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Author Topic: black swan, showgirl, lois lane  (Read 5488 times)
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India Ink
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« on: February 27, 2011, 04:54:04 AM »

On another thread I mentioned that I saw some similarities between the move Black Swan and the movie Showgirls and the 1960s Lois Lane.

What interests me is that only one of these seems to get much respect--Black Swan. And yet I find it the least satisfying.

Both Black Swan and Showgirls have the same basic plotline (not original--loads of Hollywood movies have the same plot) where a struggling dancer (in this case, in other situations it's a singer or an actress) takes over the lead role in some major production that the director/producer thinks will be the absolute bomb. The young woman is seduced by the director/producer or any other handy male. But at the same time there's a parallel lesbian relationship.

I think Showgirls is much more empowering--since the woman at the end continues to be full of energy--even though Showgirls is clearly a B movie and quite ridiculous.

I found Black Swan just as ridiculous--but people want to say that Black Swan is knowingly ridiculous and this is some sort of strength. Personally I find Showgirls more honest in that it is just trying to be a male fantasy about women. The women aren't supposed to be real. On the other hand, some people seem to think Black Swan is true to the experience of women. Whereas to me it comes across as an absolute male fantasy--where the female figures are pushed into doing things that satisfy the fantasies of the male.

I will call this inversive. A lot of people like to throw around the word misogynistic, but I think that's a careless use of the term. Some male hatred of women might be below the surface--but I don't think movies like Showgirls and Black Swan derive from male hatred of women. They derive from male fantasy about women. And this process I will call inversion. The male puts himself into the shoes of the female, in terms of his imagination, so he can make the female do what satisfies his fantasies.

There are other works of the imagination which practice inversion where the female creates a fantasy of the male. These are not in as great a supply--since obviously male fantasies about women have always been in high demand--but both Emily and Charlotte Bronte created inversive portraits of men in the characters of Heathcliff and Rochester. These are beast men who behave in often irrational ways, pushing around the women in their lives, yet clearly admirable to women. Neither character is really a true portrait of a man--rather they are the female idea of a man.

The thing is a lot of people try to argue that these inversive characters are invalid, because they aren't true. People seem to get stuck on the fact that a male can never know what it's like to be a woman and therefore he can't create a realistic female character--just as it can be argued a woman can't create a realistic male character.

But so what? It seems like there's a presumption that the purpose of fiction is to create objectively real characters. And I think that's a false proposition. So what if the female in a male fantasy is an unreal female acting out the male's fantasy--it's still an interesting story to tell. So long as we don't buy into the notion that these stories tell us about the real experience of women, I think we can all enjoy them. Just as we can enjoy female fantasies of men in gothic romances.

So how is Black Swan like 1960s Lois Lane? In broad terms you can see a lot of parallels. There's the transformation that takes place in the movie (I won't give away spoilers), just as transformation is common in Lois Lane stories. There's the female friendship/rivalry (Nina and Lily, Lois and Lana). And there's the strong, ambivalent and distanced male figure who seems to both admire and disparage the female (Thomas LeRoy, Superman).

But where I find Black Swan depressing as a male fantasy about women--I find 1960s Lois Lane tremendously uplifting. Lois Lane stories are just as darkly twisted, but they seem to be making a better statement about women--or at least about how men feel about women. Black Swan seems to buy into an old notion of women that they were somehow a hysterical sex so out of control with their emotions that they needed to be protected from themselves. I mean if you take Black Swan seriously (which no one should do).

Lois Lane is a different story. And a lot more complex. What I get out of the sum total of 1960s Lois Lane stories is this twisted message: For a great woman like Lois Lane, being in the workplace with men and doing her job brings her great success; but giving into the domestic desire to marry or find love (with Superman or with someone else) is her undoing. So long as Lois sticks to her regular life as a reporter, she usually has great rewards. But when she goes after love in all its many forms, that's when she comes up against all kinds of obstacles.

I fail to find how that message is misogynistic, at least in simple terms. It hardly seems to match with the overriding message of the time--which was that a woman needs to find a man to be complete. The message of Lois Lane seems subversive--that finding a man does not complete Lois, it only ruins her.

But I do think this message is inversive. The writers were all male and they were creating a strong female character. But this inversion causes the male writer to switch places with the female. From his standpoint he imagines how it is to be in love. I think many men did feel (and probably some continue to feel) that they were destroyed by love. Far from accomplishing their greatest happiness, love brought them misery and despair. So as a male fantasy of a woman, Lois acts out the experience of the male.

Again that's inversion, but I would hardly describe it as misogynistic--except in a really twisted way. Because if Lois is the male in the story, then Superman is the female (the object of desire). Superman often seems unfeeling and distant in these stories--one could almost hate him. So in that regard--as stand in for the female--Superman may be the object of some male hatred of women.

Of course there's another obvious difference between Lois and Black Swan. Lois is great fun. We are meant to find these situations ridiculous. We are not supposed to attach great meaning to them. It's interesting to psycho-analyze Mort Weisinger or his writers by proxy through these stories, but at the end of the day the main goal is to have Kurt Schaffenberger drawing the wonderfully cute Lois Lane in the most ridiculous of situations.
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India Ink
Aldous
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« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2011, 07:48:17 AM »

Lois is more complex. But her template goes back much further than Mort Weisinger and his writers. She was there in all her infuriating glory from the earliest issues of “Action”, and it’s helpful to remember she is the creation of Siegel and Shuster, not the Silver Age writers. The psychology behind Lois-Kent-Superman can be debated easily enough. Lois is a youthful male’s fantasy of a woman, and Superman is a young male’s fantasy of the man who can attain this woman… Except, there is this unsettling cruelty that creeps in: Superman is playing impossible to get, just as Lois is impossible for Kent to get. Lois is scornful of Kent, true… But she doesn’t have the full story, whereas Superman is in possession of all the facts. Is Superman enjoying this state of affairs? I believe so – just as the young creators intended him to. Misogyny? I don’t think so… It’s more of a slightly unsavoury glee that someone is getting their much-deserved comeuppance, without even knowing it.

The thing is, the “comeuppance” was ramped up, going into the Silver Age, and you can see outright cruelty for its own sake is creeping in. Now do we officially have a true hatred of women being expressed?

Maybe they just upped the cruelty based on the secret identity deception in the same way they were upping everything else, including Superman’s power levels, his extended super-family members, and the effects and types of Kryptonite – not to mention his heightening neurosis over his lost home-world.
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India Ink
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« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2011, 11:48:55 PM »

Alvin Schwartz tells the story, in An Unlikely Prophet, of how he came to leave Superman. I don't have it in front of me, but essentially Weisinger demanded that Schwartz write a Lois Lane story where Superman acted against what Alvin believed the Man of Steel would do. The writer argued with Mort about the story, but in the end wrote it the way the editor expected. But that was the last straw and he left (came to Canada to work in documentary film).

Now, while I like that story, I think it's kind of naive. It's nice to think there's this ideal Superman character, but I don't think comics were consistent in how they portrayed Superman--or all the other characters--in the late 1950s.

The Weisinger approach was like a chess game, where all the characters are pieces to be moved on the board. There were just so many spaces--so many panels and pages--to move a given character from position A to position C. The main objective was to get to that scene that was the whole centre of the story (often what appeared on the cover or the splash page), by any means necessary. That meant bending the characters (to the point of breaking) so they could get to that target--enormous liberties are sometimes taken with the characters.

So yeah, there is a Jerry Siegel/Joe Shuster Lois Lane (partly based on Joanne Siegel) and I really like that character. But I don't expect 1960s Lois to be that character. She's similar to her, but she's been renovated to work in a Weisinger world.

And I'm fine with that. I'm not here to pass judgement on either version of Lois. I have always liked the 1960s Lois and I have fallen in love with the 1930s/40s Lois. But I'm not going to try to perform mental gymnastics to make them fit together--nor am I going to defend one at the expense of the other.

I would compare Weisinger Era Lois to Job (the man in the Bible who suffers so much because Jehovah has made a bet with Satan). Superman is her Jehovah. Lois loves him no matter what. She suffers greatly, but she always ends up still being in love with the big guy in the sky.

Maybe I'm a heartless so-and-so but I enjoy the torture that Lois (as well as all the other characters--including Superman himself) endures. I don't take it too seriously. Although some of these stories gave me nightmares as a child. The main thing is this wonderful spectacle--sometimes frightening, sometimes hilarious--in all the stories. That's what makes Kurt Schaffenberger's art so great--Lois Lane is his finest achievement because he's given wonderful material to work with.

Mort seemed to love irony. I think Americans loved irony back then. I suppose this is because a lot of stuff had to be kept hidden. Americans weren't so open about everything--airing their dirty laundry--so there had to be a way to talk about this stuff without talking about it directly. Likewise, the Comics Code made it necessary to create drama without being blatant.

Irony engages the mind a lot more than the other three forms of drama (tragedy, comedy, romance), because it derives its power from what we know and what we don't know. That's why Lois Lane stories are so enjoyable to read (if you stop yourself from judging them). And the subject matter lends itself so well to irony--as we the readers know things that Lois knows and things she doesn't know and Superman knows things that Lois doesn't know and Lois knows things that maybe others don't know. And maybe the reader doesn't know everything. So we are always figuring out the story--at least in the best of these stories.

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India Ink
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« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2011, 12:02:31 AM »

Interesting topic!

I agree that there's a tendency of modern bloggers to take a cursory glance at the Weisinger titles and label him a misogynist, a misanthrope, etc.  I know there's a numerous accounts out there where contemporaries of Mort tell what a miserable SOB he was.  Maybe he was a despicable person, but there's also ample evidence that he knew exactly what he was doing as an editor.

With the Lois Lane title in particular, he walked a delicate tightrope between appealing to both male and female readers, and for the most part (at least between the prime years of 1958-65) he succeeded brilliantly.  Sales figures certainly support that - at one point it was the 3rd best selling DC title behind Superman and Superboy!

There's another thing people usually gloss over when reviewing these stories - and that's the letter columns.  On another board, we check in monthly on a vintage Weisinger column, and I've found them to be a valuable window into the zeitgeist of his audience.  For example, in one we looked at last month, there was a letter from a young fellow who ran a Superman fan club, and he related how they conducted a poll of their group (composed of about 50/50 male vs. female).  The result was overwhelming that they wanted Superman to punish Lois for being such a pest by giving her a "super-spanking"!

So it appears that Mort was on to something - his readers wanted Lois to be humbled, and even humiliated.  Why?  I don't think there's any deep psychoanalysis needed - they thought it was funny!  And that's one reason why they kept on buying it, year after year.





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India Ink
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« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2011, 04:51:41 AM »

I found a telling comment in a letter column today. This is in Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane 77--a Giant--and "The Editor" in this instance is probably E. Nelson Bridwell--who edited the Giants. He says that Lois is "a combination saint, sinner, imp, imbecile, smartypants, snob, Samaritan and what have you?"

I don't think anyone was under any illusions about Lois. Readers knew that she was a "sinner," but they enjoyed all her qualities.

Actually, if I think back to my opinions about girls when I was a little boy, I regarded the lot of them the same way. They were definitely kind and sweet at times, but they were also real brats and impossible to understand (and I had three older sisters).

For these reasons, I think Lois worked equally well for boys as girls. I'm sure the girls also enjoyed her devilishness. And really the relationship between Lois and Lana--both friends and rivals--was a lot like what i saw going on with my sisters and their friends. Some "friends" could be really mean. And little girls, and big girls also, knew that Lois and Lana were typical female friends and rivals.
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India Ink
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« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2011, 12:43:44 AM »

Osgood Peabody has pointed out to me (outside of this message board) that the letter column for Lois Lane 77 was made up of comments from previous letter columns. So it is probably the case that the editor's comments above came from Mort and not ENB, as I said. Some of the other responses in the letter column do suit Weisinger more than Bridwell.

By the way, in these letter columns the responses were always from "Ed."--so in those days, I just assumed the guy's name was Ed.
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India Ink
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