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Those who are about to be flamed salute you
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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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. :\
(Frozen) (Thread)

... one more thought? I think we gotta be honest about what Whedon did here. He didn't sneak in a curse word past the censors. He snuck an ugly sexist slur past the censors. Regardless of how this particular line worked for various people -- there is a difference between a curse word and an -ist slur. It is not the same thing.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Oh God, it reminds me of a romance novel someone was talking about on Twitter--I think it was Jane Litte of Dear Author? To show that the guy the hero was stuck with for the beginning of the book was evil/bad/racist, the author dug up every single racist epithet she could find in, like, the world's largest thesaurus. In fact, I think part of the problem was that the epithets were so obscure or antiquated, she didn't actually understand how very, very offensive they were. And I'm in Alabama, so when Jane quoted them, I DID. One that started with a J--I just. I could not. I could not even. Like, come on. You have to be sure your shock value isn't the lazy way out.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Seconding the here for Thor feeling. I mean, that's the only superhero movie I've ever seen with a Female Gaze instead of a male one, and I revelled in it. Heck, it's the ONLY movie period with a Female Gaze that I can name off the top of my head. That was such a WOW thing that so few people seem to realize or notice.

And then the very next movie he shows up in, we get this slur?
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Also, passes the Bechdel test, which I don't THINK any of the other Marvel Studios movies do; including Avengers, as Maria Hill and Natasha didn't really have a chance to speak.

(TBH, I can't remember if IM2 counts. There were parts of the climax of the movie where Pepper and Natasha are working in concert to deal with Hammer; so in a sense, they're talking "about a man"... I'd really have to watch it all again to see if it passes.)
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

I personally despise Tony Stark as a person, so I have no idea if IM or IM2 would pass, nor do I want to check.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Pretty sure IM2 passes, because of the exact scene you describe; they spend a good deal of time focusing on technical solutions to the problem and tell Hammer to step off in the process.

Also, we see them working together in other scenes, and their conversations are about what needs to be done, not about Stark, etc.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Well, New Moon is a combo parody/definition of the Female Gaze, but yeah, it looks like Thor dialed it down to a point where it was enjoyable rather than somewhat embarrassingly ludicrous. (I REMOVE MY SHIRT AS FIRST AID!)
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Aah, see, I didn't go see New Moon. At all. I've got a soapbox rant about Twilight that I'm not gonna go into. But still, from all the jokes that followed New Moon coming out, I do believe you have a point.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)

Ha, I was just about to mention New Moon. Shirtless werewolf ogling.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

I agree with all of your feelings on Thor. I delighted in the fact that that movie didn't shy away from how attractive Hemsworth is, plus I enjoyed its strong emotional core.

And then I didn't like Loki and Thor in the Avengers, and I have to deal with all my friends telling me how it was the best superhero movie ever of all time. :(
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

... best?

Just point out how 'best' is a subjective, not objective, quantifier and that you have different evaluation standards than they do.

I think Thor's the best we're gonna get for us girls till someone decides Wonder Woman is marketable.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)

In addition, I think people do this 'he's the villain, he's supposed to be evil!' thing without much critical thought. I mean, there are villians who shock and horrify you.

And then there are the villians who make great Halloween costumes and quippy lines that make you run around quoting them all the time. I mean. Why so serious?

Loki is definitely the latter. Loki is a 'cool' villain. He's a sympathetic villain (frankly, I think he's more likable in Thor in many ways than Thor is). For many of my friends, he's the favorite character.

It's very different, to me, to choose to put those words in /that/ villain's mouth - especially when you then publicly draw attention to the phrase and hold it up as an awesome thing.

I don't think it's beyond expectation to picture high school boys walking around with that - and other Loki quotes - in their mouths. Or college boys. Or... I mean, you know.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

The interesting thing was that I had actually seen a couple of mentions of "quim" before I actually got to the movie--I know at least one person on Twitter was going around all like "Quim! Quim!" like it was really cool. And I was like, how the hell did that come up? So I get to the movie and I actually find out the context and it was just like OH THAT DID NOT JUST HAPPEN. And the Avengers/Loki fans I know of? Are mostly (not entirely) the female Tumblr Tom Hiddleston contingent. A lot of fangirls think everything Woobie Loki does is flawless and supercool. So... I'm not entirely buying the idea that *everyone* will grasp that the line was supposed to make Loki less attractive or sympathetic.

It's like--well, since Stellan Skarsgard was also in this movie, my brain wandered over to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I'm not saying sexual crudeness needs to be saved for the grimdark R-rated movies per se (and I even said elsewhere in these comments that if "quim" had been some kind of playful innuendo, I would have thought it was clever). But, like... Loki and the Joker, like you're saying, are fun quotable Halloween villains. Nobody wants to be Martin Vanger for Halloween. A really crude sexual threat would work, coming from him. Like, Loki threatens Jane somewhat indirectly, that little conversation he has with Thor, and that works for me--the way he verbalizes that threat seems in character. The way he verbalizes the threat to Natasha seems out of place, to me. That's the distinction I see.

(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Yeah, exactly. I mean, I don't know that I'd be fond of it anywhere, but it's beyond different to place it in the mouth of a villain so many people /love/. And the love is not a surprise! Like you say, Tumblr is all over it! And with reason! He's a lovable villain with a tragic backstory and a brother who's kind of an ass to him!

I mean, at the end of the day it doesn't really excuse all the, you know, murder and stuff. But you don't draw a sympathetic villain, give him quippy quotable one-liners, and then toss that 'cutesy' old-fashioned misogynistic slang into his mouth.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)

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