The Punisher Symbol, Jon Bernthal & Why Bad Decisions Matter: Opinion

See that picture below? That's a picture of Jon Bernthal (the guy who Carl killed in The Walking Dead) posing by the signage for the Southwestern District Action Team in Baltimore, Maryland, a police unit. If you're already cringing and getting that feeling that the image is wrong in so many ways, congratulations. You have a seriously active group of brain cells working on your behalf. Bernthal? We're thinking not so much. Because we're not going to buy into the whole, "Oh, he was in 'The Punisher' so he was appreciating the connection" because no one has offered me proof yet that Bernthal (A) just woke up from a long winter's nap after thirty years; (B) has had really bad WiFi for fifteen years; (C) is just a version of what they're starting to pimp out over on HBO's Westworld, or (D) thinks it's some kind of viral marketing for Netflix to bring The Punisher back. But just in case Bernthal needs a reminder, here's a look at why it's not a good idea to still be promoting a symbol that's been appropriated by change-resistant law enforcement groups and facts-resistant right-wingers with a narrow view of what "Murica" should be.

Image: Screencap

For those of you who frequent Bleeding Cool, you know that we've been covering the continued controversy over the use of the symbol used by Marvel Comics character The Punisher aka Frank Castle: the huge, white skull with elongated teeth. Specifically, its use as some kind of "call to arms" by law enforcement units, groups, and organizations across the country in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the demands for police reform and social justice in light of a national epidemic of police shootings. And then we started seeing sightings of the symbol during protests and counter-protests in Detriot and Charlottesville, where the line between police officers and far-right groups began to blur more and more. The kind of folks who use phrases like "Blue Lives Matter" as if that's some kind of rational, reasoned response… and make sure a little symbolic blue appears in their propaganda.

Does it matter that Gerry Conway, the character's creator, is vehemently against the symbol being used by these groups? Nope. The issue was even addressed in the comics in 2019 when Frank puts two fawning, admiring police officers in their place: "We're not the same, you took an oath to uphold the law, you help people. I gave all that up a long time ago." Because even Frank could see the ten-ton irony of those who have sworn to serve and protect would get inspiration from a character whose very existence stands against the oath they took.

The Punisher (Image: Marvel Comics)

Speaking of far-right groups and how they entered the scene, there's Chris Kyle, who wrote about marking his equipment with the symbol during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq in his autobiography American Sniper. "We all thought what the Punisher did was cool: He righted wrongs. He killed bad guys. He made wrongdoers fear him. That's what we were all about," Kyle wrote. The symbol would be seen more and more, from Middle East encampments to frontline fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the symbol also found its way into the military culture back here in the United States, corrupted even further by those who use it as a way of pushing radical, right-wing, close-minded, dripping-with-conspiracy thinking.

Like the traitors who stormed the U.S. Capital in January of this year in an effort to hurt and potentially execute members of Congress before overthrowing a presidential election. Why? Because they were sore losers who got violently butthurt because Trumpy didn't win. Democracy's only saving grace? Even with the numbers they had, they're painfully f*****g stupid. That's why they believe in fantasies and make-believe: facts are a little too messy to comprehend and "conspiracy" is the buzzword you go with the red wire doesn't connect with the blue wire in their heads. And yet, we lost way too many who held to their sacred oath to serve and protect to their last breath.

So whatever reason Bernthal had in going the route he did, there's only one thing I'm asking of him. Just f*****g own it. Because a five-minute Google search would've given him the answers he needed to make an educated call. So no, he doesn't get to insult us by claiming ignorance. Bernthal has the right to support and promote whoever and whatever he wants, just like folks have the right to not support him and to call him out for it. But just to be clear so there's no confusion? It's not "cancel culture." It's people who are tired of being treated like crap for decades finally rising up, taking the power back, and sticking it to those who support their oppressors. Like Bernthal, apparently. Hell, that sounds a lot like how this country got started. Which would make them the real patriots… right, Jonny?

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About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.
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