Saturday, October 14, 2006

Do Heroes Dream Of Their Own Salvation?

I'm sure you remember, Gentle Reader, Gail Simone's Very Smart Essay on the preponderance of Women in Refrigerators in the Comic Book World. What the WiR theory sets forth is that in comic books, dead wives and girlfriends are used as plot devices to trouble our intrepid heroes. Their lives, the very meaning behind their existences, are whittled down to so much meat and bone and blood, and there is nothing left but body. My Sister Feminists and I often complain that women are reduced too often to the processes of their bodies, and Ms. Simone's theory demonstrates the starkest, deepest reality of that very fact in the Comic Book Universe.

There are fights against this, of course. Some women are represented as stronger, faster, better, more productive in comic books. Big Barda, Diana Prince, Power Girl, Supergirl, Wonder Girl, these women pack some mighty punches, and they fight back, hard. It's difficult to imagine any of them ever falling prey to the Refrigerator Syndrome. They are Too Mighty, Too Strong, Much Better Than Their Male Counterparts, right?

Right?

I have argued before that perhaps women like Wonder Woman are all body because they have superbodies. Unlike most of their female colleagues, they possess physical, i.e. tangible powers. Strength, healing, impenetrable skin, any of these could be considered tangible counterparts of, say, telepathy, control of the weather, intangibility, right? They are physical powers because they are both offensive and defensive powers.

A legacy of strong women. A great step forward for Us, The Feminists. Right?

Right?

Imagine my surprise, then, Friends, when I see this week's episode of Heroes. When I see something so incredibly horrifying, so tragic, so troubling that I believe we have taken Three Steps Backwards.

***Spoilers; you know the drill***



I still enjoy this show. Let me make that perfectly clear. I think the characterization is going quite nicely, and I am curious about the buildup and the plot. That being said, I would like to offer you my two favorite characters, Hiro, the teleporting Japanese office worker, and Claire, the invincible American cheerleader. I like Hiro for the same reasons I like Snow Crash's Hiro Protagonist (great name) or Buffy's Willow Rosenberg (contagious perky). I like Claire, because she doesn't fit neatly into an American high-school peg.

In my last post, I bemoaned the stereotypes plaguing Hollywood's portrayal of American high schools. Be it the Queen Bee, the Outsider, the Head Cheerleader, the Overweight Pariah, these stereotypes are, I believe, just perpetuating stereotypes. So to see the cute, petite, blonde cheerleader Save The Day and Save Her Own Butt at the same time brought back memories of Buffy for me, which means that I liked her. A lot.

Claire can't die. That could be interpreted as a variety of powers: advanced healing or invincibility, for starters. But that's not just it. She's a complex kid trying to sort out her own life. She's confused, troubled, not just about these powers (although she is well within her rights to be troubled about them!) but about her place in the high school hierarchy, her friendship with the geeky kid, her adoption and birth parents, and her crush on the school quarterback. In other words, she's not her cheerleader counterpart, the bubbly blonde who takes the credit for the daring rescue Claire performed. She's not a glory hound, as shown when she asks the cop after the man she rescued. The look of concern on her face, the look of relief when she finds out he’s all right, those things point to someone other than the "stereotypical cheerleader." You know, the one Hollywood keeps telling us about?

Yes, Gentle Reader, you're with me, right? I thought they were breaking stereotypes here, and I applauded them for it.

Then, oh, and then, the quarterback rapes Claire. He shoves her down and a sharp branch goes through her skull. She dies. Yes, the invincible, stereotype-breaking cheerleader dies, because a rabid, power-hungry megalomaniac thinks he deserves everything he wants. It wasn't even the disgusting, insulting excuse of "no means yes," but was rather, quite simply, "I want, I get."

The episode ends with Claire on an operating table, branch removed by an unknown hand, Claire coming back to life. The camera pans down, and her chest has been peeled back, exposing muscle and rib and bone. She has tangible, physical powers. She saved someone's life. She has moral quandaries and crushes and aspirations and a decent relationship with her parents (troubling as the one parent may be), and she is whittled down to so much meat and bone and blood that that very meat and bone and blood is *exposed*. It is *on display*, to the mysterious person in the lab, to the quarterback before this scene, even, to Me, to You, Gentle Reader. She has been objectified in such a way that there hasn't been a term invented for such a grotesque, horrifying, tragic, and belittling image. Woman on Operating Table takes objectification of women's bodies to a Whole New Level, and I, for one, am furious.

Friends, I would be disturbed had this scene happened to a male character. Please don’t doubt that. But I can't assume, ever, that such a scene for a male character would come about because he was almost raped by the head cheerleader, or even the quarterback of the football team. She saved someone's life. She survived dozens of should-have-been deaths, and she is taken down by a son of a bitch who takes whatever he wants, including women. She dies not by performing a heroic act, but by a boy her age shoving her head down on a branch. She struggled, and tried to get away, and she is killed for it.

Next week, I want to see retribution. I want to see trial and judgment and justice for this boy, not just for killing her (even though she now survives) but for attempting to rape a friend, a classmate, a girl, a young girl who trusted him enough to kiss him, to share secrets with him, to smile and laugh with him. I want Claire to escape and point at him in the cafeteria. I want him labeled Rapist. And I want Claire to fight back against this mysterious man that has objectified her even more than she already was.

Then, I will take three steps forward again. At least I'll be back where I started, right?

Right?

7 Comments:

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Skeets said...

Love your analyses.

I'm a little ashamed to say I wasn't focused so much on the attempted rape. I was bothered more by the writers' insistence that we see Claire mutilated/killed at least once an episode--in ways that I can only describe as "kinda gross." As my friend says, she's lucky she has those powers, especially since she seems to be a magnet for freak accidents.

I'm also concerned about the other woman, Niki, whose power seems to be becoming a murdering psychopath. Killing people and hiding the bodies doesn't really seem like a hero's M.O. Is it just me, or are the men getting off kinda light compared to these two women?

 
At 5:53 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

Amy: I thought it interesting that the female comics examples you gave were from DC only? I'm wondering if there's a reason there? Personal preference? No Marvel or other publisher female examples? Just curious. A lot of female comic bloggers seem to take more issue with Marvel and its depiction of women, though that is a very broad generalization.

I think some retribution has to happen for Claire in this case. If not, if it was glossed over and ignored, the shitstorm that would come down on the show would be distracting. The producers HAVE to know this.

In my own blog last week, I listed a bunch of things that pissed me off about last week's episode and then just a few things I liked including:

Claire's injury/attempted rape and, most importantly, the storyline ramifications - what's evil daddy's response?

Besides the fact that I didn't get called on the mat for what I, in retrospect, see could be construed as an insensitive comment, I think it's a mistake to overanalyze anything in these serial stories so early in the game.

Having said that, seeing Isaac (Isiah?) with his brain removed in the scene where Hiro went back in time was pretty gruesome. And now something appears to be on the horizon for Greg that looks to be unpleasant, so perhaps the parity that Skeets sees as lacking is forthcoming.

Now back to the retribution. As a consumer (viewer) of this product(show) I expect certain societal norms to be followed such as bad guys who rape don't get away with it. I agree with artistic freedom and all, but since this is a show on NBC, something has to happen. Even on Law and Order, rapists get convicted 95% of the time.

I am rambling now. I am curious to see where this will go tonight.

 
At 11:02 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Skeets,
Thanks! So glad you're reading.

I was bothered more by the writers' insistence that we see Claire mutilated/killed at least once an episode--in ways that I can only describe as "kinda gross." As my friend says, she's lucky she has those powers, especially since she seems to be a magnet for freak accidents.


I think both speak to the same issue, no? Claire's body is being used to make a point, which is just Disturbing. Your friend is absolutely right; thank goodness she's got these healing powers since she's accidentally broken her neck about fourteen times in three days (!!!).
:)

I'm also concerned about the other woman, Niki, whose power seems to be becoming a murdering psychopath. Killing people and hiding the bodies doesn't really seem like a hero's M.O.

I have a theory! I think she's being set up as a villain.

Is it just me, or are the men getting off kinda light compared to these two women?

You're absolutely right. All of the men have intangible powers, actually--telepathy, flight, psychic powers--while the women are rooted in body, mirror images and all.
Of course, I haven't seen tonight's episode, so I'll probably be completely wrong afterwards :)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
Amy: I thought it interesting that the female comics examples you gave were from DC only? I'm wondering if there's a reason there? Personal preference? No Marvel or other publisher female examples? Just curious.

I'm a DC girl, through and through. I'm not up on my Marvel mythology. There are probably several examples I am missing, particularly in the X-Men arena, but I find that DC has more physically strong women than Marvel.

A lot of female comic bloggers seem to take more issue with Marvel and its depiction of women, though that is a very broad generalization.

I actually see it the opposite way. It seems like any woman I run into that reads comics is a Marvel fan. There are a few exceptions (Ragnell and Kalinara seem to be DC fans, for example), but most female comic book readers I know are horrified over my preference for DC.

I think some retribution has to happen for Claire in this case. If not, if it was glossed over and ignored, the shitstorm that would come down on the show would be distracting. The producers HAVE to know this.

It's true. It just is. But I want them to do it because it's the right thing to do, not because that's what the audience expects, you know?

Besides the fact that I didn't get called on the mat for what I, in retrospect, see could be construed as an insensitive comment, I think it's a mistake to overanalyze anything in these serial stories so early in the game.

I read your intent, no worries :) It is rather early to overanalyze, but hey, it's what I do for a living. I can't stop!

Even on Law and Order, rapists get convicted 95% of the time.


But not in real life, and that's what is truly interesting. Only half of all of the rapes in the US are reported, and only what, a fourth of those go to trial? And only a fourth of those are prosectuted? It's a miserable statistic, and I'm curious to see how it plays out in the show.

I haven't seen tonight's episode, so I'm holding off any more opinions until then :)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 1:26 PM, Blogger Lyle said...

I continue to be of two minds on this show, I seem to find as many troubling aspects as I find to love about it.

I have to admit, as much as I dislike Claire being yet another heroine who finds her motivation and clarity after being raped, I really liked where they took that particular storyline this week. I hope they do a little more to deal with how the quaterback got away with his crimes by his victims being afraid to report what happended to them. It was touched upon, subtly, but I'd like to see it tacked more directly.

I also liked seeing how secretive Claire can be. I find that interesting because I suspect it's not just a matter of being freaked out by her powers but that, as a cheerleader but not the queen bee cheerleader, she's survived by constantly being in damage control mode, carefully parceling out what information about her gets out.

At first, I found it really interesting that the guys got the kinds of passive powers more typically found when a superhero team has a token female, but with Nikki and Claire's physical powers the writers have focused on demonstrating them to extremes. (Hence, Claire's tendency for freak accidents which gives her something to recover from or Nikki's tendency to be victimized, invoking her Thorn-persona.) I see why it's happening this way, but I'm not happy to see it.

**Possible spoiler**
I keep asking myself if the scene in the elevator would have been as cool if one of the guys were playing a Nikki-type character, if there's something in the victim to vengence dynamic that plays differently by gender. Would it be as cool if it were Peter Parker who went from cowering to turning his victimizer helpless?
**Spoiler past**

BTW, reason for hope, a name I always notice, Bryan Fuller is a producer on the show and wrote last night's script. Fuller created Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me, two shows I love, so I hope his influence on the show goes deep.

 
At 10:15 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Lyle,
I continue to be of two minds on this show, I seem to find as many troubling aspects as I find to love about it.

I'm ignoring everything else you say for the moment because I haven't watched this week's episode yet! Shameful, I know, but I'll get to it very soon. Until then, take this as a promise that I'll respond to you as soon as I do? :)

BTW, reason for hope, a name I always notice, Bryan Fuller is a producer on the show and wrote last night's script. Fuller created Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me, two shows I love, so I hope his influence on the show goes deep.

Oh my goodness, I didn't even see this! Thanks for pointint it out. I love love love both Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me, and miss both, very much.
RIP Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Inside, Eyes, and every other bloody show I love.

I have a long history of attaching myself to underdog shows. It's quite tragic, really.
Soon, for Heroes, soon!
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 9:35 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Lyle,
I've finally (finally!) watched Heroes, and now, I owe you a response :)

I have to admit, as much as I dislike Claire being yet another heroine who finds her motivation and clarity after being raped, I really liked where they took that particular storyline this week. I hope they do a little more to deal with how the quaterback got away with his crimes by his victims being afraid to report what happended to them. It was touched upon, subtly, but I'd like to see it tacked more directly.

I think he got away with it the way all men who get away with rape get away with it: society tends to discount women's testimony. The boy said it himself, right? "You got drunk and then you blamed your sluttiness on me" (paraphrased, but close enough).

I also liked seeing how secretive Claire can be. I find that interesting because I suspect it's not just a matter of being freaked out by her powers but that, as a cheerleader but not the queen bee cheerleader, she's survived by constantly being in damage control mode, carefully parceling out what information about her gets out.

Great analysis. I completely agree. "Damage control" is a great way to describe Claire's constant state of readiness.

At first, I found it really interesting that the guys got the kinds of passive powers more typically found when a superhero team has a token female, but with Nikki and Claire's physical powers the writers have focused on demonstrating them to extremes. (Hence, Claire's tendency for freak accidents which gives her something to recover from or Nikki's tendency to be victimized, invoking her Thorn-persona.) I see why it's happening this way, but I'm not happy to see it.

I agree with you on all points. I think you point to something really crucial here, the need for Nikki and Claire to constantly "heal." Both of them have tragedies they need to recover from, and we see those, over and over again. The "Save the Cheerleader" mantra that's teased in the trailers for next week speaks to this even more.

**Possible spoiler**
I keep asking myself if the scene in the elevator would have been as cool if one of the guys were playing a Nikki-type character, if there's something in the victim to vengence dynamic that plays differently by gender. Would it be as cool if it were Peter Parker who went from cowering to turning his victimizer helpless?
**Spoiler past**


But don't we sort of see that with Peter Parker, or Marvel-type characters in general? Marvel loves its underdog, and I think it's really important that you chose Peter rather than, say, Bruce. We don't think of Bruce or Clark or Ollie as "cowering," but how many of the X-Men, or Marvel characters in general, have histories of abuse or teasing (the mutants, in particular) that they must overcome?
Again, sorry so late! Not only did I not get to watch Heroes until Friday, but Blogger wonked out on me as I tried to respond.
Ciao,
Amy

 

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