Recently, when my husband was out of town, I caught up on Agent Carter, then followed it up with the various Marvel superhero movies. Why did I wait? Because, despite the comic books from which all these franchises are derived being written for young men, the screen versions don’t seem designed to appeal to the same audience at all.
I grew up with an older brother and a younger brother, which means I grew up with comic books. The ones I remember best were Batman, Fantastic Four, and X-Men, but Spiderman made an appearance on occasion as did several others. We watched both Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk on television. (Naturally, the boys pooh-poohed at Wonder Woman, but we watched anyway.)
Comic books, and the television shows made from them, were definitely designed for boys. Boys from about 13 to 25. Boys were supposed to spend their allowances on comic books, which was part of the price point and their positioning in stores. Girls were…not. Boys got “action figures,” girls got “dolls.” (And, oddly enough, the action figures boys got had highly developed musculature that would appeal to a pubescent girl in the same way that Barbie had overly developed breasts that would appeal to pubescent boys. Despite the marketing, someone out there was thinking of the opposite sex. Don’t believe me? Look up Barbie’s history…)
I was thirteen when Star Wars came out. (Damn, a woman is never supposed to reveal her age. Oh, well.) I went with my older brother. Three times the first weekend. I loved it. I loved the giant, sweeping imagination it took to create, the amazing action sequences…and Harrison Ford. Oh, Harrison Ford. He made my tween heart beat faster.
That year, I went with my older brother to a sci-fi and comic convention for the first time. I wasn’t interested in the regular comic books the way he was; I was there for Star Wars stuff. The convention was overwhelmingly male. It was men selling stuff to boys and other men. There were very few girls purchasing things, and the select women in booths were there to attract the males who were shopping; if a customer had a question, the men behind the counter would answer it. (Some would say Comic Con isn’t so different. It is. Really. It’s still male-dominated, but it’s not at all like the cons of 30+ years ago.)
I bought every paper product having to do with Star Wars I could get my hands on. I still have the original movie poster in both the larger, one-sheet style, and a tall, thin style used in the side windows of theaters of the day. I still have the oversized, cost-you-a-dollar comic books, too, because unlike my brothers, I kept track of what was precious to me, so my mother didn’t toss them out when she found my brothers’. But I didn’t get caught up in the fanaticism all around me, the guys haggling over the perfect issue of this or the first issue of this, or the last issue of that. Comic book superheroes, in and of themselves, didn’t interest me.
And they should have. An imagination tweaked by Star Wars should have found the X-Men appealing, but the comics, the movies, the television shows were all designed for the male gaze. They weren’t written for me. Lynda Carter, much as I loved her, was a hormonal boy’s fantasy. Comic books were supposed to convince people with XY chromosomes to spend their money. But today’s movies—and TV shows—seem aimed at a different audience. I am not saying boys and men don’t enjoy these movies. My husband liked Iron Man. Certainly plenty of guys told me they enjoyed The Avengers. But are these movies made for men? Or are they made for women? Sure, the producers will say “they’re for everyone,” but is that actually the case?
Some movies are made for everyone: Star Wars. Die Hard. The Batman franchise. The original Terminator. Even The Avengers to a certain point. But aside from the name recognition from any comic books they may read, what appeal do the Thor movies really have for boys/men? I’m not trying to pick on Thor–God knows, I want more Thor movies!–but they are essentially romances, as it the Arrow television series. Sure, there’s a great deal of action, but the main conflict is emotional, not physical. Parents and children, siblings, and romantic entanglements, these are the focus of the movies. And much as I love both my brothers and my husband, none of them are going to find that kind of conflict particularly compelling.
Nor will they find the sight or sound of Hiddleston and Hemsworth nearly as compelling as I do. So I have to ask…who do you think these movies are made for?