Avengers: Age of Bechdel

imagesI was a little surprised when I saw the first Avengers movie and realized that it did not pass the Bechdel test. What’s the Bechdel test? You ask. It’s kind of like the Turing test but it tests for gender equality in movies. There are three requirements. 1) There must be at least wto women with speaking roles. 2) They must speak with each other. 3) The conversation must be about something other than a man. It’s harder to pass than you might think, especially for comic book movies. None of the Iron Man movies pass. Man of Steel doesn’t pass. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight don’t pass (haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises). I wouldn’t have been shocked if Marvel’s The Avengers failed to pass the test. Knowing that Joss Whedon wrote and directed it, however, changed my level of expectation. Joss tried. I know he did. He got really close too. The fact that Maria Hill and Black Widow can be on the helicarrier at the same time and not have 3 lines about, say, security, only makes it a more glaring example of how difficult it can be to get good female interaction in major studio movies.

I was worried, given The Avengers’ failure, that Age of Ultron might also fail to live up to my feminist expectations. Fortunately, it turns out that I had nothing to worry about. Age of Ultron only one more speaking woman than The Avengers but had 3 Bechdel-passing conversations. The problem with the Bechdel test, however, is that is does not guarantee that a movie is feminist. That is why it is important to examine the nature of the conversation. After all, as a friend pointed out, “Becky look at her butt. It is so big” from Sir Mix-a-lot’s one hit wonder passes the Bechdel test.

First things first, let us get to know our players.

Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlet Johansson), trained to be an elite spy and assassin since childhood, is an ex-member of the KGB and the only female Avenger to appear on screen. Ever since her shaky first appearance in Iron Man 2, Black Widow has been the champion of comic book movie feminists and more than a few are upset that Captain Marvel is getting a movie before Black Widow. Most recently, Natasha was spotlighted as a victim of slut-shaming when Jeremy Renner, who plays her best friend in the movie, had a very offensive response to a question from an interviewer that highlighted how prevalent casually misogyny can be.

Maria Hill (played by Cobie Smulders), first appeared in The Avengers as Nick Fury’s right hand woman. Since S.H.I.L.E.D’S dissolution in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Maria has been working, presumably, at the top levels of Stark Industries.

Dr. Helen Cho (played by Claudia Kim), is a cross between an engineer and a surgeon, having invented a process of synthesizing tissue that makes stiches obsolete. She has a lovely amount of screen time for her first showing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Woman Three (played by Julie Delpy) is a spoiler. If you do not to be spoiled about one of the character’s backstory then you should stop reading.

Woman Four (played by Linda Cardinelli) is a spoiler. This character is also extremely significant for a major character’s backstory. She does, however, have one of the best Bechdel-related conversations of the movie that very subtly gives away Whedon’s humor.

Wanda Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olsen) is also making her first appearance in the MCU. She is not a mutant, since Marvel Studios aren’t allowed to say “mutant” in their movies, but she does have super powers including telepathy and telekinesis. She is also very much defined by her relationship with her twin brother, Pietro. The two are orphans in a former warzone in Eastern Europe and it has been them against the world ever since their parents died.

Conversation Number One

This conversation involves Maria Hill, Dr. Cho, and Natasha Romanoff. The boys are involved in this conversation as well and it centers on the movie’s villain, Ultron, and what the A.I.’s motives are. The women are active participants, helping to piece together the puzzle and figure out what the team’s next steps should be. I love this conversation because of how utilitarian it is. This is not meant to reveal some key character development. This is not Whedon making a statement. He is just using all of his talking pieces to move the story forward.

Conversation Number Two

This is a memory of a conversation between Natasha and one of her early instructors in the art of spying and killing. The scene is revealed to us when Wanda “bewitches” Natasha in the Avengers’ first battle against her and Pietro. In it, Woman Three and Natasha discuss a graduation ceremony. It is intercut with shots of a young Natasha practicing ballet, handling firearms, and getting out of chokeholds. Natasha later reveals, in a very touching conversation with Bruce Banner that this ceremony involved a very invasive procedure, one that I am not sure a lot of children watching will understand.

Conversation Number Three

This is actually a trick conversation between Woman Four and Natasha. Pay attention or you will miss it.

What does it all mean?

There are some who believe, despite this clearly passing grade, that the movie is not very feminist and that Joss Whedon might not even be a feminist. This is an old criticism http://www.themarysue.com/reconsidering-the-feminism-of-joss-whedon/. Bizarrely enough, some point to the romance between Black Widow and Hulk as someone making Natasha less of strong character. Strong women don’t get to have love interests? What? Then there is the fact that Black Widow spends some time as a captive who needs rescuing. She does do a little bit of work aiding her escape. Unfortunately, the only other character Ultron could conceivably hold hostage is Clint Barton and Joss was already making up for how poorly he treated that character in The Avengers.

So let’s consider some other moments. As I was faithfully waiting for that first moment a woman actually a conversation with another woman I saw Tony Stark and Thor start to wave their man sticks around. Of course instead of competing intellectually or physically they compare their women. This began when Maria Hill asked the logical question at a mission after-party: Where were Jane Foster and Pepper Potts (Thor’s and Iron Man’s romantic interests respectively)? If Joss Whedon is such a feminist why did he not put all the female characters in the movie? Probably because actors cost money that Disney wasn’t willing to pay and the story has almost too many characters, any. Still, watching these men compete arguing who has successfully wooed the better woman put a sour taste in my mouth every time I watched the movie. Until the third time when I finally heard what Maria Hill cough-said at the end: testosterone.

And I have to go back to conversation number three. That one gets me every time.

Are there flaws with Whedon’s feminist perspective in the movie? Perhaps. Are there filmmaking flaws in the movie? Definitely. Is it a fun movie and worth showing to little girls around the world? I think so.

p.s. Hawkeye would kick the ass of anyone who sluts-shamed Black Widow.

Daredevil. Or, “Not the one Ben Afleck was in”.

maxresdefault1.jpgThese are some thoughts I had about Daredevil. It was going to be a Facebook post but it got too long.

The thing about Daredevil is that it possessed the most “gritty” and “realistic” tone out of all the Marvel live action properties and I make a distinction between the television and cinematic universes because of rumors that they are not so simpatico. Then again you may acknowledge that Netflix shows are not quite like regular tv shows. They are presented in episodic form but they are designed for binge-watching, presented as something of a whole story rather than being forced to restrict every segment to being available only once a week.

Back to the thing about Daredevil, though, it started of dark not just in tone but in the visual style itself. Think of that famous fight scene in episode two, so clearly inspired by Old Boy (The original not the Spike Lee version since I haven’t seen that). As awesome as it was watching the beat down that went down in the hallway, being left to wonder what was happing in the side rooms when you could only hear the fight. It also forces the viewer to acknowledge, that really, fighting is exhausting. Even boxers have to take breaks. Even the darkness of Matt’s Catholicism rears its head. He is haunted when he asks, given that God has some grand plan, “why’d he put the devil in me?” Our hero believes he has an evil source fighting to control his behavior and that he really could become as bad as the criminals he is fighting…

And then you have the man whose name “we don’t say.” Until we do say his name. Fisk. Wilson Fisk. He’s not the Kingpin, not yet. He’s just a maybe psychopath who has amassed quite a bit of wealth about the town as well as influence with members from all walks of life. He’s in partnership with Mafia’s and a crooked accountant. Yet, he really seems to want ultimate make his city better.

But the show transforms. It begins a transition which has yet to be fully realized. This transition would be fairly considered a dark to light metamorphosis. It becomes more “comic-bookey” and with that comes the ultimate judgment that comic book movies are not considered art, at least not to some in the Artistic community (I’m looking at you Inrarritu).

it is also fair to say that Daredevil loses something towards the end of the of the season. The story becomes, not only unnecessarily long but also a little too predictable. This can be seen in the uniform change. I think that was a bad idea. He was so cool in his ninja costume! Then there’s the “cowl” that covers the whole half of his face. If I were a criminal I’d be a little freaked out by the vigilante who doesn’t need to see to fight.

The thing about Daredevil is that it also represents a shift in Marvel’s live action story-telling. Contrary to what Marvel’s movies might be, in the comics world Marvel characters do not spend all their time crossing over. Even SHIELD has it own storyline that is affected by the movies yet has no effect over the movies. (SHIELD. Oh SHIELD. There is a comic book show that had a hard time finding its mediocre legs. It taught me not to have high hopes.). But the movies have spread the notion that these larger than life characters, these icons that have been constantly reinvented into new storylines, can, in fact, show up in other movie “universes”. Heck, even E.T. cameoed in Star Wars (ha! +2 to geek cred).
The thing about Daredevil is, I don’t think he belongs in the MCU. AThe movies have a very particular and frankly, very family-friendly, style to them. They appeal to most generations. Avengers: Age of Ultron is so appealing it’s almost certain to break the record for biggest opening weekend. You know who currently holds the record for biggest opening weekend? The Avengers.. Daredevil is not this happy go lucky, not at all. The Avengers are super soldiers, aliens so goddamn weird they have the names and personalities of there Norse mythological counterparts on Midgard, and genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropists. They are not generally blind orphans. And there are no hyper-real 10 minute long fight scenes. There is a lot of blood and I kept my eyes closed for several gory moments.

For the most part, in terms of entertainment and story value, I think Daredevil satisfies my requirements. I love what the tone says about the archetype of this character. But I like it where it is. Certain stories need to be restricted to a long form method like Television. Breaking bad for example. A clever someone cut it into a two hour movie but I think it was perfect as a several year-long transformation archetype switch.

And I like where The Avengers are as movies. I am exited to see if/how Avengers: Age of Ultron affects the coming Infinity War. I hope that it passes the Bechdel test. That’s another place Daredevil failed miserably. As my friend Dick Powis remarked with not a little sarcasm, “I like this Daredevil show. It’s about time someone portrayed women in roles as nurse and secretaries.” IBut the fact is that it doesn’t mesh with Daredevil’s bone-crunching bleakness. And Daredevils conflicted view of the good vs/ evil battle does mesh with the pretty clear lines about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Maybe that’s what it comes down to. The struggle between fantastical, larger than life characters in one and the other focuses on how personal demons shape one’s identity. One has Superheroes and Super Humans doing battle with Alens and A.I.s and the other has a vigilante who has kind of a hard time figuring out how to compete with gentrification.

The thing about this show is the difference between the man in the black mask, the devil of Hell’s Ktichen, and Daredevil.

Righteous Dopefiend: A Review

If you’ve read In Search of Respect, Philippe Bourgois’s ethnography of Puerto-Rican crack dealers, you know that he is expert at getting into the gritty side of Urban America. In Righteous Dopefiend, Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg present a compelling photo-ethnography that exposes the harsh realities of homeless heroin injectors living in the makeshift Edgewater community of San Francisco. It is one of the best uses of photography in written accounts that I have seen.
The authors delve deep into the social and emotional lives of their subjects, exposing the raw of nerve heroin addiction, its causes, and how it drives addicts to homelessness. It runs the course of typical ethnographic topics such as family, economy, and complex forms of racism, yet inherent in every column of observation is a pervasive sadness at the beleaguered existence of these individuals. Drawing on themes from Marx, Foucault, and Bourdieu, Schonberg and Bourgois offer up a sensible explanation for how American institutions like the justice system and the healthcare industry are directly involved, often to a detrimental effect, in the lives of people in the Edgewater community.
Righteous Dopefiend can be quite graphic at times. The descriptions of amateur medical procedures like lancing one’s own abscess and medical professionals who don’t use adequate anesthesia for quite painful procedures were enough to make me squirm slightly with discomfort. This is where the power of Schonberg’s photography steals the show. In nearly all ethnographies I’ve read the photographic material has been placed somewhere in the middle of the text and it can be relevant to anything or nothing contained in the text in no particular order. By presenting a series of images at the beginning of every chapter, the visual media emphasizes the essence of particular moments and themes as they arise. The decision to use thicker and glossier pages is also a subtle way to emphasize the role Schonberg’s photography plays in representing members of and scenes in the Edgewater community.
Bourgois’s and Schonberg’s research was funded by a NIH grant as part of a larger campaign to prevent the spread of AIDS. Their work exposed the flaws in the proposed medical interventions and suggested newer methods that would be easier for addicts like those who lived in Edgewater to utilize. As such, this text would be a good addition to courses focused on Applied and Medical Anthropology.

Family Trees and the History of Family History

You think you’re family history is complicated?


By Jenny Weston

This post was originally inspired by a recent revelation that one of my ancestors may have lived in Leiden in the early 1600s. A particularly unexpected find — given the fact that my family is from the West Coast of Canada (over 7000 km from Leiden) — it was a surprise to find that my ‘eleventh-great-grandfather’ may have lived, literally down the street from our office here in Leiden, almost 400 years ago.

In the wake of this little discovery, I began to wonder about the history of ‘family history’. In the Middle Ages, how did people keep track of their family heritage? How important was it to know where you came from? (Or perhaps, how important was it for others to know where you came from)?

For some medieval families, the task of documenting and publicizing the ‘family tree’ was critically important. This was especially the case for royal and noble…

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World Cup 2014

I was planning on writing about gendered violence in Breaking Bad over the weekend but I got sucked into watching the World Cup instead. I suppose it did what world sporting events ought to and drew my attention away from other, less pleasant current events.  I did have quite a bit of fun live tweeting the games and was quite moved not only by the milestone entrance of Bosnia Herzegovina’s into the World Cup tournament but by the strong effort they put forth in their opening game against Argentina.

The World Cup has produced quite a good crop of commercials. Gatorade” bippity-boppity-boom rendition was the best branding I’ve seen so far. Hyundai and FIFA also know who their potential viewers are, designing a product promotion specifically for a straight, male, American sports fan.

There was also a canned special about the US team in which Coach Klinsman gave a much more positive spin on the team’s chances than he did last week.  Although, if you look at the quote in context, it’s a pretty logical answer to the question of whether the team can be considered an underdog. It can’t. And Americans don’t like being the underdog anyway. We like being the best!

I watched seven games over the past two days and there have been some great plays, some awful strategizing, some examples of the effect a team “leader” can have on the performance of their teammates (I’m looking at you Cote D’Ivoire), and the emergence of a true underdog, a team from a country that is a little over two decades old and brings a Rusky style of play.  Today I also learned that Bosnia Herzegovina declared a state of emergency in May after the worst flooding since they started keeping records 120 years ago. Three months worth of rain fell in three days. Miralem Pjanic, member of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s squad bought a pharmacy’s entire stock of medical supplies to be distributed to the victims.

Here’s how you can help flood victims in the region


I also have to admit that I’ve become a fan of Super Mario


Being ethical when you don’t have an ethics review board

The very last thing I want to do with this project is take advantage of the Huaorani because it has been a recurring theme in their interactions with most non-Huaorani. Since, I don’t have many outside anthropological observers to take a close look at my project design, I am taking a less than academic approach and doing my best to apply the anthropology I know in the most ethical way I can. Therefore, I have written a proposal for the communities’ lawyer to examine and pass on to the community leaders. There are going to be a lot of firsts in keeping this ethically above board, and this is the first. Do you think I’ve missed anything?

A proposal for filming a Huaorani community tour

The goal of this film is to promote Bameno’s and Bowanamo’s tourism business. I will be documenting our tour with a personal camcorder of my own and equipment that is more suited to official documentary filmmaking. There will be 3-4 people in my group (waiting on one to work out his schedule).  I asking permission to film the jungle and the community to showcase what is unique about the Huaorani territory.

In addition to filming the environment I would also like put the face of the Huaorani communities at the forefront of the film. I would like to interview Huaorani men and women so that they can give their message to people who do not understand with the Intangible Zone must stay in possession of the Huaorani who live there.

Any Huaorani who does not wish to be filmed will not be. Any activities or ceremonies the Huaorani do not want filmed will not be. With the funds that I am raising to make this film, I hope there will be extra to give a larger community fee for this intrusion. Initially, the film will be posted on the Community Tour website, but I hope to be able to get it into independent film festivals as well which will show the Huaorani cause to even larger groups of people and they will help create pressure on the Ecuadorean. And since President Corea has claimed that he gave permission to the oil companies to drill in the Yasuni because international governments were not giving enough financial aid, viewers might even put pressure on their own governments to help prevent these companies to invade Huaorani territory.

As far as profits and royalties go, right of first refusal will go to the Huaorani though dealings with potential distributors may require further negotiation.

Please let me know of any concerns or changes you would like to make to this agreement.



Thank you for your consideration

I’m just a poor wayfaring anthropologist.

I alluded to money being a roadblock to amateur research in my post about Songkran and I would like to expand on that topic. I will be using the current pop cultural scene I inhabit.

This past week was probably one of the worst to be an amateur anthropologist. I remember reading in the Tama Bay Times way back in 2013 that the International Indian Film Festival a.k.a. the Bollywood Oscars would be hosted by city of Tampa near the end of April, 2014. ‘What a wonderful opportunity to witness some serious cross cultural interaction,’ my inner anthropologist thought. Of course, I knew that attending the official awards show would be as likely as attending the Hollywood Oscars. But I knew that Indian pop culture would descend on my city for a few glorious days and I would have the chance to soak it in.

Then, I started going to school  as a non degree student at the University of South Florida and to accommodate this schedule I began working the 2:30 PM to 11:00 PM shift at work. Unfortunately, it turns out that this is the time frame during which much of the “pre-gaming” goes on. This has lead to my ironic circumstance of having to miss out on the festivities that the IIFF awards, the opportunity to observe and participate for an extremely intense period in order to further my career as someone who observes and participates. The true crux of the situation is that, had I opted not to take classes as an out of state and non degree student, I would have the funds to buy a ticket to this event.

In fact, funding is one of the key disadvantages of being an amateur anthropologist. Organizations do not generally give research grants to inexperienced anthropologists who have only a B.A. in the field.  Lacking a legitimately official connection to the Huaorani gets in the way of government grants and giving up the right of first refusal to National Geographic has hints of unethical behavior considering the Huaorani’s history of visual exploitation. So I’m left with crowdfunding. I don’t really like asking people for money and I remember when that pedophile tried to use Kickstarter to self publish his guide on how to initiate sexually abusive relationships with children. Even more controversial was Kickstarter’s decision to take it down from the site. But credit cards aren’t going to be enough pay for 3-4 plane tickets, 7-11 days in Ecuador, filming equipment, and other supplies.

Of course, at the end of the day I am going to make this work. As Theodor Herzl once said, “If you will it, then it is no dream.”

Question of the day: What non-official channels might there be for amateur research endeavors?


Next time on The Amateur Anthropologist you will learn what the International Indian Festival looks like from the outside.