Boris, backstops and Captain America


It was watching the final Avengers film with my children that gave me the clue. Sometimes I have spent many of these films in the lovely Worthing tea shop outside the Dome cinema – though I must confess that I quite enjoyed Captain Marvel and Captain America (the fact that there are too many captains here is part of the underlying issue.

So here is my proposition, the Marvel franchise represents an explosion of nostalgia in American culture that I have a feeling explains something of the parallel phenomenon of Donald Trump. In the same way, we – I use the term without irony – have elected a Latin-spouting, Churchill-imitating, hark back to a bygone age as prime minister, with a predilection for archaic phrases shorn of their original meaning (like ‘British pluck’).

I have a feeling that the nostalgia represented by the backstories of the Marvel heroes – most of which seem to involve dinners in log cabins in the woods – is only part of the picture. The strange world provided by the 20 plus films – earning £22.3 billion – is rather as ordinary Americans feel: watched over by mysterious heroes, using technology beyond their understanding, yet still threatened.

The ‘real’ world rarely features in these films, beyond staggered policemen and screaming victims of natural or supernatural disasters.

The last credits of the last film, Endgame, seemed to bear this out, ending the saving of humanity with an extraordinarily nostalgic piece of music, a 1945 rendition of ‘It’s been a long, long time’ (Kiss me once, kiss me twice etc).

Nostalgia as a source of new ideas can be extraordinarily powerful. but without that forward-looking element, it can be, well, a bit masturbatory.

So if Boris’ nostalgic package takes us somewhere new, or if other new thinking is struggling to get out – then I am more positive about him than perhaps I ought to be. Sadly, the empty rhetoric about HS3 and its potential seems to suggest otherwise. Nostalgia can provide the basis for new understanding and a critique of assumptions, which we badly need – especially for economic assumptions which are looking pretty threadbare (like the assumption that transport links do anything more than move prosperity about).

I have no problem with hope, though the increasingly cynical – not to say nihilistic and puritanical – left find it pretty intolerable. If Boris Johnson can put some beef behind his hope, he may just win through.

But there is one problem with his ability to do this. If he wants to get through these difficult negotiations with European leaders, he must put forward a credible alternative to the Irish border backstop. So why doesn’t he – is it because there isn’t one?

Photo by David Holt:

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. Stephen Gwynne says

    In this day and age it is difficult to not be skeptical which might explain the appeal of postmodernism, a way in which to cater for all tastes by randomly juxtaposing artifacts from different eras, past, present and future.

    I think a large reason for the skepticism is that people are so diverse in their thinking and perspectives, as a result of more educated, more informed and more influenced. I actually believe this is symptomatic of a steadily growing human population which has been aided and abetted by science and technology. In some ways, it is incredible that such a huge human population is able to be relatively cohesive which in itself reflects the ingenuity and reflexivity of the human mind to produce systems that enable so many people to live together by tweeking the system this way and that.

    For sure, humans have experimented with radical ideas which have turned out to be cul-de-sacs which in turn have caused societal collapse but we are always learning by our own experiences and the experiences of others, which is what makes history so important.

    Essentially Boris Johnson is a tweeker, not a radical, and we all know deep down the real life constraints that he faces which is why we love democracy. Similarly, we all know deep down that we have reached peak prosperity or in Tim Morgan’s world we have reached peak energy. Hence I feel the reason why postmodernism has such cultural relevance since the only true way forward is sufficiency with what we’ve already got.

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