The Societal Vacuum

I want to make it clear that I’m not really responding to anyone specifically so much as trying to explain myself here. I’m not sure how well I’m getting my thought process through.

How well “Wonder Woman” works as feminist propaganda *in a vacuum* is besides the point to me, because we don’t live in a vacuum. It might be (I haven’t seen it, though multiple people have told me this who I generally trust) true that the movie itself, taken *completely* on its own, is poor propaganda. Which is good, I suppose.

But the movie was not made in a societal vacuum. It was made in a society where men are emasculated more and more by the day and female eunuchs are being declared praiseworthy. That we don’t see this in the movie proper isn’t really the point, because that is what people are going to read into it – what they *want* people to read into it, and – and this is critical – *what people are in fact reading into it*.

The marketing and advertising and framing of the movie is a big deal here. If “Wonder Woman” were marketed as a superhero movie celebrating femininity qua femininity, masculinity qua masculinity, how traditional sexual roles are important for a healthy society, and how feminine virtues can be utilized for their proper – or if it were made in an environment where such a thing wasn’t really questioned at all, like “Nausicaa” – we would be having an entirely different conversation. Ditto if we were in a society that understood implicitly that such a thing was an exception, not the rule, and should remain one.

But we don’t live in that society. We live in a society where Wondie the eunuch is being celebrated as a role model for women to aspire to, and the helpmeet role of women is being continually denigrated. Then there’s a movie out with a message that’s ambiguous enough that feminists, SJW’s, and even neutral non-conservative-but-not-radical mainstream folks watch and see exactly that, because they are being told – when the message isn’t explicitly stated otherwise –  that it *is exactly what they’re supposed to see*. Hence you get Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins staring in awe at burly man-women rushing into battle as feminists burst into tears, walk out of the theater with strange feelings of ferociousness, and girly men cry over it with their girlfriend. It’s another case of weaponized ambiguity.

How do I know it’s ambiguous without watching it? Because I know people who see it as promoting conservative values AND people who see it promoting leftist values, each of them absolutely convinced they’re looking at it exactly the right way. The execution is flawless. “Wonder Woman” in that sense is one of the great feminist propaganda achievements of the modern age.

There is another way “Wonder Woman” could work. That would be if the feminist marketing and advertising was so poorly done that nobody took it seriously anyway – but that’s not the case now, in the real world, either. And we have to deal with reality.


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39 Responses to The Societal Vacuum

  1. MishaBurnett says:

    I’m not sure I understand your point. Are you saying that the value of a work of art is determined by the will of the majority? Is “Romeo and Juliet” a sweet love story because that’s how people choose to think of it, despite what the actual text of the story says? Did “Nineteen Eighty-Four” change from being anti-socialist to being anti-capitalist because Socialists choose to be vocal about their interpretation of the text? Must individuals find out what the zeitgeist thinks of a work prior to having an opinion on it?

    • I think that in 50, 60, 70 years (these are totally random numbers) cometely separate from the machine around it it’s possible to look at the film on its own merits.

      Now if I was in Shakespeare’s time and the movie was being marketed, advertised, and pushed as, say, naked Marxist propaganda, and it was being commonly interpreted exactly that way by many viewers?

      Then I would not support it.

      I’m not doubting your interpretations are incorrect. I am saying that in the context of paying and supporting the film, it doesn’t matter right now.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        It doesn’t matter as long as we give up, true. I refuse to believe that the cause is lost, however. I don’t believe that either Jenkins or Gadot are man-haters and I choose to support them. Voting with your wallet takes the same discretion as an ordinary vote–we must look at what the candidate says for her- or himself and not what others say.

      • I am doing the opposite of saying “Give up”. To the contrary, I am saying “This is the best thing that we can do” – and “Not man haters” is certainly not the standard I am using.

      • What you are doing with your wallet is actually saying “I support this propaganda because the director and lead actor seem like fairly nice people”.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        So you think that the folks who voted “No Award” over the Sad Puppies nominees had the right idea? It doesn’t matter if the work has any merit in itself, what matters is punishing any artist who is liked by the wrong people?

      • That isn’t remotely close to what we’re seeing right now. I am genuinely baffled you think it is.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        No? From my perspective they look very similar. You’re condemning art not on the basis of the quality of the work but because some people whom you dislike are supporting the work. In what way is that different from what the No Award people did?

      • You’re condemning art not on the basis of the quality of the work but because some people whom you dislike are supporting the work.

        That’s not what I said.

        Let me put it this way:

        I write a beautiful poem all about how we should nuke New York.

        The poem is lovely. Gorgeous. The language is beautiful. The case I make, based on the good of mankind, makes your heart swell with pride at the ability of the human race to make sacrifices in order to aid our fellow man.

        But I go out and say that it’s explicitly meant to be an actual argument in favor of nuking New York. I want NY nuked. Furthermore, academia agrees with me and starts pushing the poem for that reason, and SJW’s use my poem as their anthem.

        But it’s a beautiful poem.

        And yet, I won’t be paying a damn cent to read it.

        “Wonder Woman” isn’t entirely analogous to that poem, but that is completely different from putting entirely sane and normal works below Noah Ward because you only vote for leftists.

        The question here is not whether or not you want more “Wonder Woman” movies, but whether or not you want to give your money to propagandists and liars.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        No, the actual situation is closer to someone writing a poem about watching the sunset in New York City and how beautiful the colors make the city seem at that moment.

        Then someone else says, “This poem is REALLY about someone nuking NYC, and since we want NYC to be nuked, we’re going to support this poet.”

        Then you–without having read the poem, but only what the pro-nuke publicists have said about it–boycott the poet because you don’t want to nuke NYC.

        The actual poem is irrelevant to you–you don’t know what it says and you don’t care what it says.

        And that is exactly what the Anti-Sad Puppies crowd did. They didn’t read the works, all they knew is that some people told them that the works were propaganda.

      • I consider the director, the lead actor, and the marketers and advertisers all apart of this creative team. All seem to be pointing to the same thing in my estimation.

  2. Zippy says:

    How well “Wonder Woman” works as feminist propaganda *in a vacuum* is besides the point to me, because we don’t live in a vacuum.

    Right, I would paraphrase that as “I don’t care about the content of the movie itself, the shibboleth of which it is a part is through and through feminist.” I think that is fair enough and furthermore that people get that; and are just responding that the actual content of the movie itself weakens the shibboleth it doesn’t strengthen it. Your replies are basically who cares about the movie itself

    I wouldn’t want to overstate the case since it isn’t a great movie. But as feminist propaganda the movie is poorly executed.

    In general whether to consume modern entertainment is a fraught question. I am not critical of a ‘puritan’ approach and don’t make excuses for my own more lax approach. But frankly, Harry Potter with its consistent naked consequentialism is more morally fraught than this movie. If the amazons are feminists they are oddball, isolated, and childlike in their naïveté, and need the help of a grown up man to come to grips with reality.

    • Your replies are basically who cares about the movie itself

      In the context of people supporting it monetarily, absolutely. In regards to the film’s feminist propaganda, I see it as weaponized ambiguity executed to a perfection I’ve never seen before – and that people who don’t see that are simply missing it.

      The fact that large groups of even relatively normal people see it as a brilliant “You go grrrrrrl” power movie tells me that when *I* don’t read feminist propaganda into it, or you, or Misha, or John C. Wright, it doesn’t matter, because the “normal” folks it is targeted to are simply delighted that Wondie is hot and it’s not explictly anti-man.

      We shouldn’t be pretending women warriors are something to aspire to – the message the movie is trying to put across. It apparently does not fail at this goal, since this is what people are getting from it when they watch it.

      • Zippy says:

        In regards to the film’s feminist propaganda, I see it as weaponized ambiguity executed to a perfection I’ve never seen before – and that people who don’t see that are simply missing it.

        I see it as inept, and the feminismgasm over it as moronic.

      • But it is happening – so apparently it worked.

      • Zippy says:

        I don’t know what you mean by “it”. I haven’t seen any evidence at all that this film or its surrounding propaganda have changed anyone’s mind about anything. Do you know anyone who changed his view of feminism because of this film?

        Personally I think the whole “this film is a feminist triumph” business is risible.

      • I do as well, of course. I frankly haven’t seen any one piece of propaganda change anyone’s mind directly. But it just pushes the agenda further.

        Wondie is declared a feminist triumph, as acknowledged by the director, star, and a great many viewers. What this supposed success does is give Hollywood the permission it’s been craving to do more grrrrrl power films, under the pretense that Wondie proved it could be done.

      • Zippy says:

        What this supposed success does is give Hollywood the permission it’s been craving …

        I’m sorry but I actually chuckled out loud at this. As if there has been all this pent up desire to start doing girl power movies and TV, just waiting for permission to be unleashed.

        I think reacting to it as if it were some great feminist triumph just affirms the impression that it is a great feminist triumph, as opposed to a story about a demi-goddess girl child who needs a man to lead her to a better understanding of reality, which he does, after which he sacrifices himself not for her but for the common good.

      • My reaction means absolutely nothing. I’m just the messenger.

        And, yeah, I actually *do* think that the success of the film makes a difference.

        Look, from my perspective here’s what this looks like: You are saying a movie marketed, advertised, presented, and by a great many people interpreted as a feminist film, and is a smash critical and commercial hit, will apparently help the feminist cause not at all because sane people look at it as sane people do.

        And then you have the gall to accuse *me*, a z list blogger with an audience of 10, of contributing to this because – apparently unlike you – I *didn’t* give money to the film, and don’t think other people should.

        Yeah. No.

      • Zippy says:

        As I’ve said, I don’t really have an objection to a puritan approach which just boycotts the bulk of modern entertainment. I’m not just saying that; I really mean it. But your selectivity in singling this particular movie out as uniquely awful while giving (e.g.) Harry Potter’s naked consequentialism a pass, is puzzling. And I don’t think this particular movie really succeeds as feminist propaganda, for reasons already given.

      • I think there are several reasons HP is different, and for that matter at first blush I disagree with that characterization, but really, I’m not even arguing about HP right now. It’s not relevant to what I am saying about WW. Nor do I even rhink WW is a particularly puritan example

        People keep trying to change the subject and play the gotcha game with me. I very possibly could be entirely wrong about HP. I will certainly listen to arguments against it if I bring the topic up again. I don’t preclude this possibility by any means.

        But we were discussing Wonder Woman.

      • Zippy says:

        If you aren’t arguing that WW is a uniquely egregious case that crosses a boycott threshold which other movies don’t cross, then this whole discussion makes no sense to me. So I guess I’ll just leave it at that.

      • I am arguing that WW should be boycotted. If you want to argue other properties should be *also* go ahead, but I’m talking about WW. My arguments stand apart from other properties.

      • Zippy says:

        I don’t think that works the way you want it to work. There is all sorts of modernist propaganda which is more egregious, sometimes subtle, and certainly more ‘successful’ than this. Including HP.

        In any case it is clear that we can’t have a discussion at all without agreeing on its basic grounds, and that we don’t agree on its basic grounds.

      • I’m confused as to what basic grounds we’re not agreeing on right now – genuinely confused, I might add, not “confused-but-I-really-mean-you’re-dumb” (all people talking with me thus far should probably assume I’m not speaking out of the side of my mouth – if I say I’m baffled or confused it really means I’m not getting something. I try not to be sarcastic to people who are on my side).

        What, exactly, do you want me to cop to that I haven’t so far?

      • Zippy says:

        OK, I’ll give it one last shot.

        As best as I can tell you are trying to have your cake and eat it too: WW cannot be taken in isolation (in the sense you don’t want to take it in isolation), but lets consider it in isolation (in the sense that you do).

        All of modern entertainment is full of corrupting ideas against which most of the people consuming it have no defenses. This can be said of almost all successful movies, for example. So we can take any piece we want to condemn, suggest that it can’t be considered in isolation, and condemn it. But this methodology works for just about anything: it condemns everything. And I’m sympathetic to that (the puritan conclusion that we just shouldn’t consume modern entertainment, period).

        What isn’t valid though is to simultaneously say that X cannot be considered in a vacuum but lets consider X in a vacuum.

        As I said though, I am not sure there is even enough common understanding to have a discussion.

      • I’m not attempting to consider Harry Potter in a vacuum at all though, or Wonder Woman in a vacuum. Just because I’m talking about one and not the other doesn’t mean I’m ignoring the culture they’re made in.

        Again – if you want to say “I think HP is horribly consequentialist”, promotes that message very clearly, and we should not watch it for that reason”, as far as I’m concerned go ahead.

        Especially here though, I imagine the better comparison would be with something like the Alien films. Is there a difference in regards to Ripley as opposed to Wondie? That’s much more related from what I can see.

        My – VERY generalized -rule of thumb is this:

        If I removed x message from the work, would it cease to be recognizably the same work? And is the feminism a major draw of said work?

        If I removed feminism from the marketing and promoting of Wonder Women the movie would work, so I hear, but the advertisements would be for a totally different film. Feminism is a major draw to many moviegoers and to the creators. So Wondie fails, but might not later on when we could separate it from the zeitgeist.

        Alien, the original, I THINK would pass because the film basically had nothing to do with feminism or the lack of it, and nobody really talked about that until later. It just happened to star a woman.

        Captain America passes despite Peggy Carter because people went to see Cap, not Peggy, and if you take Peggy out the movie improves and the plot works the same. Peggy with her own show is a different story, and one I won’t and didn’t watch.

  3. dpmonahan says:

    Off topic: was Nausicaa any good? I liked Spirted Away and all but the last two minutes of Mononoke, but the weird feeling I get buying an anime DVD makes me hesitant to build a collection of films that really are not worth it.

    • It’s pretty great. I think “Mononoke” is better (loved the last 2 minutes too, though!), but “Nausicaa” is an excellent film.

      • dpmonahan says:

        Thanks, I’ll take a look. But as for Mononoke, sorry, by the laws of fairy tales, wolf-girl either had to join the human race at the side of the hero, or one of them had to die. Returning to the woods and leaving the hero in the friend zone with blue balls was not an option. But otherwise a truly great film.

      • It wasn’t a fairy tale. It was an epic.

      • Also, you are very much simplifying the relationship. San was clearly in love with Ashitaka. She wasn’t friendzoning him, she was accepting that the gulf between their people was simply too great to bridge. Ashitaka accepts this, because he’s not an idiot and sees that she is clearly way too messed up to live among the humans, and the humans nees him.

      • dpmonahan says:

        What she chooses is eternal adolescence, which is impossible. Per Chesterton the fatal flaw of the Peter Pan story was that he chose to remain a boy who promises to visit Wendy, which “even the dullest of children” would recognize as unsatisfactory.
        San either grows up or “dies” – i.e. becomes a cat (or wolf) lady having wasted the opportunity of her youth.

      • Yes. The choice was a sad one. But it was valid.

      • dpmonahan says:

        So you are arguing San is a tragic figure because she is unable to join the human world or begin a constructive adulthood. The problem is that the film did not present the choice as a tragic one. She is shown returning to a status quo that the audience, deep down, knows is untenable, but that the director does not.
        I had a review of it some months ago that doesn’t have much to do with this problem but the notion of cultural change and conflict:
        Check it out If interested.

      • I totally disagree that the director doesn’t see it as tragic, to an extent. Read Miyazaki’s interviews on the subject. The whole point of Mononoke was to show how easy answers to these issues were impossible. San is emblematic of this; she has made strides forward in her empathy for the human world, but she is too messed up to embrace it entirely. Thus the world moves forward in understanding, but we aren’t all the way there yet.

      • Although, I will add that the situations in “Peter Pan” and “Nausicaa” are not really analogous, because unlike in “Peter Pan” the forest spirits are not a stunted boyish society but a real and true one with legitimate concerns that San and Ashitaka are both right to take seriously as its own entity.

        “The Jungle King” is the better analogy, but you’re looking at San like Mowgli. Imagine instead a Mowgli who has been raised their whole life to hate humans, started turning his opinion around, and then witnessed the slaughter of an entire race…by humans.

        And then is rescued by a human.

        What you get at the end of that is probably someone exactly like San – someone unable to fully forgive humans but nevertheless willing to call a truce. And that is *exactly* what we see.

        In a fairy tale, yeah, Ashitaka and San end up together or one of the two dies. But “Princess Mononoke” is not a fairy tale, it is an epic. And in an epic the goal should not be to reach towards a moral, but simply towards the end of the story – and that’s exactly what “Princess Mononoke” does. That Miyazaki managed to give it such an upbeat ending without betraying the rest of his story is nothing short of astonishing. The man knows how to craft a climax!

    • Trust me, Miyazaki is always worth it. Every single one of his films is excellent.

      Go on and check out the top bar and you’ll find my Miyazaki Retrospective.

  4. Pingback: This Ugly Little War | mishaburnett

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