“Hope. Rebellions are built on hope.”
These words, uttered by several characters in recent Star Wars blockbuster Rogue One, form a sentiment of resistance that, for millions of liberal Americans, doesn’t stop after leaving the movie theater. Marches, protests, phone calls, and other forms of civil disobedience at this level haven’t been seen since the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement .
This resistance brings together Americans of all colors, classes, and political views. While there’s still a way to go in terms of coalescing the glimmer of political action into a united movement, pop culture has proven to be a formidable unifying force. Who better to bring us together than our modern day mythology?
Pop culture references provide a common language for everyone to understand—and share on social media. With thousands of potential movie / television lines and moments to use in GIFs, memes, and quotes, protesters can vent their fear and anger.
Geek culture—shown in three prominent mainstream franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Avengers serves as a unifying force for Americans of all colors and creeds. Here’s the breakdown of how protesters have taken stories full of peace, justice, and the American way and turned them into narratives of resistance:
Fans have drawn strong similarities between the Trump administration, particularly the role of Steve Bannon, and that of the evil Empire. And while those resisting Trump may see stronger similarities to the stories in Episode VI or Rogue One as rebels, others have drawn strong comparisons to the dissolution of the Senate and the rise of the Emperor in Episode III.
Above all, the story of a ragtag group of rebels fighting against the evil empire with nothing but hope is one that's easy to co-opt. The idea of rebellion, stacked against the odds and built on hope makes it easy to connect with the helplessness many feel in the face of an administration that doesn't represent their interests.
With the passing of Carrie Fisher, Star Wars references have become even more poignant.
Using the language of Star Wars—not just of good and evil, but of hope and redemption—will continue to unite protestors, especially as the franchise continues with movies slated for every year until at least 2019 .
Like Star Wars, Harry Potter showcases the power of a small group of individuals fighting for good against evil. Drawing comparisons between Trump and Voldemort, due to their autocratic tendencies and racist policies, have spurred aspiring witches and wizards to action, a la Dumbledore's Army.
The similarities between current events and the events of the novels, particularly books five, six, and seven, are striking. With racist politics, dark plots, and above all, the apathy from so many seemingly well-meaning wizards, using Harry Potter to process current events isn't so far-fetched. The similarities are so striking, in fact, that Tumblr user skeeterforthenewyorktimes takes headlines from The New York Times and matches them to screenshots from the movies…and they make perfect sense.
One of the major themes of the Harry Potter series is standing up for what you believe in, and for universal equality, a value the Trump administration clearly does not share. In fact, a study published back in July 2016 showed a strong correlation between Harry Potter readers and dislike of Trump—even after controlling for party affiliation and other forms of bias.
J.K. Rowling herself has taken a stand against Trump, engaging in Twitter wars with his fans and publicly denouncing the actions of the administration.
This isn't surprising, if you've actually read the books. Indeed, relevant sections of the book, particularly those preaching tolerance, respect, and equal rights for all, have been going viral on social media platforms.
After a masked man punched white nationalist and creator of the so-called “alt-right” movement Richard Spencer in the face during the Inauguration, the Internet responded accordingly.
Spencer became infamous for exclaiming, “Hail victory!” (the English translation of the Nazi salute “Seig Heil!”) at a celebratory event for alt-right Trump supporters.
Punching Nazis has been a grand tradition of American movie heroes, but none more so than Captain America, created as a super soldier to help defeat the Nazis in WWII. “We all find whatever we need in a particular character, whatever that may be,” Melissa Groben, the daughter of one of the Cap's creators, told the Hollywood Reporter. “Captain America has been around for a long time, so anytime there is any turmoil or unrest or disagreement, he pops up.”
Chris Evans, the actor currently playing Captain America in the Avengers franchise, has chimed in on Twitter as well, further blurring the lines between actor and character.
Others have taken the Captain America image to show it doesn’t matter what you look like—we are all American.
Sikh cartoonist Vishavijit Singh spent Inauguration Day as his alter-ego Sikh Captain America
As the ultimate representation of truth, justice, and the American way, Captain America remains a symbol of the fight for freedom and what America should be.
Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Avengers represent stories that bring out the best in humanity. As liberal Americans begin the long slog of resistance to the Trump administration’s racist, exclusionary, and incendiary policies, they will continue to use pop culture as a way to connect Americans of all backgrounds together.