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Mystery DVD #250 - There Are No Walls in the House of Jearl
September 17th, 2015
07:26 am

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Mystery DVD #250
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Oh, shoot, I forgot to type up the blurb before I sent the disc back. I remember it was very apologetic about not being the TV show. Understandable -- it's hard to look at the movie, in the shadow of the Buffy series, and then Angel, and Firefly, and Joss Whedon's work in general! I saw it when it came out, and I remember thinking it was dorky and campy, and how the heck did they have Rutger Hauer, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry and Paul Reubens in the same movie, and my boss at the newspaper and I would quote Kristy Swanson saying "You threw a knife at my head" at each other a lot for some reason. Then the Arranger sent it, right around the time Age of Ultron came out, and I was excited to be able to sort of bookend these two Whedon milestones. But AoU made me sad and frustrated, and threw off my whole momentum. I didn't have anything to say. I kept not having anything to say, and began to feel like maybe I just don't know what fun is anymore, maybe I have forgotten how to enjoy explosions. Feelings are hard to look at. Thankfully Mad Max: Fury Road came out a few months later, which alleviated at least some of those concerns. I love you, explosions.

BUT WHATEVER. Kristy Swanson is Buffy! a high school cheerleader in Southern California, and life is awesome. She's dating the captain of the basketball team and her friends are the most stylish girls in school. But she has creepy dreams about being another girl who fights a smirking Rutger Hauer all the time. A strange man appears and flirts with Buffy, and then his friend gets eaten by vampires. A second strange man appears, who insists that Buffy is a warrior of destiny against the vampires. He knows about her dreams, and also throws a knife at her head, which she effortlessly catches, because of super destiny powers. Convinced, Buffy struggles to maintain her modern suburban lifestyle while also training to battle creatures of the night. They are led by Lothos (Rutger Hauer), who seems to make a hobby of grooming vampire slayers before murdering them, and his lieutenant Amilyn (Paul Reubens), who exists so Buffy's love interest Pike (Luke Perry) has someone to fight. Her grumpy trainer, Merrick (Donald Sutherland), is slowly won over by her California charm, only to be murdered by Lothos. Buffy just wants to feel normal again, so she dresses up nice and goes to her high school Senior Dance, only to get all rejected by her normal friends and attacked by vampires anyway. They are super rude and do not respect the principal's authority. The film goes Full Camp and there's a long bewildering fight scene in a basement, where Amilyn gets a stake to the chest but refuses to die, and Lothos doesn't understand Buffy's modern ways, and she kicks his ass in her sweet gown, and then she dances with Pike and rides off on a motorcycle and a bunch of TV reporters come and try to make sense of it.

Then I got bummed out by Age of Ultron, because I used to like Joss Whedon stuff so much and now maybe I don't. Then I watched the movie a few more times. It's not very good, but it's really not bad, either. It's just too hard to see it for itself and not be tracing all the bones that get fleshed out in the TV show later. Especially stuff like Sensitive Principal Steven Root, who would have been so doomed to be eaten by hyenas. Weird blend of good, well-thought-out battle scenes in the middle, followed by terrible, weird chase scenes in cramped sets, the hard veer into camp, and the Not Final Death of Vampire Paul Reubens in the end. That stuff isn't Whedon's fault, he just wrote the script, and it was apparently rewritten to be goofier. But Mean Girl Hillary Swank! Sheepish Basketball Player Ben Affleck! I don't know. The last twenty minutes are kind of terrible but I think it's still worth the ride.

So what am I going on about with this "long shadow of TV Buffy," anyway? That 23 years ago the goofy cheerleader movie was, unexpectedly, the shape of things to come, and we got a generation of quip-based sorta-superheroes, laughing at the flaws in our culture while defending it from things it couldn't understand. Pointing out the flaws with sarcasm and occasional longing to be "normal." And suffering. The preternaturally strong girl, suffering for us. We see this again and again and it was good the first two or three times. But something creepy was happening too. The superhero girl was Chosen, she was never permitted to Choose. Buffy begat River who begat Echo, and in a parallel universe we get an interpretation of Black Widow who was raised from childhood to be what she is, modified and molded against her will, like in prehistory, an anonymous girl was infused with demonic power to begin the line of Slayers. Our new badass quips better than a god of lies, she's an Avenger and the movie makes a bazillion dollars -- geek culture ascendant! Only in this parallel world the super-girl doesn't even get to be on the T-shirt with the boys, the ones who (for the most part) signed up for this of their own accord.

And I'm willing to blame Disney for that last insult, but the thing is sour to me all the same. What if Buffy got to choose to be Buffy? You don't see that too much anymore. Let's look back at the comics, it all comes from there. Who's a fun lady superhero? Captain Marvel is pretty great, but if you ever look into Carol Danvers' backstory you're gonna want to pack your best headdesking pillow and maybe a bottle of whiskey. Jennifer Walters loves being She-Hulk, but she still got that way by accident. To find a woman who Chose, you have to reach back to the Wasp, or to Batgirl, and there's literally an editorial mandate that no one in the Bat family can be happy, so. Oh! oh. I forgot about PATSY WALKER, HELLCAT. Yes. She was a teen model who got a job as Beast's lab assistant and randomly rescued all the Avengers one day. After that she runs around with terrifying space lesbian Moondragon for awhile and marries the son of Satan. Yeah, some Woman-in-comics shittery happens to her too, but she never stays down. Not even after going to actual hell. What happened to all that? Why are super heroines so fricking doomed nowadays?

But back to Joss Whedon and the Chosen Ones. I can't help but think a bit uncharitably of his latest endeavor -- "Twist" -- "girl vigilante in Victorian times" -- lots of rooftop jumping and no doubt charming, quip-based Batgirl action. But, but, but... she'll still be protecting a world that doesn’t understand or deserve her and that refers to her by an cutely period-appropriate slur. What, was Whedon so pleased about getting "mewling quim" into The Avengers that he wanted to top it by putting the insult right in the title? I'm sure he means no harm, it's how it works! It's part of the edge, the reminder that this world is the monster all along, the one we can never escape. The one that has to survive and persist and never change, even if it keeps Black Widow and Gamora off the lunch boxes, it has to stay alive and clearly in the background at all times, or why bother Choosing any girls anymore?

Even in all this maundering I still have had Giles' song from that awesome 4th season dream episode stuck in my head all week.

(P.S. PATSY WALKER, HELLCAT movie, please.)
(P.P.S. aaaa!)

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From:joenotcharles
Date:September 17th, 2015 02:59 pm (UTC)
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To be fair, most male superheroes don't choose to get their powers, either. (They do normally choose to be heroes with them, but that would apply to someone like She-Hulk too.) "An unexpected circumstance gives a person strange powers, now what do they do with them?" is the archetypal super hero origin. ("A person is driven to seek (justice / revenge / whatever) and deliberately makes themself superhuman to achieve it," is the other one, but I'd guess it trails a good way behind.)

I can think of lots of female superheroes in the She-Hulk mode, where they may have initially had powers forced on them but then made their own decisions going forward. (The new Ms. Marvel's the one making big waves right now, for instance.) And I think that's pretty much on par with most male heroes.

But, yeah, there's also that subtype where the "circumstance" that gives someone strange powers is being trained and molded from a young age by a cult / government agency / madman / etc, and I think most of those characters are female. The only one that comes to mind who's male is Azrael, the guy who took over for Batman in the 90's. (Maybe Wolverine counts?) I'm sure there must be others, but I can think of a bunch of female versions without even trying. So that's pretty skeevy.

Oh, I have another woman who Chose, definitively - Agent Carter. Er. I was thinking she was a new character, but I guess she dates back to the original Captain America comics, doesn't she?
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From:jearl
Date:September 17th, 2015 03:19 pm (UTC)
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We can do this all day. I'm not gonna. I'm supposed to see two, three years of Agent Carter and forget 50 years of women in refrigerators?
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From:joenotcharles
Date:September 17th, 2015 04:04 pm (UTC)
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Sorry, I thought you were making a more specific complaint than that.
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From:jearl
Date:September 17th, 2015 04:36 pm (UTC)
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I was specifically trying to say "I wish there were more Women who Chose, and I wish that this trend of Irrevocably Damaged Girl Hero wasn't apparently what has to happen in this body of work" and your response, which I perceived as "but there are a lot of Men who didn't Choose, too" felt like derailing, which made me a bit shirty. Sorry for that.

There are thousands of characters just on Marvel's wiki. Of course we can both find examples and counterexamples of any gross trope we want. And of course there is a trend towards more empowered women in comics. I'm just being sad about what seem to be the market forces driving more mainstream pop culture.
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From:joenotcharles
Date:September 17th, 2015 07:43 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I really messed up the way I phrased that. Sorry. My fault.

I just meant that having powers thrust on you without your choice is a default superhero setup, and that the choice (of what to do with those powers, or whether to accept them at all) usually comes afterward. So I think ruling out anyone who, like She-Hulk, becomes something by accident, is ruling out a lot of women who DO choose their own fate after that initial push.

I definitely should have said that without reference to men.
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From:bombasticus
Date:September 17th, 2015 05:37 pm (UTC)
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This is really, really good. Did I just see that Kieron Gillen is bringing Patsy Walker back?
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From:jearl
Date:September 17th, 2015 06:22 pm (UTC)
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Kate Leth, whose work I don't know, but there is a general flipping-out-with-joy thing going on the blogs, so, cautiously optimistic. Not sure HELLCAT is the right era of pop for Gillen.

Also apparently she's in the Jessica Jones TV series? So Purple Man will probably kill her, bit scared to look.
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From:bombasticus
Date:September 17th, 2015 09:28 pm (UTC)
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It makes a certain warped sense, I guess, the third (?) coming of Patsy Walker. Escaped from the fashion books, surfaced in the weird Gerber Era, now here we are. Kind of relieved it isn't Gillen but you know he would chew her past and then spit it out to get on with business.

Did Janet van Pym ever CHOOSE, really? Can we ever know what's going on in that tiny little head? I kind of want to rework their whole history now Virginia Woolf style, stream of consciousness.
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From:elklad
Date:September 17th, 2015 11:46 pm (UTC)
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I share your frustration on this front. It's like Whedon is working his way through every alternate reality in the Crisis of Infinite Doomed Lithe Chosen Girls. I thought he might be doing something a bit different with Black Widow after the first Avengers, but ... not so much.

Have you seen Ant-Man? Someone involved seems to be aiming for a Woman Who Chose, though that also points out that they didn't choose to make a Wasp movie to begin with.
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From:osirusbrisbane
Date:September 19th, 2015 07:19 am (UTC)
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Jearl + Explosions = OTP
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From:ellinor
Date:September 23rd, 2015 02:29 am (UTC)
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This is the best, and most elegantly put, articulation of the problem I've heard. Outstanding insight. Is it too much to ask for some basic agency?
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