is all for today. My only goal was to draw attention to this series, because I consider it a real art, the best among analogues. Each element of "The Boys" is not accidental: all cinematography techniques are important and play on the atmosphere. I have tried to avoid spoilers and I hope you would check out the show.

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