Comments on Wonder Woman, Part IIb: Embracing the Feminine

Continuing the comments on the feminine themes in Wonder Woman:

c) Gender complementarity

WOMAN

The relations between the sexes is also on display, not as a struggle for supremacy, but rather as complementary. Diana is experientially innocent about men and the relations between men and women, but she is knowledgeable and confident nonetheless. She does not understand why literally sleeping with Steve Trevor, fully clothed and apart, would be a problem when they’re on a small sailing boat – the whole scene is both comedic and sobering, revealing our own impure minds in the face of her confident innocence.

This innocence also comes out in a confident docility to Steve’s lead. She knows that Steve is the one who can get her to her goal, so she lets him guide her. This does not make her passive, standing up to the weak and immoral, even when that means deriding Steve himself and breaking with him for failing her. This kind of confident docility is a hallmark of traditional femininity, destroyed in the memetic idea that “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Diana is plenty well-behaved and can be heroic because of it.

d) Martial Might and Compassion

A final point about the violence. It’s true that violence and force are usually the domains of men, but I think the movie makes a deft move by saying not only is it NOT the proper domain of men, but that violence, more properly physical force, is an extraordinary response to extraordinary sin.

This is the fundamental message of Hippolyta, Diana’s mother. She wishes to protect the young Diana from a warrior’s training, not because she is against the use of force per se – she is a warrior herself and relishes in her sister Antiope’s martial might. Rather, she hopes the conditions which require the use of force – hatred, envy, desire – will not touch her daughter. She may be wrong in overprotecting Diana, but the impulse is a good one.

It’s also one that is distinctively feminine. The masculine, even if it wishes to eschew the horrors of physical force, has a tendency to embrace it. It is by physical force we men often exercise our fortitude. The feminine exercise of fortitude is more often expressed in intense compassion. Diana embraces this wholeheartedly. Her mission to kill Ares is a desire to free men from the hatred she presumes he spreads. Her acts of physical valor are first and foremost a response of compassion to the plight of others – when a woman asks Diana for aid, the men wish to move on and stick to the plan while she wishes to care for those right in front of her. Her ultimate moment of badassdom is elevated not by her might, but her invocation of love even in the face of man’s wickedness. Even small little acts reveal this intense compassion, like running to see a baby, desiring to know what people do during peace, or comforting the PTSD-rattled Charlie.

Wonder Woman reveals a very clear picture of eternal feminine traits while not getting caught up in some universal abstraction of womanhood. It’s refreshing and will probably piss a lot of the “righthinking” sort.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Comments on Wonder Woman, Part IIa: Embracing the Feminine

Wonder Woman deftly traverses the choppy waters between realism and heroism. It also traverses the mess that is modern day feminism. I’m incredibly pleased with it, though there are naysayers. What they fail to recognize, or refuse to recognize, is the way the movie highlights a distinctively feminine physicality, healthy gender complementarity, and the might of womanly compassion.

a) Some comments on Modern Feminism

While there are a slew of little articles discussing the feminism in the movie – mostly drawing attention to Diana being a well-drawn character and a few of the subverted sex jokes – there’s already a few more “substantive” articles deriding its failures as a feminist film. From wanting to make clear Wonder Woman is only a bodacious fantasy figure to complaining the movie wasn’t a “woke-feminist manifesto”, you’re already hearing the outcry. I would be willing to bet that the upcoming weeks are going to be finding more of this outcry gaining traction among the Ivory Tower sort as the movie breaks the box office and becomes a major part of the cultural landscape.

This isn’t surprising. Wonder Woman is definitely feminist in a certain fashion, but not in the fashion that is currently in charge of the intellectual institutions. For the modern feminist, feminine as a category needs to be relativized beyond recognition (a similar point is made about manhood – let’s not get my blood pressure up about that). Womanhood is whatever a woman deems it to be, one’s sex is radically fluid, and anything which dwells on the specifically feminine is probably sexist and misogynistic. Woman needs to be understood only in relation to other-woman, to the point that lesbianism is the model of proper womanhood. That Wonder Woman failed to indulge in this nonsense in long period among the all-female amazons is probably of great consternation to the feminist brahmins.

b) Feminine Physicality

24-wonder-woman.nocrop.w710.h2147483647

So what is the feminism we see in Wonder Woman? From the beginning, the physicality of femininity is on display. The warrior culture of Themyscira cannot shy away from this, and while far tamer than the likes of Frank Miller’s 300, it similarly exposes and relishes in this physicality. It is a physicality that is distinctly feminine, though, highlighted by Zach Snyder’s trademark slowdown spectacle. Curves and grace, a lightness of step, an embodiment that manifests and highlights creation (see the horsemanship exhibited). It’s the sort of difference that is shown between male and female gymnasts. Both are graceful, but the quality of the female’s grace is of a whole new level.

And yes, one sees outliers, but they are just that. And even then, the most butch of women have a grace few men can mimic.

These scenes are especially poignant for what they do not become – fantasies of the male-gaze. We never witness an unnecessary bathing scene, lesbian moments, or in-training wardrobe malfunctions. I would disbelieve the claim these weren’t discussed, and I applaud the decision to leave them behind. Instead, we get a purer vision of feminine physicality which stirs far more the heart than the loins.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Comments on Wonder Woman, Part I: Realism and Heroism

Wonder Woman Logo

Wonder Woman is by far the best of the DCEU movies. It may very well be the best superhero movie out there. I’ll leave you to find a proper review elsewhere. I want to make some comments over the next couple of days.

Firstly, we finally have a proper balance between the gritty “realism” the prior movies have attempted with the noble heroism such iconic characters deserve. Secondly, We also have an embracing of the eternal feminine in the face of a culture seeking to relativize that concept, along with masculinity, into oblivion. Finally, we see a maturity of superheroic story without the loss of childish whimsy – something akin to the “reaffirmation of myth”, the fourth stage of John G. Cawelti’s Generic Transformation (see the Nerdwriter for his application of this discussion to Logan).

I’m not going to bother keeping from spoilers, so those wanting to avoid them should head out now.

So first, realism and heroism.

For much of pop-culture, gritty realism is the order of the day. The fantasy book market is replete with Game of Thrones clones which seek to nihilistically revel in just how wicked and evil men are and one-upping each other in giving the noble and virtuous horrific, foolish ends. Shows like House of Cards, True Detective, and Breaking Bad flirt with the same.

The superhero genre, for a variety of reasons, has a polarizing reaction to these types of stories. On the one hand, led by much of of Alan Moore’s work, like Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and V for Vendeta, authors have embraced these themes and given us the more “serious” storylines of Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Frank Miller, and Grant Morrison. However, there has always been a backlash and a desire to return to the virtue-laden and heroic roots, as seen in the rebooting work of Geoff Johns (see his Green Lantern stuff) and the later work of Alan Moore (see his Tom Strong series). For every dark take on Batman or Daredevil, there’s another author who wants to bring some swashbuckling back to the characters. For everyone who wants to show the absurdity of Superman or Captain America’s boyscout heroics, there’s another author who wants to put the paragons of virtue back on the pedestal.

In the movies, we’ve seen this polarization occur in the Marvel vision which mostly endorses heroism and virtue and eschews gritty realism (though we get this in the Netflix series), while DC has attempted to go the opposite. From Man of Steel, which showed a troubled and distraught Superman, to Batman v Superman which made Batman a sociopath, to Suicide Squad, which floundered in going the lovable rogues route, all of the DCEU movies have tried to be darker and edgier and basically failed at every turn. I mostly blame this on Zach Snyder who seems obsessed with “dark and serious = mature” while shooting movies filled with moments of spectacle and no substantive scenes.

In Wonder Woman, the problems of the last movies are handily overcome by recognizing that a sober realism which recognizes horror and sin is not counter to but parallel to and even integrative of a true and transcendent heroism.

The setting for the majority of Wonder Woman’s action is World War I (an interesting choice which helps elide the “every villain is a nazi” syndrome). There is no glorification of war here and it takes a toll on the innocent Diana. Raised for battle, but never actually seeing it, the audience gets to vicariously experience her revulsion at the effects of war. From witnessing her sister amazons die, to the horrific condition of trench warfare, to the wounded soldiers and innocents caught up in the conflict, the movie never shies away from making clear that war is an ugly mes.

However, every moment of horror becomes also a chance of heroism and Diana, through both her innocence in the early parts of the film and her mature compassion in the later portions, rises to the occasion. She defends her homeland, she breaks the siege, she seeks out and destroys her enemies. Never is sin a time to curl in upon herself. Even in her greatest moments of seeming failure, she is challenged to rise above it and does so.

This is also seen in the lesser, ordinary characters. Steve Trevor is always seeking to bring about an end to the conflict, even at the sacrifice of his own life. Sameer, Charlie, and Chief, their merry men, all follow Diana into the thick of battle and are ultimately inspired to selfless acts of heroism.

Every horror is but a challenge to greater heroism, a heroism which seeks to transcend the self and bring about the glory of the good – “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”

This is what the prior DCEU movies wanted to be and failed. Let’s hope they can correct course and continue in Wonder Woman’s lead.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Christian Galactic Empire: St. Louis IX and Star Wars

I’m involved in a discussion on Andrew Willard Jones’ Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX. I’ve also had Star Wars on my mind a lot.

The dominant historical narrative is that the Middle Ages is defined by the struggle between the religious sphere, specifically the papacy, and the secular sphere, the kings of Europe, for sovereignty. While the papacy gained some headway from Gregory VII to Innocent III, they ultimately failed to unite all Europe under their headship and thus the various kings were able to centralize in the various nations we know today. Historians can hang, draw, and quarter me for simplifying in the comment box.

Jones’ primary thesis is that the world of St. Louis cannot be understood in the modern terms of “religious” and “secular” because the idea of the two spheres being separate in any fashion, thus how we understand them today, would be unthinkable. Both found their source in the divine and their specific proper ends were fundamentally in accord. Thus it was that a married layman could, in his younger life, serve his king in bringing peace to a country rife with conflict and end his life as a Pope – Clement IV. He may have moved between spheres, but there was no conflict or separation between the two. Both were simply different spheres in the same mission – building the kingdom of Christ on earth.

St. Louis IX

Throne and Altar, Sword and Sacrament. The way it’s meant to be.

I’ll have more to say on the book in the coming weeks as the discussion gets more deeply into it. What does it have to do with Star Wars?

Well, Star Wars is one of those science-fiction films which more-or-less gets religion. Sure, it’s religion may just be warmed over eastern dualism (or is it a modern take on virtue ethics? Or Thomistic Rationality?), but it takes it seriously. The Force is not just a vague set of beliefs founded on some ambiguous “faith”, but a code which seeks to actualize man (divinize man?). Of interest to me is that there is no distinction between “religious” and “secular” for a denizen of the Star Wars world (ignoring Expanded Universe, I know it gets hairy out there!). The Imperials cower before the might it gives Vader and the Emperor. The Rebels invoke it as the raison d’etre of their efforts – May the Force be with you.

Science-Fiction is all about “What if?” questions. I really want to ask “What if we returned to or restored a world where society united the religious and secular?” Or more specifically, “What if we moved from the current liberal order to a Christian society?” What would a Christian Galactic Empire look like? Of course, people want to point to the religious dystopias (e.g. Handmaid’s Tale) as an example, but this isn’t what I’m talking about. What if both the brahmins of the society and the simple folk truly believed and let that inform their life, not just individually but societally?

It’s interesting to me that the greatest popular example in science-fiction comes from Star Wars – Space Opera not connected with our world. I wonder if people even think such a thing is possible. Most of us have allowed liberal secularism to become not only a belief, but the very grounding of our reality. Even the religious folk (myself included – though I’m working on the brainwashing) tend to see our faith as an incredibly important piece of our life that assumes a liberal-secular foundation. If you believe in thick religious freedom – like a disavowal of any and all confessional states – you’re definitely one of these people (I’ll let you intuit what my thoughts are on our “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty”).

There are cracks in these assumptions. The Deus Vult stuff is given with some tongue-in-cheek, but I can see a lot of the memelords actually believing their lulz and keks. Perhaps future servants of the restored Holy Roman Emperor are shitposting their way to societal salvation.

So what if we had a Christian Galactic Empire? Guess I need to get to writing.

If anyone has good recommendations on books on this theme – Science Fiction treating religion seriously and constitutive of reality, not an aesthetic overlay to secularism – feel free to point me in that direction.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Retro-review: Solomon Kane

My latest read into the early 20th century sci-fi and fantasy world was Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane, the stories collected in the Baen edition.

baen-SolomanKane

This isn’t my first exposure to Robert E. Howard, having read a handful of the original Conan tales and two of the Wild Bill Clanton stories. However, it’s definitely my first deep dive, swimming through story after story over the past month.

I’ll admit, it took some work. Howard isn’t a difficult read, but his prose comes close to poetry at times, and the rhythm and alliteration (so much awesome alliteration!) can be jarring for those used to plainer fare. He also eschews a lot of interiority to his character, keeping his characters with simple goals while favoring depths of description for the dark, oppressive settings, horrific nightmarish monsters, and lurid and bloody action. Solomon Kane may be a man of God, but his faith is practiced in destroying evil, not interior reflection.

The whole conceit with the Solomon Kane tales is a dour puritan-cavalier (the paradoxes indulged) who travels about the world seeking out injustices to right. His earliest story, “Red Shadows” reads like an historical adventure with a weird twist at the end. The story contains everything one will find in later Kane stories – a wronged innocent, villains in need of killing, trips to darkly exotic locales, mysterious and frightening magic, and sword-fights to the death.

Gary Giani, Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane by Gary Gianni

The early tales can read very much like ghost stories – “Skulls in the Stars” and “Rattle of Bones” both see Solomon confronting angry spirits which carry out their own sort of vengeance. With “The Moon of Skulls”, where Kane makes his way into a hidden city in Africa in search a kidnapped girl, the stories shift to much more adventurous fare. “The Hills of the Dead” and “Wings in the Night” have him confronting horrific monsters, the second ending on a depressing note as he could give the victims no salvation, but only vengeance. In “The Footfalls Within” we see Howard begin playing with a secret history using old mythology, building off the groundwork in earlier stories. One senses that Howard was beginning to grasp for a large, overarching conceit for Kane that he never got to realize.

The majority of posthumously posted stories are fragments completed by other writers, but “Blades of the Brotherhood”, completed by his hand, stands out as a purely historical adventure without weird elements.

I can’t exactly call the stories fun, but they are gripping. Howard pours on the dark and oppressive description and one is left with a powerful sense of the world’s evils and Solomon’s drive to defeat it. The reader is never bored, though, Kane’s relentless attack becoming awe-inspiring as the reader is swept up watching this avatar of providence at work.

I highly recommend trolling through the tales, especially “Red Shadows”, “The Moon of Skulls”, and “Wings in the Night”. Most can be found online (see wikisource for a goodly number), with only the posthumous publications locked away in various collections.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Comments on the Ascension: The King takes his Throne

God ascends amid shouts of triumph, alleluia.
And the Lord with the sound of trumpet, alleluia.
-Versicle for Vespers of the Ascension

If Easter is the great day of Victory, the day the Enemy is finally sent to flight, when his towers crumble and the Divine Conqueror stands astride the ruins of his domain, Ascension is his coronation day. On this day he raises himself above the still violent field of battle to take his throne, not to leave us, but to rally us, to remind us ever that our place, always at His side, is not here on earth, but in the heaven that is and is to come.

It’s always of great consolation to me to think of the Ascension of the Lord. Never forgetting He is the Lord, begotten before all ages, He is forever now a man. Thus it is a man, one of us, flesh and blood descendent of Adam, who now sits at the right hand of the Father. Humanity is now present with the Godhead in a unity we can never fully fathom. Man, in Christ, is now, truly, Lord of creation. Humanity is in heaven, and so too shall we be.

It is fitting that this begins the intense time of prayer, modeled by the apostles – the Novena to the Holy spirit culminating in Pentecost. The King’s taking of his throne also mean our investiture with His spirit – peers of the Lord, like the paladins of Charlemagne.

Praise the Lord for this day He has ascended to take his throne!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Message Fiction: Some Comments

Message Fiction: Some Comments

I’ve had a few people, while agreeing with most of my comments on Message Fiction Done Right, have questioned whether I’m using the term message fiction correctly. I admit I may be using it a bit more broadly than most.

Dominka Lein has proposed to differentiate message from meaning – message being that which the artist intends to express with his work, while meaning is that which the viewer of the work subjectively obtains from it. Nixon Maxy gently critiques my own use of the term and say Burroughs did not intend the message I found there, but was just writing a story that entertained and expressed the mores of his time.

Both points are well-made, but I have some disagreements.

To Lein’s comments, I’m suspect of such a distinction. Admittedly, there’s a lot of reasons why it seems natural to most. In a post-kantian world where the noumena (the-thing-itself) and phenomena (the-experience-of-the-thing) are radically separated, we assume that such a distinction between message and meaning is obvious. Many of us have prior commitments to rather robust interpretations of free speech and the distinction seems to naturally bolster those commitments (meaning becomes something unassailable in the fortress of subjectivity and so enjoys a kind of absolute freedom). It also creates an easy critique of works which try to limit themselves to the artist’s meaning and thus “force” it upon others – the usual critique of SJW literature.

I’m the madman, though, who doesn’t believe in the radical noumena-phenomena divide, is skeptical of free-speech, and actually wants literature which expresses messages. I don’t truck with art for art’s sake. I want art at the service of religion, humanity, and the state (though my thoughts on legitimate states are somewhat nuanced). Apologies if I scare off some of my #PulpRev compatriots with my crazy.

Where I think Lein might agree with me is when that message/meaning (I don’t really see the difference) is at odds with reality. The example she gives in her piece is the importance of diversity to the SJW crowd – the message appears to be that one can only identify with one-like-oneself (an asian man with an asian man, a lesbian with a lesbian, etc.). She rightly points out this is madness – we identify with all sorts of people who are nothing like ourselves. Thus for literature to make this it’s message is just, well, wrong. It’s not that it’s a message, it’s that it’s the wrong message – that which is counter to reality.

Literature and art which limits itself to ideology can also have it’s own weaknesses. In physical arts, especially statuary, there is a world of difference between an allegorical piece versus one based on a human person. Allegorical pieces of the virtues, like Caritas, must rely on abstractions and symbols, desiring more for the idea, the “message” to dominate in the literature. More incarnational pieces, like Michelangelo’s Moses, are in your face, asking you to encounter the person depicted and not the ideas he may or may not embody. It’s far less weak.

In literature, we see this more abstract model of art in things like the old morality plays or the more recent dystopian allegories like Animal Farm. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia veers dangerously close to such kind of allegorical literature. These are works which seek to have the story and characters serve the message, the “moral of the story.” More fully fleshed literature presents the complexity of humanity in trying to attain, fail or deny these values and transcendent realities.

Bad literature seeks to say these eternal values are wrong and newer values should be sought. That’s what’s wrong with SJW literature. To say otherwise smacks of dishonesty to me.

This brings me to my response to Nixon Maxy. I do agree that Burroughs was not sitting down and actively thinking about the message he wanted to express. Rather, he simply wrote a story imbued with the values of his time, values which are eternally important for all men.

But what of those who live in an age where those values are not “of the time”? When SJW values hold a kind of dominance in the culture? Burroughs and many of the pulp writers are incredibly bracing to moderns because they reveal values which we have for the most part jettisoned in our culture – the importance of marriage, the necessary nobility of man, the strength in feminine womanhood, the glory of unabashed heroism. Perhaps this is just me talking, but as much as I consciously embrace and seek to live out these values, I’m a brainwashed modern. To write of Burroughs’ values requires effort on my part. I can’t just write “of the time”.

Thus what may not have been a message in Burroughs’ time is a message in our time. Burroughs acts like a clarion call into our modern world, actually rebuking us. But he not only rebukes, but puts before us models to follow. And these are not abstract models, but, to the extent that fiction allows, fully incarnated persons. Men, be John Carter. Women, be Dejah Thoris.

I’d like to ultimately see the lexicon around these topics expanded. It may very well be that terms like “message fiction” don’t have essential meaning. It appears to be nothing more than a shaming term for literature we think goes against reality (but don’t want to admit to objective morality in the process). If we want to say a work is weak because it’s allegorical – meaning it’s moral or lesson is of greater import than the story itself – then call it that.

But I don’t think most of what we call message fiction (full of “virtue”-signaling, diversity- and equality-affirmations, political snipes) is allegory. And its problem isn’t that it portrays a message, but that it portrays the wrong message. It denies reality in favor of some individuated ideology.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments