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

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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Police Power: Naked Alibi (1953) & Suddenly (1954)

Posted by Charles Reece, April 23, 2012 01:51am | Post a Comment
It's film noir festival time again at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. First up for me was a Sterling Hayden double-feature. 

Hayden plays a totalitarian-minded chief detective whose brutal methods are currently being investigated by bureaucrats intent on making crime easier and policing harder. Dwelling in the loopholes of law and order, these hobgoblins are always the real villains in films with the ultimate goal of undermining what namby-pamby liberal types call checks and balances that are supposed to keep our country from being a police state: elected officials, lawyers and, of course, the press. Against the knee-jerks, the film suggests that the chief's mind is like a vast differential engine, intuiting the deterministic equations in the chaos of criminality where a wavering eyebrow inevitably leads to multiple homicides -- imagine a cross between Harry Callahan and the precogs from Philip K. Dick's The Minority Report. When he tries to explain how he knows that a church-going, family-oriented baker is a copkiller despite having solid character witnesses, airtight alibis and no priors, a fellow detective looks about as comprehending as a neanderthal hearing the obelisk play Ligeti for the first time. Rational deduction becomes mystical, a voodoo conjuring best left to the professional witchdoctors. The audience is assured of the chief's preternatural acumen when Gloria Grahame shows up as the baker's girlfriend in a border town. Anyone who's watched enough film noir knows that dating her means you're guilty of something and will soon die for what you've done. Had this film been made today, it most likely would've been about police brutality and the dangers of trusting those in power, but because it has Joseph Breen's stamp of approval, the "criminals" had to be punished and "cop" was mutually exclusive to "evil." Which means that'll you'll enjoy the film if you tend to wax nostalgic for 1930s Italy or lean left with a masochistic sense of humor.

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The Ruse of Analogy: One Plus One (aka Sympathy for the Devil, 1968)

Posted by Charles Reece, April 8, 2012 08:02pm | Post a Comment

[This essay originally appeared as part of The Hooded Utilitarian's roundtable on Jean-Luc Godard here.]

To begin with, a generalization: Godardians really don’t like Quentin Tarantino. But, fear not, this post isn’t going to be about the latter, only the reasons expressed by the Godardians for their contempt. Wasn’t it Jean-Luc Godard himself who argued against a clear distinction between the fictional film and the documentary? For him, being even more opposed to naïve realism than Andre Bazin, the camera always had a perspective, a position, or as Colin MacCabe puts it: “there is not reality and then the camera – there is reality seized at this moment and this way by the camera.” [p. 79] It was this foundational belief that led to Godard’s dismissal of the anti-aesthetic implicit within cinema vérité, that reality comes from letting the film roll. Yet, Jonathan Rosenbaum (and I might as well mention Daniel Mendelsohn and HU’s very own Caroline Small) condemns Inglourious Basterds for “mak[ing] the Holocaust harder, not easier to grasp as a historical reality,” because “anything that makes Fascism unreal is wrong.” Evidently, contrary to Godard, fascism is just there waiting to have a camera pointed at it. No truth could possibly come out of a fantasy involving Nazism.

In One Plus One, Godard films a neo-Nazi pornographic bookseller reading from Mein Kampf as his customers buy lurid novels and magazines -- each person who makes a purchase gives a Nazi salute and slaps two captured hippies in the face. Is Godard making fascism easier to understand as a historical reality? More likely, the viewer is confused at this unrealistic scenario, but hopefully intrigued (or entertained) enough to contemplate what all these component images are doing there together in the middle of a rockumentary, e.g..: What does pornography have to do with fascism? What does any of this have to do with The Rolling Stones (the ostensible subject)? Just what the hell is Godard saying?

Rosenbaum refuses to regard Tarantino with any sort of reflection (I suspect too much identification, aka “entertainment,” and not enough distanciation, aka “intellectual thought”). Inglourious Basterds is a film about other films, about movie conventions, and for that reason alone, “it loses its historical reality.” However, aren’t all of Godard’s quotations from films, news media, advertising and literature committed to the exact opposite point, that these images do have a historical reality in the way they construct/mediate who we are? If one is going to be derided for his narcissistic cinephilia (filtering everything through film), then the other should be, too. Rosenbaum mockingly quotes from an interview with Tarantino where he relates the 9/11 event to the spectacle of action films -- not one of the director’s prouder moments, to be sure. Now consider Godard’s statement from La Chinoise’s press book:

Fifty years after the October Revolution, American cinema dominates world cinema. There’s not much to add to this state of affairs. Only that at our modest level, we must also create two or three Vietnams at the heart of the immense empire, Hollywood-Cinecittà-Mosfilms-Pinewood, etc. as much economic as aesthetic, that’s to say struggling on two fronts, to create national cinemas, free, brotherly, comrades and friends. [p. 182, MacCabe]

Although MacCabe gives this a sympathetic spin, noting how Godard has always been aware that his “oppression” isn’t as “grievous” as what was done to the Vietnamese, there’s not much he can do with the foolhardiness of the director’s feeling “solidarity” with them because “his own experience” is “the very same predicament.” I’m going to assume that the imperialism of having too many theaters showing American movies is quite obviously not the oppression of a napalm bath, as a spectacle or otherwise, and move on.

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