READY TO RUMBLE!
Fight of the Whedon villains
***BIG ASS SPOILER ALERT!***
Every now and then I waste my time with www.thatguywiththeglasses.com. I amuse myself with the various videos while I wait for new video from Nostalgia Chick. A little while ago I came across this video:
My initial reaction was something like this:
Then I found out that the movie, that apparently sparked this new fan favorite villain, was a Whedon flick. I had seen Thor and while it was nice as superhero movies go, it did not exactly make my favorites list nor could I recall many of the details. Either way, my curiosity was peaked and I decided to watch the 2012 Avengers movie.
The film was enjoyable, but I couldn’t stop making the comparison with one of Whedon’s earlier villains, Spike, from the Buffy the Vampire Slayers series. Part of the reason is the Black Widow. The film became at least twice as interesting right about the time she started kicking ass. At that point I really started to enjoy the movie and I cried foul when I noticed that her part in the story was relatively small compared to most of the other avengers. When she was first introduced I rolled my eyes at the image of a scantily clad woman, in heels of course, being tortured by some random evil dudes. I figure this would be the classic damsel in distress trope, but of course it wouldn’t be. Buffy was not like that either and was based of the same premise of a seemingly vulnerable woman who turns around and teaches everyone who’s boss. It is something Whedon has made himself known for.
In the movie Loki goes from the lying, wishy-washy, replacement king, from the first movie, to an ineffectual wannabe dictator. Some idiot even gave Loki an army, though he obviously had no idea what to do with it. Seriously, Loki, wouldn’t it have been smarter to complete your take-down of S.H.I.E.L.D. and to overthrown some major governments first, before you started smashing massive, alien, troop-transport vessels into buildings? Even Hitler needed longer to march his own troops to their deaths in Russia.
In his video Doug Walker names several reasons, gathered through a poll of Loki fans, as to why Loki might be so very popular. While I don’t agree with all of these reasons, the one that stood out to me was the “Whoobie”. Fans apparently feel sorry for the character because he tries hard and fails even harder. In the movie you can see Loki thinking he has won every time right before he either gets smashed into something, blown up, stomped on, thrown, mentally penetrated, imprisoned, shot, etc. Practically everything he tries he fails at and he just can’t seem to fathom why and often does not even realise he already lost.
Spike has a similar story arc, with the exception that he is more aware of his own limitations. Spike was introduced in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer series in the second season as a vampire who had “killing slayers” as hobby and he killed one about every fifty to a hundred years. Buffy was next on his list. Naturally he fails, but more interestingly is why he fails. He knows it immediately and it became an important theme in the show. Buffy has family and friends and that is why she is so hard to kill. Spike was immediately well received by fans as a villain. He wasn’t moping or brooding or showing off. He loves being a vampire and he loves the world he inhabits, so much so that he eventually makes deal with Buffy to save it from her turned-evil by the power of her vag, former boyfriend. He became a recurring character to get his ass kicked by Buffy at the end of each episode he appeared in.
However, unlike with Loki, the lines of Spike’s villainy never blurred for the most of the fans till about season four, when things start to go very wrong for him. The cronies of Buffy’s then, soldier boyfriend manage to taser and capture Spike. They stuff a computer chip in his head that effectively de-fangs him. He can no longer bite people, which is a major bummer for him, because people are, naturally, his favorite food. Through the chip he loses the part of his undead “life” that gives him joy. It is at this point he reaches out to Buffy and her friends for help.
This villain-made-harmless change in the show initially leads to hilarious situations where Buffy teases the heck out of Spike. Her ethics won’t allow her to stake a defenseless creature, though considering his history of repeatedly trying to kill her and her friends she would love nothing better than to “dust him.” (Vampires in the series always turned to dust when they die.)
Spike is miserable without his murderous abilities and time and again tries to get rid of his chip. Like Loki, he fails at every attempt and from that moment on almost all of his evil plans go awry as well. Then, to his horror, he discovers that he is a little bit more attracted to Buffy then his desire to kill her and drain her dry. He finds he actually wants her alive and in his bed. Yes, the Buffy vampires sleep in beds and not in coffins. He goes to some creepy lengthy to simulate his desires in real live, including having his vampire girlfriend dress up as Buffy and chase him around their communal cave and having someone build him Buffy robot look-a-like.
Both Spike and Loki are written and performed as fascinating and problematic villains. They are fascinating because their creators went through great lengths to give them facets and to make them complex characters that are not just evil for evil’s sake. They are problematic in that they are entirely a little too sympathetic and identifiable for women in general. Their characters struggle almost as much, if not more, than the heroes do. Plus you have the added bonus of these villains being only one character against multiple adversaries, which applies to both The Avengers as well as Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Both Spike and Loki are outcasts. They are the geeks among the cool kids and they don’t fit in.
Boy, do many women and girls know how that feels. Even if it takes us a long time to realize it and some of us never do, we are born as outcasts. Little by little, as we grow up, we realize we don’t belong in this world that men own. We are the butt end of jokes. We are the emotional and physical punching bags for frustrated and lonely men. We are the silent pleasures that make the lives of men easier. We are items to be used and discarded. We are the exotic curiosities you’d expect to find in a museum. We are to be “figured out” and studied. We are the evil hags and the temptresses. We are a problem and a puzzle to be solved. We are literally misunderstood as human beings due to the very fact that most men and some women can’t even see us as human beings. This is why so many women and girls consciously or unconsciously identify so strongly with characters such a Loki and Spike and often with their actors and directors as well. In seeing such characters there just might be a glimmer of hope that the men who created them understand what it’s like to be despised for your biology and could possibly be our allies.
But if we are truly honest with ourselves we’ll realise the creators of these characters are no more capable of recognizing us as fellow members of the human species than the rest of the world. Ultimately Loki threatens a woman with rape on two occasions and calls one woman a cunt. Joss Whedon considers the fact that he was able to get away with having a misfit character use a gendered slur his proudest moment in the whole movie. The actor who plays Loki, Tom Hiddleston, also sees nothing wrong with the word. However, many Loki fans said that it felt out of character, even for him, and that they thought that having him say that word went just a little too far. Several fans have remarked that even face-eating cannibal Lecter would draw the line at gendered insults.
Spike also calls Buffy and both his former vampire girlfriends “bitches” and blames them for his warped way of thinking. His obsession with Buffy finally culminates in a rape attempt. For this he is promptly forgiven in the next season and by the show’s finale the creators have turned him into some sort of a messiah.
Now would be a good time to point out that Whedon likes to have female writes on his team and that the actions his fan-favorite villains take are in part the work of women as well. This is what makes it so heart breaking. Self-proclaimed, male feminist Whedon enlists the help of women to take female fans of his work down a peg.