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Captain Marvel Versus Sexism: Why The Cycle of Forced Pop Culture Hate is Starting All Over Again

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | February 20, 2019 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | February 20, 2019 |

Captain Marvel 3.png

Brie Larson hates white men, according to a lot of white men. Her support of diversifying the journalistic pool sent to cover her latest movie, Captain Marvel, has been attacked by those who seem to believe the mere possibility of inclusivity is a personal attack on their lives. Smears like this against Larson, an Oscar winning actress who will become the first woman to headline a solo Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, are sadly nothing new. She’s been on the receiving end of this kind of hate since her casting was announced. The usual suspects went after her for her politics, her feminism, her support of #TimesUp, her shade towards Casey Affleck, and most recently, for showing off her strength by pushing a stationary car. It doesn’t take a genius to see why Larson is the one getting this level of hate and not, say, Chris Evans.

Captain Marvel is set to be a very big deal this year. How could it not be? It’s taken over a decade for Marvel, the now undisputed champions of blockbuster cinema, to give a female character her own film. Carol Danvers is a true icon of the comic book world, in large part thanks to her depiction in Kelly Sue DeConnick’s arcs. If Wonder Woman proved anything, it’s that an arse-kicking heroine is both a crowd-pleaser and a money printing machine. In that aspect, Marvel are just jumping on an already lucrative bandwagon. Really, it shouldn’t have taken them this long.

I don’t think we need to drag out the reasons why Larson and Captain Marvel are on the receiving end of so much hostility. It’s misogyny, pure and simple. For once, the centre of attention in this genre is a woman, one who isn’t a sidekick or love interest, and she’s being played by a strident feminist activist who is using her moment in the spotlight to shine attention on the lack of gender and racial representation in other fields. Bigots like to pretend they don’t have a problem with women in leading roles or stories where people other than straight white men are the heroes; they’re just sad at all the ‘forced in social justice politics’. They loved Lara Croft until she got smaller breasts, a pair of trousers and some character development. They probably had no problems with Carol Danvers’s original skimpy outfit and thought that outfitting a military woman in something more suitable was political correctness gone mad. They were perfectly reasonable, you see, until the women took it too far.

We’ve been through this spiel countless times before, especially over the past few years as pop culture and the wider ‘geek’ world has become a dishearteningly volatile battleground for a fruitless war. We still live in the shattered remnants of the mess GamerGate left behind and the mere mention of the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot on Twitter can guarantee a swath of smug fury in your mentions. And then, of course, there is Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It boggles the mind to this day that a critically adored film that made over $1 billion worldwide could ever be considered a failure. It wasn’t unexpected for a Star Wars film to inspire fan furor. Indeed, that seems to be the default mode for said fandom. However, what happened with this film and its aftermath felt different, darker, more poisonous. Star Kelly Marie Tran was harassed from social media by ‘fans’ who despised her character so much that they felt the need to destroy the actress in the process. Director Rian Johnson faced endless screeds of violence, hatred and accusatory smears, much of which can be found in his Twitter mentions to this day. Endless conspiracies have sprung up around this one film, and a lot of that has been fuelled by supposedly journalistic outlets willing to fan the flames under the guise of reporting.

We could be here all day talking about The Last Jedi and everything that created that anger, but one aspect worth focusing on is how hating it, and other pieces of pop culture that buck bigoted trends or feature diversity in any way, has become an entire industry. Once again, this is not new. Look at how many creeps made a mint from Patreon accounts and endless YouTube screeds against Anita Sarkeesian. Plenty of right-wing sites took up the mantle of being GamerGate’s biggest defenders when they realized there was big money to be made from mining angry clicks from people looking to validate their misogyny. It didn’t matter that said publications were seldom journalistically reliable (ironic for a movement that claimed it was about supporting the ethics of video game journalism): All that counted was that these people with the vaguest sheens of legitimacy were in their corner. We’re seeing it again with ComicsGate, and all the tactics are the same. You don’t have to look far on YouTube, unfortunately, to find hours’ worth of videos on The Last Jedi being everything wrong with SJWs or Brie Larson representing the ills of feminism, and as evidenced by those scarily high view numbers, there’s a zealous audience for this kind of opinion.

One of the more exhausting aspects of this kind of forced outrage in the name of perpetuating a right-wing agenda is that it leaves the rest of us wasting far too much time trying to refute a crooked argument. On top of positioning a multi-billion dollar media monopoly as some sort of beleaguered underdog in this race - believe me, Disney does not need that kind of narrative - it drags the rest of us down into the mud to fix a problem that isn’t broken. The people who have decided that Captain Marvel, The Last Jedi, Ghostbusters, and so on are their enemies have already declared victory in this ‘debate’. If Captain Marvel is anything less than the biggest film of 2019, then it will be decried as a flop and proof that the sexist backlash against it worked; if it’s a record breaking hit then that only happened because of the feminist agenda or Marvel shill critics making it happen. It’s been over a year since The Last Jedi became the highest grossing movie of 2017 and the 2nd biggest Star Wars film ever and we still have to put up with this obsessive campaign pretending it was a disaster for Disney, a narrative you never see for Solo, the Star Wars film that did flop on a major level. They keep you talking and yelling and running around in circles for their benefit because it gives them another gasp of relevance until people are eventually ready to move onto the next topic of the day. Hell, I’m keenly aware that by even writing this piece, I’m probably contributing to this problem on some level. It never ends.

This may depressingly be the new normal for pop culture criticism and consumption. We are now hyper-aware of how these narratives unfold and how the most basic elements of critique and industry analysis are hijacked, misused and weaponized. Pop culture is the perfect battleground for them: It’s still considered a frivolity by many so it doesn’t garner the same level of serious reporting by mainstream publications, and it’s assumed to be white male dominated in the first place, meaning any calls for inclusivity can easily be posited as ‘intrusion’ without a second thought. As we contend more with issues of problematic art and its creators and how we consume that in the modern age, that easily converges with bigoted paranoia about censorship and makes said conversations all the more fraught.

However, it’s important to remember that the times have indeed changed, and we have different standards now for pop culture, representation, and the stories told on a grand scale. That’s a good thing. We all benefit from that shift, even those who cry oppression at the very prospect of it. Our heroes look more like the rest of us, their struggles are different, and there’s a promise of a brighter future. Captain Marvel would approve, and so would Brie Larson.

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Kayleigh is a features writer for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.

Header Image Source: Marvel Studios // The Walt Disney Company