Canadian author Jordan Peterson appears to be the inspiration for the villain in the latest edition of Captain America in what the well-known academic is calling a “surreal event.”
“People made curious in a negative way about me as a consequence of such smear tactics who then read something I wrote … almost invariably conclude that the gap between what I am accused with and what I am actually doing is so absurdly wide that the slanderers end by discrediting themselves,” Peterson told the National Post in an email.
The Peterson-adjacent character in question is Red Skull, a villain who has been part of the Captain America universe since 1941. Originally featured as an agent of Adolf Hitler, in the latest edition of Captain America Red Skull appears as an internet celebrity inspiring young men towards domestic terrorism via online videos.
One frame in particular shows Red Skull touting his “ten rules for life,” an apparent reference to Peterson’s best-selling 2018 book 12 Rules for Life. The villain, whose head is literally a red skull, is seen expounding on the topics of “chaos and order,” both of which have been themes of Peterson’s books. The professor told the National Post that with this, “the probability of this being mere chance approached zero.”
A professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson first rose to prominence in 2016 for a series of YouTube lectures in which he spoke out against identity politics, and in particular against a federal government push to criminalize discrimination against “gender identity” — which Peterson argued would forcibly compel the use of gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze” or “zir.”
Ever since, Peterson has become a kind of self-help guru advocating personal responsibility and pushing against increasingly trendy concepts such as unconscious bias or the gender pay gap. “Have some humility. Clean up your bedroom. Take care of your family. Follow your conscience,” he writes in his latest book Beyond Order.
In the latest Captain America, first published on March 31, Red Skull is shown recruiting wayward young men into armies of crypto-fascist street gangs. “It’s the same for all of them. Young men. Weak. Looking for purpose … he tells them what they’ve always longed to hear. That they are secretly great,” is how Captain America describes Red Skull’s tactics.
The issue is part of a series of Captain America authored by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a bestselling author and former writer for The Atlantic. In one of Coates’ most well-circulated articles, written in 2014, he became a prominent advocate for African-American reparations.
Peterson first became aware of parallels between himself and the new Red Skull in a tweet from a supporter, to which he responded on April 5th with a tweeted “what the hell?” Although the reference circulated widely around the internet this week, no direct link has been confirmed by the issue’s authors.
“I have received no confirmation or comment from Marvel or Coates. Nor do I expect to,” Peterson told the National Post. “They can say or imply whatever they wish. I firmly believe that the public is smart enough to sort the wheat from the chaff.”
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He added that the caricature was indicative of detractors who “conveniently locate the problem of evil somewhere other than in their own hearts and souls.”
By Wednesday, Peterson had appeared to embrace the image, retweeting various fan-created images of Red Skull’s face contrasted with the academic’s more innocuous quotes, such as “clean your room” and “don’t lie about anything, ever.” Together with his daughter Mikhaila, Peterson said he intended to use the Red Skull images in an as-yet unspecified charitable endeavour and “determine if the whole surreal event could be transformed into something good instead of something underhanded and malevolent.”
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