Surveillance and Classification of Information in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Evelyn Lumish


In recent years, surveillance and classification of information—primarily by governmental or pseudo-governmental organizations—has been in the forefront of American and international consciousness. While research has been done regarding the policies and rhetoric surrounding those actions, little exists to address how these topics are addressed and portrayed in popular culture. This paper seeks to begin to fill that gap by asking the following question: how does the Marvel Cinematic Universe address and represent surveillance and classification of information, and how does that representation differ from the expected discourse. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, of which the first film was released in 2008, is the highest grossing film franchise in history and has been seen by people around the world. As such, its ideas and messages have been circulated and viewed not only over a wide swath of the population but also over a diverse one. Through the use of transcribed and coded statements and conversations within the Cinematic Universe from Iron Man which was released in 2008 through the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which finished airing May 2014, patterns related to surveillance and classification were identified. Those patterns—specifically concerning surveillance of and classification of information from non-members of an organization by that organization, as well as deviations from expected discourse—are discussed in this paper. By framing these deviations in relation to the real world, such as in the analysis of the differing reactions to the major defining incident within the franchise and to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, this paper is able to ground its findings in modern concerns and understanding. As such, this paper provides a comprehensive analysis of Marvel’s implicit and explicit discussions of surveillance and classification of information, which are helping to shape the current generation’s opinions on those topics.


Marvel; Surveillance; Classification

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