For a franchise that’s meant to be at the heart of the Marvel universe, Marvel’s editors seem to spend a lot of time promising that the X-Men aren’t in danger of permanently disappearing. However you can see where people get that idea from reading Extraordinary X-Men #1, the mutant race’s first chapter in the All-New, All-Different Marvel relaunch. After surviving Secret Wars, the only thing in store for the X-Men appears to be further threats to their existence. No rest for the next step in human evolution, eh?
While Marvel cynics are likely to argue that this latest attempt to wipe out the mutant race is more to do with franchise movie rights than creative direction, the X-Men have been going through the proverbial ringer for quite a while now. Between the Scarlet Witch depowering millions of mutants on M-Day to the Death of Charles Xavier, the troubling return of the Phoenix and Cyclops becoming a terrorist revolutionary, the last ten years have seen mutants face more extinction threats than they’ve had hot dinners.
Moving forward to the present, the mutant race now find themselves at the peril of the Terrigen mists—a global gas cloud that bestows superpowers to those with the dormant Inhuman gene, as featured in All-New Inhumans. Although the Terrigen mists grant Inhumans powers, it is revealed in Extraordinary X-Men that the cloud is in fact poisoning and sterilising mutants as well as contributing to a condition dubbed ‘M-Pox’ by mankind, who are more terrified of mutants than ever. Sound familiar?
If you follow comic book news, chances are you’re already aware of Marvel’s upcoming All-New, All-Different publishing line relaunch, seeing 45+ new series starting this fall. Although the announced titles—ranging from Scarlet Witch and a female Wolverine both receiving their own solo series to the return of A-Force and Ms. Marvel—continue Marvel’s push towards greater cultural representation, the new creative teams working on these series fail to reflect this.
As fun as they are to read, I really love talking about comic books. From favourite heroes and classic storylines to the finer points of adaptation, talking about comics is a chance to scratch my literature analysis itch without losing the other person ten seconds into the conversation because – unlike contradictory French philosophy – most people have some kind of opinion on Thor. (Even if it’s just that he’s dreamy.)
Sometimes it’s easy to see the potential of an iconic image from a first glance. War photography, Marilyn Monroe on a subway grate, Doge—that kind of stuff. Did I see that potential when I first saw Milo Manara’s variant Spider-Woman cover? No, I really just thought her butt looked weird. But then I didn’t yet know of Manara’s prolific career in erotic illustration that undeniably complicates the debate. I couldn’t possibly foresee becoming a bystander to Marvel creator Dan Slott’s incredibly problematic defence of the cover. And perhaps we’re all yet to realise how it in fact epitomises the very real issues facing minority readers in the wider comic book community.
In case you haven’t been closely following the controversy of Spider-Woman’s butt, allow me to review. At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, at a panel called ‘Women of Marvel’, the publisher announced a new ongoing Spider-Woman series. The series, part of Marvel’s ‘Characters and Creators’ publishing initiative that ‘aims to speak directly to… women and girls‘, joins nine other female-led series published by Marvel. According to company’s Editor-in-Chief, Axel Alonso, these superheroines ‘are not the big-breasted, scantily clad women that perhaps have become the comic-book cliché’ but are ‘defined by many things—least of all their looks.’
We all have friends that we consider specialists on certain topics. These are generally the people that we turn to if we are struggling to understand a particular problem, from fixing iPhones to flustered tourists wailing in Mandarin. As became apparent following the recent announcement that a new character will be lifting Thor’s hammer and calling it her own, apparently my friends see me as their specialist in comic books and gender theory. Since news broke, I’ve found myself having to explain the news and its implications over and over again. It’s been a fun few weeks.
Given that there’s still a little bit of confusion (or transphobia, feel free to decide for yourself) regarding the matter I figured that a blog post explaining precisely what has been announced could save me some time and hopefully shed some light on exactly why Thor is now a woman but still called Thor (as opposed to She-Thor, Thorita or Betty.)
In the pilot episode of HBO’s newest show Looking, Jonathan Groff’s character Patrick struggles through one of the oldest sitcom tropes: the ill-fated first date. Traversing the typical subjects of past relationships, career struggles and the uncertainties of wine bar appetisers, Patrick’s incompatible companion soon decides to bail without even the good manners to split the bill evenly. (Not classy, cheapskates of the world.) However Looking gives this well-worn depiction of the single life a noticeable twist: both characters are gay men.
While claiming that non-heterosexual romance doesn’t prominently feature on modern television may sound laughable to modern audiences, it’s a reality many queer viewers have come to accept without even realising. LGBT representation in modern media is undeniably progressive in 2014; shows such as Glee, Modern Family and Brooklyn Nine-Nine all feature queer characters and narratives as part of the fabric of modern life. However, all these shows seem to promote inclusion with a catch: gay characters can be get screen time as long as they don’t act on their sexual desires.
The model of a woman to emulate, in Disney’s worldview, is one who lives to get her man. She may adopt some of the contemporary feminist attitudes, including being more vocal, being physically strong, and being self-sufficient, but she only finds fulfilment in romantic love.
(Ward, 2002; 119)
The historical relationship between Disney’s female protagonists and feminist thought has always been conflicted, if not contradictory. While early characters (such as Snow White and Cinderella) may have lacked personal agency due to their inherent damsel-in-distress nature, more recent depictions of female protagonists (including The Little Mermaid’s Ariel, Mulan or Pocahontas) are undeniably progressive in comparison. However these newer characters still struggle with many of the same limitations that affected their predecessors; Disney’s heroines have traditionally been romantically minded and strictly emblematic of heterosexual lifestyles. Annalee Ward summarises this problem by concluding that Disney’s animated films repeatedly imply that ‘females can be strong and self-sufficient, but females are only truly happy when they have a man.’ (Ward, 2002; 119)
Last month, the comic book community discovered the casting details for an upcoming big-budget superhero movie adaption. (I guess there must have been a Y in the day.) Following plans to relaunch the Fantastic Four movie franchise, FOX revealed that team member Johnny Storm would be portrayed by African-American actor Michael B. Jordan in a race-blind casting for the Human Torch. So far, so Hollywood.
However, the backlash against news of a Black Human Torch from certain sections of the fan community quickly proved to be so vicious that the catchphrase ‘FLAME ON!’ suddenly took on a whole new (somewhat racially dubious) meaning. This indignation from predominantly white, heterosexual, male fans both represents an intriguing point in the cultural evolution of comic books from fringe texts to mass media products and raises the question of the cultural ownership of geek culture; to whom exactly do superheroes belong?
The recent Japanese obsession with high school girls contains an element that cannot be dismissed as merely desire for young women […] the love for the combination of sailor clothing and young girls suggests a tendency towards polymorphous perversion, encompassing a preference for homosexuality and a clothing fetish in addition to pedophilia.
While ‘girl-power’ may aim to empower women of all ages via its championing of ‘a pleasure-centered form of empowerment tied to ideals found in third wave feminism’, (Newsom, 2004) many analyses of girl-power texts marketed towards children appear to focus on predominantly adult issues rather than consider the potential empowerment of young girls. For example, Tamaki Saitō’s analysis of the schoolgirl archetype within Sailor Moon (2011; 57, above) appears to more closely resemble the discussion of an explicitly pornographic text than of a Japanese anime and manga series aimed at children ‘ages seven and up’. (Cheu, 2005; 294)
When Saitō argues that the schoolgirl’s cultural popularity cannot be ‘dismissed as merely desire’, his argument clearly refers to adult (male) viewers as opposed Sailor Moon’s target audience. In this context, any consideration of the schoolgirl as a symbol of girlishness with which young viewers could relate is superseded by her status as a ‘pornographic trope’, (Allison, 2006; 133) her potential as a role model ignored in favour of her alleged representation of latent sexual deviancy. Although it may be important to question whether children’s texts such as Sailor Moon feature controversial content, academia’s narrow focus on adult issues within girl-power media has resulted in a failure to critically consider the intended audience’s relationships with these texts.
‘The girl who lives behind the aura’:
Blonde Pop Icons, Phallocentric Photology &
Rebellious Darkness in the work of Lady Gaga
Hello and welcome to the landing page for my undergraduate English Literature dissertation. Chances are you’ve arrived at this page either because you’re interested in the radical feminist implications of modern pop music or you just quite like ‘Bad Romance’ and there’s nothing good on the telly at the moment. Regardless of which category you fall into, I am very grateful that you’ve decided to give this essay a bash and I hope you enjoy it!
While this project primarily focussed on Gaga’s recent ARTPOP album, music and videos from throughout Gaga’s career also feature prominently as different ideas are shown to be gradually developed. If there’s anything you’re not familiar with (whether it’s a Gaga song or a confusing-sounding French feminist theory) I would definitely recommend giving it a quick Google or just asking me in the relevant comments’ section. (While I’ve attempted to comprehensively explain things throughout the essay, being an academic piece of work requires it to expect a certain level of theoretical understanding that non-literature students may have luckily bypassed.)
If all of this hasn’t put you off then I hope you enjoy reading the project that took over my life for a good six months but was worth every second. I’m immensely proud of the final result and very happy to be able to share it with you all now after months of work. And remember, you’re a free bitch. – Adam
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. ‘I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong’: Introduction
Chapter 2. ‘Got my flash on, it’s true / Need that picture of you’:
Foucauldian Constructed Identity and the ‘Blonde Pop Icon’
Chapter 3. ‘Bleach out all the dark / I’ll swallow each peroxide shot’:
Phallocentric Photology and the Constrained Pop Icon
Chapter 4. ‘I’m gonna marry the night / I won’t give up on my life’:
Rebellious Darkness and Feminist Empowerment
Chapter 5. ‘My ARTPOP could mean anything’:
Anti-Phallogocentrism and Radical Feminine Potential
Chapter 6. ‘No matter black, white or beige / Chola or Orient made’:
The Negation of Race as Cultural Difference
Chapter 7. ‘Up heaven’s stairway to gold / Mine myself like coal’: Conclusion
‘You and me could write a bad romance’: Acknowledgements
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