Superheros, Fiction, TV, and lady troubles part 2

See part one to get the backstory.

  1. Women of strength are almost always an extension of male power.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  She’s watched and trained by a male watcher.  Xena the Warrior Princess owes her salvation (and the existence of her franchise) to Hercules.  The ladies of the X-Men?  Xavier’s.  Across the board you see women who are taught to be strong by men, or women who operate under the covering of a man’s world or man’s blessing.  There are some rare exceptions, like Wonder Woman, whose existence seems to point to a flaw in my logic.  But, if you will experiment:  write down every female superhero/action hero/TV protagonist that you can think of and then highlight all the ones who are completely independent of operating under male authority.

    Trust me, you won’t need your highlighter much.

  2. Either their sexuality is hidden, or is a weapon.  Women in traditionally masculine roles are given very few options: either hide your femininity in order to dress and operate like a man, or flaunt your femininity like a weapon.  You see it in the over-sexual poses on comic book covers, in the drastic v-necks and skin tight blouses on TV, in the made-up faces and perfectly coiffed hair that have no place in a crime scene or hiding behind surgeon’s masks.

    What’s up, world?

    And most of the time when you see a female character who has taken pains to neither dress in a masculine way or use her sexuality as a weapon, the situation will be contrived at LEAST ONCE to make her into a sexual display.  (For example:  Castle’s Beckett, who normally is neither overly masculine or feminine, is contrived to have to play the role of a model on a catwalk.  Why?)  How often are male police officers forced to go undercover as strippers or whores?  When male spies have to seduce someone for information, do they have to subjugate themselves sexually to do so?  Come on.

  3. Nurture: there’s a loaded word.  Whether or not male superheros have family can be a loaded issue.  Normally, their family relations are taught with loss or lies.  Peter Parker’s guilt about Uncle Ben, Batman’s loss of his parents, and many more such examples.  But for women in the power game, the issue of family tends to come down to nurture.  The choice is clear:  for the woman to have power, she must scorn nurture.  It is implied, therefore, that nurture is a “default mode” for women that must be shut off for them to have strength.  Yet the nurture still ekes out in the form of Wonder Woman comforting Superman against her breast.

    While I understand that feminine physiology demands that women address the issue of childbirth, I also find it odd that men can have children in these situations where women cannot.  And why can men?  Because they impregnate women who do the nurturing for them.  The nurturing happens removed from the source of strength.

    When I think about it too much, I get a headache.  What, exactly, does this symbolize?

  4. Humiliation.  When male superheros are beaten down and humiliated, it usually takes the form of them being bound and gagged and their strength being mocked.

    When females are humiliated, it is all too often sexual in nature.


  5. And the double standard of tears.  In the first Die Hard movie, the protagonist is reduced to tears.  This stoic crying is seen as a symbol of his strength and perseverance.  Compare that to any woman crying ever.

    No, really, any woman crying ever.  I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of any time that a woman crying is seen as a sign of strength and perseverance instead of a sign of weakness and over-emotion, and I can’t think of one.  Men are allowed to cry on occasion because it is seen as a sign of them being in control, them willingly connecting to a depth of emotion that is understood to have an “off” switch if necessary.  Women, on the other hand, aren’t supposed to cry because it is seen as them being unable or unwilling to harness their emotions appropriately.  Women cry when they are in pain so that men heal them, they cry when they are upset so that men stop, they cry in this or that situation because they are unhinged or just neurotic.


    When Batman cries it is because he is strong enough to acknowledge his grief.  When Catwoman cries she’s just psycho, yo.



Duck Dynasty, Exposure, and Godliness.

So, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame apparently couldn’t stop talking about how sinful being gay is while giving a reporter from GQ a tour of his home.  His subsequent suspension from appearances on A&E created a dual dust-up:  Gay people that are offended that yet another high-profile Christian has made them into a whipping boy, and Christians who scream “free speech” in response to his censure at the hands of the production company.

I had a handful of kneejerk responses to seeing the news.  The first was that I checked on all of my gay friends on Facebook, because if any of them had posted an angry, sad, or bitter retort I wanted to express my condolences for any pain they felt.  The second was to check on all my Christian friends, just in case I felt the need to offer some perspective.  The third was to hunt down the original article in question and read it carefully.  After that, I had to do some thinking.

My feelings on this issue are complex, as my feelings inevitably seem to be.

First, I am tired to my very bones of Christians feeling the need to pick at the sins of society as a whole.  We can’t ever fully understand God or his motivations, but we can look to the Bible and see what examples he gives us.  In the old Testament we see God ordering one of his prophets to marry a prostitute, as this is a metaphor for his love for his people.  The metaphor?  The man loves his wife but she leaves him to pursue her own interests time and time again, only coming back when she is beaten and bruised.  Hm.  Another example I find illuminating is, of course, Christ.  He did talk about sin, but he lived a life that was not focused on it.  His life was focused on compassion.  Then there are the letters of the apostles which of course are filled with admonitions- but they were talking to fellow Christians, and we really honestly cannot use their language as a model for how to speak with unbelievers, so what are we left with?

Looking back at the story of Hosea and the prostitute Gomer, I am continuously struck by the fact that while her sin and abandonment of her vows was an issue, the greater focus was on God’s love for his people and how Hosea’s love of her was a reflection of that.

The story of salvation may involve sin by necessity, but it isn’t the story of sin.

duck heads

Focusing on sin misses the mark, and that’s where I think that Phil Robertson’s portrayal of Christianity falls short.  You can say that his remarks about how guys ought to dig vaginas were a defense of Christian beliefs, but is that what Christianity boils down to?  Not liking anus?

Given a platform to discuss anything, or to defend the faith, what exactly needs defending?  The right to consider homosexuality a sin, or the right to demonstrate God’s love?

For me, at least, the choice is clear.

Then, when it comes to considering whether or not A&Es censure of Robertson is a condemnation of faith or simply an investment-saving move, I think the truth is equally as clear.  Robertson was given the time with the GQ reporter to further A&Es brand, which is bound up in the Robertson family’s persona.  While that persona involves their Christianity-inspired down-south values, consideration has to be given to the audience at hand.  GQs audience probably isn’t reading a spread on Duck Dynasty to hear about how being gay is bad.  It’s simply bad PR, and from A&Es point of view Robertson’s job was as a brand ambassador, not an ambassador for Christ.

He’s being censured for not doing his job.

This is the problem with mixing God and money.  If you choose God, you aren’t choosing money, and if you choose money you may have to turn on your morals.  If Robertson’s ultimate goal was furthering his version of the gospel, in the end losing his screen time should be a price he is happy to pay for having done that.  If his ultimate goal was money, well, he had the choice to keep his mouth shut.

(Although, honestly, there is a fair argument to be made that furthering God doesn’t necessitate gay-bashing.)

Now, for the issue of free speech:

If Robertson was an atheist and had said that Christianity had no place in American politics and that politicians should be censured if they admit to their personal ethics being influenced by the Bible, would the Christian community be saying his right to free speech is sacrosanct?

Food for thought.

Picture from Jamesjustin

Golden age of Fantasy? The end is nigh.

Anne Rice, the lovely authoress of Interview with the Vampire, often states that we are now living in the “Golden Age of Fantasy”, speaking of the wealth of TV shows, movies, and books that now embrace the other-worldly in their themes.  There truly are too many to count, from the epic sexually charged Spartacus and True Blood to the kind of whiny Vampire Diaries and procedural Warehouse 13.  Fantasy is all over the place these days in so many forms it’s almost become hard to tell one thing from the other.  A few years ago it was, “hey, have you seen that procedural drama with the hot blond?”  “Oh, Saving Grace?”  “No, the other one.”  “One of the Law and Orders?”  “No, the other one.”  “In Plain Sight?  The Closer?”  “No, no…”

Now, it’s “Hey have you seen that new epic Fantasy thing with all of the awesome landscape shots and hot chicks?”  “Oh, Snow White and the Huntsman?”  “No, the other one…”

The problem is that Hollywood has this way of destroying the essence and potential of things.  Producers who are paid to make movies and shows that can preview well enough to raise bank without any real, you know, thought or emotion or substance will inevitably just produce really attractive looking crapwads that don’t really have any spirit.  I love fantasy and science fiction.  Not, “ooh, it’s so cool”.  I love it.  In the sort of creepy fanatical way that makes a grown woman have more capes and gowns in her closet than proper grown up clothes.  I have over 500 books in my permanent collection, after having gotten rid of 3/4 of the books I own for this move.  I adore the genre.  I adore it because through the lens of the unreal you can struggle with issues that are too unpleasant to face bare-faced.  Anne Rice’s Lestat can take you on an intense journey through the question of what is human, what is it to have a soul or be soulless, what is love and is love something a beast can feel?  Those questions aren’t questions that most people can stomach a human being exploring.  The same is true of JRR Tolkien’s epic exploration of the issues of heroism and what makes a hero.  What, you think it’s a story about short people and big expensive to shoot landscapes?  Ha, yeah.  Oh, and what about JK Rowling’s beautiful series about the value of friendship, love, and faithfulness?  Not to mention Stephanie Meyer’s bold examination of how cool it is to have a sparkly boyfriend.

Oh, wait, there it goes.  The problem with most of the Fantasy and Sci-Fi being produced today is that it doesn’t hold to the traditions that make the genre so worthwhile.  You can’t take modern themes and thrust them into that world with a big budget and no understanding of the spirit of the thing and expect the same success.  Twilight isn’t what I consider fantasy- it’s a teen romance where there happens to be a vampire.  The Vampires in that story do not hold any of the brutality or potential of the species.  You want a romance with a Vampire, look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The first time she has one, her love costs him his soul and he starts killing and threatening everyone she knows and loves and nearly destroys the world.  The second time she does, he nearly kills her before he realizes that he too could truly love her, goes to hell to get his soul back, and goes insane.  There’s a storyline that examines the truth of love as well as it’s consequences, not a pile of fluff with some fangs thrown on to make it seem more dangerous.

And, sadly, most of the science fiction and fantasy hitting today’s market has the same fluffed up feeling to it.  At first, Warehouse 13 seemed like it might live up to it’s steam punk ancestry.  But, in the end, it turned out to be a procedural drama with a little kookiness thrown in to make it look like it’s forebears without any respect for it’s ancestry.  Grimm is much the same way.  You know how I can tell the difference between Grimm and Law and Order?  There are those cool quotes at the beginning, and the makeup is different.  (Okay, maybe I’m being too harsh.)  Then there’s Eureka, which lost the appeal of it’s “here’s an average guy having to wrap his head around this wild scientific craziness” appeal after a few seasons- it didn’t take long for it’s characters to become caricatures and for it to become increasingly predictable and formulaic.  And don’t even get me started on the movies, most of them aren’t even worth downloading illegally, nonetheless paying the ticket price.

There are, though, a few shows which pay homage to the depth of thought that makes the fanatics all fanatical.  Spartacus is more than really attractive abs and gratuitous sex.  It takes a look at loyalties, what makes something worth giving up your life or taking the life of another, and the value of each human soul, which is strongly pounded into the audience with each slit throat and growling glare.  There’s still good old fashioned superhero romps like the Avengers to remind you that sometimes it’s about having fun, too, although they don’t let you forget that it’s also about redemption.  Not a one of the characters in that film get to walk onto screen without dragging a loaded past behind them.  (Well, except for Captain America, hence his reputation as a bit of a snob.)  And there are more worth watching, and more worth reading as well.

But I fear for the genre, because more and more there’s little I’m even motivated to pay attention to.

So, what are your thoughts?  What is there worth the time and money?  Are there any geeks left at the helm, or has Hollywood made the genre it’s whore?*

*Ahem, Joss Whedon.  But other than him…?