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Eight Things About Me (A Meme)

Chuck tagged me a few days ago with the Eight Things meme; although I’m generally fairly anti-meme, I’ve been enjoying a bit of back and forth with Chuck in his blog and on del.icio.us, so figured I could add one more procrastination on a writing day.  Apparently, I have to start with rules … 

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged write their own blog post about their eight things and include these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and that they should read your blog.

Eight Facts about Me:

1. When I was in Primary School I won a Lego building competition; this is, without a doubt, my fondest memory of the first 7 years of education.

2. Apart from The Goonies, the film that rattled around my brain the most when I was a kid was called Explorers.  I was fascinated how three boys could essentially make a spacecraft out of everyday junk (and a little piece of alien technology).  In retrospect, this example of making something amazing from the bits and pieces others leave lying around resonates with some of the way I view the internet and participatory culture (and until I looked it up on IMDb to link to for this post, I hadn’t realised River Phoenix was one of the kids).

3. When I was twelve years old I joined Perth’s Doctor Who fan club, The West Lodge, which was my first proper immersion into fandom; I attend the local science-fiction convention in the following year (Swancon 14) but found the whole thing rather intimidating and didn’t get back to Swancon until  seven years later when Neil Gaiman visited Perth as GoH in 1996.

4. I have re-read all six of Frank Herbert’s Dune books as a series at least twenty times since I was 14; I’ve been relatively unimpressed by the prequel novels in the past few years.

5. My sister and I both have PhDs and are the first members of our family to ever attend university at all.  My sister is eighteen months younger, started her thesis a year after I did, but we both were officially given our PhDs at the same graduation ceremony.

6. Emily and I currently live less than 14 metres from Subiaco Oval, which is where Australian Rules Football attracts 40-45,000 people most weekends.  Despite AFL being Australia’s national winter sport, I’ve never been to a Football game.

7. Until last Saturday I had never test-driven a car, having bought my only owned vehicle to date from my parents.  On Saturday I test-drove a Prius which Emily and I are seriously considering buying despite the fact it will take us several years to pay it off.

8. In the proposal for my PhD thesis in 2000, the final chapter was supposed to look at the use of computer-generated imagery and special effects in nature documentaries as a case study of artificial culture where natural and technological meaning merged together.  (It never got written because after that proposal both September 11 2001 and the Spider-Man films happened, and I used the latter to interrogate the cultural impact of the former.)

You’re It! I now tag the following people (hoping at least a few will play along): Jill Walker Rettberg (just getting used to writing that double barrel surname!), Christy Dena, David Silver, Nancy Baym (because fandom has a meme for a heart!), Mia Consalvo (who can sadly not follow the meme and call it ‘cheating‘), Jean Burgess, Kate Raynes-Goldie and Kevin Lim (who lives for these sort of connections!).

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Mary-Jane Watson … Likes to Wash Peter’s Spider-suit?!?

Marvel’s statues folk have really out-done themselves with these uber-sexist models of Mary-Jane:

As one would rightly imagine, there is considerable disappointment and outrage about this image. While comic books have never exact been modest in their representation of women (or men), this particular statue is ridiculously misogynistic and patronising, even by the standards of early comic books, let alone the twenty-first century. Nor, sadly, is this a unique case, evinced by more examples in ArcanaJ’s “Comics Industry Bullsh*t” Flickr set.

While such an image is clearly sexist, whatever the context, it’s doubly disappointing to see Mary-Jane, who has always been at least a strong, active figure in the comic books, reduced to the sexed-up laundry lady. The latest film, I guess, really doesn’t do much to argue with such a representation – there were moments, there, but MJ was a sadly under-developed character in Spider-Man 3. However, given the huge number of people, and especially kids, looking to find their heroes in comic-books and the films they inspire, this, and similarly images, really need to scrubbed out.

In a different way, Nancy Lorenz replies even more forcefully (and graphically) by showing how ridiculous Spider-Man would look in this pose!

[Via Falling Apart In Half Time]

Update (18 May, 9.45am): Boing Boing links to a post by artist Tom Hodges, a friend of Adam Hughes (who designed the MJ statue). Hodges post includes these comments:

Now I may be wrong, but ANYONE who complains about this piece obvious does NOT read Superhero comics. If you did, I’d consider you a hypocrite. I enjoy the Indie stuff (SiP and Lenore) but without Spider-man, X-Men and other comics, they wouldn’t exist. Do you think Terry Moore is offended by this piece? I HIGHLY doubt it!

That’s probably a fair point; most indie comics came into being on the back of the success of the superheroes comics (and funnies) in establishing comic books as a recognisable form of entertainment and (although more controversially, even today) art. Also, I think Hodges is right in that this statue is not an outlier, but rather representative of a large part of the way Marvel, DC, and many independent comic books, represent women and men. I did read superhero comics a fair bit when I was younger and occasionally pick up stuff at the moment (I enjoyed parts of Marvel’s Civil War and have been consistently impressed by the current Justice mini-series by Alex Ross et al). That said, I think that what this statue represents is the worst aspects of this tradition; I don’t think Adam Hughes should bare the blame for the conventions of much of the art in the superhero genre, but I do think his representation lacked subtlety enough to crystallize the sexist nature of many comic books, even today.

Hodges also suggests this statue may be ironic – pointing out that Mary-Jane in the comics is a far more successful supermodel. Even if that was the intention, I fear it’ll be lost on the majority of people who purchased the statue.

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Spider-Man 2.1

Having dedicated the final chapter of my doctoral thesis to examining the first two Spider-Man films as an exemplar of Artificial Culture, I really had to buy and watch the new Spider-Man 2.1 DVD, despite my constant annoyance at how these just-before-the-sequel extended edition DVD releases tend to disappoint. The 2.1 DVD set is advertised as having a new ‘Extended Cut’ of Spider-Man 2 with eight minutes new footage, while the second disc sports a bunch of ‘all-knew’ features. Sadly, the features on the extras DVD really don’t justify the creation of an disc. The ‘sneak peak’ and trailer for Spider-Man 3 don’t show anything not already floating around the legitimate parts of the internet, while the ‘VFX Breakdown’ is quite a laborious walk-through of the meshing of live-action, miniature and digital effects. I guess it’s hard to make these technical mini-docos all that interesting, but the Lord of the Rings DVDs did show it’s possible! I have the feeling VFX piece was shot for the original Spider-Man 2 DVD but cut since they’re just really dull.

Of more interest, the eight minutes of extra footage do change the tone of the film in important places. There’s a lot of extra character development for Harry and Mary-Jane; Harry’s friendship is reinforced in an extended version of Peter’s birthday party, while a new sequence between Mary-Jane and her friend highlights the fact that MJ is settling in her marriage rather than following her true love. Also, probably of more interest to the target audience, there are additional, CGI-heavy, shots added into Spider-Man’s fight sequences with Doctor Octopus. However, apart from some extra punches and scrapes, these don’t add anything notable to the story. Indeed, it’s worth pointing out this extended version isn’t labeled a ‘Director’s Cut’ as I suspect Rami was quite happy with the theatre-released version.

However, just when I thought the DVD was really quite a waste of money, I found myself laughing out loud at one unexpected sequence in which J Jonah Jameson “celebrates” Spider-Man’s retirement and The Bugle’s acquisition of the Spider-suit in an entirely unexpected but unforgettably funny way! Of course, the J Jonah Jameson clip is on YouTube: Be warned, though, this scene is much funnier in the context of the film. Forewarned, then, watching this clip by itself may prove less funny …

Since you’re no doubt just watched the clip anyway, I’d recommend against buying 2.1 – there’s nothing more to see.

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When Captain America Drops His Mighty Shield

“It’s a hell of a time for him to go. We really need him now.”

Joe Simon (co-creator of Captain America)

While Peter Parker and his alter-ego Spider-Man have long been the iconic representation of the layperson (or everyperson) — the ordinary guy who, by accident rather than intent, became a hero — Captain America, in contrast, has always been stood for the ideals of the American dream and the democratic system at its heart. Captain America was created in the midst of World War II, and has fought the Nazis, communism and many other threats to the ‘American way of life’. Given his role, the demise of such a figure is more than a ploy to sell comic books (although it is that, too); it’s a commentary on the upheaval at the heart of what being American actually means. As Joe Simon, Cap’s co-creator along with Jack Kirby, has stated in interviews on the back of Cap’s death: “It’s a hell of a time for him to go. We really need him now.”

In July last year I wrote about the parallels between Marvel’s Civil War storyline and the ‘War of Terror’, noting that the Civil War stories borrowed heavily both from September 11 and the related special-edition tributes done by various comic book publishers. The image of Captain America’s sorrow was used powerfully both in Marvel’s renderings of the ruins of the World Trade Centre Towers and the tragedy which kick-started Marvel’s Civil War. During the past months, I was also impressed by the directness with which the Civil War stories appeared to address the situation in Guantanamo Bay when one of Marvel’s more jovial characters, Speedball – or Robert Baldwin – was arrested as an “an unregistered combatant” and locked away in a prison which seemed to exist outside of legal jurisdiction. To some extent that critique continues beyond the conclusion of the Civil War storyline as Robert Baldwin has now backed down and accepted Registration and become a new ‘hero’ (in the broadest sense of the word) under the guise ‘Penance’, a self-hating hero, wracked by guilt about the deaths his team unwittingly caused, and whose powers emerge proportionally to the amount of pain he’s in (it’s hardly a shock, then, that Warren Ellis is penning Thunderbolts, which now features Penance in the team’s line-up).

[Image from Marvel’s Civil War: Frontline #10; click to enlarge.]

Captain America's Death on the Marvel websiteAfter those impressive beginnings, I was completely stunned at how badly the Marvel wrapped up its Civil War run, with Cap seemingly surrendering on a revelation — that the war between heroes was hurting a lot of innocent people in its wake — so mundane it bordered on stupid. That said, when Cap was actually gunned down by an assassin in Captain America #25, I could see where the story was supposed to have gone (I still think, though, that his death should have occurred in the last issue of the Civil War story, not another tie-in edition, even Cap’s own book). Cap’s death has altered the Marvel Universe, with even Tony Stark (Iron Man) privately admitting that the Civil War wasn’t worth the death of one of Marvel’s greatest icons (in Civil War: The Confession, yet another Civil war spin-off). There has been a lot of press about Marvel killing off one its core characters, but I think these stories are best summed up by Damian Fowler writing in The Guardian‘s books blogs with these insightful thoughts on ‘Why Captain America had to die’:

Created by Marvel comics in 1941 to battle the Nazis, the massively-pumped “Cap” was first seen punching Hitler in the face. Nice work if you can get it. But last week the patriotic crusader was shot and killed by a sniper in the latest issue of the long-running comic book.

Over the years, Captain America’s storyline has always reflected American moods and attitudes. When he first showed up, he was a sentinel of liberty and the fight for right. He was a mirror of everything that America stood for during the second world war. He always fought relentlessly for values that the US held dear.

How times change. Now he’s very much dead, something that was confirmed by the president and publisher of Marvel Entertainment. The New York Times all but wrote an obituary for the man, albeit in the arts pages, dead at 66. But it’s a sign of the times.

His demise is so much more than a tragedy in Toontown, even as the comic-book geeks mourn his passing. […] Cap’s death is being seen, analysed and discussed through the prism of national politics as a damning indictment of George Bush’s America. Even the major American TV networks picked up on the story, cutting images of the war in Iraq with the comic book images.

The Marvel Universe post-Captain America is an unfamiliar place. It’s a Marvel Universe in tune with the US and the Western world more broadly; a West which invaded Iraq four years ago but has to bring any semblance of stability to the region. With Cap’s shield gathering dust, his ideological opposite, Iron Man (a weapons manufacturer and alcoholic as well as a superhero) is now in charge of Marvel’s registered super-hero fighting machine (with a team in every state of the US). Spider-man, who revealed his identity during the Civil War, is now part of a small but notable underground resistance, but is also desperately trying to deal with the death of family members. Captain America’s death hangs over the comic book world, and leaves lasting questions about the direction and politics of the world of Marvel and its heroes.

However, As Benari Poulten reminds us, Captain America has been dead before and Steve Rogers has been replaced as Cap in the past, so it’s unlikely that the iconic hero will be gone from the Marvel universe for good. That said, Marvel have enjoyed amazing press and attention in the wake of the assassination of one of their key heroes — Cap’s demise even made ‘the Word’ on The Colbert Report and Steven Colbert now has Cap’s shield in his trophy case — so if death is to carry any weight at all in mainstream comic books, the inevitable return will have to be handled carefully, not just commercially. Personally, I think Steve Rogers should stay dead now, I think his death was representative of many things, including changes in Marvel both as a comic book universe and as part of a multi-national company. That said, words by Peter David about the X-Men titles are increasingly true about all comic book characters: “Mutant heaven has no pearly gates, only revolving doors” (X-Factor #70). If he can’t stay dead, Marvel, please earn any return of Captain America or one of your most striking characters will be diluted beyond a meaningful existence.

(Yes, the title of this post is a shameless adaptation of the Cap cartoon theme song; it’s also an homage to Henry Jenkins’ brilliant essay ‘Captain America Sheds His Might Tears: Comics and September 11’ which appeared in Daniel J. Sherman and Terry Nardin (eds), Terror, Culture, Politics: Rethinking 9/11, Indiana UP, 2006.)

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