James Cameron’s Avatar disappoints me as a movie. Without a doubt, it’s a beautiful film that a lot of time and effort went into, but despite all that, the story falls flat in so many other areas. In terms of worldbuilding, the movie’s biggest crime is that none of the characters seem to realize that they’ve discovered the key to eternal life.
A few weeks ago, vice president-elect Mike Pence went to see Hamilton and the internet got into big fights over it. No surprise there. While there is no need to retread the controversy itself, or get into political debate, Pence and his party’s politics are well known. This event got me thinking, though, why would he want to see that musical? Was Pence unaware of the racial and social issues inherent in the musical? Maybe. Surprisingly enough, this made me think of many online multiplayer games in which we can see the same phenomenon happening. In games like Overwatch, people sometimes behave in a racist or sexist manner even while playing with a very diverse cast of characters. But I started to notice that this behavior is more prevalent when characters’ identities aren’t reflected in stories.
Hey, look at that: they’re making another King Kong movie. At first I thought that Kong: Skull Island was a sequel to the 2005 King Kong, but the two movies apparently have nothing to do with each other. Instead, Skull Island takes place in the same world as the 2014 Godzilla movie, but back during the 70s, as part of a rebooted Godzilla vs King Kong franchise.
Plenty has already been said about heroes and anti-heroes. Superman was created over seventy-five years ago, and yet America today prefers its heroes to have a bit more grit, like Tony Stark. What’s undeniable is that a dichotomy exists between light heroes and dark heroes. It’s a way of looking at protagonists that has ancient roots, but manifests differently in male and female characters.
The light and dark dichotomy is very old and very ingrained in our storytelling traditions. On the surface, “light” stereotypes give the character traits that are traditionally associated with positive ideas and symbolism. More often than not these characters will wear white or light colors, have light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. “Dark” characters tend to have dark hair, skin, eyes, and clothing. This color dichotomy is associated with good and evil, for religious and historical reasons. If you don’t have electricity you can be more productive when the sun’s out, while it’s easier for robbers and rule-breakers to hide in the cover of night. White is associated with purity and goodness, especially in Christianity, while black is associated with evil and the consequences of evil (like sin and death).
While light heroes cling to a traditional morality, dark heroes have a more subversive attitude. There’s something bad or wrong or broken with a dark character, which is usually the source of their darkness. Men tend to be gallant, chivalrous heroes or troubled rogues, while women tend to be virginal maidens or seductive vamps. It’s taken generations to move beyond this rigid dichotomy, giving the light and dark new and interesting implications. But if we really care about smashing gender stereotypes, we need to move beyond the light and dark gender axis. Both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones from Marvel’s respective Netflix series take the light and dark dichotomies and smash them to bits.
Spoilers for all of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones below.
I recently started re-reading A Game of Thrones, which means I’ve had the Stark words lodged in my head more than usual. Winter is coming. Also, I looked outside, and as frost starts to coat the grass in the morning, Ned might have a point.
A Song of Ice and Fire is always heavy-handed with its climate metaphors, but it is not alone in ascribing certain moral values to different weather patterns. H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe placed their monstrous horrors beneath the ice, and C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien show a preference for temperate climes while fearing the tropics.
While superficially harmless, there begins to be a clear pattern that uses climate, particularly this kind of temperate climate marked by warm summers and cold winters, as a shorthand to remind the reader of certain parts of the United States and Europe. By continually centering this one ecological structure, authors, intentionally or otherwise, privilege a kind of Anglo-American whiteness, culturally as well as physically. The underlying message, therefore, is one of white supremacy, particularly Anglo supremacy.
Fun fact that I just learned: if Oliver & Company had been released one day later than it was, it would have come out the same day I was born. Like My Neighbor Totoro, this is yet another movie that’s been there my entire life, and as a result, I have an immense soft spot for it in my heart. Unlike Totoro, however, Oliver & Company doesn’t hold up nearly as well when viewed through a feminist lens. The movie has a lot of problematic material, and really, if it weren’t for the nostalgia factor, I doubt I’d like it as much as I do.
Lady Geek Girl: Recently Blackout (one of our former writers), Ace, and I all went to see Suicide Squad, a movie that had already received some of the worst reviews ever even before it hit theaters. This was a movie that the three of us were very much looking forward to. We loved all the characters and wanted nothing more than to see this movie reignite the DC Extended Universe. So how do we feel about this movie now that we’ve seen it?
…It didn’t exactly go as we had hoped. DC Comics seems to continually want to let us down these days. Each time we get excited and think that maybe this time we will get something good, something worthy of the characters we love—and each time thus far we have been colossally disappointed. But this movie takes the cake when it comes to bad DC movies. Not only does the movie’s plot make little to no sense, it also succeeds in being both racist and sexist.
Oh, and Jared Leto was fucking terrible!