It’s Not Much Ado About Nothing: Female Fan Opinions in Pop Culture

If you were anywhere near a computer this week and are even remotely interested in pop culture, you may have seen a headline or two about the great controversy of the week. The UK general election, you say? The earthquake in Nepal? No, we’ve already moved on from that. How about the fact that crazy weather events are making it harder and harder to deny the truth of climate change? Nah, we’ve stopped caring about that a long time ago. I’m talking about the fact that a bunch of “feminists” allegedly chased Joss Whedon off Twitter.

Now, I realize I’m giving this story even more of a shelf life by writing about it myself. But I’m interested in something a bit deeper than this eye-roll of an “entertainment news story”. If you would like to know Whedon’s actual reason for quitting Twitter, which I believe because it’s not some gross assumption, but rather the words straight out of his mouth, go here.

What disturbs me most about the traction this story got in the media is the subtext behind almost ever post, blog, and think piece about it: “Oh, those crazy women and their opinions.” It was basically a bunch of pundits giving life to and pursuing a story that was the equivalent of a dude reaching for the remote and turning up the volume to drown out his wife’s nagging. Oh, those feminist fangirls. They’re always so outraged! Look what they did this time! Poor Joss Whedon—one of their staunchest supporters—can’t even catch a break!

I am *so* tired of this narrative. It’s just another way of othering people of different genders, sexual orientations, races, and social classes. It’s a narrative that assumes that, 1) all the people upset about the treatment of Black Widow in Ulton are female; 2) all of those females hate the treatment in exactly the same way; 3) all of those females are feminists (Why? Because they dared to open their mouths?); 4) all of them banded together to blame Joss Whedon for the film’s flaws; and 5) there is something inherently wrong in criticizing a piece of pop culture, especially if you’re a woman.

We saw it with GamerGate, we saw it with the Hugo Awards debacle, and we’re seeing it again with this non-issue. Apparently, a raging horde of feminists and their opinions are so terrifying that there’s actually some white-dude panic button that gets hit every time someone who—let’s be real—opened himself to criticism by making a public work of art does something some women somewhere judge to be sexist or problematic. Cry me a river. The only good thing about this story is that it attributes a certain level of power to the collective voices of women—the wrong kind of power, a bullying power, but power nonetheless. That’s poor consolation when the reaction is akin to sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting, “Lalalalala! I can’t hear you.”

The most infuriating thing of all was that not one of these news outlets quoted any of the so-called abuse directed towards Whedon in their stories [Note: No, I did not read them all, but in general]. Throngs of angry feminist fangirls allegedly had their pitchforks out, but not even the most reasonable of their arguments was worth quoting. It’s not like there was a lack of source material. The most cursory Tumblr search yields reams upon reams of thoughtful, well-articulated opinions on the subject. There’s also quite a bit of caterwauling, but so what? Why aren’t those fans entitled to express their outrage on social media? If those fangirls are really to blame, why aren’t their perspectives represented in these news stories and think pieces? Could it be because that would require a level of nuance these paint-by-numbers stories lack? Could it be because the “rabble of raging women versus beleaguered feminist-sympathetic auteur” angle wouldn’t work if someone reported the actual words of actual women who criticized him? Could it be because there isn’t one single totalitarian feminist fangirl voice, but a multiplicity of opinions, on this and every subject?

As usual, the media took the easy way out. But one day, that collection of diverse, insightful, knowledgeable voices is going to band together—to drown out the misogynistic subtext, to change the narrative, to scream for their right to be heard.

And I, for one, will be proud to lend my voice to the din.



P.S.: One of the few good opinion pieces I read on Whedongate was by the lovely Sarah of LaineyGossip and Cinesnark fame. Read it here; it’s definitely worth your time.

Why Aren’t There Any Gay Superheroes in Film and on TV?

With every film studio trying to get in on the Marvel Cinematic Universe game and a slew of new superhero televisions shows (most also courtesy of Marvel), the question of why there aren’t more gay superheroes in movies and on TV demands to be asked.

While it’s encouraging that we are somewhat beyond the point where we need to ask why there isn’t more LGBTQ representation on television as a whole—shows like Looking, Orange Is The New Black, Grey’s Anatomy, Orphan Black, Modern Family, and others being on the front lines of that particular cultural war—we’re still a long way from universal acceptance. From a world where all forms of sexuality are categorized under the banner of mere sexuality, with no sense of otherness or alternatives to the norm. Still, many shows only have one token gay character, or one gay character plus a revolving door of love interests. This is hardly progress.

In the case of Arrow and Revenge, homosexuality is represented by a bisexual character who switches sides depending on narrative convenience. The depiction of bisexuality is a pervasive problem on television, since writers don’t make characters bisexual in order to say something profound, but because that way, they don’t have to add a bunch of other gay characters to the show and they can still have the character in question hook up with the opposite gender. It’s the television equivalent of getting some ass and eating it, too.

In film, unfortunately, the situation is bad. I was chatting with a friend and challenged her to come up with a movie that was about a gay couple—or had gays as the lead characters in situations unrelated to romance—in a mainstream film since Brokeback Mountain. She could not. I could not, either. Everyone thought Brokeback Mountain would open a floodgate of films where gay characters took the lead, but not one film since has dared.

Now comes word that an animated children’s fantasy film, How To Train Your Dragon 2, has a gay character. Enfin, some progress! But is it the lead character? Of course not. An important secondary character? No, not really. The comic relief? Duh. Because if anyone of significance were to be gay, then there would have to be other LGBTQ characters to support that person. They might even have to make a whole, entire film with gay characters. Break out the fainting couches, the executives are looking a little pale!

The state of affairs in non-fantastical film and television, while not exactly dire, is far from ideal. But as an avowed geek, the lack of LGBTQ representation in sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book stories pains me all the more. The very nature of the genre is to explore new worlds and new ideas, to make us feel the humanity in the alien, to underline how people made to feel other are just like everybody else, to think as far outside the box as possible. To boldly go. These writers and creators dream up the most death-defying and time-bending scenarios for their characters, but they can’t manage to squeeze in a few who aren’t heterosexual?

It’s a little bit outrageous, when you think about it. Let’s break it down:
-Marvel (Disney styles) has Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, Incredible Hulk, Agents of Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z, Agent Carter, and four—count ’em, four—new TV series set to be streamed on Netflix within the next two years. Total LGBTQ characters: 0 (Joss, I’m calling you out for this. This isn’t like you and it stinks.)

-Fox has the X-Men—a fricking allegory about people being ostracized for being different! Total LGBTQ characters: 0 (I won’t add to your woes, Bryan Singer, but check yourself)

-Sony has the Spider-Man series, old and new school, which they are hoping to spin off into an Evil League of Evil franchise (actual name: Sinister Six). Total LGBTQ characters: 0.

-Warner Brothers/DC has Nolan’s Batman films, Snyder’s Superman film, Batman vs. Superman (with a cast of thousands) leading into an eventual Justice League, not to mention Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, and Constantine on TV. Total LGBTQ characters: 1. (Bisexual, natch. Arrow is otherwise flawless.)

(Note: I may be forgetting someone here. A couple of these shows haven’t premiered yet, so TBD. Please feel free to correct me in the comments and I will update. Still, one or two additions do not a revolution make.)

This list isn’t depressing just because it confirms that the corporate overlords who control these movies and series have succeeded in whitewashing them (people of color being poorly represented to an almost laughable degree as well). It’s depressing because it shows just how much these talented filmmakers and showrunners are lacking in the imagination department. They pay lip service to themes of diversity, self-acceptance, and what being a true hero really means, but do nothing to push those boundaries in their own work.

It’s about past time, isn’t it, that we got a little action between Cap and Bucky? (Maybe women are a thing of the past for both of them.) That Batman takes Robin in because he pushes buttons that the cowled one can no longer ignore? That Rogue figures out the person she would most want to touch her is Kitty Pride, even if she’ll never be able to? That Loki admits once and for all just why he’s so obsessed with Thor?

In the immortal words of no less than Spider-Man himself, Andrew Garfield:

“I was like, ‘What if MJ is a dude?’ Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking!…So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?…I’ve been obsessed with Michael B. Jordan since The Wire. He’s so charismatic and talented. It’d be even better—we’d have interracial bisexuality!”

Now that is the kind of courage and imagination I like to see in my superheroes.

Of course, this entire post was written as an excuse to show just how amazing Mr. Garfield really is. Check him out in the new video by Montreal darlings Arcade Fire, for “We Exist”, a song about someone coming out to their parents and one of my current faves: