What I Want from Wonder Woman (and Won’t Get): A Pre-Review

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Y’all know I’m a Marvel girl. The MCU has been one of the things that’s kept me going for at least five years now, and most assuredly for the past two. So it’s a bit disingenuous for me to talk about DC’s film universe because I know from the get-go I’ll just get labeled as some sort of shrill Marvel shill. But bear with me because, above all else, I just want to be told a good story. I’m the first to call out Marvel when I think they’ve failed (which they’ve done frequently and spectacularly lately) so keep that in mind when I say that DC done lost its fool mind.

I had the misfortune of having to go see both Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad for a podcast that I host with my friend Marc. You can’t talk about something if you haven’t seen it. Marc is much kinder to things than I am. I wanted to burn everything to the ground after enduring both movies. Neither has any depth, plot, or character development. They’re both desperate, slapdash propagations of highly lucrative intellectual property. They rely solely on the fact that everyone is desperate to love the films because they love the symbols in them. DC has always been King. Batman has always been #1. Everyone already adores Harley Quinn.  But Marvel’s film success has DC desperate to get their shit in front of eyeballs because superheroes sell. They seem to have missed the crucial bit that good stories about superheroes are what sell. (The box office returns v. critical acclaim debate I save for another day.)

There are so many problems with the entire situation that I can’t even enumerate them all. I don’t know the ins and outs of DC, Warner Brothers, or comics culture the way others do and DC’s disasters have been endlessly dissected by others better than I could. So what I’m going to talk about is not the horrors DC puts out but what I want from Wonder Woman. Because, to my weird specialized heart, that movie has the potential to be better than Captain America: The First Avenger. (Y’all ever heard me go on about Cap1? There are usually overexcited tears involved.)

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Citations for the FitzSimmons Special

Hey guys! I finally recorded a 100% FitzSimmons episode of the podcast I started with my friend. You can listen to it here.

And behold my mighty list of citations if you want to delve into any of this in more detail:

  • Barwich, Ann-Sophie. “Science and Fiction: Analysing the Concept of Fiction in Science and Its Limits.” J Gen Philos Sci 44 (2013): 357-73. Web.
  • Dempsey, Paul. “Science Friction.” Engineering and Technology (2013): 33-35. Web.
  • Dill-Shackleford, Karen E. How Fantasy Becomes Reality. New York: Oxford UP, 2016. Print.
  • Francis, Becky. “Re/theorising Gender: Female Masculinity and Male Femininity in the Classroom?” Gender and Education5 (2010): 477-90. Web.
  • Gelernter, David. “The Closing of the Scientific Mind.” American Jewish Committee (2014): 17-25. Web.
  • Hearn, Jeff, and Liisa Husu. “Understanding Gender: Some Implications for Science and Technology.” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews2 (2011): 103-13. Web.
  • Hills, Rachel. The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015. Print.
  • Hurley, Kameron. The Geek Feminist Revolution. New York: Tor, 2016. Print.
  • Larbalestier, Justine. The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 2002. Print.
  • Mendick, Heather, and Marie-Pierre Moreau. “New Media, Old Images: Constructing Online Representations of Women and Men in Science, Engineering and Technology.” Gender and Education3 (2013): 325-39. Web.
  • Millward, Liz, and Janice G. Dodd. “Feminist Science Fiction Utopia and Stargate: SG-1: “I Doubt Very Much Colonel Carter Has Even Scratched the Surface of What Is Possible”” Women’s Studies 41 (2012): 18-35. Web.
  • Moore, Bryan L. “”Evidences of Decadent Humanity” Antianthropocentrism in Early Science Fiction.” Nature and Culture1 (2014): 46-64. Web.
  • O’Reilly, Julie D. “The Wonder Woman Precedent: Female (Super)Heroism on Trial.” The Journal of American Culture3 (2005): 273-83. Web.
  • Pettersson, Helena. “Making Masculinity in Plasma Physics: Machines, Labor and Experiments.” Science Studies1 (2011): 47-65. Web.
  • Pollack, Eileen. The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club. Boston: Beacon, 2015. Print.
  • Rubin, Lawrence. “Superheroes on the Couch.” The Journal of Popular Culture2 (2012): 410-31. Web.
  • Schummer, Joachim. “Historical Roots of the ‘Mad Scientist’: Chemists in Nineteenth-century Literature.” Ambix2 (2006): 99-127. Web.
  • Stiles, Anne. “Literature in Mind: H.G. Wells and the Evolution of the Mad Scientist.” Journal of the History of Ideas2 (2009): 317-39. Web.
  • Szalavitz, Maia, and Bruce D. Perry. Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential–and Endangered. New York: William Morrow, 2009. Print.
  • Taber, Nancy, Vera Woloshyn, Caitlin Munn, and Laura Lane. “Exploring Representations of Super Women in Popular Culture.” Adult Learning4 (2014): 142-49. Web.
  • Toomey, Chris. “Does Nanotech Have a Gender.” Nature Nanotechnology 7 (2012): 412. Web.
  • Toumey, Christopher P. “The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of Science.” Science, Technology, and Human Values4 (1992): 411-37. Web.
  • Weart, Spencer. “The Physicist as Mad Scientist.” Physics Today (1988): 28-37. Web.
  • White, Michael. Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1997. Print.

Fun fact, I recorded this for like two hours in a very hot car \o/

4,722 Hours and 6,741

Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes

Tonight is the finale of this disaster of a season on Agents of SHIELD (and yes I’ll do a postmortem) but what I want to talk about right now is character integrity and the way both Agents of SHIELD and Person of Interest handled disappearances/returns of major characters. Agents of SHIELD‘s “4,722 Hours” was like the epitome of what not to do while Person of Interest‘s “6,741” was ideal.

The premises here are largely the same. A stolid lady is taken from her friends and allies and is presumed to be in grave peril. In both cases, said lady is tentatively engaged in an unconventional romance which enhances but in no way defines her character. Both Simmons and Shaw express to their respective lovers that they reciprocate their feelings just as they are separated. Person of Interest allows Shaw to retain her agency, inhabit her space, and reaffirm her character. Agents of SHIELD, by contrast, robs Simmons of her agency, papers over her character, and forces her to emotionally contort exclusively for the sake of manufactured romantic conflict. 1 More than that, AoS takes a fully-realized character who rejects traditional gender roles and defines her exclusively by her womanhood and normative expectation where PoI eschews normativity altogether.

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Why You Feel Like Fitz and/or Simmons are About To Bite It

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

I try not to read reviews etc. of Agents of SHIELD because I have a weirdly fragile headspace about it, but a few of the taglines for “The Singularity” I just had to click through. I’m so specifically and intensely into FitzSimmons that I was curious if other people felt like they worked as well as I claim they do. What I noticed was the general consensus that everyone feels like Fitz or Simmons is who is going to die by the end of the season. That’s also the feeling that I’m getting, but I feel like that literally every time anyone suggests a character is about to bite it. For me, it’s just that I’m most invested in them, I dread it, and it would hurt the most. But, more than that, it comes from long conditioning to television romance narratives .

(Editing to add: I’m not saying they will, as many discussions lead me to believe that if they killed off either the show would essentially commit suicide. But this is the reason we all feel like they’ll get offed. It’s a thing.)

Additional spoilers for a ton of things, including: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel the Series, Battlestar Galactica, and The X-Files.

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Follow-Up On Agents of SHIELD–

Just as a follow-up, I quite enjoyed “The Team” and it gives me a little hope for this show again. That said, I love this series but I no longer trust it the way I used to.

You can read my review here, as I’m not allowed to repost it.

Also, if you wish, you can listen to my friend Marc and I discuss all the goodness of this episode in our podcast:

Agents of SHIELD Has Lost It (What it looks like when you break up with a TV show)

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s Tuesday again, and for the first time in a few years this is how I feel about there being a new episode of Agents of SHIELD tonight:

carey mulligan mug

Agents of SHIELD has become the most uninteresting, flat portrayal of superpowers in the entire MCU. Even The Incredible Hulk, which is utterly terrible in every way, has more nuance about powers than this. Did I say this last week? Have I said this before a million times in a million places? It’s worth repeating ad nauseam. The main premise (and a lot of the charm) of Agents of SHIELD is that it was always an investigation of how non-powered people deal with a superpowered world. Even Skye’s development of powers in season 2 was about self-discovery and self-acceptance. The superpowers were not plot devices but expressions of character traits or handy practicalities. Now, each episode feels structured around how to best show off nifty tricks that have no bearing on character. They feel cheap, like I’ve been cheated out of emotionally resonant stories about characters I care about in favor of flashy explosions and bizarre turns. You can’t even call this tactic “deus ex machina” because every story is built around how best to exhibit the powers. They’ve become the point rather than the premise.

Coulson, May, and Mack are perfunctory set dressing. Bobbi and Hunter are actually gone. Fitz and Simmons chill in the background and mouth jargon without actually serving any purpose in the story. (This charge was lodged against them at the beginning of the series. Know when they started to be relevant? When it was obvious they were madly, stupidly, profoundly in love with each other and incapable of expressing it. That is an essay in and of itself, but mostly: way to nuke that one.) Skye, or as they insist on calling her, “Daisy” slashes through human and civil rights simply because she has the power, with Lincoln as her romantic-plot-tumor sidekick. The problem with this is that the narrative never questions her. She’s framed as in the right at all times. She’s good, pure, high-minded, authoritarian Daisy. Bow before her coolness and girl power. Don’t question her or you’re a misogynistic hater.

This show sucks. I’m sick of it. It’s seriously currently as bad as it was in 1×01-15. Oh yeah, I went there. It’s over-reached and made itself irrelevant. Even though supposedly there’s a global crisis, everyone is in peril, and all of humanity is about to be enslaved by an Inhuman parasite there are no stakes. None of it matters. For Agents of SHIELD to matter, the villains need to be personal. Arguably, an Inhuman parasite infecting Ward’s body is personal, but that’s not what I mean. The danger itself needs to be personal. The people potentially harmed by failure need to be the agents themselves. There is absolutely no way that the entire world will fall victim to Monster!Ward. You know the good guys win. They have to. This show cannot affect the universe status quo. When SHIELD fell, that became a personal story for the show’s main characters. Coulson’s alien writing and Skye’s superpowers were both personal stories that affected the entire team. Saving the world from an alien contagion is too much. Our contingent of SHIELD agents isn’t in direct, immediate danger so much as everyone is in danger and Daisy’s Secret Warriors have to stop it because they’re so wonderful. The thing that made it work is gone. Even the character details and small background quirks are missing.

Maybe they’re twiddling their thumbs waiting for Civil War the way they did for Winter Soldier. One can hope. But Winter Soldier had six post-movie episodes with which to tell a coherent narrative. Civil War will have three. Currently, the series is hit-or-miss with it’s greatness, but in the past four weeks I’ve felt either apathy or hatred for three out of four episodes. That’s a terrible record. Maybe I’ll change my tune tonight. Maybe they’ll blow me out of the water, bring back all the character dynamics and stories I love, and make me care again. But maybe not. Maybe I’ll just stay profoundly sad that the coolest, smartest, most fun little trope-destroying, transmedia experiment of a series has self-destructed and doesn’t even seem to know it.

Stop Saying Marvel Movies Are All the Same; You Look a Fool

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Lately, I’ve been minding my own business reading totally unrelated articles about the entertainment industry and media criticism when bam! Slapped in the face with a backhanded insult aimed at Marvel Studios. “They’re all the same,” reviewers opine with a wink and a smile. “Nothing happens in them; they can’t damage their franchise!” critics gleefully deduce, seemingly not paying attention to the films at all.

Let’s just dispense with the idea that all Marvel Studios films are the same and that nothing happens in them. It’s precisely the opposite of the truth and is such a willful misreading it smacks of elitist snobbery.

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“That’s Almost Romantic!”: FitzSimmons, Romance, and the Observer Effect

Estimated Reading Time: 14 minutes

(This essay is #9 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

I have a long-standing vendetta against romance. The majority of romances in visual-based media are absurd, offensive, unrealistic annoyances that utilize narrative shorthand in place of actual character development and thus never make sense as more than some kind of male fantasy sequence. Media is predominantly an extended make-believe of straight male wish fulfillment. As such, its rare that women are anything aside from hetero sex objects and queer romance is taboo or a punchline. Even romances that aren’t gross masculine indulgence are usually some tumorous plot point included to appease the “lady demographic.” The irony is inescapable: women are perceived as obsessed with romance, but most “romances” in mainstream media are included for male audiences.

Even when relationships are given space to develop, time to breathe, and are a reasonable progression for the characters involved, I still tend to feel generally indifferent towards them. Take, for example, Roslin and Adama on Battlestar Galactica. Their romantic arc is perfectly lovely. I don’t care about it at all. It takes some serious shit for me to fall for a relationship and after every foiled investment it gets that much harder to sway me.

Fitz and Simmons are my actual downfall. Not only are they positive representations of scientists with no superpowers and some fascinating gender politics—the nuances of their relationship feel like they were calculated to eviscerate me. What I used to say was “I have issues and these two stick their fingers right into every single one of them and wiggle them around.” That’s still accurate. Frankly, this did not come out of my brain very well, so I’m sure I’ll return to the topic in the future.

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“I Am Every Bit the SHIELD Agent You Are”: Fitz, Simmons, and Gendered Expectation

Estimated Reading Time: 19 minutes

(This essay is #8 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

By all rights, this should probably be three or four completely different essays. But they’re related, and interrelated. The first few are legit enough that I have research to back them up. The last few are just me kind of ranting. Here’s a brief outline of what you’re in for:

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“It’s Like Magic”: Science, Superpowers, and Narrative Utility in Cult TV

Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes

(This essay is #7 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD)

Genre cult television tends to have two character types: action heroes and brainy exposition characters. Oftentimes, the brainy characters develop some kind of physical or metaphysical power of their own because generating ways to keep them narratively relevant over time becomes difficult. In the MCU in particular, science is used by the majority of scientist heroes to level themselves up and give themselves superpowers. Yet Fitz and Simmons don’t use science as a personal enhancement, their intelligence is something like a superpower, keeping them relevant while still allowing them to remain mundane.

Additional Spoiler Warnings for: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly/Serenity, Supernatural, Angel

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