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"You get the Watcher. You get the mom. You get the little Scooby gang. What do I get? Jack squat."
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May 03 2015

The Black Widow Conundrum. "Marvel accidentally made a great female superhero, and now they have no clue what to do with her." Covers a lot more ground than just Black Widow. Alyssa Rosenberg offers an alternative take on the character.

In short, the article claims that Joss screwed up Black Widow's character by giving her a romance of sorts with Bruce Banner. Do you agree, because I don't but that's just my opinion.
It's an interesting article but I don't follow comic books that much, I don't know all the history and back story. But if Marvel doesn't know what to do with Black Widow why is it Joss' fault? Did he and Marvel work together to this outcome because I don't see that he had unilateral control. I'm glad this topic was posted because I was wanting to officially say here how fed up I am with all the Internet hatred being hurled Joss' way. I actually vented at the Whedonesque Facebook page yesterday after becoming physically nauseated at the things being said at Twitter in his feed (some of the comments inciting violence and cyber stalking, others ranged to pornographic queries).

This boomerang's back to what I just asked: If these pea-brained haters out there are enraged over Black Widow acting/being written a certain way, isn't Marvel complicit? Seems like Joss is taking a horrible beating for "everything", as usual.

I don't know, I'm not invested in Black Widow's story as I was in Buffy's, Cordelia's, Fred's, or Echo's. But even if I had been left disappointed or angered toward Joss, I would never post a comment I wouldn't say to his face. I don't want to be part of a fandom, even if it's just a small faction, that behaves this way.

[ edited by Tonya J on 2015-05-03 23:19 ]
The comments directed at Joss on twitter pissed me off too and reminded me why he probably stayed away from twitter for so long. People are just disgusting. Ultron was right.

[ edited by eddy on 2015-05-03 22:37 ]
It (the mean comments directed at Joss) shows why Ultron wanted to destroy the world after being on the Internet for about 10 minutes.
I don't understand so many people saying Joss assassinated her character. Isn't he the one who wrote the movie that made everyone fall in love with her in the first place? It makes no sense to me. The Joss hate online is frustrating me. I guess it came with the territory when Joss became so popular.
I don't really follow discussions on twitter, so I haven't seen what people have been saying about Joss's writing of Black Widow. Not sure I want to look? It strikes me as odd that people would think it possible to do that to her character, since this is only the third movie she's been properly developed in. Aren't we still in the phase of learning more about her and seeing new sides (in the cinematic universe, of course)?

The article had some odd comments about romance in general. What struck me was the scene from 'Her' the author picked out as the freakiest of Johansson's work. It made me wonder what lens the author was looking at romance from, along with relationship power balances.

[ edited by Bluelark on 2015-05-03 23:15 ]
The problem with Black Widow is that she was never a top tier Marvel character but she was the one that made an appearance first in a supporting role and became the standard bearer for women in Marvel movies. It is highly arguable that she had no business being placed as highly as she was to begin with because like Hawkeye, she's just a human. Except now Marvel has two of those characters on the team. How is that supposed to work? I like what Joss did in both films, but how is she supposed to arc in films primarily about superhuman characters requiring each other's help?

I'll also argue, there's a strain of strident thought that has it that Marvel does it right while DC does it wrong, and they seem to get flummoxed when Marvel doesn't bend over backwards and end up with the same problems as DC. The source material their working from ISN'T diverse and the changes they're making are on the fly. So its easy for Marvel to make new shows like AoS or Agent Carter because it's new canon. But like DC it's exceptionally difficult to rewrite old Avengers stories when that diversity just isn't in there.

At some point, they can either commit to a rewrite and arguably downplay some of their more classically celebrated white male characters for anyone else OR they fit in diversity as best they can while honoring their old history.

My guess is they know exactly what they want to do with Black Widow. It's just never going to be what some people want/need her to be politically. They're going to have to wait for Captain Marvel for that or for more from Scarlet Witch.

-Edit- I'll add, Widow's arc in AoU is not really entirely about Banner either. The issues she has are far deeper than a relationship she seems to want to have with him. The problem with her plot is that it's not cathartic as it poses issues she seems to have but does not really resolve those issues. Like Banner, both of them seem to have demons they're going to go through over multiple films. I'm not sure Joss would have preferred to do it that way, but that seems to be how Marvel wanted it done.

[ edited by azzers on 2015-05-04 00:51 ]
Like the romance or not, she was basically the only Avenger WITHOUT a romantic saying this "destroyed" her character is just another sexist view in my mind. She's not there simply to be Banner's new girl. She still has a role on the team. I did enjoy her arc more in the first movie, but the ire towards Joss and Marvel here is misplaced.
A lot of people who read the comics are angry at her characterization. In the mainstream comics, Natasha has had several long term relationships. She expresses vulnerabilities (she cries, laughs, teases, she confesses she doesn't feel worthy of being an Avenger and she discusses her infertility problems in a fashion that is conscious that comic book readers may have fertility problems). Natasha was out of character in Age of Ultron. She was like a dog with a bone in her pursuit of Dr. Banner. At Clint's house, she wanted to run away with him. The Natasha from the comics would never consider leaving during a battle. Comic!Natasha has always put the mission first. She was locked up in a cage and Dr. Banner had to save her. I said this on a previous thread and I'll say it again, Natasha is like MacGyver or a one women A-Team. It makes absolutely no sense for her to be able to send a message out to Clint, but unable to break out of a rickety cell, which she has done countless times in the comics. If she is not working for SHIELD or the Avengers, she does missions that would benefit someone and uses the money to right her wrongs. I recommend looking at comics like Nathan Edmondson's "Black Widow", Majorie Liu's "Name of the Rose" or Ed Brubaker's "Captain America" (issues #25-619).

What I absolutely hated (and I know a lot of people on this website disagrees with me) is the sterilization scene. Now before I get into it, I would like you to imagine what it is like to be in your late 20s wanting to start a family and end up have 3 miscarriages in a row. Imagine having to set up a doctor appointment, so you can figure out what f*ck is wrong with your body when there are 16 year olds getting knocked up. Infertility problems and eugenics are REAL life issues outside of the MCU. That scene was not done properly, and I am sick and tired of people implying that I am being a social justice warrior of feminazi because I am trying to explain why it was such a painful scene to sit through. Majorie Liu wrote 'Black Widow: Name of the Rose', which deals with Natasha's infertility problems in a way that is not only sensitive to the audience members, but she also wrote it in a way that was cathartic. Comic!Natasha is infertile because of the serum that slows her aging; it was a positive side effect from the Red Rooms perspective. Joss has Nat's graduation be sterilization. It makes no sense to change this, seeing how Bruce and Natasha would have more in common if they both became infertile respectively from the gamma rays/hulk and the serum that allows Natasha to heal faster and age slower. The problem with this subtle change is that the Red Room also included males (including Bucky Barnes), and I guarantee you we aren't going to find out he was castrated because eunuchs make better soldiers (which they do). And he uses her sterilization to equate herself to Bruce's level. Lui dedicated a whole graphic novel to discuss Natasha's infertility, and Joss just tossed it out as a fact in order to build up things Bruce and Nat have in common. This is a topic that should have been discussed with consideration and sensitivity, and instead it was rushed. So, instead of having Banner fall face first into Natasha's boobs, saying she should have joined him in the shower (which got a ewww, gross from the 10 year old looking girl next to me), the zucchini joke and having Banner rescue the damseling Natasha in a cage, he should have have taken the time for Banner and Romanoff to have in depth talk about their budding relationship. Natasha deserves a romantic plot line and she should be loved, but she isn't a love sick teenager desperate for her crush to notice her (which is what AoU felt like).

With that said, I think a small, but vocal part of it is people being angry of their ships not happening. Bruce and Natasha have never hooked up in any of the multiple Marvel universes out there, since these characters have been created. Theses comics have a large established fan base, and Joss decided to put his unique spin to it. Honestly, Bruce/Nat wouldn't have been my first ship (Cap 2 and Agent Carter suggests they are following the comics where Natasha dates Bucky), but I could care less about the relationship aspect. These characters are so old and are in so many universes that everyone has pretty much dated everyone. And the MCU is a universe separate from the comics.

Do I think it is completely Joss' fault? No. Someone in Marvel approved it, and he managed to do some really great things with Natasha in both of the Avengers movie.

[ edited by hpgwbtvs on 2015-05-04 03:02 ]
Twitter has been bad. Not only has Joss been getting hate tweets, but Mark Ruffalo as well. No wonder Ultron thought it was a good idea to kill all of humanity after going on the Internet.
It's another perspective. I think the author is doing some very selective marshaling of evidence to support an argument — other interpretations of the same points would also be valid.

There's no doubt that there is a lot of fan interest in the character; there are also a lot of socio-political arguments in favor of a solo movie for the character (all the "why don't we have a female superhero movie yet?!" blogposts).

The fact that the solo movie hasn't been made, or even announced, is not evidence that the character has been ill-used in her supporting appearances. If the character has been ill-used, that is not evidence that the character can carry a successful solo venture. I think the author is selectively re-/mis-interpreting elements of those films to make the argument that the character has been ill-used, and will continue to be so unless Marvel gets its act together and gives her a solo movie helmed by a female creative team.

That may be a correct conclusion (and it's a movie I would go see), but in this case, I think the conclusion was defined and then the evidence was sought to support it.
I thought Black Widow was much more interesting in AoU than in the Avengers. But one reason is that while I generally love SJ has an actress, I have always thought her miscast as the Black Widow. I changed my mind after seeing AoU last night.

The romance no more diminishes Black Widow than it does the Hulk. Does the writer of this nonsense believe the Hawk is now a lesser character because we find out he is a devoted husband and father?

Having said that, my favorite Marvel movie female character is Sif. Jaimie Alexander just nails the part and was underused in both Thor movies.
@tomg, I'd have liked to have said roughly the same thing that you just did, but there's no way I could have done so as elegantly.
I'll add an alternate interpretation that suggests that the increasing demand for a Black Widow solo movie may actually indicate that the way Marvel has handled the character so far has been very effective, and that they know exactly what to do with her. Whether their decision so far to not make a Black Widow movie has been because of some trepidation over putting a female in a titular role is impossible to say for certain, but with Captain Marvel on the way that's clearly not the case now. Regardless, a Widow movie would be extremely exciting to me as long as it had strong creatives behind it.
I also thought her arc in Age of Ultron was lovely. I really enjoyed seeing another side of her that hadn't been explored much in her previous appearances.
I don't really have a problem with the Bruce/Natasha pairing. My issue is more with the fact that it didn't really feel right with the pacing/editing. I'm willing to bet that, in the original three and a half hour cut of the movie, there's a bunch more footage that makes their romance seem like a more natural development. It sounds like Joss was pushed to the edge during editing, and I worry this was one casualty of that.

That said, I intend to watch the movie a couple more times and let everything digest. My expectations were sky high going in, and now it's time to pay attention to and appreciate the movie we did get.
hpgwbtvs, thank you for sharing your story. It's hard to be an apologist after the scene discussing infertility and sterilization. Sure, it's possible to interpret the scene as not comparing sterility to being a monster. But it is definitely the easiest interpretation. I can't find the full quote to do a full rhetorical analysis, but many people had the same instinctive reaction. At the very least, it is disappointing that someone we revere and praise for his writing and his subversive wit would handle the writing and editing of that scene so poorly. There would have been so many ways to subvert the idea that sterility is monstrous, but as it is we are forced to cobble our own interpretations. To me, the scene lacked something whedonesque. Obviously any abuse or vitriol is misguided and very unfortunate. And we cannot place blame only on one man. But we can place SOME blame on the man. The screenplay of a man who laments the plight of women but seems blind to such concerns seems to lack a certain conviction.

I try to experience art in a way that allows me to neither idolize nor condemn a person, and to take each work of art on its own. I do not respect a man as more than a man. Therefore, I can continue to be a fan while allowing myself to dislike this film's treatment of women and infertility, finding it to be tonedeaf to social issues. I will not villainize a man or lose respect or discredit past artistic success, but I will find a flaw in his approach to this sensitive and important area.
Sure, it's possible to interpret the scene as not comparing sterility to being a monster. But it is definitely the easiest interpretation.

I'd dispute that. The "sterility == monster" interpretation didn't even occur to me when I watched that scene, and I still can't see how you get there. "Damaged", yes; the point Nat seemed to be making in that scene is that "damaged" isn't so bad and even brings them closer together. "Monster", nope.
I'm absolutely BLOWN AWAY that any rational person would actually believe this. I've seen the movie twice and neither time did I see ANY hint of a connection, implied or otherwise, between Natasha being infertile and being a monster. The mere thought of that would be laughable if it weren't so absolutely eye-rollingly ludicrous. I would suggest that anyone who sees a connection is projecting their own prejudices and seeing something that isn't there.

John Fugelsang recently mentioned in an interview that people are addicted to umbrage. Here is a clear-cut example of that; being offended by subtext that is only there because it's being looked for.

There are plenty of offenses in the world to be outraged and indignant about without seeking them out by misreading between lines that don't exist.

[ edited by Penthos on 2015-05-04 14:48 ]
To be honest, I wasn't a fan of Natasha/Bruce at all. Prior to having seen the movie I was quite open to the idea but that's because I expected Joss to bring them closer in the actual movie instead of having most of their development happen off-screen. That's really quite poor writing and those kinds of shortcuts are becoming a tad too frequent in Joss's stories of late. It's starting to feel a bit sloppy and, well, lazy to just use time jumps to avoid putting in the necessary groundwork to show why a character/s are behaving like they are. And that's a real shame because whilst Joss's plotting has always been a little sloppy (and I think he's admitted to that more than once) his character work was always on point and was the strength of his writing. It feels like he's lost the patience to develop his characters organically so he uses a time jump to avoid having to do so.

Sure, Natasha and Bruce interacted a little in The Avengers but that means nothing. Far more screen time has been devoted to developing her relationship with Steve or Clint so that means very little. Simply talking to each other is not enough groundwork to suddenly have them completely infatuated and in love with one another in the next movie. Especially when The Winter Solider serves as a bridge between the two films and Natasha doesn't mention Bruce once. It just felt completely OOC to have Natasha making 'moon eyes' at Bruce and having the film treat them as if they've been a love story from the beginning. And it's a classic case of 'tell not show' when you had Joss attempt to retcon their relationship with Fury supposedly knowing that they'd fall in love all along.

If Joss had used AoU to bring the characters closer and slowly have them become interested in each other then I'd be completely onboard. But having them already 'in love' makes them feel completely OOC as it hadn't been developed in any of the other movies whatsoever. How did Natasha go from "love is for children" to falling head over heels for Bruce? Meh.

And I have to admit that I did find it very disappointing that Joss damseled Natasha. It felt very reductive that he picked the one female Avenger to be captured and in need of rescue (especially by her love interest). And I also thought certain lines like Natasha saying "meep, meep" as she sped through the city, whilst very Jossian, sounded rather OOC as well. I like Joss's dialogue as much as the next person but The Avengers aren't Buffy characters and you have to respect their characterisation from the other movies as well and how they speak. I remember Espenson saying in the commentary for Earshot that Joss once caught right away that she'd originally written a joke for one character but gave it to another because their voices were so distinct and you can't just do that. I feel he sort of broke his own rule here where the characters suddenly sound like they're in BtVS rather than how they're written in other Marvel films. And I LOVE BtVS but that was an original creation and you have to keep some semblance of continuity with the characterisation of these characters throughout the movies.

[ edited by vampmogs on 2015-05-04 14:47 ]
Diane Duane recently had a guest blog with a very interesting analysis of why the Marvel films are not properly promoting their female characters here .

To summarise the theory, Disney believes that its other movies have appealed to a predominantly female demographic and because of this it bought Marvel to appeal to a predominantly male one. Marvel is therefore being discouraged from producing female oriented movies and tie in products.

The only possible good thing that might come out of this is that it leaves a gap in the market that Joss could step into. For instance I'd love to see him do an X-men movie featuring an all female group.
Thread such as this one, with such emotion and intelligence are why I love this site. Please know that I think everyone has their own experience of a work and I respect those opinions. I suffered from these issues and have had miscarriages, as well as the wonder of giving birth and adopting. I found the scene, for me touching, because I do believe Natasha was sharing her vulnerability with someone she cared about. Society treats women who cannot/choose not to bear children as questionable. Natasha admitting that she felt these issues very deeply actually humanized her to me.

Joss's Bruce has always been a very human character. He has immense power but would rather just be a regular science guy. Natasha is ruthless - almost the least human of the group in her superpower. Perhaps, she is different in the comics. However, she has been portrayed as an unstoppable assassin in the movies. It made sense to me that she would be attracted to the most human of the group. I did not find that Bruce and Natasha were deeply in love. They seemed to care for and be attracted to each other and wanted to pursue a relationship. She shared her sterilization story so that Bruce understood that she too felt like a monster but wanted very human things. It did not mean that she was a monster or that Joss thinks she's a monster.

It's incredibly sad that our society forces women to question their identify if they face of the pain of not being able to have children or if they understand that they cannot have children. I was touched when Natasha shared her expirience because it was so very human and unexpected in a superhero film.

I did feel the inability of Natasha to break out of that pesky prison yet be able to SOS Clint was plain goofy. Now that was a reduction of power.

Most of the hate that I've seen on twitter is coming from shipping issues. I see this in the Supernatural fandom to an extreme. The hate that folks are willing to throw if they don't get their ship is diabolical. Really, why would anyone think shipping with Joss in charge would be easy and not painful? He will put together and tear apart any two people anywhere in the most cruel manner. And we love it here but maybe the rest of the world wasn't ready.
Everything hann23 said. I'm a sterile, middle-aged woman. I did not read that scene as equating sterility with being a monster, and I had much more of a problem with Nat being unable to free herself from a cage. Overall, I really enjoyed her part in AoU, including the abortive romance with Bruce. I wasn't a huge fan of her robbing him of agency by pushing him off a cliff, but it did seem in character for her.
Blackmarketbeagle and penthos,

It is helpful for me to hear that other people did not have the same interpretation I did. I do believe that I was not looking for something to take offense at; my expectations were to thoroughly enjoy this film and find rich, clever, subversive characterizations. I was very much taken aback by my reaction to this scene.

As for the interpretation itself, I've been trying to find a full quote of the conversation to better analyze my rationale. I may have to wait until I see the film again and bring a notepad (X-P). (That's an emoticon of tightly closed eyes and a tongue out).

To help you see where I'm coming from, so you can maybe see me as more rational, I can only rely for now on the specific words I know for sure were used. She says that she was sterilized, and then she uses the word monster (I believe the quote was "You're not the only monster").

This seems like a "THE DRESS" type situation at this point. We are each flabbergasted at how the other could misinterpret the colors so drastically, and cannot possibly envision the scene the other way. But I think we are picking up different context cues, so I am processing the scene as underexposed and you are viewing it as overexposed (without intent on either of our parts). I look forward to viewing the scene again, doing my best to see things your way, making my best effort to explain why I took umbrage, and being open to changing my mind and recanting my position.
Thanks, Trentaferd.

Re the "sterility == monsterism" argument, I confess I did not get that implication on first viewing, and still don't see that as the intent. But I'm not hearing it through the same set of ears as others for whom the topic is a personal one (and by its nature, deeply personal).

Should Joss and the Marvel editorial team have been more conscious of this possible interpretation? Well, maybe... but that opens up a world-sized can of worms. The whole point of drama is to animate deeply personal topics and evoke some sort of emotional response in the audience. If we're going to require that the creators of drama try to (a) anticipate all possible interpretations and (b) write around the potentially negative ones, we're going to have to wait many years, only to end up with some pretty weak dramatic arts.
@vampmogs: sure, Natasha's interest in Banner developed offscreen, but her reasons are shown in the movie. Mostly because Banner seems as surprised as we are, and actually asks her. She feels closer to him than to the other avengers because she thinks they're similar, and while she doesn't turn green, she was made into a killing machine against her will. It's likely she developed a stronger connexion to him while they developed the lullaby.
Just because the words "sterilized" and "monster" were used in the same paragraph does not mean that one caused the other.

Banner was telling her he couldn't be a father and have a family and kids, etc. That's when she shared with him that she couldn't either. Then she explained why by telling the story about the graduation "sterilization ceremony", an event that she's probably shared with very few people if any. She was telling him that its okay that he can't be a dad, because they have that in common. That's it, that's all...

The obvious reason for her to say she is a monster like him is because she too has done terrible things. She has killed many people. Been controlled and used as a tool for destruction, just like him. THAT's why they are both monsters, nothing more.

[ edited by Penthos on 2015-05-04 16:40 ]
I'd also like to mention that it is very easy for me to see the other interpretations an intentions of the dialogue. My gut reaction was that I wish those intentions had been better communicated.
I'm with hann23 and QingTing. It seemed clear to me that she feels like a monster because she was raised to be a killing machine and nothing else, and I thought the love story humanized her. And made it more meaningful that, in the end, she basically chose the mission over Bruce by pushing him over the cliff and making him hulk out against his will. However, I hated the locked-in-a-cage-waiting-to-be-rescued thing.
I would suggest that anyone who sees a connection is projecting their own prejudices and seeing something that isn't there.

I in no way think that Joss intended the lines to be read that way. But it doesn't mean people should be ridiculed for their interpretation. The fact is that the connection between childless women and monsters is all over the place culturally and socially. No story exists in a vacuum, so it's perfectly valid to view a story from the perspective of its cultural context. But as tomg says, the question of what writers should do about it, beyond becoming more aware, it a much more complicated one.

For the record, I did not form that interpretation while watching the scene. But I did consider that Black Widow was. The scene possibly could have been handled better, but I found it quite moving, revealing something very sad about how Natasha perceives herself.

[ edited by Bluelark on 2015-05-05 21:42 ]
I in no way want to invalidate another interpretation on this issue. Please know I wanted to share my experience and thoughts.
I thought she didn't escape from Ultron because she didn't want too, not that she couldn't. (Kind of like how she allowed herself to be caught by the Russian General guy from the first movie and was interogating him by allowing him to think she was his prisoner...) She used her skills to alert the others, but if she took off then Ultron would have been waiting for them. With her still in her cage he wouldn't think they knew where he was and she bought them time. I thought it was a tacticle move, not a damsel in distress one. But when they showed up what's the point of bothering with the lock if someone has an easier way to open the door?

ETA: I guess they could have had her just open the door when Bruce showed up to demonstrate she could have left at any time, but it's already been established it's kind of her thing.

[ edited by NYPinTA on 2015-05-04 17:51 ]
Oh, that's interesting, NYPinTA. Didn't even occur me... having her open the door herself would definitely have changed how I saw the scene.
Natasha saved the planet in the First Avengers by closing the wormhole to the Chitari. She saved 5 million lives in Cap 2 by disguising herself as the Council Women to take down Pierce. Then, in AOU she again saved the planet by stealing Vision's incubator thingy from the transport truck. If she doesn't stop Ultron from becoming Vision, the Avengers lose.

It is for those reasons and the fact that she has no "super powers" or "super suits", that she is the most badass of all the Avengers. It has nothing to do with gender.

Sure, it just so happens that in saving the planet for the second time, she got caught by the big bad guy, Ultron. Big deal. Sometimes people get caught, especially in high risk operations like she is always in. (Would you not agree that getting caught is a danger spies face?) It had nothing to do with gender and it doesn't mean she was "damseled". To even make that claim both flies in the face of, and diminishes the gravity of, all the things she has a accomplished in these films thus far.

As a liberal who was raised by a single, working-mom and now has a wife and two daughters, I gotta say, this whole thing is ludicrous. Black Widow continues to be one of the strongest characters in the MCU and it has NOTHING to do with gender.

Her only "weakness" is that she's human. Meaning occasionally she falls in love. And sometimes she gets captured by the bad guy. Things that on some level or another, all humans do.

Why must we read anything into it more than that?

[ edited by Penthos on 2015-05-04 18:58 ]

I am struggling to fight the impression that you are purposely misreading, misinterpreting, or mischaracterizing what I said. I know that is not the case, but it is hard for me to believe you read everything I wrote.

I was simply responding to this:

The "sterility == monster" interpretation didn't even occur to me when I watched that scene, and I still can't see how you get there. "Damaged", yes; the point Nat seemed to be making in that scene is that "damaged" isn't so bad and even brings them closer together. "Monster", nope.

That is disingenuous because the word monster was used. I relied on the words I can remember to explain how it would be possible to have that interpretation without my ideas being dismissed as follows:

The mere thought of that would be laughable if it weren't so absolutely eye-rollingly ludicrous.

I am basing a possible interpretation on some of the specific words used, but cannot remember all the words. Had I access to the full quote, I would provide a more thorough textual analysis. For now, I am trying to help you understand why that interpretation would be possible, while remaining open to alternate interpretations. Meanwhile, you are explicitly denying the possibility of my interpretation while mischaracterizing my position as absolute and based entirely on two words. Not to mention the ad hominem and petitio principii elements of this:

I would suggest that anyone who sees a connection is projecting their own prejudices and seeing something that isn't there.

John Fugelsang recently mentioned in an interview that people are addicted to umbrage. Here is a clear-cut example of that; being offended by subtext that is only there because it's being looked for.

There are plenty of offenses in the world to be outraged and indignant about without seeking them out by misreading between lines that don't exist.

I'm trying not to go on too long. My last notes:

1. I am not "offended." I believe that term is often used in a dismissive way, implying the only indictment being made is one of hurt feelings. On the contrary, if I were able to show that this were a valid (if unintended) reading, I would contend that this is a characterization that is harmful to social progression and justice.
2. I hoped this would be understood, but I must state that I completely do NOT believe the writer was intending the text to be read the way I interpreted it. I think the way you read the text is, in fact, aligned with the intention. But my position is that the intent was poorly communicated, and I will have to wait to review the full text so I can thoroughly explain my views.

The obvious reason for her to say she is a monster like him is because she too has done terrible things. She has killed many people. Been controlled and used as a tool for destruction, just like him. THAT's why they are both monsters, nothing more.

I agree, but if it is nothing more, why is the mention of her procedure necessary here? Why is her training as a murderer not dehumanizing enough?

[ edited by FornicusLordOfBondageAndPain on 2015-05-04 18:58 ]

[ edited by FornicusLordOfBondageAndPain on 2015-05-04 19:05 ]
The comments directed at Joss on twitter pissed me off too and reminded me why he probably stayed away from twitter for so long.

...And he has now quit Twitter. Too bad for us, but probably very good for him.
@fornicus these are your words that initiated my response:

Sure, it's possible to interpret the scene as not comparing sterility to being a monster. But it is definitely the easiest interpretation.

You are clearly saying the most obvious way to interpret the scene is that it is comparing sterility to being a monster.

I agree, but if it is nothing more, why is the mention of her procedure necessary here? Why is her training as a murderer not dehumanizing enough?

Because Banner was telling her he couldn't be a dad and have a family. So she explained to him why that didn't matter to her.

[ edited by Penthos on 2015-05-04 19:13 ]
I'll establish I'm a man and my wife and I have had two kids with no problems whatsoever getting pregnant. Outside of a couple of friends around us that have had a lot of trouble getting pregnant and others having miscarriages, these issue has not affected me.

When I watched that scene, my initial reaction was she was saying she was a monster because she couldn't have children any longer. I was kind of shocked to think that this was in a Joss directed movie.

After reading other people's reactions, I think the intent of the scene was to show she is still hung up on the red in her ledger she mentions in the first movie and considers herself a monster. I think she was telling that story to show she also could not have a family as another thing in common they had. IT was more to relate than to say sterile women are monsters.

I definitely believe the way that scene played out was horribly done. Maybe even adding a line such as her saying she can't have a family as well and because of her programming in the ballet studio, she's a monster too. I don't remember the exact words used, but it was like she said her graduation was the sterilization procedure and in the same breath or sentence that she was a monster as well.

It seems to me that the way it was edited put those two points into one thought when they should have had a separator. It's like Joss forgot a comma in the dialogue.
The mention of the procedure is to point out that she, like Banner, cannot have children. She is attempting to connect with Banner by sharing something they have in common. The fact they are "monsters" - she perhaps more than he, is in no way related to their ability to procreate.

Somewhere along the way, in an era where everything is targeted to a niche demographic, we have all succumb to the notion that everything must be designed for "us" It is staggering to me to read reactions where Joss is taken to task because he didn't take into account the feelings of people with fertility issues, people of Eastern European descent, people who demand women be used a certain way, etc.

I liked the movie quite a bit, but it wasn't perfect. It also didn't go out of its way to offend anyone - but that hasn't stopped people from airing their grievances anyway
@TallMichaelJ Well put. Obviously some people interpreted that scene in a way that was unintended. What bothers me is instead of just saying "well clearly that wasn't Joss's intention", some attack him and fault him for not writing it in a way that was more clear to THEM. Its to the point that Joss has now quit twitter completely.

Just because something CAN be interpreted in a bad way doesn't mean it should be. Instead of just assuming that our perception is correct we should look for an alternate perspective that makes more sense. Especially in this case when the writer is someone we know has a history of being on the correct side of women's issues.
"Let us not attribute to malice and cruelty what may be referred to less criminal motives. Do we not often afflict others undesignedly, and, from mere carelessness, neglect to relieve distress?" - Jane West "The Loyalists"

You are right, I did make the brash and subjective claim that my interpretation was the most obvious. I recant that statement.

Would you allow that my interpretation is at least possible for a rational person to have? Or do you still view my thoughts as "eye-rollingly ludicrous"?

To everyone dismissing any negative interpretations as being overly sensitive, regardless of how you feel about "POLITICAL CORRECTNESS," you cannot judge something purely on intent. There is a reason why sexual harassment law does not require that the harassment was intended for it to be unlawful. We can work based on the "reasonable person" standard, but all our words are as clanging cymbals until we have a full text to discuss.
I think LOUiE kind of sums up that scene best to me. I'd be willing to be there's plenty of cut footage that would've made the scene play a little better.

I'm a 30 years old single female, and still hasn't even decided whether or not I want kids, so I'm not emotionally attached to the issue at all either. I'm also one of the first to find it ridiculous when people 'read too much' into something or occasionally feel like people are looking for something to get offended by (though tend to discuss those issues with people with just thinking it's ridiculous, and discussing why I see it differently... not actually calling them ridiculous...). But when that 'missing a comma' set of lines happened, it definitely took me out of the movie for a moment and made me go 'wait, what??' And I came to the conclusion that of course she meant she was a monster for the things she's done, and that just she thinks of herself as a monster and not anyone else. But the fact that it was able to take someone as hard to offend as I am out of the moment, I can see it would be even harder for those that do have emotional ties to the issue. I do think it strange that people would think Joss intended that, but it doesn't seem like people here are saying that (that's more the outside of the whedonesque fold). That doesn't mean it didn't still play kind of strange, and we all know how Joss was super exhausted by the editing process, so I'm sure in his head he heard it how he wrote it, which would be how it could be easily missed...

I'm so bad at getting my point across, I'm starting to feel rambly again, but I hope I made myself clear...

Oh and one last note... what's the point of art anyway if we can't talk about how we feel about it both positive and negative? Yes some people are going overboard and placing blame in the wrong place (Joss vs the missing comma, but like I said it seems most people here know Joss wouldn't intend for that to be how it came across). And of course the people who are just flat out being mean about stuff... well that's why I often dislike the internet. And that's why I come here, because most people have the sense to not be mean about stuff.

Rambly again. Sorry

Ack, one last thing I wanted to say real quick, is that's a really good point NYPinTA. Wish it could've been shown better, and like many things in the movie, there's probably cut footage that makes that more clear.

[ edited by DreamRose311 on 2015-05-04 20:37 ]

Well and one more last thing, since it's a big part of the post in general, I was on board with the Nat and Bruce romance, with the exception (as many have said) of the weird 'did Fury know all along' thing. That was kinda strange. Definitely need to rewatch for that part alone to see if there was subtext I missed. I'm also kind of weirded out by comments on the article itself where people seemed to believe she had been 'paired up' with people in all the previous movies. Avengers made me want Nat and Barton be together, but it in no way made me think that was something that was definitely there...

[ edited by DreamRose311 on 2015-05-04 20:40 ]
Well, I guess I will just remain frustrated that this community is not as inclusive, open to dissent, allowing for personal perspective, aware of issues surrounding privilege, immune to ad hominem attacking (and ad hominem idolatry), better than begging the question, expecting of social subversion, artistically demanding, full of conviction, and respectful of minority opinions and life situations as I have believed it was for so long.

For so long we have all idolized a man whose writing is so subversive, so self-aware, so poignant and deep and eye-opening. We have had high expectations. And now that this man makes mainstream movies, I must just accept that there are other cooks in the kitchen, that the edges must be sanded and the writing must be homogenized, that we cannot bring our selves into the film but must view it as a work of pop fiction and not expect something more, that I have to take it at face value that because in the past he has said he is a feminist that he MUST not be intending what I am reading and there is NO reason to continue analyzing potential harmful subtext?

We are in a society that favors people with children. Fact. You get tax breaks that I do not get. You get time off work that I do not get. You have a day named for your family role. You are doing what is expected for a human to do. If I do not procreate, my family looks down on me. So a man with children makes a film, and I find subtext that I believe harms the position of people without children in society and propagates negative views, and another man with children tells me to shut up because I'm in the minority, that my reading of this text is laughable, that I must reevaluate my opinion because it doesn't make sense to him.

I have high expectations of art. Yes, I expect it to be sensitive of diverse positions and perspectives in society since I respect the creator so much. I expect it to challenge my thinking instead of taking the easy route. I expect to be able to tell the difference between it and a Michael Bay or McG film. I expect it to have equal representation of women. If it fails to exhort social change or challenge cultural norms, I will find that, to paraphrase Coulson, it lacks conviction. If you want to blame the studio, I would rather an artist I respect quit a film over these issues than make a work of shallow and homogenized fiction. I know all of you view these characters as deep and powerful, but I do not want to have to do the work to convince myself that these characters as fleshed out if they are not presented to me in that way.

Sorry, this is what I was trying to avoid doing. Sorry for my rant. Please ignore and move on.

Yes, obviously it's possible for people to see it that way because you and other's have said that's how you saw it.

What I don't understand is how someone could interpret it that way and not immediately say to themselves, "hmmm, this is Joss, given his track record on women's issues, maybe I'm taking this the wrong way."
Accidental offense is still offense. What Joss intended is not the problem here. The problem is that a decent percentage of people saw that scene and came away offended because the intent was not clear enough for everyone.

The people here at Whedonesque know that Joss likely never meant it the way it comes out, but 98% of the population has no idea what Joss does or does not think about these issues.
Again, people LOOKING for things to take umbrage with. A decent number of people interpreted it the negative way IMO because a decent number of people in the world are just walking around looking for things to offend them, things to take issue with.

[ edited by Penthos on 2015-05-04 20:54 ]
I feel like we're shouting over each other here while some of our posters are doing their best to explain why the sterilisation scene may or may not affected them in a certain way as a result of personal circumstances. So if we can listen to those stories instead of talking about the concept of offence then that would be appreciated.
I've been reading a bunch of these critiques with interest because I'd read the "monster" scene not as anyone saying not being able to have kids makes one a monster, but Natasha seeing her forced sterilization as the exclamation point on her having been sentenced to only ever being able to bring death, never life. It wasn't just that one thing, I thought, that made her think of herself as a monster, but her entire childhood of training which ended with that one thing.

I also think sometimes writers craft characters who have mistaken self-perceptions.

Anyway, I've been reading these critiques, and will keep doing so, because the reading of the scene coming from these critiques never even occurred to me.
It wasn't just that one thing, I thought, that made her think of herself as a monster, but her entire childhood of training which ended with that one thing.

I took that line to have the same meaning. That scene and that line made sense to me because they're standing in Hawkeye's house, in the middle of the secret family life most of the team didn't know about, with his two kids and pregnant wife. And here are Natasha and Bruce, very unsure of each other, of their continuation within the Avengers, and their choices in regard to one another. The other thing they have in common is that they can't have what Hawkeye has. It's been bothering Natasha since the confrontation with Scarlet Witch, and this moment of vulnerability brings it out. It's not infertility that makes them monsters, but it does add another layer of powerful loss and emotional resonance to that feeling that they are monsters. It feels like other paths are closed. And in Natasha's case, that was deliberately carried out - so she could kill with full focus. So she could be a better monster.
I have to be honest and say that the scene between Bruce and Natasha and the "monster" reference didn't even phase me (ETA: as commentary that her not being able to had children is what she meant by monster). I assumed she meant all of what was done to her and that in her mind she carries all the guilt for what she was turned into, despite the fact she was brainwashed since childhood. She still had some autonomy apparently as we see in the flashbacks. I think her nightmare was that she fears maybe a part of her wanted to be a Black Widow and allowed it to happen. Hence: monster.

Second edit: or basically what Sunfire just said.

[ edited by NYPinTA on 2015-05-04 21:27 ]

[ edited by NYPinTA on 2015-05-04 21:30 ]
... I find subtext that I believe harms the position of people without children in society and propagates negative views ...

Well, there you go. If this is the kind of negative hyperbole that "fans" are posting on Whedonesque, I can only imagine what they are saying on twitter. No wonder Joss deleted his account.

[ edited by Penthos on 2015-05-05 13:29 ]
Perhaps you didn't see Simon's warning before, Penthos. Stick to discussing the film, not what other people should or shouldn't be offended by.
I just wanted to briefly add my voice to the list who initially interpreted that scene problematically. I don't believe it was intended that way, and I don't really think any less of either Joss or the film as a result, but it did pull me out of the film for a moment until I did a quick reinterpretation and settled back in.

I had some other things written, but they're not really in keeping with the direction the mods are trying to take the discussion. Suffice it to say that I think some vulnerable people have been treated appallingly in this thread.

Just my $0.02
Well said, and thank you vocalnick. I have to say, I fell in love with Buffy in 1999 and have been following all of Joss' projects since then. And I have been a Marvel fan since the mid/late 90s. Cap2, GotG, s2 of AoS and Agent Carter have been on fire, so I was looking forward very much to AoU. That scene just brought up some stuff that I thought I've come to terms with.

Joss did do some amazing things with Romanoff; they were subtle and a lot of it got hidden behind her budding relationship with Banner which was pushed to the forefront. Of course I know Joss did not intend that scene to come off equating sterilization with feeling like a monster. This movie was jammed packed with a lot of plot and contained 9 superheroes, and I think this scene along with a few others could have benefited greatly if the movie was 15 minutes longer.
vocalnick, you said exactly what I was trying to say, only way better and more concisely :)
Clearly in order to get to the bottom of this discussion, we're all going to have to go see the movie again to freshen the scene in our minds ;)
Work, work, work.
I've added an interesting alternative to the entry.
Thanks for that, Simon. Alyssa seems to have watched the same movie I saw twice. Nice to know others saw it too. :)
So, I watched the movie three times and this is my overall impression of AoU, Natasha's characterization and Bruce/Natasha pairing based on the previous MCU movies and shows and most of the Earth-616 Marvel comics from roughly the 2000s to present day that I've read. I'm going to use Angel and Buffyverse as an analogy:

I love Cordelia Chase, she has one of the best character arcs in the Buffyverse, right up there with Wes, Spike and Willow, IMHO. However, I felt that the 4th season of Angel Cordelia was way out of character. In fact I prefer vapid snarky Buffy Cordelia over how she was presented in the 4th season of Angel. On top of that, I felt like the Cordelia and Connor relationship came out of nowhere. There was no build up (and it is icky considering Cordy's relationship to Angel in the 3rd season and given Connor's parents). With that said, I overall enjoyed the 4th season of Angel. Wesley's story was amazing. Loved seeing Angelus, Willow, and Faith. I loved the dynamic between Gunn, Fred and Wes. While I felt like Cordelia in the 4th season was a hot mess, "You're Welcome" was a magnificent episode that rectified her character in my eyes. And none of this takes away from the other 4 season of Angel nor does it take away anything from Cordy's overall journey/progression.

I could go into much more detail, but I'm going to leave it at that unless someone wants me to elaborate.
I saw this post on Tumblr and felt it expressed some stuff I was thinking and then makes a really good point at the end.
I saw that yesterday. I think it's a very good point.
The one true b!x, thank you for that link. It makes a great point, and I think it addresses the largest issue Marvel is having: diversity. The fact that there are so few poc and women outside of the TV shows, means that fans look at a character that looks like them to identify with. I still feel the movie suffered from being so tightly packed with content, though. The material was great , but it felt rushed.
All I saw was Natasha being assertive about a relationship she felt strongly for. My wife identified a lot with it, she was a little like Natasha when we first met (17 years ago) and I was a bit of a dork as she put it, I still am. Plus, my wife thinks my personality is a little bit like Banner's. My years with her have been the best years of my life.

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