In 2017, Marvel’s The Punisher debuted on Netflix (which you should cancel, by the way), the third entry in the studio's darker, interconnected series of street-level superheroes. Near the first episode’s end, Frank Castle, a grim, fictional vigilante sporting a stenciled skull emblem, leaves a criminal to drown in a swirling vat of concrete. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that for years now The Punisher's logo has been embraced by all manner of militia supporters, Blue Lives Matter backers, and miscellaneous macho types with literal and figurative hair triggers marching around voting stations strapped with AR-15's.
Unfortunately, while Frank Castle's trademark skull crept its way into right-wing fringe groups years ago, Marvel's (and, by proxy, Disney's) reboot only poured fuel on the tiki torch fires. Still, there's really no way we could have envisioned this crossover...
The most magical police state in the world — Earlier this week, the military affairs site, Task & Purpose, published a piece diving into the strange world of Disney challenge coin culture. Challenge coins themselves are not particularly odd, per se; the collectible memorabilia is most associated with the armed forces and intelligence communities, and is usually swapped between friends, coworkers, and team members as signs of loyalty and service. The "official" ones issued by the government are generally pretty innocuous, while others not so much. There's also often a game (generally involving alcohol) attached to "challenging" people to produce certain coins at random times... it's sorta like getting Iced by a mall cop.
Anyway, everyone's got a hobby, including sometimes collecting government- and private security-issued Pokémon cards. But these Disney challenge coins are another level of weird entirely, no matter how you flip them. The company-issued ones are strange enough, including such gems as a Cars-inspired Blue Lives Matter coin and various incarnations of Mickey Mouse as a cop, but that unofficial Punisher Mouse is some next level dystopian shit.
"In our security departments and other areas where military veterans have come to work after their service, it's natural that affinity, that cultural use of coins, came with them and all of the hallmarks of it: unit identity, organizational identity, pride in mission, as well as the use of the coins as a sign of mutual respect and recognition," a Disney spokesperson told Task & Purpose. The PR rep went on to confirm that, at any given time, there are roughly three to four official challenge coins in circulation with their employees, but they also readily admitted there are dozens of unofficial designs floating around out there, too. Designs like The Punisher logo wearing Mouse ears painted like an American flag, or a Revolutionary-era Mickey brandishing a musket.
Selective policing of IPs — As Charles Pulliam-Moore writes for io9, "There is nothing inherently wrong with challenge coins... What’s somewhat concerning, though, are the number of unofficial challenge coins using characters like Mickey Mouse and the Punisher to not only associate the people holding them with Disney and Marvel at a glance, but also with a certain stance on policing." He also reminds readers it's somewhat disconcerting that Disney, a corporate giant known for often viciously defending its ever-increasing stable of intellectual properties, doesn't appear to be all too phased by the unlicensed re-appropriation of characters, particularly one so associated with deadly serious race and class-based national issues.
If anything, the company seems to actively encourage it. "There are many unofficial, but professional coins, which are designed and paid for by the cast members who created them," the PR spokesperson told Task & Purpose, while also noting any usage of Disney IPs, even on unofficial challenge coins, should be subjected to legal review.
Where will Disney go from here? — This means one of two things: Either Disney wasn't previously aware of the Punisher Mickey coin until Task & Purpose brought it up, or the company was not only aware of it, but reviewed the design before concluding everything was kosher. The House of Mouse isn't able to review every ridiculous, third-party challenge coin out there featuring a Sheriff Woody or Baby Yoda, of course, but what will be interesting to see is how the company responds in the coming days, should these thorny designs garner a larger community discussion.
Corporations like Disney are all for hopping on the Black Lives Matter bandwagon in recent months, but you don't become the Overlord of All Entertainment by ignoring the large, very real segment of conservative-minded consumers. Better enforcing IP usage within challenge coins, while a seemingly niche issue, would speak volumes to the larger issues with which we are all reckoning.