Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Well, at least this argument passes this Bechdel test.

New Yorker porn.
I had every intention of writing a blog post tonight, but my friend and I got distracted by links to a recent discussion on Marvel's female superheroes prompted by a surprisingly poorly-conceived article in The New Yorker, which ended up eating an awfully big chunk of my evening.

If you haven't heard, as neither of us had until about three hours ago, very smart historian, Harvard professor and usually very good writer Jill Lepore, best known in comics circles as the author of last year's The Secret History of Wonder Woman, wrote an odd, disjointed article for The New Yorker in which she criticizes an advance review copy of A-Force by forming some sort of focus group with two ten-year-old boys.

It's a very bizarre article, of the sort that seems like it was written in 1998, and really should have the words "Biff," "Bam" and "Pow" in the headline. I don't expect everyone who engages in superhero comics to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the sort most fans boast (to be able to name all of the characters on the cover of A-Force #1, for example), but Lepore seems to wear her ignorance like a badge of honor in this discussion, getting the most basic of facts wrong when a simple Google search would provide answers to her questions. I'm not sure how it even got past fact-checkers; The New Yorker has fact checkers, right? (To pick one egregious example, she mentions the fact that the male Thor has turned into a woman; in actuality, a woman has proven worthy of wielding male Thor's magic hammer, thus gaining the powers of Thor...male Thor is still a man, and has appeared alongside the mysterious new woman with the powers of Thor in, like, every issue).

If I had to guess, I would assume a particularly out-of-touch New Yorker editor noticed that all the kids were talking about Marvel heroes because of the movie that was coming out, and thought that since Lepore wrote a book about a superhero, maybe they could commission her to write a piece for them, thus tapping into the cultural zeitgeist of the first few weeks of May. That, or Lepore herself pitched it to make a little extra scratch, persuading her editor that the kids are talking about Marvel superheroes right now, and she wrote a book about a superhero, so they should maybe pay her some New Yorker money for a piece of click-bait.

Either way, it's a very embarrassing piece; not simply for all of the moments in which Lepore reveals extreme ignorance, but the obstinance of that ignorance, the refusal to Google "She-Hulk" or "A-Force" or "female Thor" or "Thor + The View," as if lowering herself to do such "research" would somehow sully her discussion of the subject matter (Granted, the premise seems to be an attempt to view this comic book through the eyes of 10-year-old boys...she probably shoulda had them fact-check her article, though. Also, one of them probably should have brought up Secret Wars to her, as A-Force isn't really even meant to be considered outside the context of a Marvel Unvierse gone mad, with alternate realities colliding into a new, temporary, bizarre structure not meant to last longer than a few months).

Ms. Marvel and A-Force writer G. Willow Wilson responded at some length to Lepore's article here; Wilson, like Joss Whedon, is someone that Lepore actually calls out for what she perceives as the failings of the female superheroes in Marvel movies and comics. (I'm only on chapter three of Secret History of Wonder Woman, but if she thinks that, then I'm assuming the only superhero comics Lepore has ever read were those by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter...?).

I'm not terribly worked up about Lepore's piece–these paragraphs being nothing more than a probably over-tedious wind-up to a lame joke–as it is such a strange throwback to a time when comics as a medium and industry was still fighting for respectability against the prejudices of the mainstream. The roles are so reversed now that comics (or at least comic book-generated intellectual properties) are devouring the rest of pop culture and assimilating other media. To see someone writing in a magazine criticizing the perceived failings of Marvel superheroes based on what one overhears from some children of her acquaintance seems utterly demented. I'm a little surprised Wilson engaged Lepore at all, let alone with as much patience, grace and intelligence as she did.

But what I found most interesting here is that we have Jill Lepore (a woman) and G. Willow Wilson (a woman) discussing the cast of characters starring in the upcoming coming book A-Force (all of whom, of course, are women). So here we have an Internet argument about comics that totally passes the Bechdel test, and if that's not progress, I don't know what is.


I wonder if Lepore knows what the Bechdel test is...?


SallyP said...

Hey, Comics are COOL now!

Yeah, it's rather sad, that she didn't feel the need to do any actual...research into her subject. I can only suppose that she thought the topic was not serious enough.

Or something.

raphaeladidas said...