An Open Letter to Hollywood re: The Superhero Agenda
***POSSIBLE MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD***
As a teen (and that was in the 70s!) I read pretty much every Marvel superhero book I could get my hands on. Like everyone else I related to the idea of a “super man” who could handle any situation that was thrown at him and who would, at all costs, save the day. Yes, these were stylized fantasies that in no way represented what the real world was like, but I liked the absoluteness of each hero’s journey and was reassured with each issue that the hero would triumph at the end. It was as though Marvel was selling me the idea of “The Alpha Male” with each issue AND I LOVED IT! There was a definite sense of right and wrong, and a belief that good would always triumph over evil.
Then, along comes today, and times have REALLY changed. Apparently we “fanboys” now want two things of our superheroes;
1 — that they be female whenever possible;
2 — that they be more powerful than their male counterparts.
Yes, American TV is smashing the Alpha Male to bits with the introduction of female warriors who ALWAYS fight better than their male opponents (check out any superhero TV show), but it is one recent Hollywood blockbuster that’s gone off the charts in the female empowerment movement: Thor: Ragnarok.
In it, our Alpha has his male butt kicked repeatedly by his evil and more-powerful sister, Hela,Goddess of Death. He is even at one point subdued and demeaned by his female countryman, The Valkyrie, but it doesn’t stop there. In what I consider to be a total affront to maleness and masculinity, mighty Thor is also symbolically castrated via the destruction of his heretofore indestructible “hammer”, Mjolnir (and if that’s not a penis metaphor I’ll eat my hat)!!!
HOLD ON NOW! Thor is the hero, the movie is named after him, he’s inextricably linked to “his hammer” — how could this happen? My feeling is that, by demeaning the title character so much that even at the end he himself has still not defeated and vanquished the villain, Hollywood is deconstructing the superhero mythos in genre-threatening ways:
1 — the hero no longer has to win at the end;
2 — female heroes (and villains) are always stronger than male ones;
3 — the male hero doesn’t have to be the star of the show;
4 — the male hero’s flaws (and there are always plenty) are more interesting than his strengths.
5 — empowering women has no value if men must be disempowered in its service.
As an ancient fanboy, this movie left me cold. A few jokes and some jokey characters can’t obscure the fact that my hero is not “bringing it” in this movie; he loses to everyone and to add insult to injury he’s being brought down by every woman he meets! Why is the movie called Thor, if everyone in it is going to upstage him at every turn? Why is Hollywood destroying my favorite hero? How am I, a male, supposed to be entertained by this?
In my opinion, Hollywood needs a course correction in terms of its SUPERHERO agenda. Heroes are supposed to be larger than life, not everyday guys with modern everyday problems. Iron Man, Spider-Man, Superman, Batman — all are being made to seem more a part of today’s world, but only in the sense that they are flawed men; never in ways that are male-affirming.
I for one am not entertained by the idea of a flawed hero (though the box office suggests that everyone on Earth loves the idea!). As an old-school human male who still likes and believes in the concept of the Superhero, I want a hero who is way more than that! I also already know that women are strong, but so are men — I want their strengths to be equal, that’s what equality is all about. Always writing the woman as more powerful than the male has gotten old and cliched for me and Thor: Ragnarok is for me the death knell of the Male Superhero.