Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 16 years, you’ll know that, probably since 2000’s X-men, comic book films are huge, booming business nowadays. A far cry from the mid-90s when Marvel were hanging on by a thread, close to bankruptcy and relying on elongating stories like the Clone Saga in order to keep revenue high, the MCU has become a billion dollar juggernaut that DC haven’t been able to make a dent in. Comic book films are not just the staple of the summer season, they’re the staple of all seasons. Some of them, like Deadpool, are successful in February. Some of them, like Captain America: Civil War, are successful in April. Some of them, like Guardians of the galaxy, are successful in August. It doesn’t matter when it’s released, a comic book film, even if poorly reviewed, is almost guaranteed to make big money.
But that big money doesn’t come without its problems. I’ve already written two blog entries in the past about how two of the biggest MCU films, Avengers 2 and Guardians, are not ‘feminist’ films and it seems that appeasing feminism is, to some, the ‘maker’ of a comic film. If it doesn’t ‘pass the feminist test’, and I’m not talking about the Bechdel test either, it’s somehow not as accomplished as a film. It seems that as successful as comic book films are, they still can’t escape the criticism for just not being inclusive enough.
But that’s not all. The X-Men franchise, aside from being one of the first successful Marvel franchises (walking the road of success built by Blade before it), has received its fair share of detractors over the last 16 years. Some of it is well deserved, a cluttered Last Stand and woefully underwhelming ‘Origins’ film being the two biggest offenders, but a lot of it is somewhat puzzling.
A few days ago, a friend of mine shared a status update that focused on one of the new posters for X-Men: Apocalypse, the newest of the Marvel Mutant’s adventures. What I wasn’t expecting was to see a huge dose of hyperbole and a lack of common sense that actually undermines any point that may have been evident.
Luckily, for me, someone else had some similar concerns explored in the original post (it may even have been the same person) and decided to write a full article condemning it. A full article. About one poster. I mean, I can understand why you’d want to write about an entire film, even if it’s off the mark, but one poster? Surely, it must be one of the most horrendous posters ever created if it’s worthy of an entire article?
Well, to put it bluntly, no. No it’s not. In fact, rather than sharing the embarrassment the author, Sabina Ibarra, felt upon seeing it, I instead feel embarrassed for her.
So, what is this outrageous display of insult and offense? Well, it’s a poster advertising Apocalypse by showing Mystique being choked by Apocalypse himself. Yep, the film’s main villain overpowering the film’s main, or at least arguably most recognisable, hero.
The problem isn’t necessarily with the complaint, posters advertising films have been banned before and I’m sure that it will happen again, it’s more with the huge leaps in logic that this article makes. Baseless leaps in logic as well.
You see, the article decides to equate this poster, of a villain choking a hero, to violence against women and how much of a blight on society that particular act is. It’s a huge, rather convenient, leap to link the two points together. Not only does it require a huge amount of exaggeration to even connect the two ideas, a fight between comic heroes and villains and real life violence against women, it employs such a pious point of view that any salient point that may possibly have been raised gets lost in a sea of self-righteousness. The idea that ‘if you can’t see the problem then you’re part of the problem’ is such an off-kilter and baseless remark to make in the context of this poster that it effectively only serves to continue a pre-existing, already misleading narrative about violence against women that is drenched in victimhood.
That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, violence against women is not something I’m ever going to deny, but the idea that violence in society is only ever directed against women or even the idea that marketing of products relies extensively on the use of subjugated women, a myopic viewpoint espoused numerous times in this piece, is just another example of hyper-inflated hysteria pedalled by those who can’t bear to lose the victim shroud.
For example, in the newest Captain America film and in Deadpool, men are hit in the nuts on at least three occasions (twice in Captain America, once in Deadpool, if I remember rightly). Let’s assume that Sabina has a salient point, that this poster does indeed promote, normalise and further the idea that violence against women is ok, and ask why there was no corresponding article about those instances of violence? A quick search of the website comes up with no articles about the excessively sexual violence inflicted on men in these two films. Why? Deadpool is one of the highest grossing R-rated films ever, Captain America is another monumentally successful Marvel instalment. Why has Legion of Leia not made any comment, op-ed or pontificating article on the normalisation of sexually driven violence against men? For those who are unaware, a heavy enough blow to the testicles can, in some serious cases, lead to the death of the person hit. Save for instances of self-defence, why are we allowing these depictions of nut shots to continue without question? If we normalise violence against women by these sorts of posters, despite campaigns worth hundreds of million dollars designed to stamp it out, then surely we also normalise violence against men?
Not that I’m saying we shouldn’t object to certain depictions of violence, but context is hugely important. It’s something that we should be more vigilant of, admittedly the last thing we need is a 12 year old kid going around nut-shotting people because they saw it in Captain America, but generally people seem to know that groin shots are not allowed. In the same way, we, as a society, know that violence against women is wrong. That doesn’t stop people doing it, in the same way it doesn’t stop people from hitting men in the balls ‘for a laugh’, but the idea that posters such as the one highlighted here promote or demonstrate society’s internalised misogyny is ridiculous. If that truly is the case then posters for Kill Bill, household items and the constant stream of posts on Facebook that imply men are nothing butmonstrous scum are also indicators of internalised misandry. However, for me the examples of internalised misandry are worse as no-one really seems to give enough of a shit to complain about them. See how easy this is?!
The point is, this poster does not show Jennifer Lawrence, and by greater extension all women, in a position of subjugation and powerlessness underneath a man, it shows Mystique, the fictional mutant she portrays on screen, in a display of subjugation and powerlessness. It’s nothing to do with male on female violence and simply portrays the main villain overpowering the film’s biggest star. Originally, Mystique was a villain anyway, she killed numerous people, mostly men, without a second thought, yet that seems to have gone unnoticed. The whole ‘if you don’t see a problem, then that is the problem’ argument just doesn’t have any merit here. There are claims that this poster is out of context, that when included in part of the fight scene then it makes sense but as an isolated poster it’s unacceptable. What is it about two blue mutants set against a backdrop of violence and carnage suggests that this particular poster is actually out of context?
This poster creates sympathy for our heroes. We’ve spent 2 films getting used to Mystique as a powerful mutant, one who, in Days of Future Past, was possibly responsible for one of the biggest shifts in the entire film timeline. Having a villain like Apocalypse, well-known in the comics but almost non-existent outside of that, showing that level of power against an established mutant immediately gives him some credence. Could they have picked a better pose? Of course they could, in the same way they could have picked a worse pose as well. That’s not the point. The pose they did pick shows an immensely powerful mutant, the new villain of the upcoming film, overpowering one of the mutants that has been the main focus of the past 2 films.
Let’s look at this from another angle – if Lawrence had been excluded from promotional material and Xavier had been in the subjugated position instead, I’d be willing to be people would still be complaining. “Why has Lawrence been excluded?!” they’d cry, “this is why comic films need to change!” with froth coming out of their mouths, “why can’t we include women in the advertising campaigns?!” slowly descending to the floor, foetal position employed, “this is just the toyline fiasco all over again!” convulsing with outrage!
All sarcasm aside, the main point is that the poster employed to advertise this film is somehow just another example of how we normalise misogyny and how violence against women is so inherent to our society, and we so blind to it, that we just accept this is the way films are promoted. The fact the author claims it shows disrespect to the female audience is bullshit. Not because I don’t think she’s entitled to her opinion (she is) but because it’s such an overly moralistic, absolutist thing to say that it loses any and all credibility it may have had. You cannot, and should not, speak for an entire demographic. Why? Well, when this outrage first surfaced there were numerous women that simply said ‘I disagree’. That right there totally nullifies your argument. You posit that it’s disrespectful to a female audience, you face the ridicule when that audience says ‘no’.
Now, I’m not saying women can’t get offended by this, by all accounts feel free to do so, but don’t claim that you speak for all women. One of the closing points of this article is that women are tired of having to enjoy this type of image in things they love to watch. It’s a superhero fight, women are going to get hit, isn’t that what the equality movement is all about? It’s actually quite clear that female superheroes are treated differently in superhero films. In the recent Captain America film, numerous male superheroes are hit quite regularly at full force, yet Natasha is barely touched, even commenting to Hawkeye that he’s pulling his punches. So what do you want, do you want to see equality in films and have female superheroes fully participate in fights, or do you want them to be treated carefully lest they reflect some real-world wrong that you feel is inappropriate.
I suppose in the long run Sabina is right, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking offence to a film poster, it’s everyone’s right to get offended at whatever they want to get offended at. My only real problem is the justification behind said offence. Yes, violence against women definitely happens in the real world and there may be some instances where people are influenced by what they see on screen. But let’s not beat around the bush, that is not solely limited to women and using the justification of ‘it’s societally accepted to use misogyny in advertising’ is a comment that is drenched in such victimhood that it blinds people to the fact that advertising is often rotten to everyone.
This myopic view of victimhood actually serves as a deterrent to helping real victims because, unlike the intended reactions of horror and shock, people simply sigh and mutter ‘not this old shit again’. If you want people to take violence against women seriously then perhaps stop using outdated, disproven myths about the prevalence of violence, stop automatically assuming victim position over everything, stop turning everything into how women are victimised and actually ask other people, outside of your normal circles, if they feel the same way. Then, and I understand this is a revolutionary concept, perhaps stop trying to silence those who disagree with you, otherwise you just perpetuate a never ending victim circle jerk that only ever confirms what you think you already know. Using false, or at least wildly disputed, statistics to further an agenda does nothing but fuel the unnecessary hysteria and fear around women’s safety. If you really cared about women, you wouldn’t automatically place them in the role of helpless victim and keep them there whenever something controversial comes up.
I have numerous female friends who are not offended by this poster. Instead of trying to shut them down by telling them they’re victims of internalised misogyny, instead of trying to deliver a sermon of moralistic nonsense from Mount High Horse and instead of writing articles that claim your opinion is the only one that is either right or the only one that matters, actually listen to why they are not offended and see if there’s, perhaps, a narrative that doesn’t match your own. You might be surprised.
Oh, one last thing. In X-Men – The Last Stand, after the death of both Cyclops and Professor X, Storm became the leader of the X-Men. So perhaps do a bit of research before climbing up that mountain.