Superheroes, Star Wars, and toxic masculinity…

So sometime in the last couple of days, this post (and artwork) circulated into my Facebook feed from several sources:

https://www.facebook.com/SoYourACartoonist/photos/a.151448048245360.31062.151447094912122/1878942682162546/

and on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/ADobsonComicArt/status/1015023772838060032

I’d link to the image itself, except that would be stealing. Go check Andrew Dobson’s feed on FB or Twitter and come back.

Okay, now that you’re back, let’s continue.

The post and cartoon have spawned quite a conversation on both the artist’s FB page and on a Star Wars-themed FB fan page to which I belong. The cartoon is remarkable not just because Tom Preston (the artist) hits the nail square on the head concerning the effects of toxic masculinity in relation to movie fandom. I think he’s brave to say how that harassment has affected the actors in the various Star Wars films because now he’s put himself on the front lines of toxic fanboy harassment.

The conversation hit me hard enough to write about it.

The argument seems to shake out like this: Either people recognize the toxic effect some rabid fans have had on the actors in these movies, or else it’s a lightning rod for these whiny fans, who appear to feel entitled to harass the artists associated with the movies, and are hurt because they think (quite rightly) that people are shutting their harassment down for the shitty behavior it is. Sexist, racist, classist, entitled bullshit, all of it.

Smack in the middle of this conversation, one of the louder whiners proclaimed that somehow Superhero movies seem to be immune to this sort of BS.

Back up. Really?

I’ve got two words for that: Wonder Woman.

Yeah, that.

I’ve been stewing for a good long while on a post about toxic masculinity and racism in movie fandom and politics, but I haven’t written the post that went along with the Wonder Woman-inspired FB rant that appears in excerpts below. Until now.

If there’s any good to come out of this discussion, it’s that I’m finally motivated to write my thoughts down here. It’s forcing me to revisit that whole ugly conversation.

Where do we draw the line?

My whole argument about Wonder Woman, until Black Panther came out, was that when you’ve been bashed with a hammer for your whole life, anything that seems to make the pain stop feels good.

Save The World! | A Wonder Woman Tribute (Nerdist Presents):

Without giving away too much detail for folks who haven’t seen the movies yet, that climax was definitely driven by quite specific love, not just generic love of mankind. And that’s only one of the problems I had with it.

More than anything else, I wanted Wonder Woman to be a feminist revelation. The only thing the movie revealed is that if I can peg the bad guy half an hour into the movie, I’m almost certainly not going to enjoy the end.

Other people have deconstructed the flick better than I have and I will leave it to them to define all the ways the material failed to meet my admittedly high standards. This post is much more about philosophy, and now I’m looking at the last year and a bit since the movie was first released (on June 2, 2017).

Some women of my acquaintance feel good about what Wonder Woman accomplished, because to them it comes off looking like feminism in comparison to a lot of other frankly misogynistic material in the superhero genre. (Hello? Black Widow? Gamora? The Avengers: Infinity War, anyone?) In fact, Wonder Woman looks so good that you can miss the internalized misogyny. In some places it’s really subtle, but I’m about to pick that scab.

If you’re going to make a comic book into a movie and imbue it with layers that aren’t in the original, you’d better do a damn good job. Wonder Woman comes close, but not nearly close enough for my taste. It stops short on a lot of levels. Sure, women can fight, but not without the blessing of men. Characters of color are there, but only as a backdrop to the main stars, not as central characters. I am telling you right now that shit has got to stop. We have to draw that line.

Between being cranky about Nazi Captain America (Really, Marvel? REALLY??!) and the over-the-top special effects in most superhero movies, I’ve been feeling kinda done for a while. Burned out. Overloaded. I have no desire to watch Deadpool or Antman. None.

Given my really long history as a fan of superheroes in general (in print, on TV, animated or live action), that’s a major change in my attitude about the whole genre. Seriously. I’ve watched almost every superhero series ever aired (including ancient reruns of Superman). Nobody was a bigger fan of Batman in the ’60s. I even watched crap like The Secrets of Isis/Shazam! and The Justice League on Saturday morning. The Hulk, Wonder Woman, Superman…You name it, I watched it. And yeah, Star Wars belongs in that pile. Setting aside Episodes 1-3 (which had issues), it has a lot of the same elements as the superhero genre, with leads who save the day, lots of battles to be won, troubled characters who have to come to grips with a major flaw, and so on. The Force is magic, whether you look at it that way or not.

At at its heart, most recently, there are strong women who move the plots along and aren’t just window dressing.

Image of Robin Wright as The Princess Bride and as General Antiope from Wonder Woman, and of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and General Leia Organa

Source: princesses to generals. inspired by a tweet today. by Sporkalork on Jun 6 2017 https://imgur.com/gallery/t5GqVBu

I love Greek mythology. You may have noticed. Heh.It’s no accident I took the name Cassandra Troy. I didn’t know about the changes to Wonder Woman’s 2017 movie origin story, so when the movie messed with my recollection of Edith Hamilton’s canon I’m gonna have issues. Amazons never ever had anything to do with men. Never.

The whole “Diana as foil for Ares” plot makes me cranky. Worse, in truly esoteric fashion: DC collaborators changed Diana’s sole parent from Aphrodite to Zeus.

What. The. Fuck.

Now I readily acknowledge that it’s a fundamental flaw in my wiring. I get hung up in the details. The movie sets the story so much earlier in history than the original, and the change from Aphrodite to Zeus goes so far against Diana’s origin story, that I spent a substantial chunk either picking apart Diana’s origin myth or being super irritated because I knew half an hour in who the bad guy was going to be and I stewed for over an hour waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I couldn’t just let the plotline go and run with the movie, and that made the film a lot less enjoyable as a whole. There are fundamental flaws in characters, jerky slo-mo filming, and plot holes that just made everything worse. Flipping the script on Steve Trevor wasn’t clever. It was fucking annoying. We’re decades down the road. You’d think we’d have learned by now. But no. No, we haven’t.

You want a twelve-page rant on messing with my mythology, just mention Disney’s Hercules. I dare you.

Hercules was NOT Hera’s son.

Not.

NOT NOT NOT.

Not.

In Hercules I got totally hung up on the first point and fumed my way through the movie as a result. And that’s even before we talk about the animation. Abysmal. I mean, there was the scene with the hydra. That’s some of the worst CGI I’ve ever witnessed. Yes, CGI was new. No, they shouldn’t have used it.

Unfortunately, Hercules and Little Mermaid are top on the list of movies I will never own because of canon violations. I will slap people who love that shit upside the head with my copy of the Complete Works of Hans Christian Andersen, unabridged.

Seriously.

Ahem…but I digress. A lot.

This article encapsulates all the things I saw that were wrong with the feminism and diversity in Wonder Woman. She’s absolutely right on all counts.

BUSTLE.COM: ‘Wonder Woman’s Feminism Is Strong As Hell, But It’s Not Intersectional

Without giving away too much detail for folks who haven’t seen the movies yet, that climax was definitely driven by quite specific love, not just generic love of mankind. And that’s only one of the problems I had with it.

For all its flaws, the Ghostbusters remake came a hell of a lot closer to a feminist anthem, but you know what movies I’ve loved the most in the last six months? Oceans 8 and Black Panther. If you haven’t seen either of these, trust me when I say they’re awesome. I’m ready to go see them again. Talk about empowerment!

Someone else got there before I did, and I’m perfectly happy to have you go read what she had to say as well:

shoshanakessock.com: The Feminism of Black Panther vs. Wonder Woman

But that’s not my whole point here. God forbid we should allow the artists who create these entertainment devices to get away with ruining our perfect internal picture of the universe out of their own perverse desires for artistic expression.

Kidding.

People do it all the damn time. Online, in small groups, to the faces of these people who are just doing their damn jobs. I don’t know how fan conventions are managing to continue pulling in talent to put in front of these assholes. William Shatner made fun of them a very, very long time ago, declaring on Saturday Night Live that they should “get a life!”

Every one of these movies has suffered at the hands of a rabid fan base that’s all too willing to take to the Internet in droves, on a personal level, to express its collective displeasure in clarion tones. Like the Borg of fandom, these assholes think it’s just fine to swarm and take out their anger without any sort of repercussions. Twitter has gotten better about dealing with abuse and harassment, but the same can’t be said of Facebook. Not as long as the best solution is to block each individual abuser, while doing nothing to shut the abuser down in general.

At last that brings us to the cartoon in question. A comment that showed up in the discussion. Not reproducing the comment here (you can see it on the Star Wars fan page if you belong to the same closed group.) You can figure out the comment from my response below:

I don’t know what you were reading that leads you to believe DC is immune to this stuff. It’s not happening because, by and large, both DCCU and MCU revolve around male characters. In fact, some of the most misogynistic characterizations come from both of these universes, but you don’t see the toxicity because it’s hidden in the way the characters interact and in their backstory. Look at Infinity War, or Civil War, and you’ll see it right there in the way the women are treated. Black Widow is a monster because she’s sterile. Thanos throws away Gamora, the woman he loves, for power. The only story that isn’t full of toxic masculinity is Black Panther, and I don’t think I need to say anything at all about the reaction to THAT movie.

In fact, as I’m thinking about this thread, I find I need to make it clearer where I’m coming from on this topic. Rather than rehash all the things I found wrong with Wonder Woman (and there’s a bunch), let’s just drop this here.

https://www.facebook.com/thecassietimes/posts/10154669484957849

Read or not, as you see fit. Am I being picky? Probably. Do I have justification for it? Well, it’s not 1940 anymore, and yet we’re still fighting these battles, or the women of Star Wars wouldn’t be dealing with this crap.

I will grant that Wonder Woman is still a big step forward, but until we accept that strong women can fight and win alongside men–not simply because men say it’s okay–and we view these women as heroes on the same level as the men in these movies, we’re just going to keep revisiting this toxic bullshit.

Here’s a take I can get behind. She’s not wrong in the least.

BLACKGIRLNERDS.COM: Protecting Becky at All Costs – Peak White Feminism in Wonder Woman

You can claim this is reading too much into the movie, but the fact is there is NOTHING in a movie script that isn’t put there on purpose. It might be ill-conceived or poorly considered, but it was done on purpose. And on the flip side, there’s this, too:

THEMARYSUE.COM: Wonder Woman, Doctor Poison, and Solidarity In the Face of Patriarchy

Just how do you unpack the patriarchy enough to see women as equals, in a truly egalitarian society, when the narrative gets flipped on its ear and producers (most often men) are brought back in to soothe the anti-feminists in toxic male fandom?

I no longer wonder how much of this shit also drove the Sad Puppy movement. We have ample evidence, in the form of so-called “incels,” to track right back to the whiny inhabitants of man-caves and see exactly where this crap leads.

(Note: It’s not just about sex, either. There’s a whole bunch of racial scattershot about how Gal Gadot, the actress playing Wonder Woman, is Jewish and the racism that’s baked into the movie as well, which I haven’t even touched in this post.) It is absolutely impossible to create or watch a film in historic context without bringing contemporary baggage along for the ride. Anyone who believes otherwise misunderstands the movie industry.

Certainly Patty Jenkins didn’t set out to film a story that helps glorify part of the patriarchy even as it attempts to put it down. I’m telling you the movie didn’t cater to my needs, and I am by no means a rabid feminist. I never took a single Women’s Study course. I’ve just had to live the last 53 years on the planet, where I’m told I’m not acceptable if I don’t shave my legs or my armpits, I don’t wear makeup or the right kind of professional clothing or the proper shoes or dye my hair to cover the gray, and god forbid I should have a family.

One of my friends made this comment on my Wonder Woman thread:

I think you are either totally jaded or have such high standards that nobody/nothing is going to be able to live up to them. Maybe you need to chill a bit. Put your feet up and have a glass of wine.

Jaded. No question. Also cynical and damn tired of being told what to think.

I have a separate rant on the current popularity of monster movies and superhero flicks which take the bad guys and make them look like monsters. We’re off chasing after bugs and aliens when we should be dealing with the real world bad guys in charge of our own government. We should be going after the whiny entitled white guys with too many guns and an ax to grind who are shooting up our schools and communities, but too many people are too busy looking for Loki or Godzilla or complaining about how awful Rian Johnson or Kelly Marie Tran or Daisy Ridley or John Boyega or ANY member of the Black Panther cast are to notice what our own Congress is doing to us right now.

When whiny white guys think it’s okay to harass the actors in a freaking FILM about the story, or their roles in it, that’s the line.

https://screenrant.com/star-wars-trolls-comic-fan/

No, it’s not okay to cross that line. It never was.

Leave a Reply