The Silliest Take of the Week: Wonder Woman Edition

Hello, friends!

As you’ve probably realized, DC’s Wonder Woman movie came out about a week and a half ago. This marks the very first superhero movie that both stars a woman as the lead and is directed by a woman, which means that to the Writers of Takes, there has never been a more important movie. Wonder Woman is a front in the Culture Wars first, and a pretty good movie second.

I’ve rounded up many of the silliest takes I’ve found about Wonder Woman. I’m extending “the week” to include reviews written right around the time that the movie came out, so it’s really more The Silliest Take of the Last 12 Days, From a Subset of Silly Takes that Relate Primarily to the Wonder Woman Movie, but that’s not as catchy, so here we are.

Look, there were a lot of these. Depending on who you asked, Wonder Woman was: the most important movie ever made in the history of cinema, which will single-filmedly fix sexism; a rank piece of bad filmmaking that signifies everything that’s wrong with America; or an insufficiently feminist piece of neoliberal propaganda that will be destroyed in the Revolution. What I’m saying is that it was very hard to narrow this down. My cup runneth over with Silly Wonder Woman Takes.

Horniest Review

David Edelstein, Wonder Woman is a Star Turn for Gal Gadot, But the Rest is Pretty Clunky,” Vulture, 6/1/2017

Wonder Woman stars Israeli actress and model Gal Gadot, who is very pretty. Most reviews of Wonder Woman found time to mention that she is very pretty, and fair enough: she is very pretty, and there’s really nothing wrong with mentioning that a person is attractive. But renowned film critic David Edelstein was not satisfied with simply pointing out that Gal Gadot is very pretty. Edelstein wanted to make it clear that he apparently spent the entire movie in a slobbery, tent-pitching trance.

Let’s take a look at some sentences. Here’s how he opens his review:

“The only grace note in the generally clunky Wonder Woman is its star, the five-foot-ten-inch Israeli actress and model Gal Gadot, who is somehow the perfect blend of superbabe-in-the-woods innocence and mouthiness.”

That’s how he sets the tone for this review: by focusing on Gadot’s physical appearance (she’s five-foot-ten, which is apparently important), and calling her a “superbabe.” (Edelstein would later claim, in his response to all the people who called him gross for this review, that he meant “superbabe-in-the-woods” to refer to the “babe in the woods” trope about innocence, and, fine. Whatever.)

“[Wonder Woman] was, we’re told, sculpted by her mother from clay and brought to life by Zeus. (I’d like to have seen that.)”

why would you “like to have seen that,” david

We get this parenthetical:

“(Israeli women are a breed unto themselves, which I say with both admiration and trepidation.)”

You know how sometimes if you have a male dog his penis just sticks out for no apparent reason, and he just sits there, staring at it, and you try to figure out how to tell your dog that he’s being obscene, but he’s, you know, a dog, and so you can’t really communicate that, and so you just try to pretend there isn’t this horrible, throbbing, pink thing sticking out for all to see?

“With a female director, Patty Jenkins, at the helm, Diana isn’t even photographed to elicit slobbers. Slobbering, S&M-oriented American patriots will be even more put out, given that WW is no longer dressed in red, white, and blue but golden-toned for the international — and perhaps these days less American-friendly — ticket buyers. I didn’t miss Lynda Carter’s buxom, apple-cheeked pinup, though. It was worth waiting for Gadot.”

put it away, david

But is it Feminist Enough?

Christina Cauterucci, “I Wish Wonder Woman Were as Feminist as It Thinks It Is,” Slate, 6/2/2017

One of the inspirations for the Silliest Take of the Week Project was a Tumblr post from 2015, when Mad Max: Fury Road came out. In preparation for the film, Tumblr user cfrieds put out a text post of “Think pieces to prepare for over the next few days,”

  • Mad Max isn’t actually feminist
  • don’t worry, Mad Max isn’t actually feminist
  • worry! Mad Max isn’t actually feminist
  • Mad Max is pretty feminist
  • Mad Max is too feminist, even for me, a feminist
  • Mad Max isn’t feminist at all
  • I didn’t like this movie

She later provided links to all of these as she found them (she never found the “too feminist” one, but that’s still pretty solid work).

The same principle would have applied to Wonder Woman. According to one writer at The GuardianWonder Woman is “a masterpiece of subversive feminism,” which, I guess? But here, for Slate, is the biggest article claiming that Wonder Woman isn’t actually feminist enough.

I don’t know how to quantify the feminist-ness of a movie or other piece of work. Presumably it involves the use of some complex system of meters and gauges. But however you do it, Cauterucci believes that Wonder Woman is insufficiently feminist. To start with:

“While reading my colleagues’ laudatory reviews of Wonder Woman this week, I kept wondering if I’d blacked out during some essential scenes.”

If I never hear this “I wondered if I was watching a different movie” lede again, it will be too soon. This is lazy, obnoxious writing — a way of suggesting that everyone else who watched this movie is either a liar or an idiot, while still somehow maintaining a pretense of humility. Drop the pretense and either say why you think everyone else felt compelled to give the movie a laudatory review, or just focus on what you thought, rather than on what everyone else thought.

Cauterucci’s objections fall in two broad categories. First, that Wonder Woman spends too much time emphasizing how pretty Diana is:

“To me, whatever chance Wonder Woman had of being some kind of feminist antidote to the overabundance of superhero movies made by and for bros was blown by its prevailing occupation with the titular heroine’s sex appeal.”

Second, that the film’s romantic subplot is either creepy or designed to evade accusations that Diana is gay:

“The love story in Wonder Woman also seems positioned as a “no homo” response to the heroine’s inherently queer backstory: Diana was raised on a hidden island that contains only women, some of them fairly jacked and butch-of-center.”

“Diana is so clueless about men, human activity, and the basic concepts of manipulation and evil . . . that her capacity for consent is somewhat blurry.”

I’m not really going to sit here and argue about whether or not Wonder Woman is feminist enough (a range of between 150–200 millihookses, or 96–98 centibeauvoirs, depending on your system of measurement) because that’s not really an interesting conversation, and because I don’t really have anything to add to it. I don’t think either of her points make a great deal of sense, but I’m not the Final Arbiter of Feminism In Movies, for some pretty obvious reasons. But the primary reason this Take annoys me is not only that it’s entirely predictable, but also because of lines like this one:

“Perhaps I, a person who writes about gender and feminism every day and hasn’t seen enough superhero stuff to be impressed by the mere existence of a female protagonist, am the wrong audience for this film.”

This kind of self-aggrandizing nonsense ignores the fact that there are oodles of people (most of them women) who write about gender and feminism every day and still thought this movie was pretty cool. Please remember: you’re not special just because you didn’t like a popular movie, and it’s not necessarily because you’re just so much smarter than everyone else.

Wait, This Movie Was About What, Now?

Richard Brody, “The Hard-Won Wisdom of Wonder Woman,” The New Yorker, 6/6/2017

What is Wonder Woman about? According to Richard Brody, it’s:

“A story of disillusionment and lost innocence, of vain ambition and bitter victory[.]”

So we already know we’re going some fun places. Brody never wants you to forget he’s writing this review for The New Yorker, so it’s full of Brobdingnagian language and fond of ascribing somewhat larger ideas to this movie than I think are meaningfully found within it. At one point, he states that the movie is a superhero movie, but it’s also

“. . . an entry in the genre of wisdom literature that shares hard-won insights and long-pondered paradoxes of the past with a sincere intimacy.”

I don’t know what the hell “wisdom literature” is, but a quick Google search suggests that the term is usually used to refer to things like the Book of Proverbs, and listen. Listen. I liked Wonder Woman. But I don’t think it has very much in common with the Book of Proverbs.

But here’s the best paragraph, which I’m gonna quote in full. It follows Brody’s description of a scene where Wonder Woman and her friends confront a sniper hiding in a church steeple (they destroy both the steeple and the sniper):

“Pardon my spoiler, but the church tower is magnificently devastated, and the town is saved. I was surprised by the visual idea that destroying a church proved decisively redemptive; of course, what Diana and the men destroy, however, isn’t religion as such but weaponized religion. That scene illuminated a strange moment earlier in the film, during Steve’s flashback to his espionage mission in the Ottoman Empire, where he infiltrates and wages covert warfare directly under the crescent-and-star flag. At first, I was struck by echoes of (and even sordid justifications for) recent American adventurism in the Middle East; but the church scene made clear that “Wonder Woman” is harsh not on religion but on its weaponization. For that matter, “Wonder Woman” is as harsh on the weaponization of paganism as it is on that of latter-day monotheistic religions. One of Diana’s own great and painful discoveries is that the underlying and crucial doctrine of the belief system in which she was raised—the foundational evil of Ares, and the centrality of defeating Ares in the hope of restoring a lost paradise of peace—is both false and delusional. Diana discovers that her entire life’s mission is built on a lie, and that her great battle was undertaken in vain.”

Wonder Woman is partly about the dangers of weaponized religion, as exemplified by the facts that they blow up a church steeple, at one point we see the Ottoman flag, and the villain is Ares,” sure is something. Let it never be forgotten that for a certain subset of film critics, every single movie is secretly some kind of commentary on religion and/or the War in Iraq. In this case, the flag of the Ottoman Empire counts as some sort of statement about religion, despite the fact that it’s, you know, the flag of a major world power that was involved in the First World War. Further, the sniper being in the church must somehow be a commentary on churches, rather than easily explicable because church steeples tend to be taller than other buildings.

I don’t know, maybe I’m being obtuse. Maybe I missed something. Cards on the table: I don’t hate organized religion, so maybe that makes me less able to notice critiques thereof. But I think Brody’s desire to read some kind of critique of “weaponized religion” into Wonder Woman says more about him than the movie.

The Silliest Wonder Woman Take of the Last Two Weeks:

Josephine Livingstone, Wonder Woman Is Propaganda,” New Republic, 6/6/2017

Nestled somewhere in the bowels of this Take is a worthwhile point about how maybe the Wonder Woman movie does a Bad Thing when it seems to equate disability/disfigurement (The female villain, Dr. Poison, has a heavily scarred face) with evil and, consequently, beauty (Gal Gadot) with goodness. I’d like to read an actual piece on that idea, and I think it’s worth considering! But that’s not the thrust of this Take, or at least I don’t think it’s the thrust of this Take, because this Take is super flummoxing.

The gist, as I understand it, is that Wonder Woman is propaganda for American exceptionalism and military might, because Gal Gadot is pretty and the movie is ahistorical, and that accordingly, we should quit debating whether or not the movie is feminist. Maybe I’m being mean, but it’s hard to know what the point of this Take is when it’s sprinkled throughout with wishfully profound lines like these:

“It’s a classical comic book interpretation of history, in which random fragments of the past are patched together to create a hero of perfect ideological specificity. It’s as if a five-year-old were let loose in the Encyclopedia Britannica then allowed to draw boobs and a heart of gold on his findings.”

Or

“[Gadot’s] face is beautiful, of course, but in a way that is different from other women; she is an individual rather than a replicant.”

i don’t know what that means, and it feels vaguely offensive

Livingstone is annoyed by the movie’s whole premise:

“Amazons and Germans fighting on a beach: It’s the kind of flattening of history and distortion of scale that leaves the mind reeling. To combine a war from living memory with a myth from antiquity is a baffling proposition.”

Why is it a baffling proposition? Because I said so, that’s why.

“It is also a surreal movie, because of the way it draws upon the world’s past to make a distinctly American fiction. Wonder Woman has no use for global history except as grist for American exceptionalism, which animates the storylines of so many heroes in the comic book universe, from Captain America to Superman. And so the surreality at the heart of American identity gets recycled, producing comic book movies to feed our least noble hungers.”

I mean, maybe? But given that, by my count, there’s only two Americans in the movie, and that the American army is not in the movie, and that there are almost no references to America in the movie at all, I’d need a little bit more detail here. But there is none to be found. Connecting these dots is left as an exercise for the reader, because the above paragraph is followed only by a conclusory paragraph which states that the movie is a “document of political indoctrination,” but that at least “[i]t was also a privilege to witness giantess-fetishes flower in so many young minds at the same time.”

I don’t know what any of that means, and I also have a host of questions.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll hopefully see you next week! I’m out of town over the weekend, so I probably won’t produce more Silly Takes until next Monday. Next week will be a traditional Silly Takes post with no particular theme, so send anything you find to sillytakes@gmail.com! I’ve already got a couple of reeeeeal juicy ones!

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