The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

How to Fix Supergirl the TV Series

action comics superman supergirl

I do seem to like to talk about Supergirl. So hey, why not some more. And it gives me a reason to put up pretty pictures.

So Supergirl the TV series started on CBS, the network for senior citizens, then moved to CW, the network for fresh-faced teens. Went from Wheel of Fortune to Dawson’s Creek.

I watched the first season and the first five episodes of the second season. I wanted to get into it, I really did. But the characters stopped me. Don’t get me wrong — Melissa Benoist is a delight. She’s like Emilia Clarke — she’s charming as hell and I’d follow her, dragons and all. She’s the reason I kept watching as long as I did. It’s everyone else that sucks. They’re so milquetoast. We’ve got boring tech geek, boring heartthrob love interest, boring stiff military commander, boring sister who suddenly decided she was a lesbian at thirty years old, boring snippy Ally McBeal.

“Poor supporting” cast joke here

Actually, the best of the cast was Calista Flockhart. But even then, I couldn’t stand her bitchy character giving bitch-vice to Kara Danvers* in the form of not-mentorship. “Listen to me — I’m world-wise but everything is beneath me and everyone hates me. I’m female Donald Trump. You too could be like me if you follow my five simple steps.” In other words, none of these are people I would want to hang out with. I don’t want to let them into my home for an hour each week.

The other reason was because the life of a young woman moving from the country to the city to “make it” was just not interesting to me. For one thing, that’s Superman’s story. Like it’s the exact same thing, how to balance work (superheroing) and life. I’ve seen it. Add in uninteresting villains (Maxwell Lord is just Lex Luthor AGAIN. And Aunt Alura is just General Zod AGAIN — dress them up all you want, but at the end of the day, Lord is a rich genius CEO who thinks the hero is a threat and the other is a military commander escaped from the Phantom Zone).

Here’s my solution. Be more like Buffy.

The magic of Supergirl is not that she’s Superman in a skirt. It’s that she’s fresh off the boat. She’s a true alien. She doesn’t know what’s going on, what Earth culture is like. She’s been in a bubble for the last thirteen years, so it becomes like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, only more serious (and actually unbreakable). So you get moments like this…

It’d be a fine line to tread on the “Born Sexy Yesterday” tropes, but as long as Kara is living for herself, not some man, you can do it.

In the beginning of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy was trying to make her life normal while the abnormal kept treading in (thanks to the Hellmouth plot generator). There’s a call to heroism that she’s trying to ignore, but can’t (because as Spider-Man said, if you let bad things happen when you can do something about it, you’re no better).

Do the same thing here. Give Supergirl some equally downtrodden friends. Not a guy who’s got Superman in his cell phone. Not the army-man who can’t crack a smile and really a Martian warrior. She needs a Xander and a Willow. Her antagonists shouldn’t be her bosses, it should be a contemporary. An equal. The person she wants to be. Like Cordelia. And sure, throw in an Angel in there too. Why not? Who doesn’t like forbidden love? Sure, make him full of kryptonite. I don’t care.

Most of all, we need a mentor. Now Captain Obvious says that should be Superman. He’s the one who’s been here the longest, he knows how to handle his superpowers, and he was raised here, so he knows Earth customs. But that would be a hard sell. If Superman’s in the show… why not make the show ABOUT Superman? Plus the fact that Superman can do anything Supergirl can do, but better. And the fact that it’s actually HIM who needs something from Supergirl. She’s only one with knowledge of his planet, the only tie to his heritage. He needs her to teach him about where he came from.

Besides, does this not look like a set from Buffy? And they both were on the same network.

No, Supergirl needs a Giles. Someone who can educate her, but cannot do what she can do. I don’t know who that might be, since part of Supergirl’s character is that there’s no one else like her (save her cousin). J’onn J’onzz would be a good candidate, if you can loosen him up a bit. The problem is he’s so stiff, I want Supergirl to skip class and go to the mall. He becomes the antagonist, not the guru. Supergirl needs someone to serve a father-daughter relationship. That’s a conflict full of story and strength. And more fascinating than the mother-daughter relationship with Kat.

And it definitely SHOULD NOT be a mother-son thing, which is what I was seeing from the Mon-El thing when I left. They did it the total opposite what I wanted. No one wants to see SuperDouchebag hitting on girls or using his superpowers for selfish reasons while Young Kara Danvers tries to prevent his shenanigans. She shouldn’t be caretaking a twenty-year-old when she’s cultivating her own life.

So yeah, Supergirl. A great concept, but executed in a tired, uninspired way. Just like all the other DC superheroes became, like The Flash (which is just Spider-Man but got too hung up on the relationship, just like the movies) and Arrow (which is just Batman, but got too grimdark and too unrealistic).

Also, Streaky. Gotta put the cat in there. Who wouldn’t watch a show with a super-cat?

*I literally forgot what her secret identity name was for a moment, just like Calista Flockhart’s running gag in the show. Was it Kat? No, that was Flockhart’s character. Was it Laura? Lara? K-something. Kal-El? No, that’s Superman. Her last name was Danvers. Carol Danvers? No, that’s Ms. Marvel. I had to look it up on IMDB. Kara! I was close.

Eating My Words on Wonder Woman

eat words

Oh, look at all these words. Oh… yum… gulp… so delicious… so meaty. So good… so good to eat… so scrumptious… I’ve never eaten words as good as this before. This is delicious. Scrumpf… glomp… chew… oh so good… so satisfying… filling…can’t get enough…

So in 2012, I wrote a blog about how we’d never see a Wonder Woman movie, or at least a good one. Let’s take a look at some of the points I made and why I was wrong.

“…to make Wonder Woman translate to today’s audiences, you would have to alter her so radically that she wouldn’t resemble Wonder Woman anymore. … Someone’s going to leave unhappy — either the fanboys or the casuals.” 

Well, what I didn’t count on was that the movie was going to make someone else happy — women. Not just geek women or romcom women or intellectual women. Just… women. They kept the character… mm, I hate to say it but “generic” enough so that everyone could project on to her. One tweet said “Is this why men watch superhero movies? Because I feel like taking on an army after seeing Wonder Woman.”

And why wouldn’t you be excited? How nice would it be to not be afraid of men? Someone who didn’t have to hold her keys in her fist walking through the parking lot, who doesn’t have some bald man staring at her on the subway, who can sit in a bar without some drunk stranger telling her to “smile more”. Wonder Woman doesn’t let anyone shut her down or interrupt her.

This is the flaw in DC movies — they try too hard to please everyone and rely too much on focus groups. Hence the movies are bland and messy and deviate too much from source characters (e.g. Suicide Squad, Man of Steel, Superman v. Batman). As a result, the movies have no flavor. They’re bland. As colorless as… as… well, as a DC movie (come on guys, you gotta do color correction!) Wonder Woman is not an exception. It’s as gray as a warfare first-person shooter. But it did the best it could. And one hopes that the Justice League, which has some characters who aren’t so grimdark (Aquaman, Flash), will pick up that slack too.

But my point is, they didn’t radically change Wonder Woman. In fact, they didn’t make much of her at all. Didn’t take any risks. Didn’t add any flavor. They didn’t change a McDonald’s hamburger recipe. She was built for a
task, she goes out to fulfill that task. No dead cancer mother or
alcoholism or past life as a criminal. She doesn’t have any flaws (being naive doesn’t count) that make her broken. In fact, her role is to nurture the broken — the Irish guy with PTSD and the Blackfoot exiled from his tribe. If Captain America is the father-figure of the Avengers, Wonder Woman is the mama lion of the Justice League.

“Wonder Woman is intrinsically bonded to its creators predilections towards bondage and female dominance. Wonder Woman is frequently shown either tying up criminals or being tied up.”

I had trouble separating the comic book from the character. For one thing, I think I wrote this around peak “but the comics were better” fanboyism. This was when The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man came out. Everyone else (I’m looking at you DC and Sony) screwed it up because they deviated too much from the source material. Batman couldn’t live up to The Dark Knight, and Spider-Man was receiving a too-soon reboot. Marvel planted its flag with The Avengers, but it still failed the Bechdel Test.

See up to this point, comic book movies always keeping women as sidekicks — Captain America: The Winter Soldier had Black Widow, Guardians of the Galaxy has Gamora, Thor has Jane, Iron Man has Pepper Potts. And being sidekicks, these women had little definition. Black Widow is “the spy”. Gamora is the “warrior-princess”. Pepper Potts is the sassy secretary. These are not characters, they’re archetypes. When you make a main character that character has to be “broken” in some way. And if you make a woman broken, you get flak saying “how dare you represent all women as [this condition]”.

Wonder Woman fights no criminals, pursues no bad guys. The movie is about World War I and takes a few pages from Apocalypse Now, traveling from the bureaucratic offices to the front lines. But where that storyline became darker and darker, Wonder Woman gives hope. Hope that, with courage and friends, you can take on anyone.

The concept of binding or being bound within the film is removed completely. There are no games and no rope play. Wonder Woman herself is never bound (in the comics, that’s her one weakness, so it’s surprising that doesn’t make it in). Moulston might not approve of the film, but he’s not here. And the world’s moved past that kind of Wonder Woman. Yes, it does stray from her original spirit, but it changes her character for the better.

“How would you even start the story?”

They did it the best way — simply. They left only the basics. Not too many characters get shoved into foreground because once Diana leaves the island, we never see them again. We stay on Wonder Woman the whole time. Even when we have to deviate with some backstory narration, it takes the form of her bedtime story.

“The problem is there’s a stigma around Amazons.”

wonder woman movie supporting cast
The right way
woman bodybuilder muscles
The wrong way

I worried that characters would become “entitled, bitchy woman with more masculinity than femininity who can’t form social relationships”. The concept is that this secret island holds Zeus’s ripping cool army just in case he ever needs it again. This avoids turning into a land of man-haters (because they’ve worked with men in the past). It also helps that the set and costume design comes from women. They knew how to make feminine warriors without being booblicious.

As far as Diana’s concerned, there’s a little of the “born sexy yesterday” trope. But her character’s development is more about the transition from classic-style honor-fighting to modern warfare. But she still likes babies and ice cream. She doesn’t have the mind of a child so she can hold a conversation without sounding like Sally from Third Rock From the Sun (not that I don’t hold respect for that character, but she was played for laughs). I saw a bit of Bones in her, but not in a disdainful way.

“The first thing you’d have to do is totally revamp the costume.” 

They did, but not very much. For one thing, you don’t see the costume until her iconic charge out of the trench. Until then, it’s cloaks and robes. After the big reveal, you can see they kept the color scheme, but made it grayed out metal.

There’s no explanation for WHY she’s wearing it, and that bothers me. In the plot, she stole some armor from the Themyscira vaults, but it has no context, nor explanation why it looks different from everyone else’s. But this movie’s made me pay more attention to the beauty of the outfits than all movies I’ve seen in the past thirty-six years (I’m 36) combined. They even manage to have a costume montage in the middle. But its more about where she can store her sword, not what’s tantalizing.

Still the best dressing montage there is.

“The biggest problem with Wonder Woman is that her weapons and tools just don’t make sense. … First, [the lasso of truth is] not a very exciting power. Second, it becomes a deus ex machina.”

There is actually surprisingly little of Wonder Woman wielding her signature weapon. She uses the sword, shield, and bracelets more. The few times she does use it is either for interrogation (and he is barely tied up) or as a whip. The plot doesn’t demand that she use it either. At the time, I was thinking of plots like The Winter Soldier or Iron Man 3 that are full of deception and intrigue. But more to the point, she IS the weapon. She’s personified defense and offense, not strategy or intelligence (in the spy sense) or moral relativism or power through any means other than selflessness. Also, no silly invisible plane.

“[G]olden bracelets that can stop bullets. … The only things they could block are tiny cocktail swords. … [Y]our wrist bones would shatter as soon as a bullet hit.”

The bracelets are glossed over in the plot. I believe in the comics they’re formed of the shield of Aegis, which is like DC-adamantium. But she does use them and somehow has the reflexes to stop an incoming bullet. Is that explained? No. Her powers are kept ambiguous, which is a disadvantage because it makes her overpowered. They don’t even explain why she doesn’t age. I wouldn’t be surprised if some audience members thought her “god killer” power was the bracelets instead of within herself.

“[F]our words: aim for the legs. The well-exposed legs.”

This still stands, but it’s a problem among many movies. It happens several times to Captain America and no one bats an eye, so I guess we’re all agreeing to ignore it? Rule of cool?

“Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman had the screwed-up relationship of “I Dream of Jeannie”. Wonder Woman’s got all this power and ability, yet she feels incomplete without him.”

In this movie, Wonder Woman absolutely does not NEED Steve Trevor. Well, she does NEED him, in the sense that he’s her liaison into the world of men. But if she got a map to the front or some notes on how British government works, she’d be fine on her own. This is probably the biggest deviation from the comics, but also the most welcome. And it would have been the easiest pit to fall into.

Diana does not have a romance with Steve and Steve doesn’t treat Diana as anything but a peer. A fellow soldier and a means to an end. They both want to end the war. Steve doesn’t necessarily believe in this Ares nonsense, but he’s seen her take on a boat full of Nazis, so he’s got the proof and the pudding.

“Etta Candy? Who is she supposed to be? Comic relief? Is she like the Theodore of this triumvirate?”

Etta Candy is a pleasant cameo, but little more. She’s really the only other woman in the cast who’s not a Themysciran action figure. And they give her dignity. She’s not food-obsessed or man-obsessed. They did her right by not giving her a stereotype or archetype. She doesn’t have a “thing”, unless you count being delightfully British.

“[T]he biggest problem with the supporting characters is that Wonder Woman has no memorable villains.”

I think this still stands. I could see the Ares thing a mile a way and General Thunderbolt is just another Red Skull/Bane/Popeye pastiche taking Super Serum (don’t you know you never get high off your own stash?) The same thing happens in the first Thor, the first Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and the first Spider-Man. But it does avoid the “designated girl fight” and doesn’t go on too long. Dr. Poison was the most interesting (I imagined her like Dr. Tenenbaum from Bioshock) and it’s a shame she got such an uninteresting ending. But we got thrown cars and explosions, so how much can you complain about it?

Final thoughts: Yes, thumbs-up. I am bullish on Wonder Woman stock. I really hope this gets directors and producers to realize that yes, women-led movies, both in front and behind the camera, can make money. And even better, they make good art.

Anita Sarkeesian and the Adventures in Video Land

anita sarkeesian video games

I feel like I gotta get this off my chest, because it’s been on my mind lately. (Don’t you love blog posts about stuff that happened weeks ago?)

First some backstory you already know. Anita Sarkeesian has done a lot of YouTube videos, most notably stuff relating to feminism. I respected her views — I learned a lot about the Bechdel test, on how it’s best applied (as in not per movie, but on a less-than-scientific global/informal level). She made sound points. She seemed intelligent.

She made a Kickstarter to do a series about women and/in video games. For some reason, this drew down the thunder of the Internet gods, a pantheon of good and evil alike. Some gnashed their teeth, some jumped to her defense. Both sides went to battle. The result brought her campaign to front-page notoriety. In the end, she made her goal quite quickly.

Eight months later…

The first video comes out: “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games-Damsel in Distress“. The Internet watches with hungry eyes, eager to see what she’s done in the aftermath of the hoopla. And those eyes are even more hungry because she’s going to talk about video games, a subject near and dear to many of our hearts.

I wonder why she chose to single out video games for her topic. It’s a medium that’s got a long sordid history of misogyny, true. But it’s getting better. And movies, TV, literature, web comics, comic books, RPGs can be just as bad.

First, a prologue. If I’m going to discuss this, I’ve got to make sure I criticize the right things: the content. I’m not going to talk about her appearance, her legitimacy as a video gamer based on a photo. The point of feminism is allowing females to do whatever they want to do(1). If they want to wear big hoopy earrings, who cares. And I won’t talk about contradictions in her thesis. It does concern me, but she has the right to change her mind. And I’m only concerned about the information presented in this single video.

(1) Patrick Rothfuss, a declared feminist and world’s nicest guy, has an excellent post where even he has trouble defining what feminism is.

Second, I don’t want to have to talk about this, but it bugs me: the Kickstarter. Sarkeesian needed $6,000 to make these videos. She got $159,000 — almost 400% more than what she needed. And during the time between the end of her Kickstarter and the beginning of March, there was very little word.

Some people think she took the money and ran. Some people thought she could do whatever she wanted with the money. Some people thought she didn’t need a Kickstarter for doing what she’s been doing for free all this time. Some people said that there’s nothing wrong with getting paid for your work.

I fall somewhere in the middle. A contribution is just that. If you give money to a homeless guy, you have no say in what he does with the money. You hope that he uses it to get back on his feet, or get something to eat. But it’s just as likely he spends it on crack. I like to think Sarkeesian is more professional than that.

I think when you contribute to a Kickstarter — one with a particular goal — that money should be used just towards that goal (plus or minus expenses). It’s a bit of a contract: I give you money with the expectation of seeing the final product you produce. Not to feed your family or fund your lecturing tours (I’m not saying that Sarkeesian is doing this).

But I wonder what she did during those eight months, because this video doesn’t seem very different from her others. I wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t made her goal — could she have made the videos anyway?

I wish Kickstarter would set a cap on funds you receive, some kind of max cut-off. Because I think getting over-funded tends to backfire, and creates controversy where there is none (case in point). I think if she was more transparent with her plans — more updates, a video schedule, topics — it would go further towards legitimizing this project (not that she isn’t legitimate already). In fact, I wasn’t going to make this post until her second video, but it’s been so long…

Okay, now to the video proper. As one should do in any criticism, let’s start with the good points. I like how she explains the roots of the trope in video games. I knew about Greek myths and the monkey-kidnapping trope and Popeye leading to Donkey Kong and princesses in peril, but I never put it all together. Especially with how Donkey Kong served as the granddaddy for protagonist-antagonist driven video games.

I like her disclaimer that you can still like something while still being critical of it. No work is perfect. That’s something even I have trouble reconciling. However, I think if you’re going to present something in a critical light, you need to admit when things are both good and bad. Even Spoony admitted that the concert scene in FFX-2 was really good.

All right, that’s all I can think of. Now on to the negative.

1) THE TITLE: The first thing I see is that the actual title is “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games”. First, why “versus”? Why is Sarkeesian pitting tropes against women? Tropes are simply story-telling elements that appear with enough frequency to be identified. They’re not inherently bad. A better title might be “Tropes AND Women” or “Tropes WITH Women” or “Tropes OF Women”. By using “vs.”, she’s creating conflict where there is none. It’s unnecessarily incendiary.

2) THE LAUNDRY LIST: My main complaint with the video, as a whole, is that this is just a laundry list. Most of the time, she’s iterating through the many video games that feature a damsel in distress, concentrating on the Mario and Zelda series. A series that comes from one company, one creator (Shigeru Miyamoto).

If she’s not doing that, she’s listing off games from the ’80’s and 90’s with the all the in-depthness of Wikipedia. I feel like she just went to TvTropes.com for her information. This makes me uncertain of her level of expertise in this medium, as well as her knowledge of the games she selected. Which leads into…

3) CHERRY-PICKING INFORMATION: The very first point she opens with is Star Fox Adventures. Sarkeesian complains that Nintendo took out a “strong female character” (her opinion) and replaced it with a boy.

No. They replaced it with Star Fox, a recognizable name, a recognizable license. Licensing is Nintendo’s bread-and-butter, and they change things all the time. Kirby’s Epic Yarn had Prince Fluff as the main character. Doki Doki Panic became Super Mario Bros. 2 for internationalization (more on that later).

Sarkeesian says that this “strong female character”‘s game, Dinosaur Planet (N64), never got released. No. It got changed, then released, as Star Fox Adventures, a launch game for the GameCube.

Sarkeesian implies that they changed the main character because she was a woman. Does she think the developers said “This game is great, but no one will play a game with a woman as the main character” or “We can get more sales, especially for a launch title, if we change the main character into someone recognizable.” I guess we’ll never know. (To close the history, the game scored moderately well, especially in Japan, but got criticized for not being a true Star Fox game. All subsequent sequels did not Star Fox Adventure‘s format.)(2).

(2) I never played Star Fox Adventures so take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Every other game she talks about are accompanied by fleeting screenshots, many of which I couldn’t recognize. There’s no discourse beyond “this game has a damsel in distress”. She makes a point of mentioning Dragon’s Lair with its “ditzy Princess Daphne” being ported to so many systems. Dude, just because it gets ported to every system doesn’t mean it’s a popular game. It means the company wants money. It also doesn’t mean it was a good game.

When she talks about Mario, she makes sure to specify the problems with the CORE SERIES. Well, duh, of course the core series isn’t going to deviate from a traditional formula. That’s why it’s called the core series. Star Trek 11 isn’t going to take place with the Klingons, where Kirk and Spock are bit characters. And furthermore, why don’t the Spin-Offs count? Many of those games are just as popular, if not more, than some of the core series games (Super Mario RPG, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Mario Party).

Sarkeesian calls Peach “accidentally playable” in Super Mario Bros. 2, because it was a conversion of Doki Doki Panic. So she calls that “not a good example” of averting the Damsel in Distress trope. Except that Doki Doki Panic originally featured two female characters, so that completely contradicts your point, Anita. And no, they could not just have easily had Bowser in that role, because the sprites wouldn’t have matched. Part of video game design is working with your limitations. Heck, the reason Mario has a mustache was because there wasn’t enough pixels to show a mouth.

When she talks about the Zelda series, there are some points I have to concede to (see my review of Skyward Sword) about Zelda’s history of portrayals. But she completely neglects Twilight Princess. Zelda may have been trapped in a tower for most of the plot, but she does demonstrate some instrumentality. When the forces of the Twilight Realm invade her hall, and she sees the awesome power of King Zant wipe her soldiers out, she surrenders her kingdom. That takes balls.

Sarkeesian also conveniently forgets to mention all the other female characters in the Zelda series: Malon, Ruto, Saria, Nabooru, Impa, Romani and Cremia, Anju, Medli, Midna, Telma, Agitha. I think the LoZ games have been very diverse in gender.

Last, she completely neglects any positive portrayals of females in video games, ones who aren’t damsels. She seems to be keeping to the SNES era and prior, so the examples are few and far between. But they are there, like Metroid, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter II, Chrono Trigger, Castlevania, Ms. Pac-Man. She says there’ll be more in part 2, but I don’t see why they can’t be mentioned now.

4) NO INVESTIGATION: All throughout this laundry list, Sarkeesian never mentions once WHY the “princess in peril” is so common in video games, especially early ones. Maybe because it’s so simple, she didn’t feel the need to mention it, but I will.

Video games are targeted at white male adolescents.

They always have been, they always will (to some degree). And especially during the ’80’s and ’90’s. They have the most disposable income. And any video game aimed directly at girls is ill-fated (e.g., Barbie games and Purple Moon). When it comes down to it, video games are a commerical venture, just like movies and books.

Companies create these works of entertainment to make money, not art. Art doesn’t make a profit. Sure some games are exploring new visual mediums, experimental styles, but to paraphrase John Scalzi “If you’re not a commercial [creator] to some extent, very few people will know whether your [creation] is any good or not.”

There are secondary reasons too. Most games in this era were made in Japan, where females have been extremely disenfranchised until recent years. Also, early video games had limited resources. Stories were written out in the accompanying manual.

Before Donkey Kong, games were like Defender, Space Invaders, and Asteroids. They didn’t even have characters. (Although Extra Credits had a nice analysis of the Missile Command “narrative”.) If you could push in a storyline, you automatically received kudos. And the best games never eschewed gameplay for story.

So what’s the simplest storyline to put in without a lot of hoopla? Damsel in distress. Same reason most games are combat-based and contain amnesia: it’s easy and exciting.

Sarkeesian’s statements imply that the purpose of these video games is to shut women down. They keep getting kidnapped, and that removes the power from them. When men are kidnapped or imprisoned, it’s a brief change in gameplay or storyline. That’s the insidious thing in that, no matter how powerful these women, they always get put in a place of disempowerment where the man needs to save them.

Video games only have three types of gameplay: growth, exploration, or puzzle-solving. Most games fall under growth: getting stronger, achieving a sense of power. When Anita talks about women becoming disempowered, she neglects to mention that most often, the men are stuck in the same way. Hero Protagonist’s love has been kidnapped or the bad guy has a doomsday device or attempts some form of conquest. In any case, the bad guy has all the power, and the good guy has none. Even the underlings are stronger than you, from the bulky Abobo to the untouchable Goomba.

Oh hai Jimmy Lee

Until the hero sets out, and slowly gains experience and abilities over the course of his journey, until he is at a point where he can face the big bad.

5) NO QUANTITATIVE DATA: “I’ve heard it said that in the game of patriarchy, women are not the other team. They are the ball.”

Who said that, Anita? Where is your source for that quote? Where are your sources for anything? Where are you getting your data from? What are you using for research? What is your criteria? (Fun note: this quote featured a clip from Mario Sports Mix, where Peach is a playable character. See “cherry-picking”.)

Like her famous videos about the Bechdel test, this analysis employs unscientific, unmeasurable data (she even admits this). If you don’t have numbers, can you call it an analysis? It’s more of an exploration, or an editorial.

She seemed to be focusing on old school games, even though she never explicitly said so. I didn’t see a game mentioned that was past 1992, except when it was convenient, like the Mario and Zelda series. She’s missing lots of post SNES-era games, even though she mentioned those would be in the next video (what’s the over-under on how soon she mentions God of War?). Culture changes over years. This is like saying movies are racist by examining Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song (hope that’s the right amount of S‘s).

So pick a date range, Anita. And then tell me how many games had plot lines. How many games had a damsel in distress? How many featured a female playable character? How many games had no male protagonist? How many games had no protagonist at all?

6) WHAT IS YOUR POINT, ANITA?: The first thing she says is that this video series will explore the role of women in video games. It will offer critical analysis and so forth. All I learned at the end of the video was there was a lot of pre-1992 games that featured a kidnapped woman as the main objective/bad guy motivation. I feel like she’s standing in front of a video screen, doing the shame-shame finger at us. She’s indicating that the video game culture is wrong for works they did 30 years ago.

I think when Sarkeesian keeps saying “disempowerment”, she really means “agency”. The boys are the ones who get to do stuff. The boys get to beat people up or jump on Goombas. Girls hardly show any power in operation or opportunity for choice. Yes, that’s a problem. But refer to my point above — games are aimed at male adolescents. Know thy audience.

Also, games don’t need to feature a female to gain female audience, and vice versa. Look at IMDB’s Top 50 Titles as rated by women. Not one succeeds the Bechdel Test until number 17 (ironically, a movie from Japan). So really, the question is, even though a lot of games don’t let you be a woman, does anyone care?

CONCLUSION:

Maybe I’m not the right audience for this video. Maybe she’s aiming at an older crowd that’s not terribly savvy about video games. That might make her selection of criteria all the more devious — an attempt to misinform an ill-informed crowd — but I have no evidence of that.

And at the end of the video, I feel like I didn’t gain anything from it. It feels as vapid as Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games”. Chaffing and sardonic. Full of sound of fury, but at the end, signifying nothing. I would not want to show this video to my daughters, because it’s full of misleading data and trickiness.

Now, I don’t mind that she closed comments on her YouTube video. That’s fine. I would have done that too, if I’d gotten the hate she had. And YouTube has some of the worst scum the Internet has to offer (case in point). But to give no avenue for feedback? No forum or web page? I hope she’s receiving these responses in some form. Use all that money you got to hire a comment moderator. If she doesn’t offer an opportunity for discourse, I have a hard time accepting that Anita Sarkeesian is not just a rabble-rouser pushing an agenda, no better than Michael Moore or Ann Coulter.

So like it or not, Anita Sarkeesian, you have become a figurehead for feminism. You may have come into the Internet with the same amount of power as the rest of us, but that’s changed. That means people will be shaping their beliefs based on what you do, just as a writer shapes his craft by the other writers he/she admires. That means it’s time to step up to the plate.

Oh, and here’s an excellent video about female characters in games. One that has a thesis, and provides some solutions, instead of just shaming.

Thoughts About Wonder Woman

wonder woman

These days I’ve been thinking about Wonder Woman. One of my daughter’s friends had a Wonder Woman cake for her birthday (four years old) so I know her fanbase isn’t dead. She represents something important to women. Someone who can hold their own with the other super-people. Someone strong enough to stand with the G.I. Joes and He-Men. Independent, strong-willed, powerful.

And unfortunately, we’ll never see her again.

Barry Lyga recently wrote an article regarding why we won’t see a Wonder Woman movie. He argued that Wonder Woman’s portrayal is too inconsistent for a proper story. I agree, but I take it to the next level — even the consistencies prevent creators from updating her in some medium. Not a movie, not a TV series, not a cartoon show, not a video game, comic book, or even a crappy, actor-injuring musical. And they’ve tried. Oh, how they’ve tried. (shudder)

Don’t get me wrong, this news does not please me. I would love to see a Wonder Woman adaptation. I would love to see more any movies with female superheroines who aren’t relegated to “token girl”. I’ve already talked about how Supergirl is a great character. Wonder Woman is not that far removed. Some of the same principles apply — god-given powers, secret identity, struggle for selfdom in a different world. But unlike Supergirl, Wonder Woman’s fundamental concepts — her “spirit” (see bullet point 4) — are intrinsic to a bygone era.

Like Superman (and we all know how I hate Superman), the only reason she’s persisted is because she was the first female superhero. And to make Wonder Woman translate to today’s audiences, you would have to alter her so radically that she wouldn’t resemble Wonder Woman anymore. Someone’s going to leave unhappy — either the fanboys or the casuals.

I don’t want to say it’s impossible to make a Wonder Woman adaptation. There’s no concept so impossible that it can’t be executed well. Just look at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Batman. They’ve had dozens of incarnations from gritty mature to comically camp to nostalgic overload to bizarrely commercial. Not all of them were good, but the best stayed true to the spirit of the material. Superman is about might for right. Batman is about fighting for justice within a corrupt world. Wonder Woman is about… uh, well.

Oh, let’s just talk about the elephant in the room. The one that’s all trussed up.

There’s no delicate way to put this. (Well, there is, but I don’t care.) Charles Moulton, the creator of Wonder Woman, was into bondage and BDSM. He was in a polyamorous relationship with two women, both of which were co-creators. He was a psychologist who proposed that dominance and submission come from combinations of passive/active personalities in an antagonistic/favorable environment. But the author isn’t the work. You cannot say one is the other.

Except that Wonder Woman is frequently shown either tying up criminals or being tied up. The golden lasso is a clear tool to that end — restraining criminals, forcing them to submit to her will and tell the truth. At one time, it even forced people to obey commands. You might say superheroes often got tied up and restrained in those days.

wonder woman bound up
Images credit to Suffering Sappho

Not like this. Whether it’s body control or mind control, Wonder Woman got popular through exploiting sexual fetishes. Moulton never denied the comparisons. “Give [men] an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves!” (“Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics.” The American Scholar 13.1, 1943-44, page 43) How are you supposed to write a story in 2012 around that?

How would you even start the story? This is one superhero movie I wouldn’t mind seeing the origin story for (I say that because it seems like every superhero movie is an origin story, and the genre is starting to suffer from it). The problem is there’s a stigma around Amazons.

futurama amazonians
“Oh! You mean Snu-Snu.”

And if you follow that to it’s logical conclusion, then you end up with an unlikeable character — an entitled, bitchy woman with more masculinity than femininity who can’t form social relationships. It’s a cliche and it’s no one I want to spend time with. If they took a page from “3rd Rock from the Sun” or “Bones” to make her transition to normal society a little comical, that would be something. But then you’re changing the character.

The first thing you’d have to do is totally revamp the costume. You can’t have this all hanging out there. For one thing, her entire lower body is unprotected. For another, her entire upper body is unprotected. This is not a costume that invokes power, it invokes a male sex fantasy. Just like Power Girl and the new Starfire. I would hate for my kids to see that and think it’s what strong women wear. But if you change the costume, you change the character.

The biggest problem with Wonder Woman is that her weapons and tools just don’t make sense. Forget about the bondage for a second, let’s talk about the lasso. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with such a weapon — it’s reminiscent of Indiana Jones’s whip (or Catwoman’s whip, if you want to go there). But you need an edge if you’re going to rub shoulders with Superman’s laser eyes, Green Lantern’s ring, or Aquaman’s… aqua. So it gets the power to force anyone to tell the truth. Aaaaaaaaand you’ve effectively written yourself into a corner.

First, it’s not a very exciting power. Second, it becomes a deus ex machina. This guy knows where the bombs are, but he won’t tell us. Here you go, use this lasso. Robin’s in a slowly-filling water tank? Lasso. This guy knows where Buffalo Bill is hiding the bodies. Lasso. How short would “The Dark Knight” have been if Wonder Woman was in that interrogation cell instead?

Next, golden bracelets that can stop bullets. First, those things are, like, three by three inches. They only things they could block are tiny cocktail swords (unless you’re one of those anime samurai that can deflect bullets with your sword). Second, your wrist bones would shatter as soon as a bullet hit. Wonder Woman does not have super strength, just agility and martial arts training. Finally, four words: aim for the legs. The well-exposed legs.

Finally, we have the invisible airplane, probably one of the most WTF vehicles in superhero history. Why does it need to be invisible? How does that help you fight crime? The military can already make vehicles undetectable by radar. It’s not even really invisible, you can still see her in the sky, sitting on air, which is just visually bizarre. And it has nothing to do with the Wonder Woman character — what is so Amazonian about an airplane?

Even if it wasn’t invisible, airplanes are just cumbersome. You gotta have enough room to take off, land, and then store them when you’re not doing the first two. The only superhero planes I remember are the X-Jet (from X-Men) and the Batwing (which I haven’t seen since 1989). All the rest of them either fly naturally or stay close to home. Airplanes are a throwback to an era when you weren’t crammed in like sardines, porno-scanned, and spending eight hours on the tarmac. It’s an old concept that just wouldn’t fly today (YOU LAUGH NOW).

How about companions? Now I’m speaking as someone who’s never read the comics, but familiar with the character, i.e. the target audience. The only companions I know of are Steve Trevor and Etta Candy. Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman had the screwed-up relationship of “I Dream of Jeannie”. Wonder Woman’s got all this power and ability, yet she feels incomplete without him. She’s not happy unless he acknowledges her mousy alter-ego, making her almost sorry for her abilities. Meanwhile, he’s either disciplining her for being so brash or not paying attention. She should have just slipped him a “Do you like me? Circle yes or no” note. Not someone I’d want my girls to look up to.

Etta Candy? Who is she supposed to be? Comic relief? Is she like the Theodore of this triumvirate? Always looking for something to eat? She’s just a novelty character. Did anyone check if she has an eating disorder?

And the biggest problem with the supporting characters is that Wonder Woman has no memorable villains. That is a must. That is the thing that makes Batman, X-Men, and Spider-Man continue to thrive and draw in audiences. (Superman has good villains too, and I wish movie-makers would realize that. There’s more than Lex Luthor out there.) A hero is only as good as its villain. And I’m afraid any villain of Wonder Woman would devolve into a designated girl fight.

So we’ve got weapons that don’t work, an origin story with questionable origins, and supporting characters that we don’t like. We might have to relegate ourselves to Wonder Woman as the Smurfette of the Justice League. I hate to admit it, but I don’t see how to make Wonder Woman a headliner without unmaking her.

Pants to be darkened!