Yahoo’s got an alternate look at what could have been the beginning of The Avengers, and what would have been a striking, and fascinatingly, different movie:
One of the most underdeveloped elements of The Avengers—or one of the most interesting pieces of setup for a future film, depending on how it’s played—was Nick Fury’s relationship with the S.H.I.E.L.D. Council, a shadowy, multi-national organization that apparently has access to nuclear weapons, and has some power to oversee his work. It wasn’t clear who they were or what authority they had, or what ability they have now to call The Avengers to account. Those tensions are all fascinating story engines that Fury essentially blew off or ignored simply by acting as he wished in the face of great danger. It’s one of the reasons that an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show would be so interesting—it could fill in all the spaces between the big battles with smaller bureaucratic fights and the consequences that follow a throwdown like the one between Loki and his forces and the men and woman at Fury’s command.
And it would be a nice way to reckon with the actual costs of superhero throwdowns. The Avengers skips straight from the fear and devastation and the near-nuking of New York to a world where the city is restored and there’s a vigorous debate underway about what it means that superheroes exist. But so much of superheroism is about destroying the world to save it. That’s a terrible tension, and accepting it, and not just the prospect of people with abilities, is part of what living in a world with superheroes would relaly mean.
As much as I’d love to see Diana Prince be the subject of a movie franchise or a television show (though, of course, not one by David E. Kelley), that seems like a pretty remote possibility at this point. But at least I’m glad to hear that Fox is considering a tantalizing alternative, a story about Athena herself and not simply a riff on the goddess:
The project, which has received a script commitment, is based on Joy’s graphic novel, Headache, a coming-of-age drama about a 23 year-old woman who discovers she’s Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare. Each week she must maintain her secret identity while battling a slew of ancient monsters from Greek mythology and searching to uncover which of the other Greek gods is secretly plotting against her to take over the Earth.
I also really just like the idea of a contemporary woman suddenly finding out that she’s basically in charge of two areas of human life where men tend to assume they’re predominant today, even though gender obviously never held the ancient Greeks back any in terms of who they worshipped. Maybe we can have a mansplaining episode in which Athena fixes Will McAvoy.
I want to like Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad,” on the grounds that I like Lupe Fiasco himself, and because I, like many female hip-hop listeners, would be happy to find articulate male allies in the genre:
There are a lot of things that are off about the song. Its chorus hook, “Bitch bad, woman good / Lady better, they misunderstood,” sounds like remedial English, which whether it’s directed at women who apply the word to themselves or the men who sling it around, sounds exhaustingly condescending. In The Atlantic, Mychal Denzel Smith has a terrific breakdown of the song’s problematic gender politics, from the simplicity of that core heirarchy, to its unwillingness to assign men responsibility for their judgement of women.
But what irritated me about “Bitch Bad” is its desire to get credit for bringing up a provocative issue without the accompanying responsibility for calling anyone out. “Disclaimer: this rhymer, Lupe, is not usin’ ‘bitch’ as a lesson,” he rhymes, “But as a psychological weapon / To set in your mind and really mess with your conceptions / Discretions, reflections, it’s clever misdirection.” But the only meaningful discussion between “lesson” and intellectual provocation is the responsibility the speaker has for making a point at the end. Given how heavily the rest of “Bitch Bad”‘s lyrics rely on media psychology—in the verse about how girls consume media, he might as well be cribbing from the Parents’ Television Council—he’s on particularly shaky ground in terms of declaiming having any particular message. Watching him dig deeper on that insistence that he can’t be taken too seriously, telling Rolling Stone “I’m not trying to say this is what’s going to happen, or potentially what’s going to happen. Because you don’t know, the characters are fictional, based on true events. I know personally what has affected me, but that’s me personally,” is irritating.
The thing is, as a woman, Lupe Fiasco’s personal experience with the impact of the word “bitch” is nice to have on record, but his willingness to take an actual stand would be a lot more useful. I’m not really in a mood to give him credit for calling out misogyny in hip-hop if he doesn’t actually want to be seen as calling out misogyny in hip-hop. Fiasco told Rolling Stone that the album from which this song comes was inspired by James Baldwin because “he was such a powerful figure. He was a homosexual, he was an atheist, he was black, he was a writer, he was a down brother, he lived in Paris and grew up in the slums of Harlem. And he was a preacher. So he had all these things that made him Public Enemy Number One, but he was also loved and adored by the public at the same time.” But part of what made Baldwin powerful is that he took action, in his life and his art. He moved to Paris in part to escape discrimination, and wrote bluntly and frankly about discrimination against gay people in Giovanni’s Room and about American racism in essays like The Fire Next Time. His work was powerful in part because it was explicitly, courageously political, something Lupe Fiasco is apparently afraid to be.
I’m tired of this. I thought I was tired enough after watching Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, a perfect encapsulation of how Nolan manufactures credit for alluding to big issues while preserving a critical incoherence about politics that let him avoid offending any potential customers. And I’m even more tired after a stint at the Television Critics Association where people said repeatedly that the shows they’d created had no politics. By that, they mean that their shows are not partisan, which is something I can see legitimately avoiding (though having politicians on television have no party affiliation or fake party affiliation is disingenuous). But they end up implying that they’re afraid to claim their own ideas instead. It’s okay for pop culture to have ideas. In fact, it’s necessary. And pop culture can be deeper, and riskier, and more exciting, the action and the relationships it portrays can have higher stakes, when those ideas are about how the world should be run, about what conditions are necessary for equity, and stability, and justice.
“Don’t underestimate him,” former Secretary of State Bill Russell (John Larroquette) says towards the end of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, after he throws a wrench in his party’s convention and elevates an unknown to the presidential nomination. “Men without faces tend to be elected president.” It’s the kind of biting sentiment that would apply equally well to Mitt Romney’s flip-flops as it did to the politicians of 1960, when Gore Vidal’s biting play The Best Man, about a party divided by competing visions making a critical decision not on the merits but through a scandal-mongering arms race, was first performed on Broadway, where it snagged six Tony nominations. The production currently on stage at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater in New York is full of excellent performances. If you have a choice, seeing it live—or reading Vidal’s play or watching the 1964 movie adaptation—is likely to be a vastly more edifying experience than watching any of the official proceedings staged at the Republican convention in Tampa this week.
Much of what’s revealing about watching The Best Man is its reminder of the longevity of some of the least attractive facets of our political climate. “Yes, he was fired from the City College of New York,” Russell remarks of one of his intellectual influences. “But only for moral turpitude, not for incompetence as a philosopher.” The former, of course, is what most of the people covering the campaign and observing it care about. Bill’s campaign manager Dick Jensen (Mark Blum) warns him “Not a word of Darwin. Evolution is out of bounds.” Bill bemoans the rise of smear tactics in politics, observing with an air of exhaustion that “In the South, a candidate for sheriff once won election by claiming his opponents’ wife had been a thespian.” Representing the budget mendacity of the current Republican party is Bill’s opponent, the young Senator Joe Cantwell (played here with nerve and snake oil by John Stamos). “So you think we can increase defense spending while eliminating the income tax?” a reporter asks him. He pivots away from the question flawlessly. His wife Mabel (Kristin Davis) tells a number of other political women “I’m against any artificial means of birth control. Unless it’s a matter of health. Maybe.” “We are all interchangably inoffensive,” says Russell’s wife Alice (Cybill Shepherd).
And at a time when a stunning contempt for women’s issues has been at the forefront of much of this year in politics, the women of The Best Man may be relegated to drawing rooms, but their role is vital, and the double-standards they face persistent. Bill describes Mrs. Sue-Ellen Gamadge (Elizabeth Ashley) as “The national committeewoman, the only known link between the NAACP and the Ku Klux Klan”—drawing rooms sometimes have connecting doors that go where the official hallways don’t. But her connections don’t prevent men like Jensen from condescending to her. “Talking to you is like talking to the average American housewife,” he says. It doesn’t help that Sue-Ellen has as much to say about style as substance. “Of course, Mabel Cantwell dyes her hair. But she does such a bad job, the women feel sorry for her,” she declares at one point, then pivots to say, “Don’t do too much, like Mrs. Russell. The women don’t like that.” Alice and Mabel may not think much of Sue-Ellen as a self-appointed spokesman for “the women,” but they aren’t above to making the same kinds of judgements that she does. “Even with no chin, I still look better than Alice Russell,” Mabel bucks herself up while getting dressed for a dinner. “My is she a chilly-looking woman.” And Alice, frustrated both by Bill’s infidelities and her role at the convention, declares “I must say I’m beginning to like politics. Especially when Mrs. Gamadge told me I’m an inspiration to American women, in my way.” Read more
Butter is coming out on October 5, with the clear intention of capitalizing on the presidential election with its portrait of a clueless Midwestern butter-carver married to a philandering politician, who finds herself throwing down with an adorable African-American orphan (aided by Rob Corddry and Olivia Wilde playing a stripper) to retain her title. It’s not the only movie flirting with the campaign season. The Campaign, with its satire of the Koch brothers’ influence on local elections went first, and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden movie, was moved until after the election to avoid any sense of undue influence in favor of President Obama’s reelection. But while Zero Dark Thirty is historical fiction, and The Campaign is a movie that’s largely sympathetic to all of the politicians involved, Butter has a distinct air of disdain for one side of its conflict:
Now, there’s nothing wrong with contempt for ideas that do real damage to people. Rep. Todd Akin’s views on sexual assault are contemptible and ignorant, as are his attempts to redefine rape. But the idea that a butter-carving contest is important isn’t an idea that does anyone any harm (the idea that an African-American girl is using race to swing that contest in her favor is somewhat more harmful). It’s worth distinguishing between those cases, and between ideas it’s important to push back against, and ideas folks sometimes feel it’s fun to dismiss.
After all, binging on condescension is a lot like overdoing it at the state fair. The individual mouthfuls taste delicious. You can feel sort of luxurious and indulgent, even proud of yourself for venturing where other people in your cohort dare not tread a la David Foster Wallace. But that doesn’t mean that you’re doing yourself, or the ideas you represent, any favors. Assuming the people you disagree with are merely stupid or underinformed actually understates the depth of political difference, and the ease of convincing people to agree with you. Laura doesn’t need Will McAvoy to tell her about the evils of the Tea Party. Not all conservative, Midwestern politicians are brought down by their proclivities for cheating on their wives. Sometimes, you’re going to have to actually muster evidence and respect in an argument. And sometimes, you have to beat people in elections.