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Plot Twist or Plot Hole? Public Debate About Secret Empire and American Identity Crisis

Megan Genovese

The 2016 presidential election represents a crisis of national identity for many Americans. In 2017, Marvel Comics published Secret Empire, a comics event premised on the fascist corruption of the character Captain America. In light of the coincidental thematic overlap between these two incidents, public discourse around Secret Empire constitutes a microcosm of memory work ignited by crisis, trying to address the rupture in national identity by redefining the site of Captain America. Drawing on discourse in professional cultural reporting and criticism from a range of outlets, I use political discourse analysis to analyze the development of arguments to integrate or abnegate Secret Empire as a Captain America story. In this public debate, Secret Empire became a referendum on American identity and the limits of acceptable counterfactuals to national narrative.

Keywords: Captain America, politics, political discourse analysis, collective memory, lieux de mémoire

Megan Genovese is a PhD candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research examines fandom as a site of critical interaction between popular media cultures and the development and expression of political beliefs. She graduated summa cum laude from Baylor University.