Nerd Factor: Bothered by Strong Women

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Professor

Recently, the website Rotten Tomatoes closed down features of their website and pledged to control the ability of users to comment on movies before those movies were actually released.  Sadly, the reasons for this were not just common sense. No, this move was the response to an effort to ruin the success of Captain Marvel before the release by deliberately going after the film with negative comments and ratings.

This is one of many incidents that have targeted a number of nerd properties over the past few years, from the harassment of female actors in newest Star Wars movies to the year-long misery festival over the Doctor regenerating into a woman on Doctor Who. The sheer ugliness of some of this is appalling on a basic human level and I cannot understand it.  The perceived anonymity of internet culture, as we know, breeds some terrible things.

Aside from this kind of inhumanity, I have tried to understand other reactions. Superhero fandom is not easy because superhero texts are dynamic.  The highly competitive nature of popular culture properties will often provoke alterations to favorite characters as companies seek to drive up sales and revenue.  Eventually, the character a fan loves will alter.

Consider another of Marvel’s more famous captains. Over the years, Captain America has quit/been fired/died and replaced multiple times or been criticized for using guns or even revealed to be a traitor for Hydra.  At these moments, fans reacted, vowing to quit until the real Cap comes back. Or pointing out that Cap used guns in his earliest days. Or complaining that making Cap into a Hydra stooge is a fundamental misunderstanding of the intent of his young Jewish-American creators to develop a symbol of freedom against fascism just before the outbreak of WWII.

I think it is important though to recognize that relativism is not the essence of fandom.  Just because everyone has an opinion does not mean that everyone’s ideas are equally good. Going after Captain Marvel represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the character.

Carol Danvers may have been introduced as a supporting character for Marvel’s first Captain Marvel in 1968, but when she became the superheroic Ms. Marvel in 1977, Marvel Comics clear intent was to create a powerful female character that would embody the decade’s feminist movement. From that moment on, she kicked butt and took names on a physical level unequaled by most other female Marvel characters of that decade (with the exception of fellow 70s creation She-Hulk).  Ms. Marvel was from the outset a brawler with a sharp mind for strategy. By the time Danvers took on the mantle of Captain Marvel in the new millennium, she was one of the established powerhouses on the front line of the Avengers.

Like Wonder Woman before her, Captain Marvel is coming to the big screen with a long history of female empowerment.  Disney and Marvel are certainly hoping to match that Amazonian box office success and the movie has naturally been promoted with that in mind.  

Frankly, I am not impressed by any criticism of Captain Marvel for being a lady liberator.  Anyone who is upset by that just does not get it. If you are bothered by strong women, Captain Marvel is not for you.  And maybe the superhero genre is not either.