GeekPlanetOnline’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Dillon, is a man of many passions - although most of them involve a joystick. In this semi-regular column, he shares his thoughts on life, love and the pursuit of video games (and occasionally other things).
Like it or not, the modern history of fandom is written in memes. The most prolific in my feeds at the moment is a screen grab of one of several online reviews of Wonder Woman, praising the film for “the first strong female lead in cinema” – or variations thereof – followed by an image of the Alien series’ Ellen Ripley and a caption along the lines of “O RLY?”. And yes, they have a point; Ripley is certainly one of the most iconic female lead characters of the last fifty years of cinema, alongside Katniss Everdeen, Nikita, Resident Evil’s Alice, Amélie Poulain, Mokoto Katsuragi and many more. On the other hand, as ignorant as they are the writers of these articles and reviews do have a point; women still receive a fraction of the inspiring lead roles that men do, and very rarely receive top billing on a movie poster – and when they do, it’s usually on damp rom-coms or horror movies. Here we have a female-led superhero flick being released at, arguably, the height of the movie studios’ obsession with superhero flicks and succeeding where others in its stable – like the lamentable Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad – have spectacularly crashed and burned. It is absolutely to be celebrated.
But if these journalists’ ignorance of cinema isn’t enough of an example of men just failing to grasp the point, now we have a few vocal cretins in places like Reddit or on Twitter barking about how Wonder Woman’s fantastic opening weekend proves that all of the whining, basement-dwelling* dudebros of the internet weren’t being misogynistic with their flailing and disproportionate levels of hatred over Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters because see? Here’s a female-led movie doing really well! So it really was just about there being an unwanted remake of a movie that we are fond of, and as usual, the filthy SJWs were twisting everything out of proportion!
And that, of course, is utter bollocks.
Now, I could end the column there, but pitchfork-wavers always seem to demand an explanation even if they’re not willing to listen to it, so allow me to provide one. You see, the bitterness and resentment over Ghostbusters – which was, frankly, a highly entertaining movie and a great reboot of a franchise which, like it or not, has aged rather badly – wasn’t that it was female-led; it was because it was led by women in roles that men had previously occupied and therefore, according to dudebro logic, should always be male. Femininity overrode self-awarded masculine propriety, and a bunch of overgrown children decided it was exactly the same as Paul Feig had crept into their house whilst they slept and burned their copies of the original movie and all of their merchandise. Their toy was being taken away! It was so unfair! In other words, if Diana of Themyscira had originally been Dave and Wonder Man had been gender-flipped for the 2017 movie it would have almost certainly attracted exactly the same levels of puerile resentment and harassment that Ghostbusters did.
Think I’m wrong? Okay, let’s look at another updated 1980s franchise: Transformers. To date, Michael Bay’s confusing, soulless CGI motion sickness festivals have generated a total of $1,319,187,682 at the box office. Whilst admittedly the per-movie takings have fallen with each sequel after the first, the worst-performing of these – 2014’s Age of Extinction – still generated $245,439,076; that’s £16.2 million ahead of Ghostbusters’ $229,147,509. And 2009’s Revenge of the Fallen – which fails to earn the title of worst Transformers movie by only 1% on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes - generated the most income; $402,111,870, in case you were curious. These movies are proven tripe – not just in my opinion, but in the opinion of most critics and cinemagoers, as the reviews and constantly falling takings prove – and yet they keep raking in the dough, and nobody is generating a targeted hate campaign towards any of its stars on social media, least of all any jumped-up fascist, child abuse apologist, alt-right media darlings I could mention. And yet the characters from the original cartoon series, human and robot alike, have been replaced in all but name (and, in the case of Optimus Prime, voice). Where’s the outrage? You could argue that it’s a different version of the same premise, an Elseworlds of sorts (and I’m certain some people have), but isn’t the same true of Ghostbusters? So what’s the difference here? Could it be… gender?
I’m going to end on another point because it’s one that’s been raised by various women of my acquaintance and a very salient one; let’s not pitch female characters against one another whenever one is getting attention. Cinema, fiction and indeed feminism itself are not zero-sum games; we don’t need to dismantle a character that is getting people excited just because another character existed first. Role models come in many forms and serve many different purposes; celebrate them all. Besides, you wouldn’t want your ten-year-old watching Aliens for inspiration, would you?
* The irony of this statement being written from my own basement office hasn’t escaped me.