The Feminine Gaze and Jessica Jones


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My initial impression of Jessica Jones from the promotional material was that it was going to be Marvel’s version of Veronica Mars. I’ll stand by that impression since finishing the series as there really is a lot of overlap: the main character is a strong woman but a mess, dealing with her own rape and using her considerable skills to face the offender and defend other victims through P.I. work. While both heroines have no-nonsense attitudes and rapier wits, Jessica Jones is a much darker show even though it explores the same themes.

The show really does achieve a unique female gaze by exploring feminine power and shattering most gender stereotypes that work to heap male expectations on women. I know that sounds like a cliché because most shows are attempting these feminist themes, but Jessica Jones manages to hit a cord that really works. Male characters are downplayed so that the women can shine. Luke Cage, an extremely interesting character with his own powers, is a side character and a love interest, much like the way most women are treated in mainstream superhero movies. Really, he’s there to be eye candy: what (straight) woman wasn’t looking at those rippling muscles? The cinematic choice to constantly show off his chiseled physique amused me greatly. (Hi girl, I’m just going to stand here in nothing but a towel so you can admire my dripping after-shower muscles while we talk strategy.)

The other men are helpless, pawns in the villain Kilgrave’s plans against their will. Men are portrayed as useless ( Reuben), helpless (Malcom), irrational (Simpson) or incapable against the main villain. That sounds kind of harsh, but consider that this is the way most women characters are portrayed in superhero movies with a male protagonist.  (Oh no! Mary Jane has been kidnapped again, and her dress is so wet it shows off her nips!)

And then of course, there’s Kilgrave. Most of Marvel’s villains are pretty bad, but they can usually be made fun of. The tension can be cut by making fun of their mommy-issues, or taking shots at their wardrobe, for instance.  There is nothing funny about Kilgrave: he is a character so twisted and deplorable that no light can get in, and very few laughs. He’s an impeccably dressed, well-spoken sociopath who can control minds and never be caught. David Tennant does such an awesome job portraying the villain that I’ll never look at Doctor Who the same again.

That isn’t to say that the show doesn’t have its laughs. There are several quotable lines that made me fist-punch the air or just laugh out loud.

Jerk: “Rude girls end up alone”

Jessica: “Counting on it!”

Really, the show is so dark at times that I found myself saying quite often: “Wow, this is Marvel?” This is not to say that darkness and gritty themes ought to be avoided in on-screen adaptations of comic books, but I was and still am very impressed by Netflix’s Daredevil and the showrunner’s ability to balance the light and the dark in a way that didn’t weigh too heavily on the viewer and did so without sacrificing dramatic gravity.  Matt Murdock certainly had his relationship drama (who can forget the emotionally poignant scene where Foggy finds out Matt’s true identity, and tearfully confronts him?) but Jessica Jones is fraught with it.

As the viewer I felt constantly punched in the gut: any ray of hope is usually dashed and made to look stupid, since Jessica’s coping mechanism is her salty cynicism. While charming and hilarious at times, I found it making me very upset with her as the show went on. She says out loud at one point that she “is shit” and only listens to the people who confirm her negative views of herself. Anyone with anything positive to say about her is either an idiot in her view, or a stalker.

However, her personality flaws are not unexpected since her character has been through hell, so I was resigned to her crustiness while still hoping for better. Think about it: A punch in the face is easier to shrug off than sexual assault. The violence of this show isn’t bloody, it’s psychological, because that’s the kind of torture that women usually have to bear the brunt of.  While that falls within the feminine gaze the show succeeds in achieving, this can be wearying to the viewer. It is however, completely legitimate.

This creation is a testament to the creative team of the Marvel Universe. Audiences can be treated to intimate and emotionally raw stories revolving around crime drama, or wonder about the infinite, far-reaching galaxies beyond and their inhabitants, and keep both things within the same world. Evil can be penumbral or more overt: the villain can be a posh psycho hiding in plain sight or an ostentatious mutant in a goofy helmet declaring his superiority over humanity.

I’m looking forward to more of Hell’s Kitchen drama. Perhaps Matt and Jessica will meet? This is comic books, after all.

Just our favorite guys chillin' with burgers.

Just our favorite guys chillin’ with burgers.

Dear Geek Guys: I Don’t Have to Be YOUR Kind of Geek Gal

Newsflash everyone: entertainment taste is subjective. You might know more about what you like, but don’t make that the standard by which you judge my “geek cred.”

  1. I don’t care
  2. I ain’t your pixie gal

I remember being into Akira (film and manga) around the age of 13-14. Nobody knew what it was but I was perfectly happy liking obscure things. I went through an Anime stage but I was pretty selective about what I wanted to watch. All that means is that I didn’t watch everything under the sun. (I’ll date myself here, but my selection was whatever was on the shelf at blockbuster.)

Well, I started meeting Anime nerds…and suddenly, having a common interest wasn’t good enough. Fist, do you know how rare it was to meet someone who watched that stuff when I was a teenager? It was like, a group of ten people in my hometown. I remember being happy at first. But then they started to measure me against their own tastes.

Fan: “Have you watched X? You aren’t a real anime fan until you’ve watched X.”

Me: “No, I haven’t. I saw Y and loved that, though.”

Fan: “Whatever, Y is for people not serious about this.”

I was flabbergasted when the conversation got heated. I eventually had to decide, for my own sanity, that my fandom would be a positive experience of people sharing things they loved with others. If anyone threatened that, I cut them off. Hey, it was better than explaining why I wasn’t really into Elf Quest for the zillionth time. (Come on now, guys: we all know why you were into Elf Quest at 14.)

But ah, puberty. When nerd guys start to find out that there’s one girl in the pool who kind of likes nerd stuff, it’s like setting out a bowl of rotten fruit in a fly farm.

So, guys would start handing me comics and movies they liked, and give me the whole, “I think you’ll like this.” *WINK* (Subtext: oh God, if you don’t like this like I do MY LIFE IS OVER.) I remember the pressure. If I started reading/watching something and didn’t like it, I knew I’d get grilled or worse, treated like I was some ingrate who couldn’t be nice to some poor guy.  Or, on the flipside, I’d like what I saw but I didn’t like the guy, so if I turned him down everyone thought I was a shrew.

There was no way to win! I remember one guy who didn’t even like comics/anime start following me around, and when he found out I liked that stuff he threw himself into it whole-hog. Well, I still didn’t like him, because you know, relationships are built on much more than entertainment tastes, but as far as he was concerned I was just a terrible person that no guy could please.

And want to know the kicker? A few years after this all cooled down we ran into each other at a comic book store, and he asked me if I’d seen some series. I said no, and he rather cavalierly said, “Man, you got me into this stuff and now I know more about it than you!” (You know what? I bet it was Elf Quest. Freaking ELF QUEST GAH.)

What, you mean I failed to be your geeky pixie gal? OH WELL. Heck, I even told some guy that I tried watching a show he liked, and told him I appreciated the suggestion. His response was obnoxious: “Well of course you liked it. I’m the only one suggesting good stuff to you. You have bad taste.”

Thank God I was self-assured enough not to let these guys make me feel worthless, but what a stupid way to treat a girl. Want to know how it’s done, guys?

Guy: “I just saw X. Have you? It’s about so-and-so and I liked it.”

Girl: “No, I don’t really watch that genre but I saw Y and love it because of so-and-so.”

Guy: “Oh, that’s cool. If you don’t like the genre of X I think it’s a standout worth trying. I’ve seen Y. Do you watch this stuff a lot?”

Gal: “Yea, I like it!”
Guy: “Me too!”

Really, it’s that simple. And honestly, boys drool when they’re high school age. I made some really great friends with geek girls that I still have a connection with today. And you know what? We all had this complaint about you, nerd guys. So live and learn.

What I Saw at Boston Comic Con

I met these Thor people!

I met these Thor people!

What can I say? It was fun! Friday was a good day to go. It was full but quiet and people were so amazingly nice. I love the artists’ booths. I met so many great people who were just willing to talk about their work and how drawing made them happy. I grew up in nerd culture and my husband did not, and even he mentioned that “comic book people” are very inclusive. We saw a few disabled kids join some tables like they belonged there, and witnessed new friendships being struck up over card games and sketchbooks. I think nerds are just aware that we’re all nerds: hey, you got a wedgie in high school? Screw popular people, man. Check out this new Spider-Man variant.

I was very impressed with the cosplay this year too. Check out this iron man:

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There was a GREAT batman walking around too…there were kids in line for pictures with him, but he had to decline after about the 500th because, as he said (in authentic, raspy Batman voice), “Sorry guys, I have to pee.” It made my day.

2015-07-31 13.24.36 And the artists! Where to start? I saw Michael Cho who was selling prints for only $35 a pop (cash only) I love his stuff and want to decorate my kids’ room with it! I met Amy Reeder who draws Rocket Girl and she signed a copy of a trade paperback for me, and was a genuinely lovely person who was happy with her profession and willing to share that joy.

I was also impressed with the Indie scene: I met Mark Willis of Indie Comic Review and chatted with him about his efforts to give more attention to non DC/Marvel artists and writers who deserve a following. I checked out the webpage and I found some titles I’d be very interested in reading. He’s also looking to promote writers and artists so drop him a line to get involved!

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Other mentions: Chrissie Zullo, David Thorn- Wenzel (his prints were $200 a pop) and the good folks from Boston Comics Roundtable who invited me to come to their mini comic workshop. I’m tempted- meeting other artists and getting small press published? Sounds fun to me! I also loved the folks at Comicazi, who are just located in Somerville! I’ll be sure to drop in when I have the notion and bring my dinosaur-loving kiddos.

Speaking of kiddos, I didn’t bring mine, but there was a Lil Cthulhu plushie that I was tempted by:

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Cute, right?

To Con or not to Con?

I’m going to Boston’s comic-con this July, and I’m pretty excited.  I remember going to a few small cons in Ohio with my dad when I was but wee. The last time I went was in 2012, and there were a few things about it that were different than what I was used to:

1.) Cosplayers had taken over.  We couldn’t turn around without bumping into someone dressed like the Joker or a Star Wars character.

2.) All of the events were centered around meeting actors in TV shows or movies.

I guess this isn’t bad, but you can’t beat jawing with a comic book artist you admire, and those opportunities don’t seem to be what is driving the experience anymore. I guess I’ll see a few actors, but standing in line for hours to say “hi” awkwardly isn’t my thing. I guess I might get cool pictures? All for the selfies, I guess.

Another thing is that comic con is now trying to appeal to all ages, which is good and bad. I went with my young son in 2012, and if we took a wrong turn it wasn’t entirely kid-friendly.  One isle was Scrooge Mc Duck, the other zombie porn! It means I’ll have to be careful where I take my kids, and that’s hard since I really want them to be able to share the love of all things geeky I have with them.  I’ll be with adults this July, so I don’t have to worry about it this time around.

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I’ll have to see what I think of the Boston Con this summer. Oscar Bernie argues that comic cons are killing fandom.  After reading his post, I realized I’ve never been to a “real” Con. I’d love to meet writers and artists, and I guess Comic-Con is not the place for that? I hope not- that’s sad. The very people doing all the creative work are in the dark or treated like cogs in a wheel. And you know what? Writers and artists are shy in my experience. We need each other, but it looks like we’re being pushed out of our own element by actors.