Amoeblog

Pop Cultural Feminist Icons and Why I Really Don't Like Wonder Woman

Posted by Charles Reece, September 2, 2012 11:48pm | Post a Comment
wonder woman 28 cover

My interest in Wonder Woman has always been lukewarm, with a back issue collection ranging somewhere between Dazzler and She-Hulk. This essay was the result of an invite from Noah Berlatsky over at the Hooded Utilitarian who's currently working on a book devoted to William Marston and Harry Peter's Golden Age run on Wonder Woman (they created the character). Noah had blogged his way through every issue of the comic, and was celebrating with a roundtable on the final issue (#28). Since it was clear that I pretty much loathed Marston's ideas, Noah figured it would be fun to get a negative take, and the following was what I delivered. At one time, the bondage theme had led me to try a volume from the DC Archive editions, but the mind-numbing repetition of  “oh, you’ve bound my bracelets” and “now, I have you tied up with my lasso” only proved what I thought impossible: how meek and boring sadomasochism could be. I imagine what Suehiro Maruo might do with the character -- questionable as feminism, true, but free of tedium. This is a roundabout way of saying I prefer my feminist icons with teeth. And Marston wasn’t interested in artistic ambiguity, but propaganda:

[That w]omen are exciting for this one reason — it is the secret of women’s allure — women enjoy submission, being bound [was] the only truly great contribution of my Wonder Woman strip to the moral education of the young. The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound. … Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society. [quote from p. 210, Jones]

Submission as an essential quality of womanhood might sound dubiously feminist, too, if not for Marston’s insistence that what is woman’s by nature should be a virtue for man to follow. There was no Sadean intent for us perverts. Submission was Marston’s end to violence, not a subset. When moralizing critics of his day objected to the overtly fetishistic nature of Wonder Woman, Marston’s response was that bondage is a painless way of showing the hero under duress. Unfortunately, he was correct: his and Peter’s depiction is about as troublingly kinky as the traps laid for Batman in his sixties TV show. As issue 28 indicates, even the villains use physical force only to subdue the heroines, never for torture: When Princess Diana and her mom are bound by burning chains, Eviless makes it clear that the flames don’t actually burn. [p. 20] As fetish or drama, this is about as flaccid as it gets.

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Horror, The Universal Language 4: Freedom vs. Conformity in Blind Beast (1969) & Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 17, 2010 11:52pm | Post a Comment
 blind beast poster french   invasion of the body snatchers poster

Halloween's coming, so why not continue with my horror double-feature suggestions? Although based on an early 1930s story by Edogawa RampoBlind Beast can be seen as Yasuzo Masumura's inverted take on John Fowles' abduction classic The Collector (made into a 1965 movie by William Wyler, which might've been recommended here if it were a better adaptation). Fowles' book is about class and the empty exercise of capital, in which an alienated office clerk moves up the economic ladder by winning the lottery, but remains on the outside looking in. His only passions are in the form of commodity fetishism: collecting butterflies and fantasizing about a beautiful young female artist whom he obsessively watches from afar. He uses his newfound wealth to kidnap and imprison her with the hopes that she'll discover who he truly is, you know, on the inside. But what he is is nothing more than a guy who collects things, with no more connection to those things than that they fulfill some mental checklist. His is a life reduced to reification where an emotional bond is seen as two stamps being placed together in a book.

In Blind Beast, the kidnapper, Aki, is a blind sculptor who poses as a masseur in order to get tactile inspiration for his art, surrealistic walls of female body parts. Being a sadist, Aki finds his perfect model, Michio, a woman who begins as his victim, but with the transgressive sexualization of pain (or, perhaps, the Stockholm Syndrome) is transformed into a willing masochist. As Luis Buñuel explained his attraction to surrealism:

For the first time in my life, I'd come into contact with a coherent moral system that, as far as I could tell, had no flaws. It was an aggressive morality based on the complete rejection of all existing values. We had other criteria: we exalted passion, mystification, black humor, the insult, and the call of the abyss. Inside this new territory, all our thoughts and actions seemed justifiable; there was simply no room for doubt. Everything made sense. Our morality may have been more demanding and more dangerous than the prevailing order, but it was also stronger, richer, more coherent. -- quoted here

Whereas The Collector's Frederick never sees his captive as more than an object, thereby reinforcing his own alienation, Michio's abduction is cause for an aesthetic release from objectifying social restrictions. In a spiraling dialectic of slicing and dicing, she and Aki achieve an intersubjective bond through sensuousness (more painful than I'd prefer, but you get the picture).

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Youth Is Revoltin': The Valley of the Bees (1968) & Logan's Run (1976)

Posted by Charles Reece, January 17, 2010 06:36pm | Post a Comment

Ondřej begins Frantisek Vlácil and Vladimír Körner's The Valley of the Bees as a teenager jealous of his ogrish father, Lord of Vlkov (Zdeněk Kryzánek), who's just married Lenora. She's Ondřej's age, and he clearly has a crush on her, expressing his anger by giving his stepmother a basket of flowers with a bunch of crippled bats at the bottom. She freaks out, to which the father responds by picking up his son and throwing him against a stone wall. Fearing that his son might die, and to assuage his guilt, the Lord promises his son to God if the Almighty will spare Ondřej. He survives, and is sent to the North to become a warrior monk under the tutelage of Armin (Czech heartthrob Jan Kačer) in the Order of St. Mary of Jerusalem, the local equivalent of the Knights Templar. 

The Order functions for Armin like contemporary Gospel music does for its male performers, as a repressive sublimation of homosexual inclinations. He's a true believer who warns Ondřej (now played by Petr Čepek) to not give in to the materialist temptations of the Pagan world, telling him what became of some of their brothers not properly committed: "Some knights were mercenaries, and did not seek salvation. Instead they sought beautiful women and riches, only to drink their own urine in the desert, cursing God and their mothers." That is, "suffering is the way to God." Or, in a sort of Pascalian wager -- this being the Middle Ages -- you're going to suffer, so it might as well be for a higher purpose. The only joy allowed here is jouissance, taking pleasure in the pain of monastic denial. Ondřej has his doubt, feeling only his balls getting cold in the water in which he lies with Armin.

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Free To Do What I Want: Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible

Posted by Charles Reece, July 19, 2008 08:01pm | Post a Comment


Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog
is a 3-act webcast musical created by Joss Whedon with his brother Zack and half-brother Jed (the latter of whom also does the score). Hurry up and watch it, as you'll have to pay iTunes for the privilege after July 20th. Or buy the dvd. Or watch the degraded YouTube version:

 
This is Whedon in top form. Anyone who's watched Buffy or Angel or read his run on Astonishing X-Men knows that he does great set-ups, but never gives himself (or his co-writers) enough time to follow through with a fitting ending. This time around, he finally creates an effective resolution, and it's exceedingly morose, given that the rest of the story is a much lighter shade of dark comedy. (Don't worry, I'm not going to give it away.) 


This is the tale of Doogie Howser all grown up in a world that doesn't appreciate his eccentric genius.   Unlike in Doogie, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) doesn't get a preternaturally chesty girlfriend who loves him for being an outsider with a weird, greasy friend. He still has a despicable sidekick, Moist (Simon Helberg), but the best Dr. Horrible can manage is to daydream in song while staring across the laundromat at Penny (Felicia Day), the whey-faced nerd girl on whom he's fixated. Otherwise, feeling like Klebold and Harris, he plots the destruction of the normalizing cultural institutions that have marginalized him out of existence. With each nefarious deed, he gets one step closer to being allowed membership into The Evil League of Evil, run by his hero, Bad Horse. But every time he tries something, he gets pulverized by the fists of the status quo, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). Things go from bad to worse when the cloddish attempts of Captain Hammer to stop a heist of Horrible's puts Penny at risk. Even though the bad Doctor is the one who saves her, it's the Captain who gets the credit and a date. When the beefcake good guy learns that Penny's the only thing his downtrodden nemesis cares about, he begins to torment him (in song, of course) saying stuff like, "normally I don't sleep with girls more than once, but I hear that the second time's when they start doing the weird stuff." Cue the chorus of Hammer groupies. That's more than the put-upon villain can take, so he plots the death of the hero. 


Some of The Evil League of Evil: Bad Horse, Fake Thomas Jefferson, Dead Bowie, Professor Normal and Fury Leika

There's nothing particularly novel about this story. In fact, it's real similar to The Villain (1979), itself a comedy Western spin on the Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons. In that movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a dipstick do-gooder protecting Ann-Margaret from the villainous Kirk Douglas. Douglas' character is wittier, more charming and all-around more creative than the dullwitted hero, but the forces of order are constantly working against him, just like poor Wile E. Coyote, super-genius. The Coyote is a fundamentally repressed part of the modern psyche, which has been stripped down and mass produced by the homogeneous order. We want to side with the villain against the stifling forces of control and celebrate true individualism, until we realize that cute bird would be eaten. The Coyote cartoons maintain the agony of the paradox (between desire and morality), whereas The Villain cheats and lets Douglas get the girl.
 

What the Brothers Whedon add is that line between sadness and funny one-liners that Joss and his writers regularly managed to walk on his TV shows. Unlike The Villain, they don't let you off the hook for wishing for chaotic freedom. Dr. Horrible, therefore, sides with Wile E. Coyote and our own moral reality.  And it's nice to hear dialog from his company that doesn't sound like the Buffyverse argot, which I was beginning to think was the only dialect they could write in (the diminutive form gets old really fast). The music is similar to the Buffy musical, Once More With Feeling. It still has that Rent-burnished pop sound to it, but the lyrics are funny and the music generically catchy enough to get you through. I'd say the music and singing are, at least, an improvement over the Buffy episode. If you hate Joss Whedon, none of this will change your mind, but if you appreciate his pop virtues, this is good stuff.

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A Great American Next-Door Neighbor: Mr. Conservative, Goldwater on Goldwater (2006)

Posted by Charles Reece, January 16, 2008 02:57pm | Post a Comment
Now, I'm liberal, but to a degree
I want ev'rybody to be free
But if you think that I'll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door and marry my daughter
You must think I'm crazy!
I wouldn't let him do it for all the farms in Cuba.
-- Bob Dylan, I Shall Be Free, No. 10
Back when I was living in Detroit, I had a philosopher friend who was as smart as they come, but as bugfuck crazy a right-winger as they come (well, the right-wing can get pretty goddamn insane, so maybe I exaggerate a bit for rhetorical effect, but he was a good deal nutty, regardless).  He was an atheist with a militant libertarian streak whose silver tongue could convince you of the rational basis for just about any right-wing position if you didn't have every 't' crossed and 'i' dotted in your own arguments.  Over drinks, we'd see who could one-up each other in our beliefs of how many freedoms a person should be permited.  I'll save our conclusions for the faint/pc of heart, but suffice it to say that his ideas for what should be socially permissible (at least, by law) might make the most ardent ACLU attorney blush.  On social issues, having his view in ascendancy in the political world would only make for what I would consider a much better society.  But, then again, he'd also proclaim his admiration for dipshits like Jesse Helms. 

To this day, I find it odd that such libertarians tend to side with right-wing extremists while holding civil views much more in line with my own.  I suppose it comes down to some radical belief in states' rights -- as if a state is any less bureaucratically unfair to its citizens than the federal government -- and seeing businesses as individuals possessing the same rights as, well, actual individuals.  That last belief tends to ignore the long history of businesses being prime real estate where those in power freely piss on the rights of those not in power.  The former tends to tie the more radicalized libertarians, at least, with certain egregious unreconstructed Southern apolegetics regarding the Civil War (as the recent brouhaha over Republican candidate, Ron Paul, demonstrates [1]).

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