In the second episode of the series Scarlet Witch and Vision (2021, Disney +), the main heroine becomes pregnant after kissing with her husband. With this joke, Marvel intended to parody the moralistic breed of the American sitcoms of the sixties whose aesthetics it was replicating, but the truth is that that kiss was the spiciest thing that has happened in the entire saga.
Last Friday, July 9, it was released (in theaters and on Disney +) Black widow, another Marvel movie, this time focused on the character played by Scarlett Johansson. This Russian spy has been in the franchise since Iron Man (2010) and it is curious that it entered as an erotic claim: both Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and his assistant Happy (Jon Favreau) watched Johansson with lust, commented on how hot she was and even searched the internet for photos of her in underwear. Iron Man 2 it was distributed by Paramount and, in addition, in a Hollywood before Me Too. As soon as Disney absorbed Marvel in 2012, the Avengers became a celibate gang. And not only them. Superheroes in today’s cinema not only don’t have sex, they don’t even seem to feel desire.
Filmmakers such as David Cronenberg or Pedro Almodóvar have lamented this de-erotization. “A lot of superhero movies are made and sexuality doesn’t exist in them. They are neutered. Its gender is indeterminate, adventure is what matters. But the human being has a great sexuality ”, explained the La Mancha director during a discussion at the Lincoln Center. That “undetermined gender” of which Almodóvar speaks could be due to the fact that, to achieve equality between men and women and avoid controversy at all costs, the only thing that has occurred to Marvel is to strike down the libido of all its superheroes equally.
That’s the general attitude Hollywood has taken after #MeToo. It seems that they do not know how to give a woman sexuality without harassing her, so they have chosen to desexualize them all, ”says sexologist Paula Álvarez. “It’s like Hollywood has put straight characters in the closet. On Modern Family [telecomedia de ABC, propiedad también de Disney, emitida entre 2009 y 2020] Mitch and Cam were gay couples, but they never kissed, caressed, or caressed each other. Well now that happens with all the characters, both with gays and heterosexuals ”.
It was not always like this. On Superman II (1980) Lois and Clark came to have sex in the Fortress of Solitude. On Batman returns (1992) Bruce Wayne and Catwoman channeled their sexual tension by hitting each other (and scratching, whipping and licking). In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, inaugurated in 2008 by Iron Man, the only allusions to sex present it as dangerous (Hulk warns two different women, Betty Ross and Black Widow, that intercourse with him would endanger their lives) or as a sign of unhappiness (Tony Stark is sleeping with a reporter as a sign of his immaturity, Peter Quill did the same with a pink alien in Guardians of the Galaxy).
With this de-erotization, in reality, Marvel does not aspire to protect children, but to avoid retaliation from parents. The investment that their blockbusters require involves covering as many audiences as possible, of all ages and from all countries. That includes China, the world’s top film market today and where movies must pass the cut of a government censoring committee.
The paradox is that while movie superheroes are less sensual than ever, their stars are more desirable than ever. Even the bodies of its supporting actors are muscled to the maximum. Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd shared the results of their exercise tables on Instagram for Guardians of the Galaxy Y Ant-Man, respectively, although then they came out without a shirt for just a few seconds in the film and despite the fact that one would expect that their characters, both nice canallitas without any vanity, had a little belly.
The bodies of Pratt and Rudd were treated by the press and fans as a fetish more admirable than sexual. Marvel renounces sex but not the cult of the body: Black Widow posed with her back arched on promotional posters and Captain America trained in Civil War in sweatpants so clinging to her buttocks that it made it clear she wasn’t wearing any underwear. But Marvel’s goal did not seem to be to present Chris Evans as an object of sexual desire, but as aspirational. The interest is not that the public is excited by the idea of having sex with them, but by the idea of being like them.
Until recently, Marvel’s rival studio, DC, had a creative director, Zack Snyder, who was equally obsessed with male muscle: in his films, Batman and Superman (Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill) were seen naked in the shower or bath. But they were neither going to nor coming to sleep with anyone. Snyder’s camera feels no desire, only envy.
The journalist Raquel S. Benedict, in her essay Everybody is beautiful and nobody is horny, compares the muscular bodies of today’s Hollywood, and other areas of culture, with houses designed to reform them and increase their value. “Bodies are no longer vehicles through which to experience pleasure, they are a collection of benefits: abdominals, abductors. And these benefits do not exist to make our lives more comfortable, but to increase the value of our capital. The bodies are investments that we must optimize to achieve … what, exactly? ”.
The body is treated today as a tool for self-assertion, Benedict continues, which explains why the term “exercising” has been replaced by “training.” That verb suggests that there is a mission: sport is no longer an end for pleasure, but a means to achieve something more. The journalist links this mentality to American cultural roots: “Can there be anything more cruelly puritan than creating a sexual ideal that in turn leaves the person unable to enjoy sex?”
In his analysis of the absence of sex in commercial cinema, Benedict points out Source (2010) as one of the most absurd examples. Its plot follows a group of professionals who sneak into the dreams of a billionaire to change his behavior: the film consists of gunshots, cars and a ski patrol. “How can you enter the deepest levels of a millionaire’s subconscious and not find a depraved, oedipal psychosexual nightmare?” He wonders.
In the seventies, Superman moved to Metropolis and discovered what being an adult consisted of: work, being single, tycoons, housing, economic crises, political interests, the difficulty of living in society. On the contrary, the only thing that Marvel superheroes have as adults is that they are played by actors over 30 years old, but for all intents and purposes they are pre-teens. The arch that forms the backbone of the saga AvengersTony Stark’s journey from dissolute maiden to sanctified leader required the hero to renounce all sex life. Sex in Marvel is always insane or embarrassing. The only healthy sex seems to be the nonexistent.
The case of Captain America takes this assumption to the limit: it is directly a virgin, perhaps to evoke the dignity of monastic celibacy (which Christopher Nolan also suggested in Batman Begins) or perhaps to symbolize that American ideal of having all the best ahead. The Captain watched his beloved, Agent Peggy Carter, with the same platonic chastity with which Petrarch adored the maiden Laura. Only Petrarch was writing in the fourteenth century.
“That Captain America is a virgin is an idea that comes from the Judeo-Christian culture: it presents him as a pure and light being, just as Jesus Christ has traditionally been represented,” says Paula Álvarez. “Sex always gets in the way of the hero’s mission, like when a footballer stops performing and the fans blame his wife or girlfriend, assuming that if the hero does not win it is because he has sex and that he should have reserved all his strength for his feat. With Hercules The same thing happened with Disney, he went from zero to hero, but Megara was the temptation, what stood between him, heroism and joining his family on Olympus ”.
Many current superheroes reformulate the American myth of the lone hero (John Wayne, Dirty Harry, Rambo), the one who embraced celibacy for pragmatic reasons: if there was no woman involved, he could launch himself on his suicide mission without distractions. Because, as DH Lawrence explained in Studies in Classic American Literature, All American warriors are descended from James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo, a figure of relentless chastity and justified violence.
The only explicit intercourse in recent superhero cinema, that of Wonder Woman 1984 (2021), triggered criticism in the press and social networks: the heroine was sleeping with her late boyfriend thanks to the fact that he had risen and possessed the body of another man. Some viewers took it as a superhero sexually abusing that innocent body. That controversy was one of the factors that turned Wonder Woman 1984 in a laughingstock and agreed with Marvel: when in doubt, it is wiser to eliminate sex altogether.
And this also affects real life. When photographs of the director of Thor: Love & Thunder Taika Waititi making out with actress Tessa Thompson and singer Rita Ora after a night out, suggesting a three-way relationship, Disney gave them a wake-up call to cut them off. According to a source from the filming: “That is not the image they seek to associate with one of their largest franchises.” We know.
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