Captain GetUp: The lost avenger?

captain getup

Some election campaigns are fairly straightforward. The prime minister sets a date, and both parties sell their policies. There’s a lot of talk about economic management, fairness, justice, some international relations and, maybe some specific issue concerning the electorate. The major candidates tend to be pretty honest and the public makes a choice one way or the other, usually returning the government of the day. Every now and then, though, a campaign has something happen that overturns everything. In recent memory, the Tampa crisis in August 2001 was one of these election-changing events.

The current electoral cycle will be remembered for its bizarre events. In the week of writing, we’ve had the federal Government approve a mine no-one really wants; a weird debate on electric cars; a senior Liberal Senator imply all people of Asian descent are related; and the launch of Captain GetUp, a character developed by Advance Australia, the conservative rival to GetUp!

Of all the tin-eared, out-of-touch manoeuvrings of the current Government, it’s hard to think of a more inept attempt at using comedy to sell a message. Captain GetUp is a costumed superhero who is travelling round Australia. Why? Well, to look at him, you’d think he was a part of GetUp!, the progressive movement. After all, he is named after them – he is muscular and has a chiselled jaw. He is reminiscent of most superheroes. So, he would, for most people, at least provide a positive reaction.

So, why is he actually an anti-GetUp! message? He claims that he’s there to stop political correctness, and Labor/Greens, independent candidates and union collusion. Ok… He further claims to be the son of Labor leader, Bill Shorten. I am not making any of this up. And that he has spent 14 years locked in the office of GetUp!, learning their ways, so he can tell people all about what they’re doing. He has certainly provoked laughter, but we all know the difference between being laughed at, and being laughed with.

There is a misunderstanding of comic superheroes here. As parody, it fails, because we are getting mixed signals. He is strong, positive and has a pleasing physical appearance. He has Labor, Greens and independents on his cape – which at least in a large minority of people (and if the polls are any indication, a majority) give a slightly-to-significantly positive image.

On the second day of his reveal, he introduced ‘Freddie Foreign Money’. Most superheroes have an arch-nemesis. Some have a sidekick. Freddie Foreign Money looks and is named like an arch-nemesis. He’s not. In a month in which troubling allegations of foreign money interfering on the right wing of politics have aired, this is beyond ridiculous.

To say this is a risky strategy – attacking Labor, the Greens and independent candidates for obtaining foreign money – is like skating on paper thin ice on a hot day. No doubt there is something there, at least in some cases, but after the revelations of the last few days about Peter Dutton’s relationships with members of the Chinese Communist Party, I’d think the strategy is, at the very least, courageous – in the Yes Minister sense.

So why else does he fail? Apart from the mixed messages, he is ridiculous. He fails as satire. What is he satirising? GetUp!? Bill Shorten? The Greens?

Why is it funny that Bill Shorten is Captain GetUp’s father? Generally, families are off limits. Did Captain GetUp gain his superpowers from Bill? If so isn’t this a good thing? Or are superpowers bestowed only to certain Liberal Party members?

Superheroes have a clear origin story. Superman came from the destroyed planet of Krypton. Batman’s parents were murdered giving him a pathological need for revenge. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider. Captain America was given a super serum. Stories about the origins of a superhero don’t need to exist in the real world. But they should make sense. Captain GetUp seems to be an office administrator, but with that physical build? What is his motivation for telling the ‘truth’?

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Precisely what has Captain GetUp gained from his origins? He knows how a progressive political party works. But doesn’t seem to understand that the various groups he claims are in cahoots with each other are actually separate and often at odds. Yes, political alliances can be formed but Labor is the parliamentary wing of the union movement. That’s not a secret and it means that unions get to have a say in parliament. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on your politics but it’s not a secret conspiracy. Most independent candidates seem to be disaffected or ex-Liberal Party members and they are mostly centre- or right-leaning.

At a time where superheroes are prominent – look at the roaring success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example – Captain GetUp fails. And at a time where we need more satire in public and political life, Captain GetUp fails again.

Many of the more prominent independents running in the 2019 election lean to the right of politics. How they are suddenly Labor Socialists or Greens activists hasn’t been explained. Of course, half a second of thought on Captain GetUp leaves more questions than answers.

It is possible Captain GetUp might gain some traction in the electorate. He may be able to cut through his mixed messages and convince sceptical voters that GetUp! is a Labor, Greens and independent front. The national director of Advance Australia, Gerard Benedet, has claimed Captain GetUp has been a massive success.

I’m a bit pessimistic on Labor’s chances in the upcoming 2019 federal election and I think it’s possible we’ll get another three years of the incumbent Liberal–National Party. As someone who loves politics and popular culture, I’m in the mindset of ‘Whatever’ the final outcome ends up being; however, I suspect Captain GetUp won’t be back in a hurry.

Dossier: Captain GetUp
Name: Captain GetUp
Origin story: Something to do with being Bill Shorten’s son? 14 years in the GetUp! office, learning their strategies… this has given him superpowers.
Superpowers: Incentivation, embarrassment imperviousness; looking for the things that matter
Weaknesses: Logic, messaging, clarity, commonsense
Strengths: Provoking laughter and derision
Sidekick: Freddie Foreign Money
Sidekick’s superpower: Highlighting hypocrisy of his own side
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About David Lewis 11 Articles
David Lewis is co-presenter of the New Politics Australia podcast, historian, musicologist, musician and political scientist based in Sydney. His lecturing and research interests include roots music, popular music, Australian, UK and US politics and crime fiction. He has published in Music Forum Australia, Eureka Street, Quadrant, Crikey and has edited several books.