Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Father Knows Beast

So I understand the Steelers lost in the Super Bowl. Sizeable Benjamin did not, as the blogger whom I mentioned in a previous post hoped, get his legs broken, but perhaps it would have been better for his team if he had; I hear he played very poorly. The city of Pittsburgh was briefly traumatized (I could tell from the absence of hoots and cheers outside my window Sunday night), but now everything appears to have returned to normalcy. Life goes on.

In my case, life was never interrupted; I spent the Super Bowl grading papers and watching Iron Man. Interesting film, though it's disturbing how its apparent critique of militarism turns into a critique of supplying arms to the bad guys (and thus, in the end, into a promotion of militarism on the part of the good guys). It was also intriguing for its use of a theme I've noticed in a number of fantasy films, where the father either is a monster or consorts with monsters. You see it in Iron Man when Tony Stark's surrogate father, Obidiah Stain, turns out to be the supplier of arms to the bad guys (and, later, dons the Iron Monger suit for a face-off with his estranged "son," Iron Man). You see it in The Spiderwick Chronicles, where the father, having deserted his family for some other woman, later returns to apologize--but it turns out he's actually the arch-villain, the shape-shifting ogre Mulgarath, in disguise. You see it in the Jurassic Park movies, where a bunch of childless, irresponsible men sic monstrous dinosaurs on innocent children. You even see it in Terminator 2, where the fatherless John Connor is both pursued and saved by Terminators posing as guardians. I'm sure I could multiply examples, but I think you get the point.

There's a very lengthy critical literature on the representation of the "monstrous-feminine," psychoanalytic critic Barbara Creed's term for the feminization of movie monsters. Supposedly, this has to do with men's universal fear of female genitalia, the vagina dentata, and all that. (Creed has a field day with the mouth-inside-a-mouth of the Alien monsters.) I'm sure there's something to this, but I prefer to read gendered monsters sociologically, to ask what cultural anxieties and desires underlie the representation of monsters as voracious moms or dastardly dads. For those interested in learning more, there's always my book Framing Monsters. Alternatively, you can pop any of the Star Wars movies into the DVD player and learn all you need to know for yourself.

Of course, we could also talk about the football quarterback as failed father-figure, but perhaps we'll save that for another time.

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