Capitalism Sucks, But Stronger is a Sequel

Posted by Anika

Long ago I wanted to be a singer/songwriter. And in that years long time my husband said two things to me I will always remember. The first was in reference to the then new video for Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time. He said, “I saw this girl’s video, and she’s stealing your act.” So that gives you an idea of how I wanted to present myself. I wanted to be a living doll.

The second thing he told me was later, after I’d started and stopped and never gotten anywhere because I didn’t know how to really try and used that as an excuse not to. He said, “Your brothers and their friends write songs and record albums and perform wherever they can because they love to make music. And they don’t care if it makes money, because it doesn’t. They don’t even care if anyone or no one is listening.”

I didn’t read Fear Itself. I don’t know the story or what happens or how it ends or why it was important to the Marvel Universe. I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s not relevant to my life. It’s only relevant to this discussion because the following panel was taken from Fear Itself 7.1 (I don’t even know what the .1 means) :

This picture came across my tumblr dashboard and I felt happy. I immediately commented to more than one friend that “Natasha asleep in Bucky’s hospital room is the most precious thing I have ever seen in a comic book.” That’s why I read comics. For those moments.

Even out of context there is a lot to love here. She’s wearing pants and a big cozy sweater — in other words, she is realistically styled for hanging out in the hospital. She is curled up in a space clearly not made for stay over visitors which I take to mean she’s there because everyone is too afraid to ask her to leave. Wouldn’t that be a cute scene?


Dr. Carter (I always envision Dr. Carter when I imagine random hospital scenes because Noah Wyle was such a cutie on ER):

Visiting hours are over.

Natasha:

Ignores

Dr. Carter:

So. . . you have to leave.

Natasha:

Raises an eyebrow

Dr. Carter:

Um. Well. Are you . . . family?

Natasha:

Sits

Dr. Carter:

Right. Okay. I’ll . . .check in with you later.

Cute! And all I needed to imagine it was this picture.

In context, this plot point means James and Natasha have what I like to call a Real Relationship. This panel isn’t about male fantasy. There is nothing sexy about a hospital vigil. No way is this a hook for the stereotypical man-child whose idea of commitment is knowing the name of his favorite Victoria’s Secret Angel (aside: that stereotype is just as bad as the “feminazi” ones, but you get my point) aka the alleged audience of choice for comic books. Actually? A hospital vigil is an overused plot in romance novels and chick flicks. You know, stuff that is marketed to women.

Which brings me to my point. It’s up to us.

I can be mad that I’m not Britney Spears or I can sing because I love to sing.

Britney, like Marvel, and like Disney, is a brand. To sell records/comics/movies/whatever — to make a profit — that brand has to cater to its largest and most visible audience. This is called capitalism. It sucks (aside: go tell Fox News I said so, I am more than willing to appear on their shows and chat about it). As a thirtysomething, female, bisexual, married mother of two girls, comic book fan whose favorite superheroes include Ms. Marvel, Spider-Girl, the other Spider-Girl, and Black Widow aka Women Who Used to Have Their Own Title, and the Scarlet Witch and Jean Grey aka Women Who Are Generally Dead Or Dragged Up to Serve As Plot Points and/or Deus-ex-Machina: it REALLY sucks.

However, I also love Spider-Man. And just like we always say white heterosexual men don’t need their superheroes to be white heterosexual men in order to like them, I don’t need my superheroes to be just like me to like them. It’s great when it happens and it certainly is our collective responsibility to feature characters of all kinds. And, in the middle of a horribly awful economy in our capitalist country, it is fair for the machine to say if the titles don’t sell we can’t afford to keep them. Is this shortsighted and unimaginative? Absolutely. But it’s not a vendetta against women (or other minorities).

And to the idea that Disney should step in and take over marketing comic books to girls I say (a) marketing a line of well-established fairy tale princesses to the audience that basically their company created and marketing a line of superheroines that even the core comic book fandom doesn’t know/love well enough to keep their books afloat to an audience that is probably not the same one that they sell Cinderella to are two very distinct ideas; and (b) remember when Disney first bought Marvel and everyone freaked out that they were going to princessify everything? If I were Brevoort/Marvel/Disney I’d be feeling pretty damned if I do, damned if I don’t right about now. And that is a very, very bad place for anyone with any authority to be in. Bad for us.

I said Tuesday that DC doesn’t care about me as a customer and is not writing comics for me. Marvel also does not care about me as a customer. But Marvel is writing comics for me. New Avengers had one issue all about hiring a nanny. Avengers Academy is like the CW Starfleet Academy series I always wanted. I didn’t read Fear Itself but (after I’d seen it on tumblr) I bought the comic that has this picture:

It means something to me. It makes me happy. That’s why I read comics. Not because someone or other wants me to or tells me to. I don’t want to be a living doll anymore. And I don’t want to be a marketing statistic. Maybe the very best comics are the ones made by people who don’t care if they’re paid or if anyone reads it (aside: do we really think the creators who write even the most mainstream of comics are in it for the money?). But, I love to listen to Britney Spears, too.

Posted by Anika
email: anika@fantasticfangirls.org
twitter: magnetgirl

  • Caroline

    There are a number of extremes in the ‘marketing’ conversation that I try to avoid. One is the, “It must be a vendetta against women!” approach you mentioned (though I’m not sure anybody is actually saying that; okay someone is saying that but I’m not sure it’s what the typical response is about.) Another is the, “I will dictate their marketing strategy for them, whether or not I know what I’m talking about.” But I’m also wary of the, “Well, it’s capitalism, they are companies that want to make money, therefore this decision must be a money-making one for them.” i.e., whatever marketing decision is made, it must be a good one because that’s how companies work. Companies make terrible/self-destructive marketing decisions all the time. Of course, they’re not always the ones that I think SHOULD destroy them but . . .

    Anyway, it’s complicated. It might really be, “There is actually nothing that could save the comics industry at this point, but let’s frame every conversation that way anyway, so that we’re actually talking about our own preferences and that makes it all feel more valid.”

    Not a real response/rebuttal to any points in your article, just musing. I’ve done all of these things myself. Though I’m still baffled by the guy on Twitter yesterday who thought i was accusing Marvel of misogyny when I complained the Sentry got a better funeral than Jean Grey did.

  • I’m sorry, but I thoroughly disagree with the “capitalism sucks” argument. You wrote a beautiful article, and I agree with practically everything you said.. except the part where you say Capitalism sucks. I’m not going to go into a long rant over this, because it really isn’t the place, nor is it MY place to do so, but I just want to say a few things.

    Capitalism sucks as opposed to what? Would we actually even have comics if not in a capitalist system? What would be the alternative? Socialism, Communism? Would we really have stories which were not patriotic, fatherland, one-dimensional vitriol if not in a capitalist system?

    One very, very important aspect of capitalism is competition, and through it Marvel and DC kept/keep trying to outdo each other, and we gain, the consumers. Sure, sometimes they mess up and try to outdo each other in silliness, mindless violence or sexist bravado, but competition, always, benefits the consumer.

    Also, capitalism, in my view, celebrates freedom. You can do what you want. Now you can say, “sure, as long as I have the money for it”. And I agree. But at least there’s a choice. Granted, it’s full of faults, a plutocratic system is always an issue, but consider the alternative! Would we be better off?

    I feel people constantly confuse capitalism with a libertarian paradise for the wealthy, no consideration for human feeling and emotion and 100% greed and corruption. That’s not what capitalism entails. There are a myriad of subsystems inside it in which we try to work. Some favor government regulation. Others don’t. Most, something in between. But at least we can have this discussion in a capitalist system.

    Sorry, this turned out longer than I hoped/wanted. It’s hard to talk about such things with economists (like me), and not say much.

  • Caroline

    ” But at least we can have this discussion in a capitalist system.”

    Oh, come on, capitalism has fuck-all to do with free speech. Talk about conflating things.

  • Sam

    Socialism and communism (which are not the same thing) have about as much to do with patriotic propaganda as capitalism does. Have communist states in the past used things like that? Sure. Does the current United States Army have a video game that it splays all over XBox-related sites in the hopes that young boys will play it and enlist? Yep.

    Considering comics – and other forms of art and expression – have existed throughout a myriad of economic, religious, and social system… I think that, yeah, we would have comics if we were socialists. We’d also have health care.

  • Mara Whiteside

    I would buy a Disney playset featuring Ms. Marvel, Pocohontas, Mulan, Spider-Woman, and Belle. Just saying.

    Making these strong women available to a population that enjoys female-centric storylines is nothing but awesome. I have no idea why Disney has not jumped on that yet.

    Aside, I was one of those people who cringed when Disney bought Marvel. I now think it’s a wonderful idea in that Marvel characters can be marketed to a much younger group. It’s important to cultivate this interest in strong females (Disney and Marvel origin alike) in young girls. It’s all about opening the door.

  • sorry to have expressed a different opinion. it won’t happen again.
    all the best.

  • Caroline

    @Uranian — If you’re asking us to value your right to disagree, I think you need to value our right to disagree back. You’re not being persecuted because everyone didn’t instantly change their opinion to match yours.

  • Anika

    @Mara I would but that playset, too. But that playset would not necessarily sell the comics featuring those heroines. It’s different, that’s all I’m just saying.

    I’m tired of knee-jerk reactions and seemingly blind anger. I’m not saying Marvel is making the best decisions for the company or the industry in the long, or even short, run. I’m saying I can see where they are coming from. I agree with Caroline: it’s complicated.

  • Great post, Anika. I haven’t read Fear Itself yet either, but I might have to pick up this issue for the same reasons you did.

  • Caroline

    I’m a little uncomfortable with assuming people are acting out of ‘blind anger’, when I feel like most of the people blogging about these issues have explained their positions extensively and the idea that most critics are claiming there’s a “vendetta against women” is a bit of a straw man.

    [Edited because I had my metaphors mixed up. :)]

  • Anika

    Seemingly means my perception and I think your feeling and my perception can be differing and both valid? I have read — more in comments to the posts and on Twitter than in actual blog text — words to that effect. If I’m overdramatic it’s in reaction. But I certainly don’t mean to say that everyone who has something to say is acting out of anger, blind or otherwise. Nor that what they are saying shouldn’t be said. I want to add to the discussion.