If there weren’t years of comic books, cartoons, and films depicting the Avengers team as heroes, I’d say Joss’s plan was to make them villains. Avengers: Age of Ultron has a lot of issues, including but not limited to the whitewashing of the Maximoff twins (half-Roma, half-Jewish characters in the Marvel universe), the mishandling of the scene between Natasha Romanov and Bruce Banner in which she reveals she feels like a monster in part because of her sterilization (female mutilation was part of her graduation from training), and the horrible rape “joke” from Iron Man.
In the first Avengers film, Joss Whedon wrote a bit between Loki and Black Widow where he calls her a “mewling quim”, an antiquated term for one of the worst insults in our vernacular. While it made some sense in context because of Loki’s villainy, it came back into popular use for a while because of how people felt about Loki.
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man, a supposed hero, makes a joke where he talks about the kind of ruler he’d be on Asgard: “fair, but firmly cruel,” re-instituting “Prima Nocta,” meaning he’d be able to rape any Asgardian woman prior to her consensual intimate relationship with her new husband.
Think about what that means for a moment: Tony Stark’s idea of a ruler is someone with absolute power, who treats his subjects as lesser and views everyone as his property. He would get to deflower every female — or at least, those he found attractive. What would Pepper Potts think? That violent statement might cause her anxiety and fear because what’s holding him back from doing that now, to her, or women she knows, like Agent Hill, Black Widow, or Jane Foster?
Violence against women is not funny. Women have endured thousands of years of rape, mutilation and abuse at the hands of cruel and evil men. Why would we trust someone, a ‘hero’, who makes a joke of all those years of suffering?
Tony Stark is snarky and arrogant, usually in a funny way, but this one flippant remark has caused me to rethink just how much I enjoy his character.
Throw in the sexist remarks made by Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans, the SNL spoof of Avengers which points to the misogyny that Scarlett Johansson and her character Black Widow must face, and you’ve got a pretty bad light on the Avengers.
While Hawkeye does have a steady family (including a barefoot-in-the-kitchen, incredibly supportive wife) and Steve Rogers is mourning Peggy, the fact that these two actors buy into their co-star’s character being labeled “slut” because she’s being forced to pair off with somebody is verbally abusive and does color the tone of their interactions with her.
I also couldn’t believe the mishandling of the scene between Bruce and Natasha. You can see the pairing is forced to evolve quickly, and when it comes time to reveal how they feel, Natasha shares something intimate about herself with Bruce, who merely gazes at her in silence. Where’s the moment where he tells her that she isn’t a monster, that the monsters are those who did this to her? Where’s their moment of recognition that neither of them are monsters, but rather victims of monsters? Many people were horrified at the correlation of Natasha’s sterilization to being a monster, feeling that this statement would hurt those who live with infertility, mutilation, or difficulties getting pregnant.
While it might be true that this scene ran into trouble because of lack of time, there is no excuse for the ‘joke’ Tony Stark made. It wasn’t even funny, and people weren’t laughing when we saw it in theaters. Probably because most of us know someone who has been raped.
The problem with heroes making such statements is that people look up to them. They’re supposed to be above such things or protecting those who are subject to such treatment. While heroes aren’t perfect, we’ve come to expect them to be at least decent human (or more-than-human) beings, and decent human beings should not condone such repulsive violence, nor should they joke about it.
Heroes are supposed to be better. That’s why they’re heroes. How can we trust them to protect us if they don’t have a moral compass?
We’ve seen this happen with favorite writers before. M. Night Shyamalan (who pitched a tantrum by creating The Happening, because people ‘didn’t understand’) and Stephen Moffat (who has made dozens of sexist and homophobic remarks and delights in torturing his audience) come to mind. While brilliant, they fell prey to their arrogance, moving from artistic visionaries to self-satisfied pricks who feel the world doesn’t deserve them. Is Joss Whedon following in their footsteps?
As Harvey Dent opined: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.”
This is a warning Joss Whedon and the Avengers should take to heart.Image Credits: Marvel