The Boys and Its Brilliance: Diving Into the Show’s Social Commentary
by Alexandrea Callaghan
Prime Video’s The Boys is a graphic, witty and brilliant show. With satire and social commentary, this series provides audiences with what we need from the superhero genre — something new and fresh.
The Boys begins by showing us a significant comic book trope known as “fridging,” or “Women in Refrigerators.” This trope refers to the death of a woman as a means to jumpstart a man’s story. Robin (Jess Salgueiro) was on screen for enough time to establish a relationship with Hughie (Jack Quaid), then she is killed off to catalyze his narrative.
The second media trope the show deals with is the most delicate. Starlight (Erin Moriarty) is confronted with a moment that too many women experience. The Deep (Chace Crawford) drops his pants and pressures her into sexual acts. I am someone that will die on the hill of sexual assault never being necessary, under any circumstances.
Too often, sexual assault is used to oversexualize women, show gratuitous nudity and violence, and suggest that sexual assault somehow improves women. The Boys handled this touchy subject matter in a way that forced the audience to confront reality without making them observe the trauma of the actual event. The Deep having to deal with real consequences helps balance out the use of this trope.
The Boys is also a show unafraid to make social commentary. At the beginning of Season 2, there are many scenes of Vought pushing “girl power” now that the Seven has three women. The beautiful irony of these scenes is that Starlight is in a glorified swimsuit, which she protested in Season 1. She’s in full hair and makeup. Exploiting femininity does nothing for feminism.
All the interviews these women go through ask them, “Do girls make better heroes?” Asking if “girls” get it done infantilizes them. In contrary depictions, when “boys” is used, it does the same thing but in a different way. Calling grown men “boys” excuses their actions; it implies that no matter what they do, they can’t possibly be held accountable.
When we infantilize grown women, it dismisses us and reduces us to unknowing children. “Girl Power” platitudes are something we feed three-year-old girls to get them to believe in themselves; hearing them as adults is patronizing.
This is the point because that’s what major comic companies like Marvel have been feeding us. They market “girl power” films without developing them the way these characters deserve. We didn’t get Captain Marvel until the end of Phase Three, and we didn’t get Black Widow until she was already dead in the context of the universe.
The end of The Boys Season 2 brings us some hope as Starlight returns to her original costume; the change happens after she stops playing the game at Vought. She stands up for herself, and we see her more comfortable in her skin.
The other significant social commentary worth addressing is how the general public views superheroes. They are treated as celebrities, above the law, and society’s opinion dictates their worth—the way Marvel and DC movies are treated by their fanbases.
Creators of these shows walk on a razor’s edge, one side holding the fame, praise and adulation, while the other carries the unrelenting and often undeserved level of criticism. Both sides contribute to the death of any heartfelt analysis.
The Liberty/Stormfront (Aya Cash) introduction was an excellent twist. They pull you into Stormfront by making her a strong, outspoken feminist. Then, the twist of her being a raging racist. Now, this seems like an obvious commentary on white feminism. It’s brilliantly done because it is upsetting to watch. When she’s first introduced, you want to love her, and the second she goes all Homelander on Kenji Miyashiro (Abraham Lim), you realize what she is. Feminism isn’t feminism unless it’s intersectional.
Stormfront and Homelander’s (Antony Starr) relationship and how they appeal to their base is one “USA” chant from being a Republican National Convention. The supes are an allegory for the military, and Stormfront and Homelander are a commentary on the US need to occupy foreign countries. I’m willing to bet that most of this show’s fanbase missed the point.
The Boys has an original, well-thought-out storyline with dynamic characters and superb production, but its social commentaries elevate the show past mere entertainment. The use of comic book tropes draws attention to problems so ingrained in the medium they really can’t be separated. I hope The Boys continues to draw attention to critical social issues for as long as mainstream comic book media exists.
- In Defense of Hercule: How the MAJIN BUU SAGA Helped This Gag Character - June 28, 2023
- NOPE: The Subversion of Spectacle - March 27, 2023
- Demons to Summon in the Bathroom at Your Next Party! - March 20, 2023