Generally, I don’t make a habit of making news posts about things that happened on the Internet more than a year ago. Unless, of course, it managed to slip everyone’s attention and is just blowing up now. I also don’t make a habit of writing news posts about random people on the internet being jerks. Unless, of course, they’re not random people at all, but people with significant power over either legal matters or the media we consume.
The case of “The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With,” or rather, the content of the commentary on the post of that name by writer/director James Gunn last year. See, in between last February and now, Gunn was tapped as the director for the first new set of characters to be introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 2, The Guardians of the Galaxy.
The post is dated February 11th, 2011, and apparently sat around for nearly two years before it was noticed recently. It was still live late last night when I noticed pretty much every comics-related blog I follow on Tumblr talking in various shades of disgust about its content, but it has since been taken down. Naturally, it’s still available by Google Cache.
Lets be clear: there’s nothing wrong about running a poll for the most sex-able superhero on your site, especially one where you embrace the fact that Batman and Gambit come in within the top five. There isn’t anything wrong, in that context, of choosing art that sexualizes the characters in it. There isn’t even anything wrong with talking explicitly about sex in your commentary on the poll results. What’s wrong is the sheer amount of slut-shaming (on only the female characters) and anti-gay language that Gunn directs towards the majority of the male characters. These are not opinions befitting somebody who’s been given the task of bringing a major part of the Marvel Universe to the big screen (a set of characters, I might add, that includes a lesbian superhero couple, not that they’ll be appearing in Guardians).
The screenshot at the top of this post is the entirety of what he has to say about Batwoman, which is both a reference to the idea that lesbians just need a good (read: streotypically masculine) man to have sex with them and they’ll be “cured” of their homosexuality, a delusion at the heart of an innumerable number of rapes; and a dig at Nightwing, one of the few male characters in comics who has actually gotten away with being drawn for the female gaze. Apparently, having been depicted as a female sex fantasy occasionally (and still with nowhere near the frequency that any given female character is drawn for the male gaze) instead of a male power fantasy literally makes him a woman.
(There’s some strong language and homophobic slurs in the rest of this post.)
Gambit is another character who gets drawn or written for the female gaze, and he comes in at number five even on a list not weighted for the gender or orientation of its polling base. Says Gunn: “My girlfriend voted for this Cajun fruit.” He goes on to say that the idea of having sex with Gambit himself makes him sick to his stomach. Because, again, imagining a man as attractive to a woman necessarily requires you to imagine him as gay.
But let’s not end with the anti-gay sentiment! Sometimes, women are qualitatively less attractive because they have sex with people! “I sometimes think that the Black Canary is the hottest chick in the DC Universe until I remember that she, uh, fucks Green Arrow.” On Stephanie Brown, a teen mother who made the painful decision to give her baby up for adoption, “Being a teen mom and all, you know she’s easy. Go for it.” On the previous Batgirl, Cassandra Cain “She has the ultimate daddy issues. Which means she’s just my type.” Many of Gunn’s other comments ride the line between what I would simply consider distasteful and what I can definitively call misogynistic, like when he says he’d have sex with Spider-Woman but he wouldn’t want to look at her face while doing it, so he’d make sure to ejaculate onto it, or that Emma Frost is great for guys who like “a rude bitch.”
This discovery of Gunn’s apparently joyful and public feelings about women and sexuality are, to say the least, deeply disappointing. The fact that it was out, on the internet, for more than a year before his attachment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and not even taken down or otherwise covered up until now, is even more so. Gunn was also publicly endorsed by Joss Whedon. Plenty of the people I follow are saying they will personally boycott the movie or calling for Marvel Studios to remove him from the project. Boycotting a major release in the MCU is not something I personally have the professional ability to do (providing information on whether a movie treats its female characters with respect is something I consider to be a vital part of this site), or something I feel I can, personally, advocate for or against to other people. The extent to which one can separate the artist from their work is a very personal decision that varies from person to person. Additionally, Gunn is by no means the only person who will have made Guardians when the film rolls into theaters in 2014 or who stands to lose their job prospects or salary should it fail.
As for calling for Marvel to remove him… I could honestly see that happening if it gets enough buzz. The release date is still two years off, and we live in a world where Brett Ratner is pressured into resigning from producing the Oscars for a gay slur, surely fans can hold Marvel accountable for the behavior of the directors they choose. Whether their opinions will be numerous to be listened to is something I can’t be certain of.
Update: Here’s a good post by Rachel Edidin, editor at Dark Horse Comics, that says some things I wish I’d said about satire and intentions. If you’ve gotten this far, I highly recommend giving it a read.
Update: Gunn has since issued a sincere apology.