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May 17 2012

Tom Hiddleston on BBC's The Film Programme. A discussion with Hiddleston about a certain phrase.

From April 26, his interview is in the first 9 minutes of the program.

"Josh Whedon."

A box office of over 1 billion USD, and they still can't get his name right. Sigh.

After following the lengthy discussion of "mewling quim" over at Cleolinda Jones's blog, I've come to realise just how many people were honestly offended by the admittedly archaic insult. While I don't think there's all that much merit in squeezing Ye Olde English for "whiny c---" into a blockbuster, I know having villains being misogynists is a trademark of Joss's. Eh. I'm not offended or anything, but I kind of wish people would stop being so happy it's there.
I think the "mewling quim" quote was intended to be an overreach by Loki. It was intended to be an emotional punch to the gut of Black Widow, but it didn't register. She was too busy probing Loki to find out what he was up to. I hope that helps. :)
What fascinated me was listening to an interview with Kevin Feige. He and the other Marvel producers were unaware of what exactly the term meant -- he had the vague notion it was an old-timey version of "wench" -- until one of them Googled it on set.

I kinda love that after figuring it out, they didn't ask Joss to take the antiquated & offensive term out of their gigantic tentpole summer blockbuster of a movie.

(also, I was completely not offended! If the film had been slanted in agreeing with Loki that Black Widow was indeed a mewling quim, I would be outraged. But essentially an empty threat/insult from a villain who ultimately lacks conviction? Against an awesome female character? AND in Ye Olde English? That's kind of cool.)
We used the word 'quim' as schoolkids. We used all the words.
I didn't see the offence when I watched the movie - like all other insults slung by villains in movies, it represent the villain's state of mind not the creator or directed at the audience - it was a moment in a movie, and it either worked or didn't.

I think for Loki he thought it did, for Black Widow she might've heard worse and didn’t care, all in the line of work.

Even if you didn't understand the words, Tom played it so well you know what he intended it to be.

I think it worked, and I like Joss adding these little things as he did in Buffy/Angel/Firefly - not only does it add flavor to the character but you can guess that he’s using it to test the system lol.

Side note, I'm developing a little obsession with all things Hiddleston... saw a Russian interview with him and he listed Joss's shows as a testament of JW experience at ensembles and I just grinned and flushed like a maniac. A talented fanboy - Can we keep him, pa? Or someone should send him a link here, I bet he would be tickled to communicate with the fans the same way Joss himself chooses to do... ;p
I never get tired of these audio interviews with TH. Next time more impressions, please!
Womack calls Adnon, the spacestation postman, "an ugly little quim" in 'The Message".
To me it seemed like Loki had used it both in anger, and as an attempt to push (what he perceived as) Black Widow's distress even further. To elicit a reaction. It was his reason for being there after all. I also think it was that that told BW that he would be spilling the beans soon.

I wasn't offended because I don't find gender specific language offensive - an insult is an insult. It made me laugh for the sheer audacity of including it.

And yeah, TH is becoming a bit of an addiction. His interviews are fantastic!
Gotta love modern culture. Loki murders dozens, tries to enslave billions, but here we are, talking of whether we should take offence at a word.
Words matter greatly. I find the casual use of the word 'bitch' for women to be extremely disturbing and to be intimately connected with a lot of very unpleasant features of culture. But I thought this piece of dialogue worked perfectly; it fit the character and the scene and enhanced the general sense of Loki as weaker and more overreaching and Black Widow as tougher minded and more effective. So I am happy that the insult is there.

I'm not, of course, happy that some people are getting offended. But potentially giving offence is only sometimes a reason not to say things, or include them in art (even of the more commercial variety). Some people get concerned by certain words or images in such a way that the context scarcely matters. They have their arguments for such an approach; including views about psychological and cultural influence. I find the approach deeply unhelpful, however. And I don't think that the best way to improve the world is only to produce art that represents a perfect world (whatever that would be).

The effect of Loki's murders within the fiction on real people in the audience is unsurprisingly less than the effect of his words. If we are in a reflective mood, we have reason to cast a critical eye over all human behaviour; but taking offence at fictional evil characters saying wicked things where the overall point of their having said them is to undermine those evil characters, the things said, and the ideas and practices that they drew upon - well, I think it a mistake.
If people are offended, well yeah, that's the point! He was deliberately being offensive to Black Widow to provoke her. Except, you know, she was manipulating him into monologuing.
This reminds me of a fabled Stephen Fry rant. A friend of his was a director on Spooks (MI:5 in USA), and had been chewed out because the episode featured a character talking on the phone whilst driving (I think fleeing). The same character had recently betrayed and murdered.

Loki is a villain. He did much worse than utilise some anglo-saxon.
But the worst thing a character does in a work of fiction is hardly the best measure of what, involving that character, was reprehensible about the work.

Though to reiterate, I have no problems with the insult in the Avengers on this score.
In the same movie, Black Widow is subjected to sexist evaluation. In her opening scene, she is physically beaten and verbally denegrated for being pretty but stupid. There is allusion to her as being a recent sexual target.

This has drawn much less attention. Why is this? Because words are like lightening rods, and context is rarely considered. A villain did a villainous thing. If Tony Stark said the exact same thing to BW, and then laughed as he high-fived Thor, then there would be cause for concern.
Andy Dufresne, as my earlier post indicates, for my part, I heartily agree.

On a different note, I was puzzled that this interview referred to the film as being very long. Quite a few people have done this, yet the film isn't particularly long by today's blockbuster standards. I wonder if there is something about the film that makes it feel long for some people, or if people are more put off by the length of a film that they aren't so ready to dismiss out of hand. I don't know.

On a more joyful note, Tom Hiddleston seems deeply marvelous.
Maclay -

Yes, I read your post, it's excellent. Sorry I was speaking to a broader reception.
Andy Dufresne, I thought so but wanted to make sure I hadn't been unclear since, for the most part, I agree with your sentiments so strongly.
I love these interviews where Tom Hiddleston talks about Joss.

As for the insult, I agree with what people here have said. It's all about context. And the word not only comes from the mouth of a villain, but it's used in the very scene where Black Widow gets the better of him. He's trying to target her gender to weaken her, but it does not faze her.
And, BW calls him a monster afterwards... It's not like she stands there and takes it, and is all weak and forgiving about it. No, she actually stands up for herself, and then gets the better of Loki.

Why is this a problem? :/ lol.
A Whedon character using profanity in olde english... next thing you know a Whedon character might start using profanity in Chinese.
Loki isn't just angry; he completely loses his composure. (Which is how BW gets him to spill his secret.)
Hiddleston had Loki literally frothing at the mouth when he dropped the "q" word.

This movie had zero uses of the "f" word, and probably could have gotten away with two uses and still kept a PG-13 rating. It would have been appropriate for the Loki's emotions if he called BW a "f***ing b***h", but those words would have been wrong coming out of Loki's mouth. Joss found the correct way to have Loki be vile, insulting, *and* in character.
Speaking of ye olde genitals, I know the word is scads less offensive & not an insult, but I was a bit surprised to've never heard anyone discussing Jayne's "& my swinging cod" line from Serenity, uttered when providing Zoe with a run down of their armament.
Agreeing with all previous, but wanted to add that this is the difference between being told Loki's a monster (he killed 80 people in 2 days for fun) and actually SEEING that he's a monster. That's what this scene does for us. We're supposed to be offended and horrified; that's the effect the language was supposed to produce in us. So it was entirely effective.

I read through the cleolinda thread on this subject (linked above) and was surprised at how many people were offended and thought that this language showed misogyny in the film, rather than in the character. But this is an ongoing issue in popular film criticism: showing us an instance of misogyny in a context that makes the audience see it for what it is (put it in a villain's mouth) is a very different thing from being unthinkingly misogynistic (or racist or classist or or ...), but it's a tricky wire to walk and writers get it wrong much more often than they get it right, trying to be edgy or something I think. Audiences are right to be wary.

I was not offended by this scene, at all, but I was quite offended by (for example) a scene in the trailer for the latest Adam Sandler movie, in which we see a young woman call her fiancÚ a "big vagina" (meaning, in the context, wimp, whiner). Having a woman say it doesn't make it okay and doesn't make it funny, guys. It just makes her an unthinking re-inscriber of the values of her oppressors.

However, having the villain say it in a context that uses that language to show that he's a monster, as here, is a different thing.
Grinning at all the Hiddles love here and other threads. Remarkably talented man is now one of ours - so cool. Haven't been this excited to welcome a new 'verse alum since Stark in the first Iron Man.

I love how hard he loves Joss. Wonder if he knows about the Shakespeare readings at the Whedon's?
@lbowman: Thanks for pointing out that thread. The sticking point was in "The Purple" post, where his "greatest achievement" was getting that phrase to the masses. The original poster asked why he would be proud of that, and then they seem to get stuck on "proud". (A couple of people pointed that absolutely nothing in that mock interview was serious, but too many people were treating it seriously anyways.)

At what point does an insult become so archaic that it loses its sting? If I remember my history, "yankee doodle" was a nasty insult at the time, but wouldn't bat an eye nowadays.
@Willowy Wow, he would KNOCK THOSE OUT OF THE PARK. He's meant for Shakespeare! So expressive, so specific, such a stage actor.

@Andy Dufresne I concur with it all. The fact is, our villain is the one who threatens and subjugates BW. Our heroes immediately accept her as an equal, and don't sexualize nor pidgeonhole her. Even in Iron Man 2, first time she comes on screen, RDJ and Jon Favreau are checking her out while flipping through photos of her in lingerie. In Avengers, she's just one of the team. Not "the other woman". Not eye candy. Not anyone's love/lust interest.

I look at teams in The Avengers, Inception, the Ocean's Twelve sequels, and I have to wonder... how many more action films are going to have the token female character on the team (if even that) before there are just men and women working side by side? It'll probably take a while.
One thing I love about Avengers, though, is that even if the Marvel execs thought that Black Widow was going to be a "token female character", Whedon made sure she was not that at all; she was integral, and not on board as anyone's love interest, either.

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