Friday, May 02, 2008

Fangirl Fridays for May 2, 2008

An Iron Man movie poster mashup found in a Japanese subway, via Neatorama

What, No "Iron Woman"?

So the BF used a bit of foresight and ingenuity and scored tickets for us to see "Iron Man" yesterday. This makes the fourth superhero movie we've seen together in the movie theater, the others being "Ghost Rider," "Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer," and "Spider-Man 3."

What frustrates me about movies like "Iron Man" -- despite the fact that I did enjoy it on many levels -- is that there is no real female role-model for me to latch on to. Certainly I think Pepper Potts is an improvement on such cinematic comic book heroines as Mary Jane and Vicki Vale (and whoever the hell Katie Holmes played in "Batman Begins"). But, she is, in the end, an assistant -- an "invaluable helpmeet" to be sure, but in the end just a glorified Miss Moneypenny.

I know what it's like being the faithful assistant to a wunderkind. And, you know, it's great to be told "if you didn't do these monthly reports, I don't know where I would be!" But at some point in my life, it was very clear to me that this was not what I wanted (even though the pay is great). I wanted to be the one creating and expressing myself. And so I see movies like "Iron Man" and I identify with the male lead character instead of the female.

And I think the movie can certainly be enjoyed by women; but I found it very "male." You may disagree, which is fine. I find the Batman films, with the exception of "Batman Returns," very much in the same vein. I think the original Superman film boasted a far more independent and proactive character in Lois Lane. And gender & sexuality in the X-Men films were far more balanced & fluid.

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San Diego, Here I Come?

That's it! Have a great weekend, peoples.


  1. Iron Woman would be interesting? Who would it be? I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know anything about it, yet, but I was just thinking the other day about how Iron Man could be the movie about the guy who just...doesn't keep his secret identity from those close to him. So Tony tells Rhodes, tells Pepper, tells the people around him, which lets the super hero drama distinguish itself from others (Spidey & MJ lets say).

  2. The film really did highlight the somewhat peculiar relationship Stark has with Pepper and Rhodey: they all care about him, to the point of being paid or unpaid enablers, but they also work for him. Or, in Rhodey's case, they were willing to play fast and loose with their own organization's regulations in order to help him out.

    Also, is it me, or did this new Jarvis seem a bit influenced by Michael Caine's Alfred?

  3. "And I think the movie can certainly be enjoyed by women; but I found it very "male." You may disagree, which is fine. I find the Batman films, with the exception of "Batman Returns," very much in the same vein. I think the original Superman film boasted a far more independent and proactive character in Lois Lane. And gender & sexuality in the X-Men films were far more balanced & fluid"

    I think a story being told should be it's own objectitve, trying to put some sort of female-empoweremnt pre-requisite in movies leads to dumb moments in movies like "try wearing a corset". The reason there's gender equality in X-men is that there are female characters in the movie, Lois Lane IS a smart woman capable of defending herself (at least for the last 20 years).

    Of course it would be great if a great story also provided equal gender values, but if it does, it should come from the writer's voice and inspiration. Not from the writer going "hey this movie doesn't represent a strong female role model to latch on!"(as if a movie's mission was to provide that).

  4. Question: what'd you think of the reporter from Berkeley? Though she falls for Stark's "charm" pretty easily, she never stops pestering him about his firm's more unsavory investments.

  5. "Question: what'd you think of the reporter from Berkeley? Though she falls for Stark's "charm" pretty easily, she never stops pestering him about his firm's more unsavory investments."

    I think we never really get to know her as a person, and she's more set up as somebody to just dislike. Even though she is pivotal in Stark's revelation regarding what was going on with his investments, she's still portrayed as an annoyance, as a "slut" contrasted with Paltrow's Pepper Potts.

  6. Why dont you write a super female movie script ?

    you have the these interesting ideas, dont wait until the female movie arrives, make it happen !!

  7. "Why don't you write a super female movie script?"

    I'm currently conceptualizing one right now! It's a "Robocop" style story but with a Japanese librarian in the main role. The major themes deal with what's left of her humanity and balancing patriotism to one's country against your soul.

    But I do agree with Juan's remarks, or at least as tentatively as I can without seeing the movie yet. The last thing I want to see is a token tough woman to "balance out" a movie. She should have a purpose, and if there wasn't room for her in this movie, then there's always sequels. The main character here is a lady's man alcoholic CEO, and that world needs realized to be true to the source material. In a movie that does rely on a lot of macho aspects (robots, alpha dog CEOs, senseless explosions), it could be best to just embrace that theme than try to please everybody.

  8. OK, but was there even a *male* role model to latch onto in the film? I enjoyed it thoroughly, but probably wouldn't hope to emulate any character but (maybe) Rhodey. Even he was easy prey for Stark in many ways. Tony is, of course, flawed in umpteen ways despite his heroic turn.

    Oh, and there was an Iron Woman (of sorts) in the Ultimate Universe...

    Also, is it me, or did this new Jarvis seem a bit influenced by Michael Caine's Alfred?

    Just imagine what you'd be saying if he had, in fact, been a capable and smarmy butler. Probably not a bad move changing Jarvis as they did to differentiate IM from Bats a bit more. Alfred is still around because of Bruce's old money, while Jarvis is a Stark invention/product.

  9. Is there anything really wrong with a woman identifying with male character now and again, or vice versa?

    When the movie is being pretty true to the source material, I don't really know what to say on the subject. Tony is a millionaire playboy, an accomplished womanizer and all that. Add to the explosions and the like and you've got a very male movie yes, that will be marketed heavily towards men. If having a really strong female empowerment figure fits into the natural story than great, otherwise i'm concerned about compromising the film's integrity for the sake of PCness or what have you. It's not as if we go around saying how Jane Austen adaptations could use empowered male characters, right?

    That's not exactly similar I know, but there are other superhero flicks that by their nature approach this subject more equitably (X-men being a good example) so there's not a lack of it either. Some movies though, like some comics, are just made to be male.

  10. I've added you Val!

    If anyone wants to add another member of the OccSupes community, here's a link to my SU page.

  11. Juan Carlos is correct, and moreover most of these films are predominately "male" because the heroes are mostly themselves male, because traditionally, most heroes in fiction are...male.

    You want female empowerment in an action milieu, you need a female in the lead like Alias or Buffy.

    Complaining Iron Man isn't about female empowerment is akin to complaining your dog can't play chess well. It's a dog, it's not going to play chess well whether you want it to or not.

  12. Oh dear, that "dogs playing chess" analogy can be taken in such a wrong way.

    The sad truth is that during out civilization strong and appealing female archetypes are so few, and the ones that exist are pretty obscure to the mainstream. Superman is the grandson of Hercules, or Samson, of (most likely, since in most civilizations, women wouldn't even be allowed or be taken seriously if they wanted to be writers or juglars) male-writers going "I wish I could beat everybody up.. y'know, for good".

    Is there a super powered female character in human history that could be considered any sort of wish fulfillment for both males and females?

  13. The need for a strong female role model in a superhero film would certainly be satisfied if Hollywood could ever do a Wonder Woman film right. I have difficulty understanding why they can't accomplish this.

  14. I'm going to post now - because I've been a lurker on your blog for awhile, but I have to say that I agree whole-heartedly with your views about the Pepper Potts/Iron Man relationship.

    This movie was fun good times - though not my personal favorite comic book movie of all time. But as a woman - while watching I was thinking "Pepper Potts is so terribly 1960s." There were some vague attempts to update her for present-day, but she felt really old school to me.

    I appreciate your viewpoint of this film. As a woman, I think it's valid to ask - "where is the female representation in comic films?" And also "how is the female represented?"

    Dude's don't really have to ask that, because it's a sure-fire-bet they are going to be represented.

    However - dudes aren't the only part of the human species that enjoy comics. And if I'm throwing down $9 to see a comic movie, I want to be able to appreciate it on all levels.

    Pepper didn't need to be an ultra-feminist and comic movies don't need to be approached with a super feminist agenda (whatever that's supposed to mean).

    But she doesn't need to be the damn uber-secretary who doesn't have a life outside of servicing Stark's needs. I had hoped we were a little past all that.

    That being said - I don't think Pepper is a result of the movie. She's a result of the 60s view of women, and how her character has been treated by Marvel. The movie was very true to who Pepper is in the comics (while modernizing her a bit). So - I think a finger needs to be pointed at the source material (and also taken in context of the time period it's derived from).

    Just sayin.

  15. I imagine it's the same reason they keep having trouble putting out a Thor film. That is, they have trouble reconciling the whole mythological background of the character and having the audience able to take it seriously.

  16. Juan Carlos -
    re. female archetypes: Taken strictly there are no super powered female characters in history for the same reason that there are no super powered male characters in history (unless you count Joan of Arc as possessing superhuman charisma). But there are a few from myth, literature and mass entertainment, and there have been a few which successfully offer scope for male as well as female identification and wish-fulfilment, although usually in a non-superhero context.
    To wit, from my living memory:

    Pippi Longstocking (super-strong)
    Mulan (whipes out armies with a single bound; my nephews and I must have seen that film at least a dozen times)
    The Bride (Kill Bill)
    And I don't know about you, but in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", I found it much easier to identify with either of the two female leads than the two male ones.

  17. I suspect Michael is right.

    It's not like there aren't good writers in Hollywood who know how to create strong, powerful, multi-dimensional female protagonists...

    Joss Whedon and especially J.J. Abrams I'm looking in your direction.

  18. My wife and I enjoyed the movie and you are right! No real female character to relate to.

    And as someone else posted, no real male character to relate to either!

    Still a decent action/comic film...


  19. menshevik:


    A symbol, usually an image, which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as an element of one's literary experience as a whole.

    I was speficially talking about characters that repeat themselves throughout human civilization, there've been a lot of Supermans before the 30's, as there've been (probably) other Batmans, Hades, Dracula, Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro.

    With Kill Bill, I guess you're right, that one solves the riddle of how a (super) strong female character can be appealing to men, have it be sexually appealing to men. Other examples: Foxy Brown, Elektra,.

    I think Buffy and Pippi Longstocking are another and much more positive cathegory,but I wonder about examples before the 20th century. Probably Mulan, but the only exposure we've had to that is the Disney film, which really didn't set the world on fire.

  20. Well, there were a number of fighting females from literature and myth. You have the Amazons (which Wonder Woman of course bought into) including individual ones like Penthesilea, you have Camilla from the Aeneid, you have several warrior and other fighting goddesses such as Athene, Kali (who must have been in Dave Cockrum's mind when he designed Mystique), the valkyries/shieldmaidens of Germanic myths (inspirations for Marvel's Valkyrie and Sif, also for Tolkien's Eowyn, I guess) etc. (even Aphrodite had a warlike aspect, was portrayed wearing armour in Sparta, and bore the by-name "androphonos" = "man-killer"). In the middle ages you had e.g. Brunhilde in the Nibelung myth and the real-life Joan of Arc, in the Renaissance Bradamante in Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso". Female warriors and generals are certainly a very recognizable type in Chinese tradition (e.g. the heroines of the Yang family whose exploits are told in a number of Peking operas), while in Japan you have Tomoe Gozen (inspiration for the Tomoe appearing in Usagi Yojimbo) in the Heike Monogatari. (In the second half of the 20th century we also got a few female super-agents on the lines of Modesty Blaise, Emma Peel etc., who also draw something from female detective archetypes)

    So if you take your archetypes with such a broad definition that Hercules, Samson and Superman belong to the same one, then there are comparable female archetypes (five of them are invoked in Mary Marvel's version of the acronym SHAZAM). As there are female death deities (starting with Ereshkigel in the Gilgamesh epos) or vampires (such as Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla and the legendarized versions of Countess Elizabeth Bathory).

    Actually, with "Kill Bill" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" I was specifically thinking primarily of identifying with the character before feeling sexually attracted to her.

    Guess we'll have to disagree about "Mulan" - I think it is a great great movie and critically at least I would think it was received a whole lot better than "Red Sonja", "Elektra" or "Catwoman"...

  21. While I completely own the fact that it's because I had open heart surgery as a child, I had no problem whatsoever identifying with Tony Stark.

    The fear he felt every time that reactor got removed from him was one I understood pretty well.

    That said, I would love to do an Iron Woman costume for Halloween.

  22. Ah, but are such really FEMALE archetypes in literature/history? or are they MALE archetypes juxtaposed by putting them in the context of a female protagonist.

    For example, weren't the Amazons made famous because they were women excelling what was predominately a male profession.

  23. I heard a rumor, only a rumor, that one of the proposed revamps of Iron Man a few years ago involved killing Tony off and a woman taking on the suit, which was kind of a cool idea.

    Though I do like the direction the character is in now, it may have worked.

    We do need to have stronger female superheroes, brought to the forefront and turned into good multi-format properties.

    Or some team book that gives some good, equal time.

    Runaways, Buffy, etc?

  24. Jeff -
    well, that is a pretty loaded question, because once you choose to define any activity as "male" - be it fighting or e.g. cookery - you'll assume that a female practioner of it is based on a male archetype. Anyway, there have been fighting women throughout the history of warfare and there certainly were female warriors among some of the "barbarian" peoples the Greeks encountered, so there would seem to be some indication of a real-life inspiration for the Greek Amazon myth. And so it is possible with other myths and stories about fighting women.

    But of course archetypes do not have to be based on reality. Compared to some of the phantastic feats ascribed e.g. to Hercules, the portrayal of the Amazons is almost down-to-earth. What is quite interesting about the Greek Amazon myth and to a few other Amazon myths (e.g. the Czech one of the Bohemian Maidens' War) is that it sets up an alternative or antithesis to the kind of society they knew. The scary thing from a male point of view about the Amazons was not so much that they fought, but that in the myth they had a society where the women were on top and men had to fill the subservient role filled by slaves and women in Greek societies. Or was this a myth dreamt up by women as a kind of utopian society, the way later centuries would imagine another familiar archetype, the noble, altruistic, almost communist outlaw exemplified e.g. by Robin Hood and his Merry Men (who behaved not as actual robbers did in the middle ages, but it is always nice to imagine that somewhere, somewhen there was a guy who took from the rich and gave to the poor - vide the way people later tried to portray some people who were very scummy in real life as Robin Hood-types).

    So yes, I'd say these people are female archetypes, especially as they can be invested with typically "feminine" characteristics and weaknesses. Athene may have been the goddess of wisdom, but in some myths she does seem to be a bit vain (she invented the trumpet, but threw it away because she disliked how her face looked when she played it), and she was not above entering into a beauty contest with two other goddesses and becoming very angry indeed when Paris chose Aphrodite over her.

  25. Even Atalanta was referred to as "mannish" in one of my translations of the myth (I think it's the Edith Hamilton)

  26. Perhaps I'm missing your point, but what is wrong with relating to a character of the opposite sex? There have been countless films, novels, TV shows and, yes, comics where I've related to the female character. Does this make that connection any different because I'm male and she's not? I don't think so because I'm able to relate to the character through shared experiences.

    Like I said, maybe I'm missing your point (and I apologise if I have), but I don't see why you're relating to a man in a film is a bad thing.