When I first saw the after-credit scene of Iron Man way back in 2008, where Samuel L Jackson talks to Robert Downey Jr about ‘the Avengers initiative’, my eyes widened. After all, Marvel Studios was a new face on the scene, not yet owned and supported by Disney, and going up against what seemed like the unstoppable Juggernaut that was DC Comics and Warner Bros, having just finished the Nolan- directed Batman trilogy to high acclaim.
“This is a huge gamble,” I thought, because Marvel Studios did not have, and wouldn’t have for many years, the rights to their more successful characters of Spider-Man and the X-Men from the comics. And arguably, it hasn’t been Captain America, Thor and Iron Man that were Marvel Comics’ flagship, but Spider-Man and X-Men.
11 years and many, MANY films later, the MCU is a thing that now exists, a huge, financially successful franchise with its penultimate film, Endgame, having knocked James Cameron’s Avatar from its place of largest blockbuster ever. Needless to say, the genre of superhero films is very much no longer a niche thing anymore, but a viable, powerfully successful film genre in and of itself.
But that’s not to stop certain detractors from rearing their heads, turning up their noses, and sniffing as though they smelled something bad their dog did.
I know I raised an eyebrow when I saw a clip of Comedian Marc Maron saying that superhero movies were for grown men who live in their mother’s basements. Now, to be honest, as someone who’d been bullied and picked on for liking superhero comics in the 90s, I felt a bit defensive over this. And to this day, I still feel a bit defensive, because some of that stuff from high school sure as hell sticks with you for years.
However, I found Marc Maron’s comments dismissive because it ignores the scores of people from across the gender spectrum that enjoy superhero movies and contribute to the fandom in terms of cosplay, fanart, fanfiction, creating panels at conventions, and even being critical of the media. After all, as Feminist Frequency puts it, we should be critical of the media we enjoy.
What I didn’t know, and only found out prior to writing this article when I went looking for the clip in question, was that Marc Maron continued to open his mouth, aim his foot carefully, and then wedge it firmly between his teeth. Much of his commentary about how the Joker is a REAL film minus all the capes and tights runs parallel to what Joker director Todd Phillips and, more recently, Martin Scorcese have said, denigrating the genre as something not to be taken seriously, or at least as seriously as other ‘real’ cinema.
Of course, Todd Phillip’s comments on the matter (as per my last article), as well as his personal opinion on how SJWs are ruining comedy these days, are well known at this point, but it’s been Academy Award Winner Martin Scorsese’s added commentary about how they’re also not real cinema that’s pushed this sentiment from just a couple grumpy old dudes into gatekeeping, in my opinion.
Why? Well, it comes from the very fact that they are straight, white old men who have enjoyed success over the years and are now poo-pooing over something relatively new that’s become incredibly successful. It’s also amazingly dismissive of the acting and hard work that’s gone into the films, starting with an actor who had all but ruined his career due to a terrible bout of addiction to drugs and alcohol, who then went on to push for his fellow Avenger actors in receiving higher pay.
It’s also a telling sign of gatekeeping when a member of the old order starts to wag his finger and dictate what is and is not a ‘real’ part of whatever entertainment industry they’re a part of. Martin Scorsese saying that superhero films are more theme parks than cinema carries with it an edge of discrimination when one considers the successes of Black Panther and Captain Marvel, as well as being wholly ignorant of the themes that they explore.
Black Panther? Colonialism.
Captain Marvel? Sexism.
Captain America – Winter Soldier? Security vs freedom in an ever increasing police state.
Avengers Endgame? How people cope and deal with loss (even if it fudged up pretty bad in its treatment of Thor).
I also couldn’t help but agree whole-heartedly with this thread on Twitter:
And it’s not like something that women love has been dismissed as not being real before. If women enjoy it, and enjoy it a lot, then it’s ripe for dismissal by men. Example? The romance genre of fiction, or even young adult novels for that matter.
What Marc Maron, Martin Scorsese, and Todd Phillips all share in their digs against superhero movies is a hatred, or at least a dislike, against something they see as frivolous and shallow. Now, that’s their opinion and they’re more than welcome to it, but dictating what is and isn’t a real film?
You can bet they’re going to be called out on it, and rightly so.
I’m 41 years old, and been online for just over half that time, so I’ve come to see and recognize what gatekeeping is, both in and outside various fandoms. So it comes across as telling that these three have said, so far as I can see, nothing about superhero movies in all the time that they’ve starred and been directed by white dudes, but suddenly have something to say once the people making and starring in them have started to diversify, if only a little.
Trust me, guys, you’re not looking the best right now.