The Real Definition of Real Cinema. Hint: It’s More Gatekeeping.

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.

Why Yes, Your Art Can Have More Than One Meaning

 

So, about that Joker movie, eh?

Oh, I should say, about the director of the Joker movie, Todd Phillips who has recently been expressing distress, even anger, and not a little bit of snobbishness, that people would dare, DARE criticize his movie.

There was also this blatant misdirection Todd attempted, most likely while his publicist screamed at him from afar to just shut the hell up.

Just a reminder to Mr Phillips, Keanu Reeves isn’t white, he’s biracial, his first name means Ocean Breeze Over A Mountain, so please stop erasing his Asian heritage, as he was born in Lebanon.

That being said, I find the actions of this director vehemently opposing any idea that his film could be held up as the endorsement of white male violence upon the world as astoundingly childish and also a sign of white privilege in and of itself. Movies, aside from being a medium of entertainment, are an art form, much like books, video games, and graphic novels.

And as a form of art, there can be more than just the creator’s intended message that people can take away from it. The history of cinema has shown this time and time again.

For example, Alien is not just a scary, claustrophobic movie about a dangerous creature hunting a bunch of truckers in space, it’s also a commentary on capitalism that seeks to gain profit even at the danger of destroying humanity. Aliens continues along this thread but was also seen as a metaphor for the Vietnam war, where a technologically superior invading force is wiped out by the native life there.

The original Blob movie? A metaphor for the encroaching communist spread across the world during the McCarthy Era as well as a movie about a faceless ooze that devours people.

And those are just but a few examples, and different takes can be taken from art according to one’s own life experiences.

Take me, for example: I’m a cis, white, abled bodied male, so the views and critiques I could take away from a movie would be vastly different than someone who is black, trans, and female.

This is why there’s been discussions of cop shows as copoganda, from CSI and Law & Order to Brooklyn-99. I’ve read critques from a feminist POV about the lack of leading women with their own movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and ones that question that further, looking at the diversity of women and the lack of women of colour in the MCU on a whole.

(And before anyone comes in and says it, no, Gamora and Nebula do not count. Green and Blue people aren’t real, even if one of them is played by Zoe Soldana.)

And of course, there’s discussion of the diversity of people behind the scenes, such as was April Reign’s coining of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite when looking at the line up of winners at the Academy Awards back in 2015.

I say all of this to add further context to the importance that we critique the media we watch, especially in this darkest timeline in which we live where there’s a domestic terrorist attack in the US just about every other week. The premise of the Joker movie, about a nice guy who has a bad day and simply snaps, is disturbing to say the least, because of the real world parallels we see weekly, if not daily, in the news.

Parallels such as the self-proclaimed Incel who drove his van into a crowd in Toronto, killing 10 people, who was in turn inspired by another ‘Nice Guy’ who had a bad day, Elliot Rodgers. Incel culture in and of itself reeks of white male privilege and the rage over being unable to lay claim to women and the coveted prize of sex. If you’ve the stomach for it, I’d recommend the website We Hunted The Mammoth and click through the Incel tag for more on the disturbing behaviour of these men.

Those of us who are critical of the message of the Joker movie, which points very strongly to the Nice Guy Who Has A Bad Day take, worry about how many men will take heart to this, and then enact on it.

As the US Military did recently with this warning to their troops who might be seeing the movie.

And if you don’t think people don’t act on racist, sexist, messages in our media, look no further than the screening of “Birth of the Nation”, a movie made BY the KKK to inspire more recruitment into the KKK, at the White House itself. The KKK received a boom in size after that, which continued on until another piece of media, the Superman Radio Drama, tore apart its veil of secrecy and metaphorically pantsed the organization.

And these are just the examples I can think off the top of my head while casually writing this. Others have put significantly more time and effort into looking at the messages in our media and across more than just movies that enforce terrible racist stereotypes as well as outmoded and harmful standards of beauty.

Don’t even get me started on the genre of films I consider to be Transgender Pain Porn.

All being said, for Todd Phillips to plug his fingers into his ears and yell “Lah lah lah, I can’t hear you, you’re all wrong!” speaks to his ability to accept any kind of criticism, which is as flimsy as wet tissue paper. It also says volumes about his lack of understanding of the messages art can have.

Quite frankly, I’ve never heard of the man up until now, and I honestly have no intentions of watching or supporting any of his work. If I wanted to watch a tone deaf, whiny, self-entitled dude who can’t stand that no one wants to appreciate his genius and understanding, I’d dive head first into the Rick and Morty fandom.