How Virtue Signals are Monetized: Wall Street & Govt Subsidizes “Wokeness”


The purpose of “wokeness” being infused into modern pop culture appears to be part of an ongoing, broad spectrum process of subverting Western societies.  The publishers and studios aren’t stupid though. They know that “wokeness’ is unpopular with the consumer and that it’s ultimately not profitable, at least not by traditional means. But the loss of profits through “going woke” is a loss they’re willing to take in order to cleverly exploit a government subsidized funding scheme that they can use to increase their stock value.


The decline into progressive “woke” identity politics we’ve observed in mainstream comics, and entertainment at large, is not simply a result of an organic infiltration of social justice warriors and liberal arts majors into those industries. The truth is far more complex. In fact it appears that the awkward identity politics showing up in your favorite entertainment media may not only be intentional, but financially motivated. The ongoing denigration and distorting of inspirational comicbook characters like Superman and superhero franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t merely a virtue signal in the hopes they can broaden their appeal to socially-conscious consumers, but may in fact be a shrewd way to gain access to trillions of federal dollars and ‘woke’ capital funding that’s being used by these companies to prevent their own bankruptcy and fatten the portfolios of their shareholders.


Customer satisfaction be damned.


At least that’s the theory of the case from Robert Romano, of Americans for Limited Government, a non-partisan, non-profit whose mission it is to reduce the size and scope of the federal bureaucracy. In his capacity as vice president of public policy, Romano’s team regularly reviews regulations by the executive branch of the federal government, as well as legislation produced by Congress and state legislatures. He’s been well aware of this sort of funding maneuver ever since ESG regulations were enacted back in 2015, under the Obama administration. That’s when employers first became able to gamble their employees futures on their own personal social causes and beliefs, by expressly allowing businesses to “make investment decisions that reflect climate change and other environmental, social, or governance (ESG) considerations…”



ESG is an acronym for Environmental, Social, and Governance and covers three broad categories or areas of interest for what is termed “socially responsible investments” using a set of standards for a company’s operations that “socially conscious investors,” such as the ever increasing investment-minded millennial generation, might find appealing. Literally trillions of dollars are being poured into ESG assets like Tesla, Twitter , Nike, and other millennial-appealing companies at an astounding rate. So it’s no surprise that large conglomerates like AT&T, WarnerMedia, Disney, and others have been exploiting these fairly new revenue streams in a bid to remain valuable to their stockholders. 


For example, one social component examines a company’s relationship with society through issues that impact diversity and inclusion, human rights, etc. Therefore comics, TV shows, or films that place significance on diversity and inclusion would meet the SOCIAL criteria of ESG. This can also be achieved if the company uses diversity and inclusion as a hiring guidance, rather than the traditional merit-based hiring and promoting practices. Either would certainly qualify, but it looks even better to investors if a company is stacking those elements. So for instance, another category is ENVIRONMENTAL impact. By stacking criteria, a bisexual Superman character who also happens to be a climate change activist would certainly tick multiple categories.



A growing number of investors are intentionally investing in companies committed to “helping make the world a better place”.  So The Walt Disney Company is very proud to appear to be VERY committed to just the sort of values that will attract ESG investment. In fact, Disney has very publicly adjusted their mission statements to reflect these values in what appears to be a cynical ploy to qualify for ESG funding, specifically under the Social and Governance categories. 


The following is from their March presentation to investors.



While some might wish to believe this is simply a bonus for helping “make the world a better place,” public policy analysts Robert Romano view this ESG funding as little more than corporate welfare.


“As publicly traded companies, AT&T (and soon Discovery) and Disney (which own DC Comics and Marvel Comics respectively), have a massive financial incentive to incorporate ESG objectives like Diversity & Inclusion – including hiring quotas,” Romano explains, “corporate training to root out so-called ‘implicit bias’ also qualifies, and these traits are similarly reflected in the creative offerings of these companies to ensure characters are properly ‘representative’ of marginalized populations.”


Romano takes it a step further, looking directly at AT&T’s corporate annual reports. And while there weren’t any explicit “Diversity & Inclusion” objectives prior to 2018, the annual report following the Time Warner merger was very revealing. Romano found that in 2018, then-CEO Randall Stephenson announced the company’s new Diversity & Inclusion Policy saying:


“I’m proud of our commitment to a diverse and inclusive workforce. WarnerMedia’s new Diversity & Inclusion Policy, announced in September, is a pioneering media industry commitment to give more opportunities to women, people of color and individuals from other underrepresented groups – both in front of and behind the camera.”


Romano explains that this policy contained explicit diversity hiring objectives giving preference to women, minorities and other marginalized labelled groups. “I believe these types of hiring practices potentially run afoul of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in terms of employment discrimination,” Romano explains “because once quotas are set, that usually means you have to fire some personnel to make room for the diversity hires.”



Romano further notes that these Diversity & Inclusion objectives have become a razor-sharp tool of cancel culture, as Republicans or any free-thinkers can easily be purged from our cultural institutions or forced to keep quiet in order to keep their jobs. He went on to note that it was also in 2018, just around the Time/Warner and AT&T merger was approaching, that Cyberfrog creator and outspoken artist Ethan Van Sciver was let go by Time Warner, along with several artists and writers at DC Comics.


Van Sciver theorized that there may be a financial incentive to the growing “wokeness” in popular media, specifically the comics industry, during an interview with Dana Loesch. In the interview (embedded below), he noted that Marvel Comics first began going “woke” around 2014 or 2015, but his employers at DC Comics held out a bit longer, until they were purchased by AT&T in 2018. Van Sciver suggested this could even account for DC no longer maintaining some of their trademarks on long-standing Superman slogans such as “truth, justice, and the American way.” 


COMICS AND WOKERY: Comic Illustrator Ethan Van Sciver On How Politics Ruins It All


Back when he was still working at DC, Ethan explains that he and other creators increasingly grew frustrated with DC management’s political tinkering with their legacy characters, such as making Superman less patriotic, and seeing the character renounce his American citizenship so he would no longer be “an instrument of American foreign policy”. Van Sciver went on to say that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are just “corporate characters now, [that are] no longer about creativity […] All they’re doing is pumping out propaganda.”


Ethan’s own theory of the case aligned with Romano’s in that the trend towards more social justice in entertainment is less related to management’s political ideology, but is more likely being heavily influenced by taxpayer money, grants, and even ESG investment funds.


“Is this happening on a bigger level?” Van Sciver asked rhetorically, “Is it possible that these big corporations who are terribly in debt are receiving money from the government to make propaganda out of superheroes? I think it deserves a little investigation and that’s what I’m going to do on my YouTube channel.”


Van Sciver isn’t the first popular Youtube personality to reach this same conclusion and dig a bit further. Over the summer, Adam Curry of MTV fame, and current host of the No Agenda podcast discussed this same ESG funding program he had uncovered while doing an interview with Joe Rogan. 


ESG's Are the Reason for Woke Corporate Interests


Van Sciver continued his own investigative reporting on his YouTube channel, where he regularly dishes on the comics industry, and the entertainment industry writ large along with hosting discussions with other like-minded creators in the industry. It was one such discussion where he happened to have Robert Romano on as a guest to explain how the “wokeness” of comics today could be due to intentional funding of it by bigger entities using “woke capital”.




According to Romano, the “woke funding scam” began when a 2015 regulation by the Obama Labor Department (and now being updated by the Biden administration) allowed 401(k) investments into so-called “impact investing,” “socially conscious investing” or “economically targeted investing” that takes into account Environmental, Social and/or Governance factors. (ESG). When that was established, more than $30 trillion dollars in the U.S. retirement market was suddenly made available to invest in social justice causes being pursued by publicly traded companies. Next year, the Biden administration plans to allow ESG investments of the $762 billion federal employee retirement fund, with their Thrift Savings Plan, opening up the spigots of taxpayer money going directly into ESG funds, which total $38 trillion globally and which Bloomberg estimates could be as high as $53 trillion by 2025. Even many states are now getting in on the action.


“That’s a lot of money,” Romano adds “and publicly traded corporations can’t resist it. This is one of the reasons why comics and movies are engaged in non-stop social justice virtue signaling: to gain access to hundreds of billions of dollars of investment capital. By pursuing ESG objectives, publicly traded companies get better ratings from credit rating agencies like S&PFitch and Moody’s,” Romano says, “The better a company’s scores, the more access to interest-free investment capital, and the greater weight it will get in ESG funds in terms of shares purchased when an investor or retirement plan buys into the fund. This gives ‘woke’ companies greater market valuations, driving the stock price higher.”



Individual ESG fund managers like Blackrock, a $9.5 trillion hedge fund, determines what weight each company will get in an ESG fund, and these ratings are highly influential. And the implications for companies that decide not to “go woke,” or simply cannot, because maybe they’re are oil companies, coal companies, or firearms companies, or other disfavored entities, is that they get fewer investments, and their stock values will be much lower.


So simply put, it’s in these companies’ best interest to be woke.








Although ESG funding shows no signs of slowing down its expansion efforts, investors suggest that it’s becoming more difficult to verify ESG behavior. Therefore a business needs to prove its official stance on socially conscious, or environmentally-friendly initiatives. By transparently demonstrating the core values of a socially, environmentally conscious tomorrow, a company’s true intentions will shine through, and that’s the sign that the investors need to consider the company a solid investment under ESG guidelines.


“Obviously, this created a flurry of Woke virtue signaling from big corporations, who no longer needed to prove that they were profitable to attract investor capital, they only needed to prove they weren’t transphobic, and cared about Diversity and Inclusion.” Ethan Van Sciver adds, “It’s pretty easy for massive companies like Disney to whore out their comic book publishing division to the appropriate and required activists, and that’s precisely what they’ve done.  It’s happening everywhere, but since we’re mostly interested in comic books around here, let me be specific:


“Marvel and DC have become Woke Bait for potentially trillions of dollars of ESG investment capital.  Your future.  Your money.  They’re getting it whether you buy their Woke garbage comics or not.”


“Now it should be clear, why gender and race swapping of classic comic book characters are grabbing headlines.” Van Sciver adds “Now you know why every third character is coming out as LGBTQ, and why it’s important that CNN and the NY Times report about it. It’s not because these companies are Leftist, it’s because being SJW is easier than demonstrating that you are capable of earning a profit.  And all you need to do is read the Twitter accounts of our local comics SJW population to have that brought squarely home to you.”



And Romano believes there may only be one way to stop the ever-growing woke capital trend. “If and when Republicans retake Congress in 2022, they should defund these Labor Department regulations allowing ESG investments by 401k plans the same way they defunded the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation in 2016.” Robert continues “we can take down the ESG leviathan, and we will, if the American people elect a Republican Congress in 2022 with the explicit goal to defund ESG! Republicans need to get smart on the culture war and this is one way to do that.”


Republicans have abandoned institutions and so are outnumbered in professions including teachers, college professors, the bureaucracy, media, publishing, etc. No further! Republicans have an obligation to fight to preserve American culture and to reject the social engineering of this corporate state that is being constructed to police what we say and think. This is a bid for Democratic one-party rule by ensuring everything we see in media is left-wing and adheres to ESG. It’s insidious. We haven’t done nearly enough to oppose this and the hour grows late.”



As the retail side of mainstream the American comics industry continues to struggle, with shops dealing with thin profit margins, lackluster sales, supply chain issues, distribution upheavals, and the like, and comic publishers are seeing creator exoduses to other outlets and revenue streams (Substack, Kickstarter, Patreon, Zoop, etc), these comic publishers, or rather their corporate owners, have cynically taken their legacy characters and twisted them to fit current political ideologies for money. That is why there is no shortage of classic characters now being used as skinsuits, avatars, and puppets to promote things like body-positivity, transgenderism, vaccine acceptance, and even outright globalism and Marxism. 


Could this malfeasance really be explained by companies seeking interest free loans from the federal banks through ESG qualifications? When that interest-free money can then be used to buy back their own stocks, while increasing the value of the stock, everybody wins, except the American public which receive no tax revenue while the companies are enriching themselves. Not to mention that these “woke” products suck.






Robert Romano goes into much further details on his own website here.



ACCELERATE INTO DECLINE- Corporations Go Woke To Distract Themselves From Impending Financial Ruin


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Chris Braly

I'm one opinionated, based geek. I try to steer this tiny ship and can often be heard monthly on the Comic Book Page Previews Spotlight podcast with several fellow "comic book nerds." Follow me on Twitter @ChrisBraly. My preferred adjectives are brilliant/beautiful.