A nearly two-year-old post by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was deleted from his Tumblr after a number of comics bloggers last night took notice of its offensive content and began to comment on it.
The subject of the post (which can still be seen via Google Cache because nothing is ever really gone on the Internet) is a semi-annual poll Gunn apparently conducts of his social media followers asking which superheroes they’d like to have sex with. The potentially-inflammatory question itself aside, much of the commentary Gunn added to the winners when he compiled the list of the top fifty characters has drawn criticism, including from notable comics and pop culture website The Mary Sue.
From their commentary on the piece: “Lets be clear: there’s nothing wrong about running a poll for the most sex-able superhero on your site, especially one where you embrace the fact that Batman and Gambit come in within the top five. There isn’t anything wrong, in that context, of choosing art that sexualizes the characters in it. There isn’t even anything wrong with talking explicitly about sex in your commentary on the poll results. What’s wrong is the sheer amount of slut-shaming (on only the female characters) and anti-gay language that Gunn directs towards the majority of the male characters. These are not opinions befitting somebody who’s been given the task of bringing a major part of the Marvel Universe to the big screen (a set of characters, I might add, that includes a lesbian superhero couple, not that they’ll be appearing in Guardians).”
It’s a harsh assessment shared by many of the comics fans who took notice of the piece before it was removed, and while much of what was written is pretty clearly just in good fun, there certainly were some pretty egregious lines in there, particularly the Batwoman segment quoted in the article linked above.
“This lesbian character was voted for almost exclusively by men. I don’t know exactly what that means,” Gunn wrote. “But I’m hoping for a Marvel-DC crossover so that Tony Stark can ‘turn’ her. She could also have sex with Nightwing and probably still be technically considered a lesbian.”
That’s the same logic (all she needs is “some serious deep d—ing” to make her straight), of course, that got Kevin Smith in trouble when writing Banky’s dialogue for Chasing Amy–except that Banky was intentionally written as a buffoon and was a fictional character, while Gunn appears to actually be advocating the position.
Former Batgirl Stephanie Brown didn’t get much better treatment from Gunn, who said, “Being a teen mom and all, you know she’s easy. Go for it.”
This is just the latest in a series of dust-ups between women in the comics community and what they perceive as a culture that marginalizes, sexualizes and insults them. The issue has been around forever, becoming a major part of the discussion of comics with Gail Simone’s “Women in Refrigerators” website years ago, but has taken on an air of increased urgency since the launch of the New 52 and the controversial “Batgirl of San Diego,” a fan dressed as Brown who dogged DC’s editors and publishers at Comic-Con 2011 in an attempt to push changes to the New 52.
The conversations about representation on the pages and behind the pencils tend to cross over into the way women are depicted in comics and pop culture in general, which tends to touch a nerve with older comics fans, many of whom are slow to embrace change for any reason, let alone change that’s done to appeal to a new demographic.
There have already been calls on Twitter to boycott the film, which is pretty much attendant with any Internet outrage and unlikely to affect anything beyond Gunn’s decision to delete the original post. Gunn will also likely draw the sympathy and defense of that segment of the Internet who live to tell everyone else they’re overreacting and anyway shut up.
Gunn’s online identity tends to be pretty divisive; much of what he posts is an attempt at irreverent humor, which is by its nature likely to offend a segment of his audience. It’s also interesting to see him painted as a misogynist, though, just days after a torrent of tweets he made in support of a comedienne who got into a high-profile Twitter fight with rapper Chris Brown over his 2009 domestic violence arrest.
“After 3 years a woman returned the favor & beat Chris Brown, forcing the little wuss to delete his twitter account,” Gunn observed in the tweet that capped off a handful of jabs at Brown.