One of my favorite websites, Wired.com, ran a movie review by Sady Doyle for The Avengers: Age of Ultron entitled “Age of Ultron is Proof Marvel is Killing the Popcorn Movie.” I did a quick web search and gathered that Sady has cornered the market with her unique false outrage reviews of superhero movies and pop culture topics. Her review for Age of Ultron was so lopsided I felt compelled to counter her criticism with something resembling reason. I use “resembling reason” because when it comes to big budget superhero movies, a bit of reason has to be left in the car before you even enter the theater. To appreciate this response, you must read Sady’s article first. It is an entertaining read and well worth your time.
Unfortunately, Sady’s article is your standard journalistic false-flag attack. She begins her review with “I f##king love stupid popcorn movies. They can be about superheroes, dinosaurs, aliens, a bus that can’t slow down; I’m not picky.” This opening salvo leads readers to believe that because she is a fan of the genre, she will be fair in her review. She even throws in an early “f##king” to emphasise the point that she is not one of those literary snobs who peers down on her subject matter while her Ivy League diploma hangs in her office off to the side as not to be pretentious.
In an attempt to understand her point of view, I read numerous articles she’s written for The Guardian, The Atlantic, Slate, Medium, and others. Sady is an awesome writer. She has a knack for tapping into trending topics and presenting a different point of view. I found myself reading her articles for entertainment long after I’d read more than enough for research. She is that engaging as a journalist. Sady pushes her position past the edge of sanity to force the reader’s opinion to move just enough, out of a psychological need to appreciate fine writing, that she will leave even the most staunch adversary a little changed for the process. For example, I left Age of Ultron thinking it was awesome. After reading her takedown piece, for a moment I felt like I needed to watch the movie again to look for all the sexism, racism, and poor character development, as if those three things even belong in the same sentence.
Quickly I came to my senses and was overwhelmed with the need to explain why she is not only almost wholly wrong in her politically manipulative review; she’s mean-spirited in her hardwired need to spoil everyone’s mood. She even slips in her real motivation when describing Hulk slamming Loki to the floor in the first Avengers movie. “That’s you…making feminist points in a conversation without worrying that someone will call you a buzzkill.”
So, let me be the one to say it. Sady, congratulations, you are a f##king buzzkill.
I could end my response there. But, I’m sorry, I can’t. Let’s start with her very first premise. She loves popcorn movies. Right. Obviously, the truth is, she hates superhero movies. Early in her article, she compliments director Josh Whedon by saying thank God he isn’t Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight trilogy) or Zach Snyder (Watchmen, Man of Steel). In one sentence, she dissed the extremely well-received Superman and Batman movies. In the next thought, she gives the ultimate backhanded compliment to Thor by stating it was so bad it gave her the gift of laughter. On a related note, during my research, I came across a scathing review of Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Most people probably agree that Sucker Punch was not a good movie. However, Sady’s review of it made Snyder out to be the ultimate sexist. She wrote, “Sucker Punch has been pitched as a girl-power epic, but it feels like watching a little boy tear the heads off his sister’s Barbies. After dressing them up in their sexiest outfits and making them fight GI Joe, of course.” Her review was coated in sexism even as it pretends to be anti-sexism.
It seems as though Sady has a view of what a strong woman should resemble, and it appears she looks a lot like Sady Doyle. When no character in a movie can live up to her standards, then, of course, by her thinking, the entire movie is flawed. The error in that view is in the belief that movies must cater to every demographic and include female personality traits that appeal strictly to Sady Doyle.
Women come in all shapes and sizes. They have political beliefs that range from Sandra Day O’Connor to Rosie O’Donnell and hundreds of millions of other different positions. There are physically strong women, mentally strong women, and emotionally strong women. Let’s take Natasha Romanoff from The Avengers.
Black Widow is a physically strong woman. She kicks more ass with her bare hands in both movies than any of the male superheroes, except The Hulk. The very first time we see her in the first movie, she appears to be a damsel in distress but is, in fact, in complete control of her situation. Her initial screen appearance reveals her to be smarter than everyone else in the room. In Age of Ultron, she is shown to be an emotionally complex person. She seems to choose the person she’s attracted to based on an emotional need to save people.
Bruce Banner and The Hulk are the most complex superhero/alter ego pair in the world of superheroes. You can see them as simply the Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde type character. You can choose to look deeper and see Bruce and The Hulk as two sides of an abusive man. You can look even deeper and see them as a representation of America with Bruce representing the need for technological advancement and The Hulk representing just how badly that can go. And you can even dig deeper and see them as simply two sides that exist inside every man. The bottom line is that The Hulk is so complicated you can read anything you want into him. You see a reflection of yourself in The Hulk. In The Hulk, Sady sees an inner self-loathing, suicidal, creature who must transform his motivation in the most stupid simple way possible. In Bruce, she sees a man who is wholly unworthy of Natasha’s affections. As such, Natasha is an inadequate representation of women because she is attracted to someone Sady finds unappealing.
Sticking with The Hulk for a moment, we find a perfect representation Sady’s manipulative and disingenuous writing style. In one place in her article, she writes that she tries very hard not to believe that at the heart of every comic book movie is the concept that “punching is better than talking.” She places that theory in the mouths of “cynics” and puts the words in italics to hammer home that it is a “quote.” Two paragraphs later she states unequivocally, “…the thing I think is at the core of Marvel’s contempt for people: Punching is better than talking.” An intellectual person might consider that she wrote the second part first, and then wrote the setup placing the original thought into the mind of an unnamed cynic to force home her point.
So, here’s what I did — I simply googled the exact phrase “punching is better than talking”. The funny thing about Google is that if you put something in quotation marks, Google will only show exact matches. Shockinly, Google returned eight hits. Eight. One was Sady’s article from Wired.com. One was a guy tweeting about muppets. Three were people commenting on Sady’s article. One was a blog from ChinaDaily.com in a paragraph that read very much like it could have been written by Sady about Age of Ultron. In it, J.E. Overington wrote, “One fight is started by stupid thugs who talk with fists, who say being stupid is better than being smart, who say punching is better than talking and listening, and who say domination and subjugation to slavery is better than friendship and mutually beneficial trade.” That sentence could have been part of Sady’s review, and no one would have been the wiser. Perhaps that is the reason for the italicized quotes. Or maybe it was uttered during Age of Ultron, and I didn’t have my journalist notepad out taking notes. Either way, it definitely wasn’t a quote from a “cynic.”
Did I mention Google only returned eight results? The last time I Googled something that only returned eight results, I was using Compuserve dial-up and Bill Clinton was president.
(Note: in the twenty-four hours since my original Google search, the list has grown to 13 results, with some twitter responses to Sady’s article.)
Sady presents all this Hulk critique to back up her premise that the movie is sexist because it was written as sexist. She sets this up in her repetitive false flag style. She starts by comparing Josh Whedon to Charlie Kaufman and states that both are deeply personal writers. She builds him up as the writer of Cabin in the Woods, which left her and her friend gasping and whooping with exhilaration. And then she includes her repetitive trick of insulting him with an imaginary person’s words as she writes, “Plenty of women have noted that Whedon’s fixation on emotionally vulnerable, eighty-pound teenage girls is disturbing and off-putting, and I would tend to agree.”
That’s a pretty hardcore insult to lob so carelessly. So, I again turned to Google and searched “whedon fixation teenage girls” without the quotation marks. After going six search pages deep, I found a total of two people making a similar comment about Whedon having a teenage girl fixation. However, both commenters were men. I didn’t want to be slack in my research, so I Binged the same search and got a different man giving Whedon a tongue-lashing for his teenage girl obsession. I went six pages deep on Bing as well and found no more decent results.
I think we have established that Sady feels entirely comfortable putting words in the mouths of both “plenty of women” and “cynics.” When she writes that she agrees with these people, she is, in fact, agreeing with herself in a grandiose display of self-importance. “Cynics” could say her
Age of Ultron attack piece is the work of a hater, which is simply a modern word for jealous asshole. For the record, I am hesitant to use the word “cynic” as that is now synonymous with Sady Doyle. Since I am only using it in jest, I’ll assume it’s okay. Interesting fact: grandiose displays of self-importance and jealousy are two of the primary symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.
Elevated self-worth may be the reason Sady can straight-out state that “…Marvel has been racist and Marvel has been sexist, but Marvel’s most profound failing is that it just plain doesn’t care about people.”
Wha-What? Since when was it established fact that Marvel has been racist and sexist? Cops shooting unarmed black suspects merely because they’re black is racism. A black criminal getting a longer sentence than a white criminal for the same crime is racism. Having lower expectations for black people than white people is racism. An underwhelming lack of diversity in a comic book movie is not racism. Nitpicking a comic book or movie looking for signs of lack of diversity and equating that with racism is the same as saying a hamburger shop is racist for not having ethnic dishes on the menu.
But, what about sexism, the true central tenant in Sady’s article? There may come a day when feminists accept that real feminism is letting a woman be whom she chooses to be. Sady’s vision of women is much like her view of superheroes. If a woman doesn’t fall within the confines Sady has constructed for her, then she isn’t worthy of admiration. Sady could never see a religious stay-at-home mom as a feminist. The woman could have a double major in women’s studies and African-American studies. She could have overcome poverty after having grown up in foster homes. She could vote exactly like Sady in every election. She could have had four abortions in college. She could be able to quote Mary Wollstonecraft from cover to cover. However, at the point where she makes the decision to stray from the straight feminist party line, she loses the label of feminist.
The same thing applies to Black Widow in the Avengers. I wanted to see what a random twelve-year-old girl would say about Black Widow, so I went to Twitter and scrolled through hundreds and hundreds of posts about her under #BlackWidow. To a one, every individual human was either praising her or defending her from claims of sexism. The discussions of sexism came from the same media sources over and over again. Linda Holmes from NPR’s Monkey See had a great article about it. Sara Stewart and The Daily Beast had other interesting takes on it. It appears the guaranteed way to get a front page article published is to write critical articles about Age of Ultron from a feminist point of view.
Right here in my article is where feminist readers start to head to social media to destroy me as a male chauvinist. Instead of defending myself, I will only state that I believe in equality for all. I believe everybody should be treated the same with the same benefits and responsibilities. I believe that all humans, male and female, should be paid exactly the same for the exact same quality and quantity of work in the same workplace. I believe individuals, both male and female, should have control over their own bodies. I believe both a father and mother should have a say in the medical decisions involving their offspring, born and unborn. I believe that everyone should have the right to love and marry whomever without government restrictions. I believe that individuals should be free to live in this world as whomever they feel they are inside. I believe that we should treat with respect those who come to our country seeking a better life.
How does that belief statement fit into this article? If you look closely, all of those beliefs are also present in Age of Ultron. Ultron attempts to save the world by ending it. Confused logic, of course, but still the threat presented in the movie. Each of the superheroes addresses a specific societal ill.
Bruce Banner simply wants to end his life because he wants to protect the world from The Hulk. (Control over one’s own body.)
Bruce Banner has a different person living inside him yearning to come out. (Although it’s transcreature, it’s very similar to transgender.)
Natasha Romanoff pines about not being able to have a baby. (A reverse take on reproductive rights.)
Natasha was attracted to Captain America in The Winter Soldier but fell in love with Bruce Banner in Age of Ultron. (She’s single. Why should the person she’s attracted to matter, whether male or female or white or green?)
Hawkeye has chosen to get married and be a family man. (Nearly every superhero wishes for an ordinary life and Hawkeye appears to be the one who achieves it.)
Thor walks around with a god complex. Perhaps because he is a god. He is an unlawful immigrant to America, the world even and as such is always on someone’s radar screen to be deported from this planet. (Regardless, he struggles with fulfilling his responsibilities and following his heart as these things often conflict.)
Captain America is a 2015 man with a 1945 man trapped inside himself. (Not unlike the struggles with identity many men feel.)
And, finally, Tony Stark. If there were ever a reason for a feminist to hate The Avengers, it would be Tony Stark. The one character in the film who is openly narcissistic and seemingly sexist is completely ignored by Sady. This absence is absolutely telling as to her motivations. One possible explanation is that from the first Iron Man movie to Age of Ultron, Tony Stark has truly changed as a man. He’s gone from a playboy weapon’s dealer to a man in a committed relationship who is trying to save the world from weapons, albeit by creating the ultimate weapon, but who’s splitting hairs. Tony Stark is the embodiment of what feminists would have us all disbelieve. A man can change.
Ultimately, let’s fast forward to the ending. Early in her piece she claimed to love popcorn movies and then repeats that position at the end of her piece, right after bemoaning Marvel for creating a universe with so many popcorn movies. Finally, she reveals her true desire to be an Avenger with the superpower to see the future. “Age of Ultron wasn’t just bad. It was, to me, proof that Marvel movies, even at their best can only be bad. And that they are going to get worse.”
My biggest complaint with Sady is not her whining attitude or her inherent need to display false outrage. It’s the fact that she is such an awesome writer who will sway opinion with her incredible literary skills of manipulation. Even after spending hours of my life pointing out the flaws in her positions, I come away a fan of her work. I would bet an extra-large popcorn that even after she spent hours pointing out the flaws she saw in Age of Ultron, she’s a still fan of the movies. But, we all know that false outrage puts you on the front page of Wired.com, so why not exploit it for all it’s worth.
Aeyess is the author of the Armstrong Dent book series and the artist behind the accompanying soundtrack. Learn more about him and his books at ArmstrongDent.com. The complete first season of The Adventures of Armstrong Dent are available at amazon.