Thursday, December 10, 2015

Willfully Misinterpreting Jessica Jones

Due to the possibility of spoilers, our dear editor is sitting this one out. Be warned. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the comic series Alias, and it's upcoming adaptation to visual Jessica Jones. Jessica Jones is a risky proposition for Marvel Studios, not because of its female lead, but because of its subject matter. There's some seriously mature ideas being explored, both on the show and in the original books, and it's down to the finesse of the showrunners to handle those ideas appropriately. So, did they?

Did they ever not!

Jessica Jones is a highly, deeply problematic adaptation of a comic book that featured an almost non-existent female character in a male-dominated medium. Before Jessica Jones, there was no female comic book characters that didn't exist solely to serve as eye candy for a presumed white male audience. Problematic depictions of female characters were on every page of comics, with unrealistic breast sizes and vapid dialogue, constantly put in peril for the male protagonists to rescue. Then along came enlightened male author Brian Michael Bendis and gave us Alias, in which a working woman and survivor of trauma co-opted a traditionally male role as private investigator and did the job while dressing halal-protecting herself from the male gaze by dressing sensibly.

Manspreading! And this isn't even the worst! 
The series, however, is a trainwreck of harmful tropes, stereotypes, and dangerous ideas. Jessica herself, to start with, is nothing more than a Ms Male Character, with an abusive backstory and lack of agency being the driving force of the series. Jessica is defined by her trauma, unable to perform basic tasks like riding the subway without being visited by the mental ghost of her abuser, while at the same time using violence to solve her problems. Anything from a client getting physical with her to her alarm going off too early can be solved simply by smashing something. Jessica reeks of toxic masculinity, from her childhood scenes of being a tomboy 'not like other girls' to her modern habit of manspreading. The cinematography doesn't do her any favours, either, with the camera replicating the male gaze by lingering on her otherwise-sensibly dressed rear end longingly and thus invalidating her conservative wardrobe choices, and showing us lots of flashes of her in intimate positions in her scenes with Luke Cage.

The series takes a dim view of minority characters as well. The protagonist and antagonist are, of course, white, but one of the main characters is a black man who is a junkie. There's only one Hispanic person in all of Hell's Kitchen, apparently, and she's a drug dealer. There are a whopping three lesbian characters, but one of them is an unfaithful spouse, the other the mistress of said spouse, and the last is cruel and vindictive in return. With so few LGBT characters, it's harmful to show a negative depiction like this, leading only to the stereotype of the promiscuous gay character. And when a support group is set up to help victims of the white male villain, Jessica steadfastly refuses to participate, painting her as someone who would rather keep her victimhood instead of seek help.

And finally, there's a heavy theme of domestic abuse in this show, which is reinforced by the relationship between Trish “Patsy” Walker and Officer Simpson. While 'allegedly' under Killgrave's control, he attacks her and tries to murder her, and mere days later he returns to apologize, irresponsibly providing her with a dangerous firearm, and she rewards him with sex. In fact, the series seems to simply revel in physically abusing its female characters. I have never seen such a misog

-sounds of a struggle-

Ok, I'm done with that part. Jessica Jones was really quite good, wasn't it? For anyone that's ever been in a miserably bad relationship, it'll be really hard but sort of cathartic to watch. The casting of Luke Cage was spot-on brilliant. I was a bit on the fence about Krysten Ritter having only ever seen her in Breaking Bad and a sort of terrible sitcom, but she really delivered here. David Tennant was wonderfully sinister. Much like other MCU properties, I feel it did a really great job capturing the spirit of the source material while telling a new story, and I sincerely hope there's a series 2, providing everyone's not so entirely exhausted from making the show to do it. It was certainly tiring, in a good way, to watch it.

I would also like to say that yes, I have read Anita Sarkeesian's take on the show. I tried not to replicate any of her ideas here, as I've had this one brewing for a while but scheduling conflicts and a social media flood of alternating anti-Muslim and anti-gun propaganda sent me into such a tizzy that I had to focus my efforts elsewhere for a short time. Next week I'll be analyzing a Huffington Post piece, tentatively, and outlining the idea of “not even wrong.”  

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