I grew up reading comic books.
From an early age I could tell you everyone’s symbol. Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, Daredevil, Invincible; the list goes on. There is, however, one superhero’s symbol that comic books didn’t teach me — The Punisher.
Instead of learning about Frank Castle’s symbol from the pages of his titular comic book, I was exposed to it on the backs of lifted pickup trucks, the news and on the occasional police cruiser. To me growing up in Louisiana, Punisher was hardly even a Marvel Comics character; he was a symbol conservatives misunderstood and adopted as a political symbol.
The Punisher skull is not a symbol conservatives, much less anyone, should take inspiration from. Don’t believe me? His original writer hit the nail on the head in an interview in 2019.
“To me, it's disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system,” Punisher creator Gerry Conway said. “He's supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can't depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way.”
Let’s not mince words: Israel is an apartheid state, occupying and displacing native Palestinians.
Punisher is far from the only pop culture icon that American conservatism misunderstands and manipulates.
Within comics alone, conservatives misinterpret Captain America and Superman’s symbols as representing their far right, nativist ideals, when in reality Cap has turned his back on American conservatism multiple times and Supes is a literal immigrant power fantasy created by Jewish men as a protector of the innocent.
When the creator of Captain America's son says he is "appalled" and "disgusted" by his father's imagery being used at the January 6 Capitol riot, you may not understand your symbol.
American conservatives just don’t understand the things they proclaim to be fans of.
Take the go-to phrase for conservatives who have been ‘enlightened’ is to be “red-pilled.” The phrase itself comes from “The Matrix,” a film created by two trans-women interpreted by film theorists as an allegory for their own transgender identity.
How ironic that those who claim to take the ‘red-pill’ cannot grasp conservativism’s transphobia goes counter to the object they use to express their beliefs?
Even video games aren’t safe from the misinterpretation of conservatives. The more left-leaning messages of “Bioshock” and “Metal Gear Solid” seem to just go over the heads of right-wing gamers.
“Bioshock” for example, is a critique of the Objectivist ideology presented by Ayn Rand, but some conservatives seem to think that it endorses the ideology and shows capitalism’s benefits in a sea of left-wing propaganda. In reality, Ayn Rand’s ideas of unfettered free market capitalism are shown to be the down fall of society in the 2007 first-person shooter’s world of Rapture.
Then there’s the classic example of conservatives finding out the rock band Rage Against the Machine isn’t just about getting frustrated at a fax machine, but a band with revolutionary politics about subverting the powers at be.
“Music is my sanctuary and the last thing I want to hear is political BS when I’m listening to music,” one now-deleted tweet from a so-called Rage fan read. “As far as I’m concerned you and Pink are completely done. Keep running your mouth and ruining your fan base.”
How could you possibly listen to “Killing in the Name,” with a lyric like “some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses,” as a conservative and not understand it’s a protest song?
When you hear the word anti-Semitism, what comes to mind?
And the list goes on.
“Watchmen” ‘fans’ being upset when Damon Lindelof makes Rorschach the face of neo-Nazis.
TikTok conservatives proclaiming Green Day’s “American Idiot” a conservative anthem.
Jordan Peterson being upset about being the inspiration for the newest iteration of Marvel’s Red Skull in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Captain America.”
With the internet, there are just legions of these conservative ‘fans’ that watch things purely surface level — sometimes even lighter than that — and miss the meaning entirely.
If you can, with a straight face, say The Punisher is a valid conservative symbol to aspire to be like, much less brand yourself as, then there’s more wrong than a simple misinterpretation of a comic book character.
Domenic Purdy is a 20-year-old journalism junior from Prairieville.