Traditional Masculinity with Larry Correia

After all the nonsense we’ve heard in the news lately about ‘toxic masculinity,’ a restorative seems in order. To that end, I offer another fisk by the incomparable Larry Correia. In this one, Mr. Correia tears into a painfully ignorant and narrow-minded piece listing ‘obsolete’ male skills and in the process demonstrates what real manhood looks like.

As always with Mr. Correia, language advisory: he puts the lie to the idea that manly men hide their feelings.

I particularly appreciate the section where the author lists ‘fighting’ as an obsolete skill. Needless to say, this brings out the brutal truth:

It’s a pretty common conception that at the root of every male confrontation is the possibility of physical violence.

If by “common conception” you mean what we’ve learned from all of human history and human nature, no ****, Sherlock. 

Road rage incidents, bar standoffs, most guys have found themselves in a situation that felt like a prelude to fisticuffs.

That’s because whether you like it or not the world has many violent, predatory ***holes in it.

And in a violent dog-eat-dog world, there’s a certain logic to that approach.

There is a great deal of logic to it, unless you have a magic wand that can make murder vanish. In the meantime you can either be prepared to defend yourself or you can just be a victim.

But how many of those situations actually evolve into a fight?

Trust me. One is enough.

And why should any of them?

Because the other ***hole gets a vote too.

Physical fighting literally doesn’t solve anything — it just leaves people angry and bruised, or worse.

BULL-F******-S***.  That is some sheltered, Pollyanna, Kumbaya singing, wishful thinking, delusional nonsense right there. That attitude is the most “white privilege”, ivory tower, I Live In A Gated Community, nonsense I know of.  And I think the very concept of “white privilege” is idiotic, but if it exists, it’s that **** right there.

There are evil people in the world. And I’m not talking about the car mechanic who called Ian a sissy. There are murderers, rapists, terrorists, and people who want to hurt you just because it makes them happy to see you bleed. In addition to those actual evil people, you’ve got morons, who sometimes do stupid **** that gets out of control.  

People who claim violence never solve anything are profoundly, painfully ignorant of the world. Violence solves lots of things. It doesn’t solve them pretty, but it solves them.

Bad things happen. Period. You might win the lottery and never have a violent encounter in your life. But if you do, then having some measure of knowledge and skill to keep from having your skull caved in is mighty handy.

Instead, Learn How to Mediate

Problem-solving with an eye to compromise and healthy conflict resolution is something that, by and large, men just aren’t taught growing up.

An absolute lie.

I grew up rural poor, surrounded by men with what the APA would surely say are guilty of “toxic masculinity”, and though we learned to fight, we ALSO learned how not to. And it mattered MORE, because we were dealing with strong people who could really **** you up when it mattered.

That’s one of the reasons many of us are so quick to start swinging or shoving rather than handling things with our words.

Ian is projecting. 

In reality, guys who know how to really fight, also know how badly injured the human body can be by a proper strike to the head, or a bad fall. And so we tend to avoid pointless conflict.

If I may add: as someone who has about twenty-years martial arts experience under his belt, I can testify that it is usually the morons who never actually learn to fight, or who take the pretty, show-off style classes who talk about violence as if it were a game. The people who actually spend time sparring, going back and forth with rubber knives, and practicing how to hurt someone know better. How many of those antifa types or the people calling for violent “resistance” do you think have ever actually been punched in the face, let alone been shot at? My guess is not many. Not that there aren’t exceptions, but in my experience those who have the best idea of how to hurt someone are also among the least willing to start a fight over something stupid.

But then again, it also tends to be the sheltered and the naive who parrot the idiotic ‘violence never solves anything’ line and talk as though ‘mediation’ with a predator or a coked up lunatic were possible because they have no idea what reality is really like.

Anyway, read the rest and enjoy the sight of some ‘traditional masculinity’ in action.

An Aqua-Fisk

Last weekend I got out to see Aquaman. It was incredibly stupid and absolutely ridiculous in a lot of ways, but I enjoyed it a lot. Certainly, I much prefer over-the-top dumb-fun like this to self-consciously grim garbage like Man of Steel.

Then I happened across this review which I thought was so off-point that I had to write something about it. As usual, original in italics, my response in bold. 

No, yes, please, let us continue the tradition of telling stories about men who proudly don’t care about anything thrust into positions of power and authority purely by dint of birthright. I mean, as long as they have some smart, dedicated, noble-minded women around to support them and guide them and show them the way to wise manhood, that’s fine, right? Like, maybe some women who have been working toward whatever lofty goals the man will eventually “achieve” even though he’s just arrived on the scene and, as previously noted, couldn’t give a shit about the things they will now step aside and let him take all the credit for.

Well, we’re off to a great start; a ‘tradition’ that, as far as I can tell, you would have to really look for and stretch things to identify, and which is in any case depends on putting who achieves something over what is achieved. And, really? This is what she gleans from the film? We’ll come back to this.  

I certainly cannot see any way in which this recurring cultural narrative could have any negative impact on the world.

            Huh. I wonder whether she’d have a similar reaction to the recurring cultural narrative that, say, capitalists are heartless, greedy monsters who only desire to exploit workers for their own gain? Because I’m pretty sure that narrative has had a negative impact on the world. But never mind; pray continue.

 So here we have Aquaman, about a fish-man, Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa: Justice League, The Bad Batch), who is half human and half Atlantean… as in the ancient underwater realm of Atlantis. He can breathe underwater, see even at depth in the dark ocean, swim superfast, and communicate with the animals of the seas. (For some reason he is also superstrong, because, I dunno, fish are unreasonably brawny?)

            This is explained in the film: Atlanteans are much stronger and more durable than normal humans because they’re built to survive under thousands of pounds of oceanic pressure. It’s easy enough to miss, I suppose, but it’s only the first sign that she didn’t really pay much attention to the film.

And his Atlantean half is not just any-old peasant, either: His mother, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman: The Beguiled, Big Little Lies), was queen of Atlantis, though not a willing one, so she ran away, had a kid with a human man (Temuera Morrison: Moana, Green Lantern), and then got dragged back again. Now, another unwilling queen, Mera (Amber Heard: The Danish Girl, Magic Mike XXL), comes to the human world, the surface world, to bring Arthur back to Atlantis because his half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson: The Commuter, The Founder), is up to no good and must be stopped, and apparently only Arthur can stop him, by taking up the throne of Atlantis. Mera can’t stop Orm, even though she seems to be secretly part of a resistance against him. She’s just a girl, after all.

             Okay, let’s address this. Mera (who is a princess, by the way, not a queen) cannot stop Orm because he is the legitimate king of Atlantis. She’s Princess of a smaller kingdom, which is ruled by her father, who is in league with Orm. Thus, she really has no way of stopping him; she can’t depose both him and her own father, and if she tried the people would revolt against her. The plan, therefore, is to bring in Arthur, who, being first born, actually has a better claim to the throne than Orm. However, since he’s an outsider and half-human, the only way the people will accept him is if he brings a very clear symbol of his right to rule in the form of the lost trident.

            It’s a little convoluted, and I’m not sure if it all holds together, but it’s all there. They’re doing what actually would be done in a real monarchy if the King were out of control: finding an alternative claimant and convincing the populace that he has a better right to the throne. This isn’t Black Panther where an obviously psychotic outsider can just show up, take the crown, and the entire country instantly gets behind him: the characters have to take things like legitimacy, local customs, and the will of the people into account (yes, Aquaman is a smarter film than Black Panther, and yes, I do like picking on that film).

Here is another recurring cultural narrative that by all means must endure, and that surely isn’t doing any damage whatsoever:

Okay, what is your definition of ‘damage’? Do you want to cite anything objective here, any actual incidences of real harm being done to real people by the things you’re complaining about? Put up, or actually tell me something about the darn film rather than your socio-political paranoia. 

science fiction and fantasy stories — of which Aquaman is arguably a bit of both — told by men — the screenwriters here are director James Wan and three other guys —

Wow, nice little gratuitous bit of misandry there.

that feature wildly inventive alternate worlds full of magic and wonder and all manner of fanciful places and creatures… and is just as f***ing sexist as the real world.

          And what, specifically, in this film was ‘sexist’ by her definition? I mean, I can see her thinking that the fact that Atlantis has arranged marriages, at least among royalty, is sexist (though Mera actually points out to Arthur that there are reasons for it), but what else? Mera’s a tough, capable heroine, very powerful, and saves Arthur’s life more than once, as well as being generally smarter and more on the ball than he is. Heck, I thought they went too far in that regard and would have preferred if she’d needed to be rescued at least once, just to balance things out a bit.

The limits to the imagination at play here are shocking but tediously predictable. God forbid we should enrage the fanboys who would howl should any hint of social-justice warfare edge into their fish-man-who-would-be-king story.

Okay, let’s deal with this. First, the only limits to the imagination I see here are her attacking a film for daring to show a culture that doesn’t work like modern upper-class America. That’s if her complaints mean anything at all beyond that she just didn’t watch the film very closely. The movie being willing to present a monarchical society, complete with arranged marriages and clear distinctions between high and low-born shows a refreshing freedom of imagination: a willingness to not be restrained too much by the rigid standards of the present culture. Nor do I think any reasonable person would look at this film, with its fantastic monsters, characters, and environments, and conclude “lack of imagination” simply because it doesn’t regurgitate the same tired political talking points you can find literally everywhere these days.

            Yes, ‘social justice warfare’ does not belong in an ‘Aquaman’ film; it does not represent a lack of imagination, but awareness on the part of the filmmakers of what their job is. People do not like be lectured when they go to see a fantasy film: they don’t want to see their favorite hero turned into yet-another mouthpiece for telling them why they should be ashamed of themselves for existing. Again, they can get that literally anywhere else anytime they want it; it does not belong in a superhero movie.

 Which, they may all rest assured, has not happened at all. Unless there is something objectionable in the non-blond-Aryan Momoa — who is partly of Native Hawaiian and Native American descent — in the lead role? (*Googles* Yup, some people think so.)

Why the heck did she bring this up?

            Yes, when you cast someone who looks completely different from the original character, some people are not going to like it. I’m sure you could find some people who even were legitimately racist in their reaction to it (it’s the internet; you can find anything). But why mention it, especially in context of the surrounding points? The best I can tell is that she means it as an insult to those she so contemptuously describes as ‘fan boys,’ implying they are racists as well as sexists and generally insufficiently woke.

            But here’s the thing; the ‘fan boys’ obviously liked the film, since any doubts about Mr. Momoa in the role clearly haven’t hurt the box office or prevented the film from making a billion dollars.

            Look at what she is doing: she complains that the film is politically regressive, and that those who like the film hate social justice, then to support that she cites fans who had a problem with Jason Momoa’s casting. But that would be a reason for people not to like the film. She is equating two separate groups: those who liked the film and consequently were okay with its ‘sexist’ politics, and those who didn’t like it based on the choice of Mr. Momoa in the title role.

This is one of the main reasons I wanted to do this fisk, because this is quite frankly disgusting; she’s gratuitously attacking a huge number of people (those who liked the film) for no reason by snidely linking them to views they very obviously do no hold.

Indeed, even Aquaman’s nominally pro-environmental angle doesn’t dare to say anything even slightly radical. The badness of King Orm is all about how he wants to lead a war against the surface world because we’ve been dumping all our garbage in his ocean since forever, and just generally doing our best to destroy the planet, and it’s pretty difficult to fault him for this.

             Wait, she thinks a world war and mass-murder is an acceptable punishment for pollution?

But Arthur, straddling the two worlds as he does, can prevent this, apparently… and so Aquaman ends up reassuring us polluting humans that we don’t have to change our ways and clean up our act — literally or figuratively — because the half-human guy will make it all better and save us from suffering any consequences for our crimes. 

            Arthur’s role is to be a mediator, with the point that both sides have a mistaken view of the other (as explicitly shown in Mera’s rant against the surface world: even heroic Atlanteans are prejudiced and dismissive of the surface), but he is able to see things from both points of view. And ‘crime’ is a bit of a stretch for pollution, don’t you think? Obviously she doesn’t.

There is no suspense in anything here, and so no real sense of triumph even when we’re meant to be cheering. It barely even registers when Arthur morphs every so slightly from a guy who might engage in some light maritime rescuing, even though it means missing happy hour, to a guy who is no longer scoffing at the “fairy tales” that indicate he is the rightful ruler of Atlantis. (He has to find a legendary trident and publicly wield it. Not pull a sword from a stone and publicly wield it. Totally different thing. King of the who?) 

            They explicitly made that connection in the film. It’s very obviously intentional. That’s not a criticism.            

Of course some of what he has to do involves dick-measuring hand-to-hand combat with his half brother, or with other manly obstacles, and for a guy who thinks with his muscles, that’s just fun.

            More misandric comments, and it’s an action film with a male lead; what does she expect? This isn’t a criticism, this is just smugness.

 He’s not particularly challenged by anything that happens to him. He doesn’t struggle. As long as Arthur gets to keep being the same old pretty but colorless meathead (spoiler: he does), it makes no difference to him.

            No, he has a huge moment of crisis when he realizes that he’s endangered the people he cares about because he made a bad decision earlier in the film. It’s not brilliantly done, but it’s not nothing. Again, I get the impression she didn’t really watch the film.

            Arthur’s actually a pretty decently developed character; he acts like a meathead most of the time, but underneath is shown to be pretty intelligent and feels strongly for the people in his life, but he runs from this side of him because he doesn’t want anything to do with Atlantis, since they killed his mother just for having him. His coming to terms with this and becoming a king capable of mercy and moderation comprises his development. All this is established in the film. Again, it’s not perfectly done, but it’s not nothing.

What else is there? A lot of imagery of the high-tech underwater realms, especially the city of Atlantis, that seems inspired by 80s mall-store black-light posters. (Hello, Spencer Gifts!) Jarring detours down an Indiana Jones/Dan Brown tangent, then another into a Lost Continent realm. (This movie is trying to be a lot of movies all at once, and it doesn’t work.) Undersea action sequences — big battles, chases — in which director Wan (The Conjuring 2, Insidious) offers us no sense of geography or space, no sense of who most of the characters involved are, and so they just mush together into a lot of noise and psychedelic chaos.

            And here we finally get a legitimate criticism; the big battle scene at the end is pretty hard to follow, except that a lot of stuff is going on and a lot of people are getting killed, but where our characters are is kind of lost in the shuffle.

            The sudden shifts to Indiana Jones and the Lost Continent are a little strange, and you could cite them as a problem, though I enjoyed them, personally; I thought it was tonally consistent with the madcap fantasy world of Atlantis, as set early on in the film.

I don’t know why she’s complaining about the look of Atlantis: just likening it to ‘black light poster’ doesn’t tell me anything. Is it inconsistent with what Atlantis is supposed to be? Aesthetically ugly? Thematically inappropriate? I thought it was fine; reminiscent of both Ancient Greek architecture and bioluminescence, with a high-tech sheen. Pretty much perfectly fitting for Atlantis. Is it the best possible Atlantis? No, but I don’t think the visuals can be legitimately cited as a criticism; the film looks great. There are a lot of very impressive, very creatively filmed scenes. You could argue the CG is a bit much, but that’s about it.

This is part of the problem: even when she cites legitimate flaws, she doesn’t seem to be giving the film an honest hearing; she’s just citing everything as a flaw, apparently because she didn’t like the politics. This ‘review’ doesn’t seem like an attempt to say what works and doesn’t work in the film, but to vent her spleen on something she took offense at.

There’s a human villain trying to kill Arthur, but when Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: Boundaries, Baywatch) — who is hellbent to get revenge on “the Aquaman” for a thing Arthur did — has a chance to shoot Arthur, literally has Arthur in his sights, he fails to do so. (It’s much worse than the typical movie trope of the bad guy who fails to take the opportunity to kill the good guy: there’s no feint toward giving Manta a reason to hesitate. He’s not even monologuing at the time!)

I don’t know what specific moment she’s talking about here, but I distinctly remember Black Manta nailing Arthur with his lasers at least once, not to mention stabbing and slicing him several times. So, maybe this is a legit criticism, but…I wouldn’t bet on it.

When Aquaman isn’t an incoherent mess, it’s little more than Jason Momoa standing around smirking or Amber Heard shifting instantly from disgust of Arthur to adoration of him. Which is barely any better.

Aquaman is not a great film; I don’t think I’d even call it a good one. It’s got a large number of plot holes, questionable moments, laughable mistakes, and it goes on for probably about a half-hour too long. This ‘review,’ on the other hand, is a single paragraph of substandard film criticism stuck onto the end of a nonsensical rant about progressive politics.

            There are a lot of positives in the film: Arthur’s character and Mr. Momoa’s performance, Black Manta, Arthur’s relationship with his father, the visuals and creativity, the fact that Orm is allowed to have an honest and human reason for hating Arthur (he blames him for their mother’s death), Mera overcoming her prejudice of the surface world, the camerawork, all of these things are honestly well-done. She doesn’t mention any of them.

There are a lot of other things that could be argued one way or another, and likewise a lot of flaws: the question of why Orm needs to hire Black Manta to go after Arthur, and how he’s able to tinker with ultra-advance Atlantean tech to build his helmet (and why they allow him to do so), the fact that the arena battle is almost completely unnecessary to the story, the question of how Arthur and Mera hiked out of the desert, Manta’s father firing a grenade-launcher inside a submarine with no repercussions until he hits a torpedo, the cringeworthy inspirational speeches, and so on. But she doesn’t mention any of these either.

Again, this isn’t a review, it’s a rant: she doesn’t like that the film doesn’t go out of its way to promote her favored politics, so nothing it does is right, and she sprinkles it with gratuitous insults towards the filmmakers and fans.

Chesterton said that a good book tells us the truth of its characters, while a bad one tells us the truth of its author. I think that goes double for reviews.

A Matt Walsh Fisk On Superheroes

At present the distinction [between highbrow and lowbrow books] is certainly used to allow us the satisfaction of despising certain authors and readers without imposing on us the labour of showing that they are bad.
— C. S. Lewis, High and Low Brows.

Matt Walsh is one of my favorite commentators. There are few people who have a stronger grasp of social and moral matters in contemporary America, or who are more direct at getting to the heart of them.

Unfortunately, he has a blindspot: whenever he talks on entertainment or pop culture issues, he’s awful. Because when it comes to those topics he not only does not know what he is talking about, but very clearly has zero respect for them. Now, there’d be nothing really wrong with that, except that he sometimes tries to write about them. And when he does the same boldness that serves him so well on subjects he knows causes him to make an absolute fool himself when it comes to subjects he doesn’t.

I noticed this first in an extremely ignorant essay linking violent video games with mass shootings. Now, you can make that connection, but the trouble is that Mr. Walsh very clearly knows nothing about video games apart from what he’s read on news websites and filled it with broadsides against the medium itself. It was followed by an embarrassing ‘clarification’ in which he attempted to claim nuance that he may have intended, but which had certainly not made it into the original article (e.g. he claimed he distinguished between ‘violence’ and ‘gratuitous violence,’ when he qualified violence twice with simple adjectives and never made any such distinction).

Now he makes an entirely unnecessary attack on superhero films, which is one of the worst things I’ve ever read from him. So, because I expect better of him, and because I think it illustrates a mistake that’s easy to fall into, I’m giving it the fisk treatment. His comments are in italics, mind in bold.

Almost Every Superhero Movie Is Terrible And It’s Time For Moviegoers To Awaken to This Fact

            That’s, shall we say, a bold statement, one that would be very hard to back up. Saying “it’s time for moviegoers to awaken to this fact” sets an unnecessarily aggressive (not to say arrogant) tone, while also raising the question of why, exactly, granting the premise that most superhero movies are terrible, it is so important for moviegoers to ‘awaken’ to this ‘fact’.

            But I don’t want to harp on this too much, knowing from experience that writers don’t always pick their titles.

“Aquaman” will be in theaters in two weeks. This is very fortunate because it has been almost 30 seconds since the last superhero movie was released. We cannot be expected to wait so long. The American people have, apparently, an unquenchable thirst for superhero movies, despite the fact that they are all exactly the same and they primarily exist to sell merchandise. These films are basically 95 minute Mattel commercials, only with less plot and worse acting.

 Okay, first point is a sarcastic hyperbole of how many superhero films there seem to be these days, and an accurate comment that there is a very clear market for these kinds of films. An interesting piece might be written on this; what is it about this particular genre that would so appeal to people in today’s day and age, why do other genres seem to be floundering, and how does this relate to the history of the industry and people’s changing tastes (and it should be noted that superhero films are far from the first genre to experience a glut of popularity like this).

But rather than dealing with any of that, he immediately launches into an attack, saying “they are all exactly the same and primarily exist to sell merchandise.”

Regarding the latter point, the merchandise; it’s a cheap shot that requires backing up, akin to calling something ‘racist.’ All films are made in the hopes that they will make money; many films also have merchandising tie-ins these days. This, in itself, has zero bearing on their quality. In order to make this into a meaningful criticism you would have to show that the film is structured in such a way that merchandising was very clearly placed before story.

An example of that would be the porgs in The Last Jedi. They serve no purpose in the plot, and their antics are often tonally at odds with the surrounding scene, yet they continue to show up at regular intervals long past the point where even their tenuous justification has ceased. This is not the case in the majority of superhero films.

As for saying they are all the same, that is a common complaint of the Marvel films, and to a lesser extent the DCEU, though I think it is overblown. Yes, there is commonality of tone and style across the films, which is exactly what you would expect from a single franchise, and yes some within the framework are very similar, arguably too similar. But Ant-Man is not the same film as Captain America: Civil War, which is not the same film as Guardians of the Galaxy. Even going back to the initial few films, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America were all distinct in tone and style.

The thing is, all genres and subgenres have common elements, and, if you wanted, you could describe them as being “all the same.” All westerns are the same, all musicals are the same, all war movies are the same, all detective novels are the same, and so on. But this doesn’t actually tell you anything about the genre; it’s just a stock insult applied by people who do not enjoy or respect the form.

Also, ‘worse acting?’ In what universe is, say, Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in Civil War or Heath Ledger’s in The Dark Knight considered bad acting? What about Josh Brolin in Infinity War, or Michael Keaton in Spider-Man: Homecoming? See, this is part of the problem: he does not know what he is talking about, but he is throwing insults based purely on his assumptions.

We’re going to come back to this.

I am being generous by saying “less plot,” because that implies the basic existence of plot. Superhero movies in the 90’s were merely light on plot. Superhero movies these days are entirely plotless.

Again, simply not true, as he would know if he actually took the trouble to give a modicum of respect to his subject matter (also, what superhero films in the 1990s? There weren’t very many of them, and by and large – Steel, the Schumacher Batman films, etc. – they were objectively far worse than the ones we get now. The big superhero push didn’t really get started until Blade -1998 – and X-Men – 2000. Again, he shows that he is talking at random about something he does not have any real knowledge of).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines plot as: “The main events of a play, novel, film, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.” Thus, the plot of The Lord of the Rings would be “Frodo the Hobbit attempts to destroy the Ring of Power before the Dark Lord Sauron can recover it.” The plot of The Odyssey would be “Odysseus and his men attempt to return home following the Trojan War, while the angry god Poseidon seeks to prevent it.”

Clearly, most superhero films do in fact have a plot: the plot of Ant-Man and the Wasp would be, “Doctor Pym tries to use technology accessing the Quantum Realm to save his long-lost wife while keeping it out of the hands of his enemies.” The plot of Avengers: Infinity War would be, “The fanatic Thanos attempts to recover the six Infinity Stones in order to reduce the universe’s population by half while the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy attempt to stop him.”

The point is that it is simply inaccurate to say that superhero films are plotless, and again an act of complete dismissal. He is entitled to dislike the genre himself, but I have to wonder why he felt the need to announce his dismissal to the world, since we are not even two paragraphs in and he’s already shown both complete ignorance of and complete contempt for his subject. 

The advent of franchise filmmaking and “world building” has turned every movie into a set-up for the next movie, which itself is a set-up for the next one, on and on into the infinite abyss. Nothing can ever really happen. There can be no substantial progress, no final resolution, no real triumph or defeat. You may as well pay 18 dollars to watch Iron Man play solitaire for two hours. It’s the same thing in the end.

 The point about each film being merely a set-up for the next is a potentially accurate criticism of the ‘shared universe’ model of popular entertainment. But he has not demonstrated this by fact or example, nor will he. I won’t even go into pointing out how wrong he is in fact, nor the question of what would qualify for “nothing ever really happens,” except that his point is particularly galling considering that this is the genre that just produced Infinity War.

Ten thousand years from now, as the next installment of the Avengers saga is released to the screens we will all have permanently implanted in our eyeballs, philosophers will be debating whether these superhero franchises even had a beginning at all. They may well conclude that there was no prime mover, no first cause, in the Marvel and DC universe. These movies have always existed, telling the exact same stories, with the exact same actors, since before the beginning of time itself.

             Here he makes a sarcastic joke, which again is undermined by his complete ignorance of his subject and repeating the nonsense of ‘the exact same stories,’ only now with ‘the exact same actors,’ which is just strange: does he expect the same character the be played by a different actor in subsequent films?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate superheros. I have nothing against a fanciful tale about a man in a rubber suit fighting bad guys who, through approximately 20 million story arcs, still have not thought to simply walk up to their nemesis and shoot him directly in the face.

           He says he doesn’t hate superheroes, then gives a completely dismissive summation of the genre. This is what we call ‘immediate self contradiction.’

 I’m no expert on Marvel or DC mythology but I’m pretty sure a bullet to the face would dispatch almost all of the heroes in either universe. Except Superman, of course, who is essentially just a deus ex machina with a cape.

             I believe the audience has already figured out he’s ‘no expert.’ When he admits he’s own ignorance then says he’s “pretty sure” that there’s this one gapping plot hole in all superhero stories, it again makes me wonder why he thought writing this essay was in any way a good idea.

            And again, I’m not going to point out how wrong this assertion is, because my point is less about why superhero films are good than about why this essay is bad.

In any case, as I said, I don’t hate these movies. I just realize that they are bland and empty and stupid, and I don’t need them injected directly into my veins. 

            Again the immediate self-contradiction: you might as well say “I don’t hate professional sports, I just realize that they’re empty, pointless, and stupid and don’t need to waste my time watching someone else play a game.”

            Also, note that he says “I realize,” as if it’s an established fact, when he’s not come within a country mile of anything that could be considered a fact about these movies.

One of the things that gall me is that I know that if he found someone directing this level of ‘criticism’ against something he cared about, he would tear them to shreds. 

 It seems I was born without a superhero-sized hole in my soul that can only be filled with a never ending onslaught of comic book films. Perhaps I had such a hole when I was 12, but it has since been closed. 

            More contempt, now mixed with implied insults to those who enjoy these films.

If I have an insatiable appetite for any kind of movie in my old age, it would be that particular genre where Liam Neeson is a grizzled ex-FBI agent/assassin who has to recover/avenge a kidnaped/murdered family member.

Incidentally, there’s a movie coming out soon called “Cold Pursuit” where Neeson portrays a vengeful snowplow driver who “transforms from an ordinary man into a skilled killer as he sets out to dismantle the cartel” that killed his son (yes, I’m serious). I will be there on opening day. Am I a hypocrite because I criticize comic book movies even while waiting with breathless anticipation to watch Liam Neeson kill drug lords with a snowplow? No, I don’t think so. As Scripture says: when I became a man, I put away childish things and replaced them with Liam Neeson revenge movies.

Okay, this is simply nonsense. I think he’s trying to defuse some of the bad feeling he’s unnecessarily dredged up by humorously citing how he has his own taste in frothy entertainment. That’s nice, but it does nothing to counteract the arrogance and ignorance he’s already shown and will continue showing, especially since it all builds up to another ‘superhero movies are childish’ jab.

Wherever you stand on this topic, even if you run out to see each new comic book film in the desperate hope that something new will eventually happen in one of them, can you not at least agree that the studios have now officially exhausted the supply of interesting or credible superheroes? Would you not concede that it’s time for Hollywood to stop mining for new characters and perhaps even cut down (drastically) on the number of films featuring the already established ones? Would you not even admit that there should be a moratorium on all superhero movies for the next decade while Hollywood explores the possibility that it might actually be possible to tell a story that doesn’t involve costumed crime fighters? 

            I assume this is the whole point of the essay; that he’s sick of hearing about new superhero films coming out and wants to call a ‘moratorium’ on them. The trouble is, he’s already shown that he has absolutely no credibility on this topic, so his pleas are simply noise.

            Honestly, I also wish Hollywood would get off the remakes-adaptations kick and start making more original content, but then that’s pretty far down the list of problems in modern Hollywood. Again, that’s a legitimate perspective that absolutely could serve as the subject of a good essay, but he buries it under a ton of smug nonsense.

            The really strange thing, that he seems not to notice (probably because of the aforementioned contempt) is that superhero films are among the most morally positive movies that are being released these days. The last couple Marvel films were, respectively, about fathers being there for their daughters and the evils of sacrificing innocent lives for the sake of an ideology. There are very few positive places in popular fiction left, and superhero films are (by and large, and for the present) the most notable of these. And he’s arguing that Hollywood should stop making them because he’s sick of hearing about them. It’s not just that this is a highly dubious position, it’s that if anything it’s contrary to his own ideas. He knows how immoral and toxic most of Hollywood is, yet he’s spending time attacking some of its least toxic products.  

If that time will ever come, we are here. In the mad dash to make movies out of every superhero ever to grace the pages of a child’s comic book, Hollywood has officially hit rock bottom. Worse than rock bottom. It has plunged below sea level, which brings us to Aquaman. They actually made a full length movie about a guy called Aquaman. He lives in the ocean, wears a suit of fish scales, rides around on a dolphin (I assume), and carries a magical trident. He is exactly the kind of character an eight year old boy might invent in his head during math class and then doodle in the margins of his text book.

Again, he knows nothing of the character, nothing of why people like the character enough that he’s been around for nearly eighty years, he’s basing his criticism solely on the name of the character, and one or two things he’s gleaned from the trailers or from online. This is a textbook example of ‘judging a book by its cover.’  

He’s not as dumb as Superman, but he holds his own in the race. Batman isn’t exactly a work of genius but at least he has pathos. Not coincidentally, he’s also the centerpiece of the only interesting superhero movies ever made. Aquaman on the other hand, despite the rave reviews of critics who are always absurdly generous in their appraisals of comic book films, is destined to be a pointless, lifeless, silly-but-not-in-a-charming-way, cash grab by studio executives who I’m certain never bothered to read the script, because, really, how good does a movie about muscular fish-man living in SpongeBob’s pineapple under the sea need to be? It is a thing made simply to exploit a market. And it is a market that, I submit, should finally become a bit more discerning. Movie tickets are expensive, after all. And superhero movies have finally jumped the shark. Pun very much intended.

 This is ridiculous. He acknowledges that the initial reviews are positive, but still dismisses the film with a string of insults based on nothing. Then based on that (i.e. his own prejudice) he proclaims that “superhero movies have finally jumped the shark” and the market should become a bit more discerning. 

I’m sure you can see now why I opened with the quote from Prof. Lewis.

            I hate to say it about someone whose work I usually admire, but this essay was horrendous; waste paper. It’s as bad as any I’ve seen from CNN or Salon, and I can’t say worse than that.

To put the best possible light on it, I am assuming he tossed this one off quickly, more or less as a joke. The trouble is that it’s not a very good joke both because of his ignorance of the subject and because of his needlessly insulting tone towards people who have done nothing worse than enjoy a film genre that he doesn’t. It’s like saying “all movies are stupid because they’re for people too lazy to read books.” There’s nothing clever or amusing about it; it’s just gratuitous nonsense with an edge of smug. No one will find this funny except for those who just want to point and laugh at people who enjoy superhero films, and that’s kind of sad, especially from someone who usually provides such substantive content.

            Nothing he said here had any substance to it; he doesn’t give specifics, he just says that “modern superhero films are completely plotless” (no examples of specific films where the plot is flimsy, confusing, or disjointed), that the acting is bad (no examples of specific performances), and that the films are “bland and empty and stupid” (no definition of terms, no examples of particularly bland or stupid moments, no counterexamples of something similar done well).

            To be fair, it’s a limited essay and he’s talking about dozens of different films, but he doesn’t even attempt to back up his points with examples. Now, if I wanted to call the Marvel films ‘plotless’, for instance, I would have cited Black Panther or Age of Ultron or Iron Man 2: films that legitimately have massive plot issues. That wouldn’t prove my point, but it would be something and would show that I at least had some knowledge of this topic.

            The impression he creates is that he doesn’t actually know any examples and doesn’t think he has to, because again, he treats this whole subject with absolute contempt. A subject that many, many people of all types have found value in and which, at least in the case of the MCU, represents an objectively massive achievement in filmmaking. Love the films or hate them, creating twenty-plus big-budget films over the course of ten years, all in continuity with each other, almost all with different directors, writers, and cast, and all financially successful is simply not something that you can dismiss as “95-minute Mattel commercials.”

But the problem, as I’ve said throughout, is not that he’s criticizing these films or this genre; it’s that he has nothing substantive to say about them, and what is more seems to think there is nothing to be said. He simply declares it to be stupid and childish and proceeds as if that were established beyond argument.

            In the essay quoted above, C.S. Lewis laid it down as a principle – and I think he was correct – that you ought not to criticize work in a genre that you personally do not enjoy. This is because you won’t be able to tell when the work is being done well or poorly according to the canon of its own art. He himself disliked detective novels and consequently didn’t bother trying to write essays on them.

When it comes to fiction, not every genre appeals to everyone (I’m pretty rare in that I can enjoy any genre that doesn’t morally repel me). It is not a matter of one being better or more ‘mature’ than another – the high-brow and low-brow fallacy – it’s simply a matter of how one’s personality is formed. If yours is so formed that a particular genre does not appeal to you, then you can have nothing worthwhile to say as to its flaws or merits, any more than a tone-deaf person could have anything worthwhile to say about Mozart. I For instance, I know little about music apart from a broad sense of what I do and do not like. If I tried to write a piece on why I think the Beatles are overrated, I would probably make a fool of myself, so I will never do that.

            It is, in fact, another application of Chesterton’s gate: if you don’t see the purpose of a thing, you cannot tell if that purpose is being achieved and hence you are in no position to judge whether the thing is doing it well or poorly.

The point is that there are legitimate criticisms to be made about any or all superhero films, and about the genre as a whole, and about the film industry’s approach to them. But to make them would take someone who is familiar with the subject, who pays it a basic respect, and who can derive the kind of pleasure from it that it is intended to produce. It is the same with every genre of fiction and every form of art.

Moreover (and this is a large part of why I took the trouble to make this fisk), in writing such utter nonsense so confidently, he actually undermines his own credibility. If he speaks so confidently and callously on something he evidently knows nothing about, and is so insulting to people he has no reason to quarrel with, then that rather raises the question of how much of his other work is based on sound evidence and reasoning rather than pure arrogance. Now, I’m a long-time reader of his and generally find his work to be very solid except for the few times he goes outside of his knowledge base, but for a less familiar or a less sympathetic reader, something like this could be devastating.

Matt Walsh doesn’t need advice from me; this is directed at my own readers (and myself, of course). Please do not try to write criticism on topics you have no knowledge or understanding of, do not treat your subject matter with contempt, and do not try to substitute an arrogant tone for knowledge. If there is a topic – say, a certain film genre or trend – that you simply do not understand, that means it is not for you to write about or commentate on.

In conclusion, I urge you not to judge Mr. Walsh’s output by this piece. His work on moral, social, and religious matters is very solid; some of the best. I just wish he had a better grasp of his own limitations.



Dating a Feminist: A Fisk

I found a video mocking this list and I knew I had to have a go at it. The original is in italics and my comments are in bold.

14 Things You Should Know Before Dating a Feminist

She’s basically the most amazing person on the planet.

            Yes, that is the tagline. See for yourself. Needless to say, the article does not back this assertion up.

(by the way, Cosmo asked me to subscribe by swearing at me. Classy)

  1. You’d better be prepared to look at the world/movies/TV shows/everything more closely than you used to. There might be a movie that you really love that you never noticed was super-crazy sexist, and you need to at least be open to hearing her explain why it is and looking at it from another perspective. I dated a guy who hated when I would do this and you will never guess how quickly I dumped him because haha no.

            We’re off to a grand start: the very first thing you can expect when dating a feminist is that she’ll criticize you and/or something you love and you’d better not complain about it. Notice how she boasts of ‘dumping’ a guy who hated when she did this, as if it’s absolutely unreasonable to get irritated when your girlfriend keeps telling you that the things you like are ‘super-crazy sexist.’

            Note also that this is her idea of “looking more closely at the world:” searching for more reasons to be offended.  

2. If you don’t identify as a feminist already, you should figure out why that is before going for her. Do you think she should make less than you make for doing the exact same job? No? Then you’re a feminist. This is not difficult, Jeremy.

            This probably should have been number one, though perhaps she thought the first item was less ‘provocative.’ Or she just didn’t put any thought to logical progression. Probably that.

            Anyway, here she plays the trick of trying to force the other person to accept a certain identification, which she then can claim the right to define, effectively invalidating his right to argue with her. The game goes “do you believe this ostensibly reasonable thing? Then you’re a feminist. A feminist listens to women. Oh, you want to have your own opinion? I guess you don’t really listen to women, because if you did you’d think what I say you should. That means you really think women are inferior.”

            For what it’s worth, I’ve long since figured out why I’m not a feminist, and people like her are Exhibit A.

3. You’re not necessarily going to offend her because she’s a feminist and you paid for her tea. I had a guy buy me an iced tea once and he acted like he wasn’t sure whether to pat himself on the back for being such a good guy or apologize for acting like he owned me. My tea was $1.50, dude. Calm down. If you’re doing a nice thing because you want to do a nice thing, I will love that. Who wouldn’t?

            So, this is a woman who is so unpredictable and thin-skinned that a guy becomes nervous when he tries to practice basic politeness. She then makes fun of him for it. Notice how her reconstruction of his thought process is “am I a good guy, or did I act like I owned her?”

            A healthy person’s mind doesn’t even consider the possibility that, “he paid for my drink” could mean, “he thinks he owns me” (how on Earth would that even work?). Note the ‘not necessarily’ in the title and that her justification for not being offended being ‘it was cheap.’

4. Please at least know some basic women’s history. See: Leslie Knope being pissed Officer Dave didn’t know who Madeline Albright was or me being pissed that a guy doesn’t know what riot grrrl music is.

            Yeah…when she talks about knowing ‘women’s history’ and immediately cites a TV comedy referencing someone from the Clinton cabinet, that doesn’t really convince me she knows much history. This impression is reinforced by her other example being ‘riot grrrl music.’ That sure sounds like a turning point of history.

The thing is, this isn’t just a matter of making fun of these specific examples: it’s the question of why would she pick those? Even on her own standing, surely citing someone like Helen Keller or Susan B. Anthony would hold a heck of a lot more weight; instead her idea of history is…’riot grrrl music.’ It’s as if someone claimed to be a connoisseur of cinema, and as a proof said that her favorite movie is The Last Jedi.  

            As for basic ‘women’s history,’ do you mean people like Empress Maria Theresa, Queen Isabella of Spain, Princess Elizabeth of Hungary, Queen Christina of Sweden, Queen Victoria, Czarina Catherine, Abigail Adams, etc.? Or perhaps women like Theresa of Avilla, Hildegard of Bingen, Clare of Assisi, Scholastica, Joan of Arc, Catherine of Sienna etc.? That is, any ‘women’s history’ that extends beyond the 20th century?

(Also, remember that back in number one she dumped a guy for being annoyed that she was trash talking the things he liked. Now she gets mad that someone simply isn’t familiar with her pet interests)

5. “So do you hate men?” is a “joke” she has heard about 5,000 times. And if you make it, I will think you are both uncreative and kind of a dick. Like, are you serious? It’s not 1962 (and let’s be honest, no one thought it was funny then either.)

Judging by this list, that isn’t a joke; it’s an entirely reasonable question. I also note that she doesn’t answer it. 

6. She thinks she’s just as entitled to an orgasm as you are, which will make sex really fun if you’re good in bed or very confusing if you’re not. One time I literally sat on a hookup’s bed after they’d had an orgasm and said, “I didn’t come. I’m not leaving this room until I do,” and I waited. Ohhhh, I waited

.            Uh…no comment.

7. It’s fine if you hold the door for herJust don’t act totally shocked when she’s equally as polite and holds it for you. 

            The fact that she feels the need to assure him that she will not be offended if he holds the door for her is telling. Also, note how she immediately undercuts it by insisting that it’s just as polite for a woman to hold the door for a man, showing that she’s unsurprisingly missed the point. 

And wouldn’t it have made more sense to put this one alongside the one assuring us she won’t freak out if we try to pay for her cheap tea? 

8. She will debate anyone she meets who says they aren’t a feminist or expresses anti-feminist sentiments. It might be your dumb-dumb friends, it might be a random guy who said something shitty at a bar we’re at, but it could happen. I never pick fights with anyone, but I’m also not afraid to calmly call someone out for saying something bigoted and frankly, you shouldn’t be either.

            Not putting money on her debating skills, especially given that she immediately assumes any non-feminist must be an idiot. Also, note: “I never pick fights with anyone, but I’ll insult and attack anyone who says something I don’t agree with, even if he’s a stranger.” And she expects you to do the same, or else she’ll think you’re a coward.

9. You’d better be aware of what male privilege is and that you have it. One time my guy friend said to me, “Oh man, male privilege sounds nice. Wish I had some of that. Haha,” and I almost threw him across the room. It’s real. If you’re a guy, you have it. Next topic.

            A summarized version of this and the previous entry are “you had better not challenge or question anything I believe, however asinine.”

            Notice how she boasts of being completely infuriated when a man dared to say that his own experience doesn’t match her pre-conceived beliefs. She then bluntly declares “all men have privilege” and moves on. This despite spending most of this article detailing how she doesn’t think men have the right to disagree with her on anything.  

10. Any lingering anti-feminist beliefs you may still have can and will be challenged. And rightfully so. Ideally, you’d just take an interest in feminism on your own because everyone should, but if you’re going to be dating me, I’m definitely going to call you on the bullshit you may knowingly or unknowingly still say from time to time. Thank her for this. She’s going to save you from making a horrible rape joke in public (aka making any rape joke in public.)

            So, she’s going to snap at you for saying something she doesn’t agree with, you are not allowed to answer back (see previous two entries), and you ought to thank her for that.

            Also, note the assumption that either you kow-tow to being corrected on every minor violation of feminist orthodoxy or you’ll “make a horrible rape joke in public.” There is nothing in between. 

11. She’s happy to teach you about feminism if you’re happy to learn. If you think Beyoncé can’t dance in a revealing outfit and call herself a feminist, you are wrong, but I’m happy to explain to you why that is if you actually want to know. Why? Because I like you.

            Again (this is about the third time the same point is made), “shut up, stop thinking, and swallow whatever nonsense I tell you and be grateful for it.” Note the patronizing and patently false “because I like you. You’re stupid and pliable and do what I say, so I like you.”

12. Never, ever, ever tell her about how men are discriminated against too. This isn’t a competition for which gender had been treated more unfairly, but if it were, women will win every time.

            Love that; “this isn’t a competition, so just admit you lose.” 

            Yet again, she’s insisting that you should never challenge her beliefs or point out any inconvenient facts or allow your own experiences to contradict her precious theory. She doesn’t even want to hear about anyone else’s challenges or hardships: just shut up and listen to her problems (or, more likely, the problems of other people that she’s read about and applied to herself). Yours don’t count.

           And as noted with number two, the logical progression in this list is terrible; she jumps all over the place. This should probably have gone right after the one about ‘privilege.’

13. If you seriously believe we’re all equal and feminism is unnecessary, keep walking. Also, what are you even doing with your life? Clearly it is not “reading literally any news website.”

            The really funny thing is that she thinks ‘not reading literally any news website’ is a reason to question what someone is doing with their life. There is nothing better in life than feminism (sounds like an exaggeration now, but just wait), and life has no meaning if you are not obsessing over it.

14. She really, truly believes in equality for all.Feminists are the most amazing people on the planet because we believe in equality for all genders, races, sexual orientations, you name it.

            (“What? No, unborn children don’t count. Why would you even ask that?”)

            Seriously, would you want to date someone who believed anything less? No? Then it’s good that you picked me.

             Let me just repeat that:

            “Feminists are the most amazing people on the planet because we believe in equality for all genders, races, sexual orientations, you name it.”

            Ah, so feminists are “the most amazing people on the planet” because of something they believe? All you have to do is to believe in the right things and that makes you better than everyone else?

            So, feminists who ‘believe’ in the correct things and write articles about it are more amazing than, say, Marines laying down their lives for people they don’t even know?

            More amazing than the Missionaries of Charity ministering to dying children in the poorest regions of the world?

            More amazing than scientists making biomechanical arms for amputees?

            I guess so. For the feminist it’s “I thank thee, myself, that I am not like other people. I believe in equality.”

            Hell, the Pharisee in the parable was more amazing than that. He at least had actual works to boast of.

           This reinforces the idea that Leftism is the true heir to Puritanism: same principles, just applied differently. What you believe, not what you do, determines what kind of person you are. Only in this case, rather than the glorious truth of the Gospel, the saving faith is the asinine speculations of self-righteous academics high on Marx.

            Also, note the claim of belief in equality for all, despite the fact that most of this list has been variations on telling men that they have no right to question feminism, cite their own experiences, or even get annoyed when feminists attack the things they care about. I wonder what this writer’s views on double standards might be?

            But the most disturbing thing about this whole essay is the fact that she evidently doesn’t realize just how unpleasant, arrogant, and self-righteous she comes across as. Several entries are dedicated to telling men that their own experiences and hardships do not matter to her mind, and that they need to shut up and be grateful when she ‘corrects’ them or tears down something they care about. And her entire justification for all of this, and why she evidently expects men to want to date her, is that she has the correct beliefs.

            This is why I would recommend men being very careful about dating self-described feminists. Not so much for the content of their beliefs (though the ‘my ability to compete in the workplace justifies killing my own children’ thing is, shall we say, a stumbling block) as for the way so many of them seem to think that their views give them the right to be as cruel, capricious, and rude as they like. So many feminists seem to think that men have no right whatever to so much as question their views or even to talk about their own hardships. Men have ‘privilege,’ you see, so their struggles, experiences, and observations do not count. But if you dispute anything the feminist says, that means you’re ‘dismissing the experience of women’ and ‘mansplaining.’ 

Basically, feminist ideology encourages women to be simultaneously hyper-focused on their own grievances while dismissive of any that the man might have, and to make utterly unreasonable claims regarding what the man can and cannot say or do. I don’t even have to cite examples, because this attitude is fully on display in the above list, not only undisguised but held up as something the writer is proud of. Whatever the justification behind it, and whether adopted by men or women, this kind of attitude is deadly to relationships.

           I don’t care about social structures or ingrained power systems: it is not unreasonable to ask that you act like a decent human being.

            I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if ‘equality’ means anything, it means the same rules of conduct apply to all. That means you don’t get to simply dismiss someone because you think he has ‘privilege,’ and that you don’t get to be rude because someone else who shares a chromosome with you was treated unfairly at some point (or even because you yourself were once treated unfairly. It’s called being human).

            It also means that when you write a repulsively self-righteous piece like this, you get called on it.

Our Lady of Perpetual Grievance

So, some friends linked to this article the other day and I had some thoughts. Fair warning, if you liked this article, you probably won’t like my response, because quite frankly, this article was repulsive.

On Facebook yesterday, a number of Catholic friends were sharing around an image of Mary the Mother of Jesus, modeled after the famous Polish icon, Our Lady of Czestochowa. While the art style may not be to everyone’s taste, what I liked about the image was that Mary is presented as strong, cool – possibly staring down an opponent, certainly keeping her thoughts to herself, while holding her baby close. All we see of the face of baby Jesus is that he is looking up at his mother and protector. It’s an expression I wish I could emulate, any time I feel I need to take a stand to protect my family. And insofar as I have a devotion to Mary as Mother, there is reassurance in knowing that she might be facing down my enemies, too.

Starts out reasonable enough: nothing to speak of in the first paragraph.

Mary of Nazareth bore her child into uncertain political and economic circumstances, a poor young woman in a marginalized group oppressed by Imperial powers. That she had to travel long miles while pregnant to register for Augustus’ census is a reminder of the cruelty and heartlessness of such imperial regimes, the disdain for the poor, for mothers and children. The indifference to families unless they are “good Roman families” such as Augustus liked to praise.

Okay, this is where things start to move in a bad direction. I do not like the sight of the scare quotes around “good Roman Families,” or the accusation of indifference of ‘other kind of families.’ This is insinuation, so responding to it would necessarily involve interpretation (which is why I don’t like insinuation tactics: people can always claim you’re reading too much into it, or that they didn’t mean what you thought they meant). I have ideas of what she meant, based on the rest of the essay and based on my knowledge of my own society, but since she doesn’t actually come out and say it, I’ll let it pass lest I get bogged down in fighting suppositions. Trust me, there are plenty of more solid targets to come.

All I will say is that we’re definitely getting a bad vibe so far.

She bore her child in a stable, and shortly after had to flee as a refugee from state-sanctioned violence, into a foreign land. She may have saved her child, but what about all the other babies who were killed? This might be one of the things Mary pondered in her heart: why the others couldn’t have been saved. Why she was singled out. What would it feel like, returning to Nazareth and raising a child among women whose sons of the same age had been slaughtered?

Small issue: the slaughter of the innocents took place in Bethlehem, not Nazareth. I would also point out that Egypt was not exactly a foreign land, being part of the same Empire and with a large Jewish population of its own, but that’s a quibble. In any case, I really wish she wouldn’t try to impose modern political categories onto the Roman Empire.

It makes sense to portray Mary, at this point in her young life, as angry or defensive. If Jesus could fly into a rage and kick over tables because of economic injustice, why shouldn’t his mother be able to rage against the injustice of a violent regime? Maybe it was a family trait.

The crime that enraged Our Lord to the point of violence was not economic injustice but sacrilege: He was angry that the sellers were using the Temple as a marketplace. He’s very clear on that point: “‘Take these things hence, and make not the house of my Father a house of traffic.’ And his disciples remembered, that it was written: The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up.” (John 2:16-17). Your re-interpretation is another troubling tonal sign.

I’m all in favor of an angry Mary, if done well and reverently. One of my favorite pieces of religious art is M. Bouguereau’s Pieta, which shows a tearful Mary clutching the dead Christ to her chest while staring accusingly at the viewer.


But the commentary on this image, mostly from males of a more conservative background, was hugely negative. She doesn’t look meek was the most common response. Or, she doesn’t look humble, she doesn’t look loving. Even: her neckline is immodest. Or, worst of all, she looks like a whore.

I couldn’t find the image in question (the link she provided no longer worked and a subsequent search was unsuccessful), so I can’t tell how appropriate this criticism is. For our purposes, though, it doesn’t really matter. People like what they like, and it may be that people thought the image was inappropriate. Since it’s the internet I’m sure some people probably overreacted or were crass about it, but you’ll excuse me if I don’t absolutely take your word for it, as you’ve already shown a degree of prejudice and will be showing much more before we’re done.

Forget about the fact that in the history of art we often see Mary with her breast completely bare, nursing Jesus. Or even squirting milk into the mouth of a male saint. Yes, that’s right. St. Bernard of Clairvaux had a vision in which Mary appeared, lactating, and squirted milk from her breast into his mouth: thus, the story goes, he acquired his great eloquence. Okay, Bernard.

Here’s the problem, though; the images of Mary nurturing Christ and the Saints from her breasts come from a very different cultural context: one that had a different view of sexuality and the body. The same image coming out of our culture might have connotations that it would not coming out of just about any previous culture.

Again, the image that prompted this essay may be a perfectly acceptable and reverent image of Our Lady, or it may not, or it may be one that people may disagree over. But one’s reaction to a modern image will necessarily be different from one’s reaction to a historical image simply because it is using a different cultural language. It is the responsibility of the artist to understand and work with that (e.g. a swastika would have vastly different connotations in an image made in modern Europe than it would in one made in medieval India).

Forget about the fact that we have images of Jesus in which he is more like a judgmental Apollo than gentle Messiah. Why is it acceptable to portray different facets of Jesus, but not of Mary? If Mary is indeed supposed to be “queen of heaven” and the “woman clothed with the sun” who strikes at the serpent, we should see her fierce side, too. She herself sang the revolutionary Magnificat, rejoicing in the casting down of the mighty from their thrones.

There is also a problem with this: though, as I say, I’m up for an angry Madonna, there are certain conceptual issues with it. Mary’s role in salvation history is not that of judge. She bears Christ to the world, which by its very nature implies a gentler, kindlier mission. There simply is no basis for comparing her with Christ in the final judgment. Though again, Our Lady of Victory as a stern queen, or bearing the sword, or other powerful images are fairly common depictions of her in religious art, ones I’ve never heard anyone not-Protestant complain of.





The description of the Magnificat as ‘revolutionary’ is highly unfortunate, turning what is a religious exultation into a political one. That, frankly, seems to be a major problem with the essay as a whole.

The men who object to Mary’s representation as other than the meek, pink-and-white maiden of countless kitschy holy cards seem to be objecting not out of an adherence to Biblical accuracy or artistic tradition. They’re objecting because this is not “their” Mary, the Mary they are willing to venerate. Theirs is an idealized image of the feminine, not even a real woman anymore, but an airy Platonic ideal. Pure, meek, humble.

And you plunge right down the straw man slope: you are first setting up a false dichotomy, that either you like this particular image or all you want is “the meek, pink-and-white maiden of kitschy holy cards.” Somehow, I doubt all the men who objected to this image also had the same objections to Our Lady of Victory presiding over Lepanto, or to the aforementioned Pieta, or to the stern, Queenly images of Mary from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Then you start ascribing them motives, which you have no rational basis to do (why do you need to deduce anything beyond the reasons they cited?) and which seem to correspond more to your own personal prejudices than to anything you could reasonably deduce from what you’ve described: that men are only willing to venerate an “idealized, meek, and humble” Mary who presents an airy, idealized image of the feminine (by the way, what’s with women objecting to idealized femininity?).

Giving birth to her baby through her ear.

Oh for goodness sakes! For one thing, the image is of Mary conceiving through her ear, not that she gave birth through the ear, and it is a way of expressing that she conceived through receiving Christ, who is the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit conveyed by the voice of the angel. It is a means of conveying an inexpressible spiritual truth, incorporating rich, complex notions of the transference of ideas and the efficacy of words, implications regarding the nature of the Second Person of the Trinity, as well as incorporating allusions to Genesis and the Psalms. Like so many works of ancient and medieval art, it is a fantastically rich image.

So, naturally, you boil the whole thing down to men being squeamish about women’s bodies.


By the way, finding that took all of two minutes of Googling. The fact that you didn’t even bother to try to uncover either the actual image or its meaning is telling.

Usually silent, unless she says “obey him” – or appears to chastise children about immodest clothing, or not praying enough.

Again, you’re putting words into their mouths: are you really going to suggest that the men who disliked this image (by the why, why does a single image inspire so much vehemence on your part?) also discount Lourdes, Fatima, Lepanto, The Ballad of the White Horse, St. Dominic, basically every work of art to come out of the Middle Ages, St. Alphonso de Liguori, St. John Paul the Great, and so on? That is, every piece of Christian heritage in which Mary plays an active role and speaks with authority?

I would also take issue with your sneering comment about “appears to chastise children about immodest clothing or not praying enough,” as if those were insulting matters of no real importance. Especially with the matter of “not praying enough,” since that is quite literally what Mary has actually told people time and again.

But Mary was not an ideal.

Depends on what you mean by an idea. She is held up as an ideal to follow, as is Christ, and as is every Saint, in the sense that we are to look on her with reverence and seek to imitate her in our own lives. That doesn’t mean a bloodless mental image.

She is portrayed in Scripture as a real woman, and one with quite a bit to say, in the few scenes where we see her. She questions an angel, sings revolutionary hymns, sets off on journeys alone, even chastises her son when he slips away from them.  

Please stop calling the Magnificat a ‘revolutionary hymn.’ Mary had much more important things on her mind than the iniquities of the Roman Empire or political revolt, and you are demeaning her by referring to it as such. The saving work of God is far greater than any mere political agenda.

Also, when in Scripture did Mary set off on journeys alone? St. Joseph was with her in the journeys to Bethlehem and Egypt, and she accompanied her son to Jerusalem for the Passion. He explicitly entrusts her to the care of St. John, implying that she’d been living with Him and the apostles. There isn’t the slightest suggestion that she travelled alone, and given the time period, we may reasonably assume she didn’t. The story of the Good Samaritan gives a hint as to why this would be, and I cannot imagine either Our Lord or St. Ann and St. Joachim being so irresponsible as to require her to travel anywhere alone.

As to Mary being a real woman, who on Earth said anything different? As far as I can tell, and as far as you have indicated, they simply didn’t like a particular image that you did because they thought it made Mary look too angry, immodest, or proud. Whether or not they showed good taste in doing so, that doesn’t imply any of the things you’ve been ascribing to them.

If, as the teaching says, she was devoid of sin, being devoid of sin does not mean being confined to just a few virtues, the ones that men have deemed “feminine.”

Yes, there are particularly feminine virtues, just as there are particularly masculine virtues: virtues that especially exhibit and coincide with a feminine nature. Men have ‘deemed’ them such because they saw by reason that they were so. If you disagree with their assessment, you have to show why they are not: you can’t just make a sneering insinuation. But regardless, once again, no one ever said being devoid of sin means being confined to a few key virtues. You are choosing to ascribe to people views that they have never expressed and then blaming them for it. Please stop.

And obedience to God does not mean obedience to men, or to the laws of men.

“For love of the Lord, then, bow to every kind of human authority;” (1 Peter 2:13) “Every soul must be submissive to its lawful superiors; authority comes from God only, and all authorities that hold sway are of his ordinance,” (Romans 13:1) “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:21). This is one point on which you are simply wrong on fact: obedience to God means obedience to lawful human authority. Both Scripture and Tradition are very clear on that.

Usually, in the lives of memorable women, it means quite the reverse.

Ah, the “well-behaved women have never made history” deal. Well, One, as Christians our goal is to be virtuous, loving, and God-fearing, not to be ‘memorable.’ Pagans sought to be remembered as their only reward: we have something better. Two, to the extent that this is true it’s largely because modern tastes consider being ‘disobedient’ as one of the chief qualification for being remembered. Three, Queen Victoria, Empress Maria Theresa, Queen Isabella, Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Jane Austen, and nearly every female Saint would disagree with you on the point. And finally, you could say the exact same thing about men (“well behaved men have rarely made history”) and it would be just as accurate and just as false.

And they suffer for it. They don’t emerge looking pink and docile, until after those who rewrite their stories have rendered them fit for a holy card.

Many artists choose to render Our Lady looking, as you so contemptuously describe it, “pink and docile” because they wish to emphasize her gentleness, kindness, and welcoming nature. Other artists who wish to emphasize other aspects of her show her differently. Our Lady of Czestochowa does not look in the least ‘pink and docile,’ nor do the images of Mary Queen of Heaven or Our Lady of Victory. Mel Gibson in The Passion of the Christ depicted her as a poor workingwoman filled with intense emotions and quiet dignity. The point is, different artists have different goals. You can discuss whether those goals are good or bad and whether they are realized well or poorly, but you seem to simply be holding up your preferred image as the best one because it speaks to you, while ascribing evil motives to everyone who doesn’t like its. You are insulting and attacking people on an incredibly flimsy pretext. 

Back in 2016, I wrote about the fact that, whenever we object to sexism in the church, someone is sure to remind us that “we have Mary. So what are you complaining about?” We’ve elevated a woman as queen of heaven; a woman was chosen to bear God in the world – so, move on, no sexism here!

That is quite a legitimate response. As is the fact that Christian civilization has pretty much from the get-go given women greater autonomy, respect, and scope for development than just about any other (though such things vary over time and place, of course). Among her female Saints the Church includes Queens, soldiers, scientists, lawyers, doctors, and theologians. Abbesses in the Medieval era often wielded enormous power and influence, almost akin to modern CEOs. St. Catherine had the clout to publicly criticize the Pope and have him listen to her. These things are all highly relevant when discussing the Church’s historical attitude towards women in general.

The real question is what you consider ‘sexism,’ because all too often it is apt to mean anything you happen to dislike or anything that acknowledges a real difference between men and women (the fact that you considered your mistaken idea that Mary ‘journeyed alone’ as an example of her independence is an example of where your particular ideas of this subject might mislead you). If you want a real discussion of these issues, you need to define your terms and stop making unfounded insinuations and gratuitous insults.

 Some of the views I expressed in that earlier piece have changed since then, but I still stand by this assertion: that until women are the ones leading the conversation about sex, gender, and equality in the church, we don’t “have” Mary. Men do.

Due respect to a lady forbids me to write my full reaction to this. Let me start by saying, as a minor point, that if it’s a conversation of equality, why ought women lead and not men? Wouldn’t the whole idea be each equally taking part?

Saying that unless “women are the ones leading the conversation about sex, gender, and equality in the church” that means women don’t ‘have’ Mary is so wrong, so unutterably ridiculous and foul that I hardly know what to say. What is this nonsense about who “has” Mary? Do you think Mary is some kind of prize? Some kind of baton of power that can be passed back and forth? Do you think she is in any way dependent upon how you think of her? You are talking about her as if she were some kind of tool to be subordinated to your own political and social ideas, or a mascot to be used for cheering on one preferred side or another.

Mary belongs to the Church entire, not to either men or women, and that’s only because Christ gave her to us out of love. You already have her in any meaningful sense of the word, and you have her by sheer gift, as you have everything from God. You want to own that gift? Go pray a Rosary and stop trying to make the Mother of God into a political prop.

As for your talk of a conversation about ‘sex, gender, and equality,” I won’t get into that nonsense here, except that your setting that up as a condition for “having” Mary says quite a bit more about you than you probably meant it to.

Or, rather, they have an idealized, fetishized image of her, one they can comfortably put on pedestals – or even fantasize about suckling from – without feeling guilt, or feeling obligated to give a space to real, living, inferior women at all.

Once again, my outdated chivalry forbids me from saying what I think of you right now. Where the heck did this Freudian nonsense come from? Who are you to throw out these kinds of insults and insinuations against men whom you don’t even know? You have given absolutely no justification for this kind of conclusion: you are simply scattering attacks wholesale and seem to feel justified in doing so because they’re directed against men. This is not analysis: this is bigotry.

Also, now you’re objecting to the image of St. Bernard? Weren’t you just holding it up as an example of depicting Mary as a ‘real woman’? Or did you mean it as somehow an example of how men have ‘used’ Mary in the past? If so, that shows an extraordinarily narrow and ignorant point of view; one that means you have no business speaking about religious art.

And again, all this is coming out of your head; men saying they didn’t like a particular image of Mary doesn’t even come close to justifying this nightmare of an amateur psychoanalysis. You are being needlessly insulting towards your audience and offensive towards our Lady by suggesting that men’s devotion to her is based on some kind of psycho-sexual dominance fantasy. Not to mention that, in all this, your focus has been entirely on fashionable political and social issues: not faith, not Christ, not salvation. It’s all about your personal response.

They’ve parceled off the virtues, designating any that might be associated with obedience of subordination as “feminine” and assigning those to the mother of God.

Obedience is a virtue for both sexes and always has been. “For Christ was obedient even unto Death.” “Slaves be subject to your master.” “I too am a man subject to authority and with soldiers subject to me.” Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Socrates submitting to the laws of Athens. The knight obedient to his lord. “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

On the other hand, traditional feminine virtues include circumspection, good sense, kindness, purity, temperance, and prudence, none of which have anything to do with subordination to men. Once again, you are simply wrong on fact.

In this cultural context, seeing Mary as representing emotions or virtues that have been reserved for select males – white males, the ones who call the shots – is an affront to their authority, specifically their authority to define and limit women.

Oh, throw a little racism in: nice (we had a Black President for eight years; stop pretending ‘white men’ rule our culture). Again, you are basing all of this on the fact that some men didn’t like a particular picture that you did and extrapolating from that into a nonsensical Marxist/Freudian fantasy that cherry-picks or ignores everything to do with Marian spirituality for the past two thousand years.

Note the conspiracy theory that men, especially white men, seek to maintain their “authority to define and limit women” through the virtues in general and Mary in particular. Do I even have to explain how asinine and paranoid this is? Sure thing: St. Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Francis de Sales, Dr. Johnson, John Henry Newman, they all had as their first priority keeping women down, because that is absolutely how pre-modern minds worked. No disinterested desire to know the truth, no honest piety, not even any good-will or love towards the women in their lives: just raw, unthinking urge to power for power’s sake relative to the opposite sex.

Do you even hear yourself?

To tell us how we must dress, lest we lead them astray.

“Let us cease, then, to lay down rules for one another, and make this rule for ourselves instead, not to trip up or entangle a brother’s conscience” (Romans 14:13). Trying to avoid being an occasion of sin for someone else is part of charity, and it’s one the most basic aspects of the Christian faith. The fact that you apparently feel insulted by it is telling.

To tell us what to think, since they are the ones attuned to the voice of God.

No one has ever said that. Even discounting the Blessed Mother and St. Mary Magdalene, just consider St. Catherine of Alexandria (Patron of Philosophers), St. Monica, St. Teresa of Avilla, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Terese of Lisieux. No one has ever said that women cannot be attuned to the voice of God. You’re not even cherry picking your examples at this point: you are simply making up your own opponents to argue with.

And judging by your essay, “telling us what to think” in this context means “trying to tell you that you sound insane.”

To tell us how to use our bodies.

It’s called ‘virtue’ and ‘ethics’ and it applies to men and women. Nearly all moral laws revolve around what you do with your body, because the body is how you enact your will. You are not exempt from the moral law because you are a woman: if you were, that would be an insult and statement of inferiority.

We’re allowed to stand very, very still on pedestals or in holy cards, and only speak when echoing.

You are simply saying nonsense right now: extrapolating an absurd cartoon fantasy based on half-remembered half-truths about attitudes that have been dead for a century and applying it wholesale to everyone who disagrees with you, even in the most unimportant of matters.

If Mary looks angry in the painting, she has every right to be. Look at what she lived through. Look at what Christians have done in her son’s name – and what men have done with her, too, turning her into a weapon to be used against her daughters.

Look at people like you, insulting her, trying to claim her for your particular political views, and slandering those who honor her. Oh, yes; she has a lot to be angry about, but she is merciful and kind. Maybe instead of trying to co-opt her for your own purposes, you should listen to what she actually has to say. Such as:

“Do not offend the Lord our God any more, because He is already so much offended.”

“Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”

“Are you suffering a great deal? Don’t lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”

“I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next.”

“Pray for sinners.”

“Kiss the ground as a penance for sinners.”

“I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.”

“Do whatever He tells you.”

These are things she has actually said. You, on the other hand, are ascribing to her your own particular grievances, frustrations, and hatreds.

In other words, you are assuming that, as a woman, the Blessed Mother has one role and one purpose: to speak with your voice and attend to your needs, while ignoring or dismissing what she actually says (remember the sneering contempt for “admonish children to pray more”). You are literally doing exactly what you are accusing men of doing, except that I have never known a man so presumptuous as to try that game with the Queen of Heaven.

Here at the beginning of 2018, when a megalomaniacal demagogue – elected with the wild approval of right-wing American “family value” Christians

Nice gratuitous swipe at Trump supporters. Couldn’t see that coming. Note the scare quotes on “family value” Christians; one more nasty insinuation for the road to reinforce the image she creates of herself as someone who really hates people who disagree with her.

– is tweeting nuclear violence at another megalomaniac on the other side of the globe, I fear for my children, and the world they will have to navigate. Looking at the face of a mother who is also a protector is encouraging. Okay, I say to her. You’re with me. We’re in this together.

This essay was frankly disgusting. A fairly innocuous incident is blown completely out of proportion, straw-manned into next week and then ineptly psycho-analyzed to work out into the worst possible interpretation: a hyperbole inside of a fallacy wrapped in an insult. She paints a huge number of people with the worst possible brush, dismisses their faith out of hand with completely uncalled-for suppositions, and treats the Blessed Mother as a pawn in a petty political game. There is not the slightest attempt at logic, reason, charity (which, since this is supposed to be a Christian site you’d think she would at least give a gesture towards), or even basic facts. It is pure, venomous accusation and insinuation.

Now because it is written by a woman and for women, I suspect that someone will read my response and accuse me of being anti-woman, or insulting towards women, or even say that, as I am a man, I have no right to speak on such things and should only listen. To which I would answer: I am treating this lady like a rational human being who has written a terrible and disgusting essay. I have attempted to show why and how I think it fails from a logical, moral, and religious standpoint. If you disagree with me, then show me how I was wrong. No one, man or woman, gets to plead exemption from criticism based on either their sex or their subject matter.

This is what being treated on an equal footing looks like. You want equality? You’ve got it. And everything that goes with it, including being called out when you spew hateful nonsense like this.

In conclusion, if you want an image of Our Lady that is not soft and white and pink, let me offer you one. This comes from a man who lived a hundred years ago and who despised feminism (even before it went mad) precisely because he loved women.

“One instant in a still light
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was a queen most womanly –
But she was a queen of men.

 “Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart –
But one was in her hand.”
-The Ballad of the White Horse
, Book VII