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Okay, I'm having to explain a fragmented discussion to so many people that I want to recap it in one place. I am probably going to get my ass kicked for this. I am trying to convince myself that I regret nothing.

I liked The Avengers.

It's cool that you adored The Avengers.

I am not trying to rain on your parade. I am not trying to be that person who tells you that everything you love is bad and you should feel bad.

I don't actually feel the need to go on and on about this, but I'd rather have it all in one place and get it all out at once. If nothing else, this is a way to explain to people who are curious as to what the whole foofaraw is about. I will not bring it up again after this entry.

The Avengers was a great movie that had one sour note in it.

SPOILERS: That note was Loki calling Natasha a "mewling quim." Maybe that whole monologue went by so fast that no one was able to transcribe it; I can't find the full quote anywhere. Basically, if you haven't seen the movie or you missed this scene, Natasha/Black Widow has gone in to trick the trickster and lay out her own vulnerability so he'll let down his guard and tell her what the team needs to know. We saw her do this in her first scene with Russian gangsters; we know this is her specialty, using her presumed weakness as strength. Loki turns her "I just want you to spare Hawkeye" ploy against her (possibly she meant him to?), insisting that she really feels guilty about all the bloodshed in her past and thinks that saving one person will erase "the red from her ledger," and it won't. My memory gets fuzzy about the progression of the whole thing, but at some point he starts snarling about how he'll mind-control Hawkeye into killing her in the most horrible painful ways he can think of, and Natasha will feel horrible about it, and then Hawkeye will feel horrible about it, and then they'll both die feeling horrible about it together, or something. Somehow, this monologue climaxes with Loki calling her a "mewling quim." Scarlett Johansson's acting seems to indicate (in my interpretation) that Natasha is shocked and taken aback by Loki reaching past the false vulnerability she offered as bait and reaching down to some real pain, but she keeps rolling with it, gets the information the team needs, and when she turns back around to face him, her face is completely calm and unemotional; she tricked the trickster, etc. I feel like she really did feel pain in that scene; her strength is not that she faked it, but that she kept going anyway. I actually thought it was a really cool scene, and that the way Natasha turns sexist assumptions around to her own ends was really interesting; I liked the character a lot more than I expected. And yet... something felt really ugly and unnecessary and unpleasant about the whole thing.

I know more about vulgarity through the ages than I probably should, and I immediately recognized the word "quim." My jaw literally dropped, in the literal sense of literally, when I heard it. I mean, not onto the floor or anything, but it genuinely dropped a good inch or so. In less fancy English, Loki called her a "whining c---," a gendered insult in American usage that even I don't like to write out, and I curse a good bit. My understanding is that the word quim dates back to the early 1600s, meaning the female genitalia; in the Victorian era, it meant the female genitalia and/or the fluids therein as well. It is largely British usage, not American. (Supposedly it's not even English slang these days, just Welsh. Brits can confirm or deny this.) Which is, I'm pretty sure, the reason the word was used by the filmmakers and allowed by the MPAA: they didn't expect a whole lot of people to understand it. The American equivalent never would have made it in, particularly because it's pretty much the last expletive in American culture that's genuinely taboo. Coyly archaic or not, "mewling quim" was a really unpleasant thing to say, in a matching tone of voice that gets the spirit across if not the precise meaning, in an otherwise all-demographics PG-13 family-friendly superhero epic, and I don't understand why it was necessary.

So I was surprised when I saw this in Joss Whedon's letter to his fans:

RDA: What do you feel is the greatest achievement of "the Avoiders"?

JW: Getting "mewling quim" out there to the masses. Also, Hulk.

He's... proud of that? It's not just something he kind of sneaked in and hoped no one would understand?

I... well then.

(I concede the Hulk. Mark Ruffalo was pretty awesome.)

We had a large sub-discussion within the huge general discussion of the movie this week (seriously, I don't know that I'm caught up on all of it yet). The line bothered some people, and didn't bother others. Jim Hines discussed with us as well, then posted his own thoughts about it. I read some of the discussion on both of his comment sections (his website and his LJ); through all of it, some interesting points came up:

1) "Quim," like the C word itself, has a more casual, less sexualized meaning overseas. Well, but I'm not sure why Loki would use the off-color equivalent of "wanker" to insult a woman he was angry at, then. So I tend to think that the more derogatory meaning was intended.

2) Oh, but that whole scene's a riff on Silence of the Lambs, sort of a critique/deconstruction, where the imprisoned sociopath actually does lose control because Natasha is such a strong, strong woman. Actually, I can argue this movie all day, because it's my favorite. There actually is a scene where the C word is used. And it's not used by the film's incredibly popular villain-turned-antihero. Lecter is actually the one who says, "Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me; I would not have had that happen to you." Sociopathic face-eating cannibal: better manners than a demigod. Odin is disappointed in you, Loki.

3) Villains do vile things. In terms of narrative, it's both their nature and a way to show just how evil/awful/vicious/insane they might be. Point taken: Loki basically said (again, can't find a transcription) that he was going to make Hawkeye kill Natasha in the slowest, most painful way possible, and then make him realize what he'd done, and then make everyone feel horrible about it right before they both died. That's pretty vile. It was way more intense than the other antagonistic interactions in the movie; it might be to show that someone can get to Loki for once, that he's not psychologically invulnerable, that Natasha is stronger than he is. Okay, it's characterization. But I feel like the threat itself gets that across pretty thoroughly without resorting to the insult. It was really disturbing, but I'm more "disturbing in a good way" on that part. Again: I get it.

4) However, a number of Thor fans expressed surprise in the comments--they didn't even feel that an insult like "mewling quim" was in-character for Loki anyway. Even considering that, here's the thing about writing something in or out of character: The Avengers was not a documentary. You can say, "Well, Loki would say that, that's just how he is, here's why he did that." Actually? "Loki" didn't do that. He doesn't exist in the real world. Joss Whedon wrote that. (Given how pleased he seems with the line, I'm inferring that he wrote it. No one has claimed it was an ad-lib or came from the comics.) Whether he thought people would recognize the word or not, why was that a sentiment he wanted in his movie? I don't know.

The question may come down to, is it Loki's sexism or Whedon's sexism? (ETA: LET ME REPHRASE. Loki's moment of intended sexism, or Whedon's moment of unintended sexism? WE CAN ALL HAVE THEM.) I know he's a feminist. A number of things he's written seem to walk that "have my cake and eat it too" line. Are we talking about critiqued/subverted sexism, or actual unintended sexism, or both? It's such a fine line that I can't even make that call in my own mind. I just know that I was watching this movie, and at one particular moment, I felt uncomfortable, and this line seemed out of step with the overall tone and the character.

Some commenters, both male and female, said they had no problem with it. I'm not saying you're wrong or stupid or "not getting it." You have a valid interpretation of why that line worked and I am totally okay with that. Joss Whedon's proud of it, and... good for him, I guess. I'm glad The Avengers broke records and made people happy. For the love of lofty Norse demigods, I liked the movie. I wasn't fond of that line. This is my explanation why, because people on Twitter wanted to know what was going on. That's all.

That said: I really appreciate the incredibly civil discussion we've had here the last couple of days (and always). I will do whatever I have to do, as a moderator, to keep it that way. Let's continue to have nice things.

ETA on Thursday afternoon: I'm leaving comments open and will continue to read and moderate, but I won't be discussing anymore. I'm discussed out. We're at 353 comments as of this writing, and anything after that won't get a reply from me. If civility continues to hold, anyway.

ETA: Our very first nasty comment showed up sometime after 400! It is late Saturday night and I am tired and I don't want to deal with this entry ever again. Thank you for being 99% cool, and good night.

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Oh, my. I hadn't heard him say that he was PROUD of it -- certainly not that he was MOST proud of it. That, I agree, is pretty darned disturbing.
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Yeah... that was the point where the benefit of my doubt dried up.
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I'm actually incredibly fucking disappointed in him for being proud of that. Yay, misogyny? We can argue about characterisation and stuff until we're blue in the face, but the creator is proud that he got that line in. That's the part that really bothers me. :|
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Seconding this. I read that letter on Whedonesque, and sat there stunned for several long seconds.

The most generous I can be about that is that maybe he was proud about getting it past the censors - sort of a one-up thing - but did we really NEED that to slide on by? Did we REALLY?

It sure as hell shocked me at the time, because I recognized it in the moment, and I jerked back in my seat. But you know, I think I'd have jerked back from the intensity of the scene anyway. I didn't need to hear that level of vile gendered insult to get the point.

And Joss didn't need to write it.
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I did hear it, and was a bit stunned, because it is so archaic. (No one else I was with, including several other women, seemed to catch it or take note.) However, I think, knowing Whedon's sense of humor, he's probably not serious about being most proud of it.
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I don't think he's legit for-real serious about being most proud, but given that I was expecting him to ignore any complaints about it entirely, or maybe sort of insist that it was okay and we just didn't understand his meaning or intention, I was surprised that he doubled down on it as something to single out as a good thing. Particularly since this movie's version of the Hulk really is something he could be proud of.
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I missed any furore, having read your review early and not gone through all the comments. However, I agree that that particular insult was a bit much. I was frankly shocked that they got that into a 12A movie in the first place. Like "wanker" it's considerably stronger in the UK than elsewhere and I was very surprised to hear it come up.

If it was out of character for Loki, I can't say. Although it's interesting that he would get that riled up about what he apparently considered to be a pathetic insect begging for favour. It's old-fashioned enough to fit the overall tone of his dialogue but it was, in my opinion, unnecessary. I sometimes think that Joss revels in his own cleverness a bit too much. There's almost a 3rd grade "hehe I said a swear" feel to him on this subject and that irks me. Ultimately, the scene didn't really need it - he could have used any insult to similar effect, it was just Joss being a smart-ass. Insults based on gender biology are generally just a bit naff. However, I felt like the rest of the movie - particularly the treatment of the female characters - was enough to redeem it for the most part.

Still - as everyone's talking about it, I guess he achieved his aim.
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Yeah, I wouldn't have even thought it was over the top if he'd written something like "puling mortal" or "Thou mewling hell-hated foot-licker!" or whatever. A sexual insult just took it to a really strange, uncomfortable level in a PG-13 movie.
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The line itself didn't bother me, but Whedon saying he's proud of it does. (Even if it [his pride in the "achievement"] might've been meant in a somewhat joking manner? I'm not sure.)

I'm not particularly bothered by crude language in general, that's probably why I wasn't bothered by its use in the film, it's Whedon's "I introduced a new linguistic quirk into pop culture" attitude that rubs me the wrong way: Mr. Whedon, our culture doesn't need any more ways to insult women for being women. We're pretty much covered on that front, thanks.
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Yeah. That attitude strikes me as all kinds of wrong.
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I LOVE that movie, and that line was foul and awful and misogynistic as hell, and it was misogynistic to put it in, whatever Whedon's intent was. And he's a fucking ass for being proud of it.

He's not nearly as feminist as he likes to claim he is. He gets away with claiming it anyway, because he's a man, and the bar for feminist men is set really really low. There's a lot of misogyny (and racism, btw) running through his work in general. This is just a tad bit more blatant.
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I mean... look at what happens to Whedon's women when they have sex!
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Thank you for your analysis of this. I myself was shocked by the phrase, but to me, it said something about the way that Loki sees humans, and particularly human women - the weakest of the weak, a subcreature only good for its parts, and quite frankly, parts that he is vehemently trying not to be interested in. But oddly I think he is, because of what he wants to do to her via Hawkeye. Classic sexual/serial killer mindset there.

The Asgardians seem to have a viewpoint similar to that of the Greek gods - they are extra-human rather than "superhuman." As petty and prejudiced and hateful as humans can be, the Asgardians and Olympians can be even more so. It is really their greatest weakness. I think Black Widow recognized this.

And in using those words and revealing that about his mindset, it shows to me he is quite the "puny god," as Hulk so eloquently put it. He underestimated all the humans, and his face after his "encounter" with the Hulk showed a similar realization to the one he made after Natasha turned into a block of steel that he figuratively walked into (with the addition of, "I think my ribs are all broken.").

As for Whedon's sexism or non-sexism - to fight against any kind of prejudice, you have to know your enemy. And if you don't know that enemy within yourself, you are going to be all earnest and meaning to do good, yet full of fail. I think Whedon channeled his inner misogynist with Loki, and you know what? That's fine - because I don't think he's going to let it get the better of him in all the ways that it counts. And he'll keep fighting it all the way.

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it said something about the way that Loki sees humans, and particularly human women - the weakest of the weak, a subcreature only good for its parts,

I am legit curious -- where there other parts of "The Avengers" (or "Thor," for that matter) where you got the feel that Loki views human women as "the weakest of the weak, a subcreature only good for its parts"? Because, for instance, in "Thor," he doesn't seem to have any extra particular loathing for That One Female Demigod BECAUSE she's female, or anything like that. I know she was a female demigod and not a female human -- but I'm looking in overall terms at Loki's general attitude towards women.

Because (and granted, I've only see "The Avengers" once and "Thor" twice, which is why I'm asking) I don't remember ANY other moment where Loki comes off as sexist towards women. He's "-ist" against humans in GENERAL, to be sure, that's all over "The Avengers" -- but I honestly can't think of any other examples of his character being particularly sexist and misogynist except for that one sudden, sexist slur.
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I'm tempted to believe that Joss was proud in that he was able to achieve his intent without getting his movie an R rating, i.e., Loki has no shred of sentiment in him, no impetus but causing pain, and called her the most degrading, insulting thing he could think of, calling her out in particular as a woman. However, he says "whining cunt" and the PG-13 is in danger.

In Firefly, Joss mixed in Chinese throughout so he could have his characters swear whenever he wanted and not worry about getting bleeped--he felt replacing them with gentle swears would be contrary to the characters. However, as one of, I'm sure, very few people in the theater who realized exactly what Loki said at that moment, it chilled me--which was probably the intended effect that I would think Joss meant to be proud of.

I hope.

And, in its casual non-derogatory sense, I think quim's actually a lot cuter word than a lot of the vagina slang going around the US today.
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Yeah--I mean, notice how I had no problem typing "quim" several times, but just could not bring myself to type the other one. Totally out of the context of its meaning... it just sounds so ugly. I think if he'd used "quim" to get a pleasant bit of innuendo past the MPAA, that'd be one thing; it was the fine distinction of tone and meaning in context that bothered me. I mean, you just know Loki didn't mean to say she was a pussy; he meant to say that she was a cunt.

(I'm to a point where I'd rather just type it here in the comments than continue being precious about it.)
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I was sitting in the movie theater and heard the line. I was all "...does that really mean what I think that means?" as I could get that he meant it to be the c-word more than anything else. There were a lot of better things that he could have said and have it hurt just as much.

For Whedon to be proud of it is making me rethink a lot of the praise I have dropped at his feet as a fan of Firefly/Serenity and Doctor Horrible.
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Yeah... I hadn't even thought of it that way, only frightening with a female character. That's... somehow even worse. It's so weird to me that this streak of--something--crops up in Whedon's work, because I liked that there were three women (three! three whole actual women!) in the movie who didn't have cleavage hanging out and got to be capable and strong and useful, and he's clearly got SOME feminist themes going for him, and then... always something like THIS.

(People also pointed out that "...he's adopted" also ruined the Thor/Loki brotherhood dynamic for a one-liner.)
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haha the "The Longbowman Salute" from "Hush"!
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Potentially triggery?

The question may come down to, is it Loki's sexism or Whedon's sexism?

Considering that mythologically speaking, Loki has gone off on tirades about how all the women of Odin's court are sluts and whores and arranged for Freya to be publicly and perpetually humiliated after she was gang-raped by dwarfs, I'm going with "Loki's Sexism".

Especially considering the number of people who are being hyper-critical of the line also maintain pride in embracing the myths over and above the comics.

ETA: had confusion over mythological races; re-read myth; made correction.

Edited at 2012-05-09 06:14 pm (UTC)
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Re: Potentially triggery?

Yeah, I don't have anything to go by except the movie. I don't know to what extent the filmmakers are prioritizing the comics and/or the mythology over the Marvel movie universe/continuity they're establishing. It seemed particularly weird to me because it wasn't something that had shown up, AFAIK, in Marvel Movie Loki's characterization before.
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I really hope there's an 8 minute movie Cleo Style in our future.
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If you read the whole interview, almost none of it seems serious. they never call the avengers by the actual name once, for example

I think he was joking but that's just me, I could be wrong....
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Even considering that, here's the thing about writing something in or out of character: The Avengers was not a documentary. You can say, "Well, Loki would say that, that's just how he is, here's why he did that." Actually? "Loki" didn't do that. He doesn't exist in the real world. Joss Whedon wrote that.

While I greatly enjoy discussing characters, character motivations, and character arcs as if the characters are "real" people -- I do not understand losing sight of the bottom line that the characters are not real; some real person had to choose how to write them and portray them. That's why this line has me so nuts. Yeah, Loki's a bad guy, bad guys can be evil. But Loki is also PRETEND, and making your pretend bad guy use such a disgusting (if antiquated) sexist slur in what is otherwise a PG-13, non-Watchmen, escapist-superhero mythology film is, y'know, Not Cool. It doesn't fit the movie. It doesn't fit the WORLD of the movie. It's ugly and demeaning. Why did you put it in??

It's not a completely accurate analogy, but: if Loki had popped out with an ugly racist slur against Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, we would not all be saying Oh, but Loki's a villain; he's just being a villain, it's all cool. We'd *get* that. I do not know why this sexist slur is okay instead.

... but since I primarily care about The Avengers because of Tony Stark and Thor, I can at least be glad neither one of them had anything to do with that scene. :\
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