I wrote this meta two years ago after posting my fic God of Lies, Lasso of Truth. I reread it tonight for the first time in quite a while and was surprised at how much more relevant it all is after TDW.
Probably you should read the entire fic before reading this.
So, this is going to be my one big Loki apologist fic. He’ll be sympathetic in most if not all fics I write about him, but this will (probably) be the only one that tries to provide justification for… as many as possible of the things he did, anyway. And give him ultimately good motives however much I and the reader might disapprove of his methods. In some of my Loki WIPs he’s far more morally questionable. I’m not trying to excuse him, at least not for everything, just redeem him from Designated Villain status.
The real guilty parties here, of course, are the screenwriters, who inflicted massive cognitive dissonance on us. I really have to wonder what the hell they were trying to do here. They made Loki by far the most sympathetic character in Thor. The titular hero is a spoiled bully who endangers his friends for his own vanity and likes to kill people. The father figure is a conniving egotist who deliberately withholds affection from his adopted son in order to manipulate him. The movie made Loki someone who a lot of people could identify with - any of us who values brains above brawn, any of us who got beaten up by Thor-like jocks on our way to the library as a kid, any of us whose parents didn’t love us - or at least didn’t love us enough not to break our hearts. And then suddenly they had him do a whole bunch of evil things. And the spoiled bully is supposed to be the hero because he endured the horrific ordeal of, um, three days in New Mexico without superpowers macking on Natalie Portman. Just what is the message we’re supposed to take away from this? Smart people are evil? If our parents didn’t love us, we should just go ahead and commit mass murder and seize our brother’s thrones because we’re inherently evil anyway? Cut abs are a sign of divine election? What?
And then they go and make another movie about Loki, and in this one he’s invading Earth with an alien army and causing an awful lot of human deaths. Only, the movie makes it crystal clear that a much eviller dude is forcing him to do this and has tortured him horribly already for a whole year and will torture him more if he doesn’t get the Tesseract for him. We don’t have any reason to think that Loki would ever have tried to conquer the Earth without Thanos forcing him to do so. Indeed, numerous viewers noticed that Loki’s plan makes no sense whatsoever (nor does Tom Hiddleston’s performance) unless you assume that he was deliberately sabotaging his own invasion and wanted the Avengers to foil it. He could have killed most if not all of the Avengers, given Thanos the Tesseract and ruled Earth, but instead he let the Avengers defeat him and was dragged back to Asgard in chains and muzzle.
And these are just the personal reasons for identifying with Loki. There are also political/sociological interpretations, which I’m sure were unintentional but are nevertheless glaringly obvious. Here's the most popular essay discussing how Loki being taught to hate his own species is an excellent symbol for internalized racism - the most popular one, but far from the only one. Really, it would be massively easy to read this entire movie as a piece of very clumsy antisemitic propaganda. Loki is very much a Jewish stereotype, and is pitted against a rival who is quite literally the Aryan ideal. The pale-skinned, dark-haired, sneaky smart nerd versus the muscle-bound unintellectual blond warrior, the latter being the Good because his name is the title of the movie. And gosh, you might feel kind of sorry for all the hard luck they’ve had, but look at all the evil things they’ll do if they have half a chance, so better keep demonizing them/him.
Loki can also be a symbol of the oppression of homosexuals or any other sexual minority, or of women: he’s by far the less macho brother and shows no interest in or from the fair sex at any point in his two movies. He’s the only beardless man of rank on Asgard, something which he could, in Norse culture, have killed you just for mentioning. Legally. For those nerdy enough to find out that in Norse culture, magic is considered women’s work and male sorcerers are considered “ergi” (basically, faggots), and that mythological Loki has taken female forms and given birth, the parallels are even more glaring.
This isn’t intentional, of course. What it is, is Protagonist Centered Morality - also known as “bad writing”. Whatever benefits Thor is by definition good, whatever thwarts him is by definition evil. And this makes Loki evil the moment Odin picks him up in that temple, because by his mere existence as Thor’s supposed brother, he is a competitor for the affection of their parents and for the throne. His own rights and needs are irrelevant. He is evil for trying to kill off the frost giants, something his adoptive father and brother had both attempted to do, but they get a pass, Thor because he then went to Earth to make out with Natalie Portman, Odin because it’s in the script for Thor to tell him he’s a wise king and a good father (this about two minutes of screen time after Odin decides that when his heartbroken adopted son is hanging over an abyss is a good time to reject him some more). Thor drags his own friends and his brother into an insanely dangerous situation in Jotunheim and nearly gets them all killed, but the audience is supposed to forgive him, and the friends themselves commit treason about three days later for Thor’s benefit. We can condemn Loki’s assumption that he has the right to sabotage Thor’s coronation because he can see that Thor is not ready to be king, but how about condemning Odin for not having noticed that Thor is exactly what he is? How about condemning Thor for being stupid and reckless?
I am a nerd, a bookworm, an oddball, and the less said about my family life, the better. According to the two movies about Loki, I am evil by nature and it’s only a matter of time before I’m supervillaining all over the place. I might as well not even try to do anything else.
Since I don’t accept the movies’ contention that my proper role in life is to unleash alien armies upon New York or attempt xenocide, I have to settle for writing fanfiction that restores what I can of Loki’s morality and dignity. I will justify all of his crimes that can be justified - not all of them can, and some can only partly. I will purge the painful memory of him being paraded through Central Park muzzled and chained (why the hell did they need to take off from there? Why the public humiliation?) by having him at least apply the damned thing to himself. I will make sure Tony gives him that drink. I will have him enduring the sewing of his mouth stoically, which I think he would. I will let him lift Mjolnir, just because the damned thing is a symbol of the paternal love and approval Loki never had any chance of winning but was forced to strive for anyway. I will give him a bit of resolution with Bruce Banner, even letting Loki have the moral high ground on this, because the Hulk’s brutal assault on him was played for laughs. I will give him the most gorgeous hunk in the Nine Realms to warm his bed, because I love him
and because they were so obviously in love onscreen. In both movies, Loki was constantly silenced by other characters, an especially painful thing since his skill with words was the Silvertongue’s greatest strength. I will give him his chance to speak at length, and with no danger that his words will be doubted. I will give him everything he wants except the throne of Asgard, which he didn’t want for all but a few days of his life.
Alternately, I could spend three days in New Mexico making out with Natalie Portman. I hear that turns you into a good person.
So all of the above still holds, but in retrospect it seems that before TDW it was all a lot more accepted throughout fandom. Almost everyone could see that Loki got a bum rap and was judged by a double standard and that his unjust treatment was symbolic of real-life injustice towards racial and sexual minorities. I said it, people who later became the Resistance said it, people who didn’t later join the Resistance said it, the people whose essays I linked above said it.
Then TDW took all the worst aspects of the first two Loki movies and amped them off the charts. Asgard was made much more explicitly racist and this time we didn’t even get Thor’s eleventh-hour figuring out that even if an enemy species is evil, you still shouldn’t genocide them. (Just raze their cities, steal their magic, condemn their realm to a slow death, and kidnap their infant princes. Just don’t kill them all quickly so that their suffering is over fast. Ya gotta draw the line somewhere.) Asgard’s imperialist aggression was made much clearer, and all the Asgardians (except for Loki and Frigga, both of whom were foreign-born) were much more openly sadistic, savoring their cruelty to their enemies with wide smiles. And Loki’s treatment was far more disproportionate, ridiculously so. I remember all the fics in which I had Thor pleading with Odin to give Loki a chance at atonement such as Thor had, or pleading that Odin stop torturing Loki, and I can only weep. Loki’s position as a persecuted minority was made far more obvious in all kinds of ways we’ve rehashed many times.
And as I’ve pointed out many times, if any Asgardian character had shown the slightest decency - if any of them had ever expressed regret at having to punish Loki, or hope of eventual reconciliation, or seemed to miss him, or anything - Loki would have automatically seemed more villainous. But instead, everyone but Frigga was delighted that Loki was doomed to torture for the rest of his life, and savored their cruelty to him with great big grins.
Bizarrely, when Asgard’s racism and fascism and human rights violations was made much more clear, as was Loki’s role as a symbol of Jews, nonwhites, homosexuals, and women who step out of their place, the audience became much more blind to these things. Before TDW a lot of people were pointing out how unjust and bigoted Asgard was, but they didn’t get attacked the way Loki’s Resistance did. There wasn’t even anything called Loki’s Resistance, because we didn’t need to circle the wagons so that the Odin supporters would flame us instead of every random fangirl who thinks Tom Hiddleston was hot.
(In retrospect, perhaps naming ourselves wasn’t the best move, tactically speaking. If we’d let the trolls keep flaming every woman who has the hots for Tom Hiddleston, they’d have wasted a lot of their time harassing people who weren’t angry about the bigotry of these movies, the fans and their friends would have slapped them down with “Don’t ascribe opinions to me/pick on my friend just because I/she like(s) a goodlooking actor!”, and the Counter-Resistance would likely have fizzled quickly. But letting innocent bystanders take the heat meant for us is the kind of thing Odin would do. What we did - separating ourselves from the larger group in order to protect them - was the right thing to do. Loki would be proud, I think.)
Anyway, it’s interesting, and puzzling, to observe that people were expressing exactly the same views before TDW, with somewhat less justification, and back then it was hardly controversial.
From the study: “But we found that, ironically, exposure to extreme racial disparities may make the public less, and not more, responsive to attempts to lessen the severity of policies that help maintain those disparities.”
Apparently, the more blindingly obvious you make matters of oppression, the more those in power become mysteriously blind to it.
The upshot here is that, when Asgard was “merely” shitty, we said, “hey, that’s a shitty place.” When Asgard became a fascist dictatorship with glaringly obvious social inequalities, we said, “hey, that’s just like our country! What a wonderful place to live!”