The Sexist Writing of Poison Ivy on Gotham

Poison Ivy has always been one of my favourite characters in the Batman universe.

In a lot of ways, she is everything that the patriarchy demands a woman shouldn’t be – intelligent, independent, in charge of her own sexuality while simultaneously lacking any real interest in men. She can be written very, very badly, of course, but she can also be written very interestingly, as a woman who defies categorization and who demands to be her own woman.

Poison Ivy is also a very interesting example of a sympathetic villain, because while she does kill often and unapologetically, she does so because of a traumatic event that changed her forever. For those of you unaware of her backstory, Poison Ivy was held hostage by her trusted friend and employer, who then proceeded to experiment on her and biologically alter her, turning her into something that is more plant than human. Afterwards, Poison Ivy has a very difficult time relating to other human beings and grows to hate them because of what they do to what is now her own kind – plants. She vows to protect the earth from man kind, and she does so, frequently, by killing them. In her story, it is very easy to see her as a victim, someone who is coming to terms with a violent attack but doing so poorly. And although her attack was not a literal rape, there are many elements in it that resemble one – the fact that it was done to her by a close friend but also someone in a position of power over her, the way that it left her feeling changed afterwards, and if one thinks about her in this way, it might explain why her hatred towards mankind seems to have a special emphasis on the word ‘man’.

The reason why I explain this is just to set up the character that I am discussing here, as well as part of the reason why I love her so much, and why it was such a disappointment to see the FOX series Gotham butcher her so terribly.

And I’m not even talking about a mere poor writing of her character – I’ve seen that before, and as much as I don’t like it, neither am I going to dwell on it all that much. I’m talking about a television show that takes a character who can be interpreted in very interesting but highly gendered ways and reduces her to walking boobs without even the semblance of a brain.

And where am I going to start with this? How about I start at the very moment where she became an active character on the show.

For those of you who have not watched Gotham, what I am about to explain might sound somewhat strange, but this is the backstory that she is given on the show. When Ivy is first introduced, she is a child – around fifteen years old. She hangs around on the show for a while, never really placed in the foreground until about season three, when Ivy is grabbed by a man who has the ability to increase a person’s age by touching them. The next time that we see her, she is played by twenty-nine year old actress Maggie Geha. So why did the show decide to age her up by about fourteen years? Because they wanted to sex her up, of course! According to Gotham executive producer Ken Woodruff in his interview with the Hollywood Report, the writers wanted to explore Ivy’s sexuality, something that has always been an aspect of her character, and they didn’t feel comfortable exploring the sexuality of a child.

And on the surface, this seems like a reasonable idea: it is uncomfortable to sexualize a child. Except for one thing: Gotham is about the characters of the Batman universe growing into their adult personas. It is a sort of coming of age story on one level, about Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, and Pamela Isley (or, in this case, Ivy Pepper) growing up to become Batman, Catwoman, and Poison Ivy. And as uncomfortable as this is going to make the parents of many teenagers, I have something to point out: fifteen year olds have sexuality, they are just learning about what that means and how they can explore it. To turn Ivy into an adult with her sexuality fully formed seems less like the show wants to explore how she grows into her sexuality and more like they want the men in the audience to drool over her. Imagine how different the show could have been if they instead decided to focus on a fifteen year old Ivy learning about the power in her sexuality, exploring that and what it means. It would have been less about how sexy she is and more about her learning to take charge of her body. Or, in other words, it would have been less about her as an object that men want to fuck and more about her taking charge of her own body and her own sexual power.

But Gotham is not interested in Ivy as a human being. They do not want to give her any real power. They just want to make her as sexy to the audience as possible, and a fifteen year old isn’t sexy.

And if you want more proof that Gotham doesn’t care about Ivy as a person, let’s look at the way that they characterize her after she becomes a foregrounded character on the show. Remember how I described her earlier – as an intelligent, independent woman with a hatred for all things male? Well, after Ivy becomes an adult and a walking set of boobs, she is then nonsensically made to take care of an injured Penguin (who openly and verbally abuses her constantly), and her defining characteristic seems to be how stupid she is. She is constantly bumbling idiotically into mistakes, not even realizing when she’s being manipulated by others. Now, I can forget the fact that Poison Ivy in the comics is a botanist with a PhD, because I know that she isn’t (yet) in the Gotham universe, but one of her defining characteristics in every previous adaption is the fact that she is manipulative. She knows how to get into people’s heads, and yes, part of that is because she employs the use of pheromones, but nonetheless, she is consistently smooth and seductive and charming. How is she supposed to do all of that if she doesn’t even have the wherewithal to know when someone is very blatantly lying to her?

Although I have no confirmation on this, my theory for this characterization of Ivy is very similar to the confirmed reason for why she was aged up: because the show only sees her as a sexual object. From the comics, they saw a character who was very open about her sexuality and they interpreted that character as stupid, as a doormat that can be easily abused and taken advantage of, when that is the furthest thing from true. Poison Ivy is a strong, independent woman. She is the woman who encourages Harley Quinn again and again to leave the Joker because he isn’t good for her, and yet here she is, allowing Penguin to yell at her and call her stupid. This isn’t just a case of the writers not understanding the character – this is a case of the writers taking a sexist and objectifying stance on a character who is so much more than the tits they reduced her to.

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere Review

Neil Gaiman has been a writer that I’ve had my eye on for a long time now. I’ve read a few of his works – American Gods, Coraline, Stardust, some of his more well-known novels. But an extensive reading list given to me over the past four years at university has kept me from scouring through his entire book list, the way I’ve been wanting to. Well, for better or worse, I’m free to read what I want now, and one of the first things on my reading list was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

I went into the novel fairly blind as to what I was getting into, and I came out of it with a very slight obsession. The story follows Richard Mayhew, a fairly average Londoner whose whole life changes when he stumbles upon an injured woman on the street. Soon, he finds that he is unable (literally) to return to his normal life, and he is thrust into the magical world known as London Below, where the forgotten find their place.

My first impression of the novel when I was reading through it was that it felt very much like a movie. People would make comments like “well, at least we got out of that okay” just before they found out the opposite. The characters felt very much like tropes, rather than real people (Richard is the trope of the everyman, the Marquis de Carabas is the trope of the helper with questionable intentions, Door is the trope of the innocent but quirky girl just outside of society so she doesn’t understand it all that well). And there was a short period of time where that sort of took me out of the story, until a cursory Google search of the novel informed me that… well, the novel was released alongside a BBC-released television movie, which explained a lot of the pacing. Once I realized that, I was able to forgive it a little bit, and once I was able to forgive it, I quickly found myself falling in love with it.

The story feels very familiar. I was going to say predictable, but no, that isn’t quite the word – the word is very much ‘familiar’, because I feel like this is a story I not only heard before, but one that I grew up with, one that I loved. I haven’t felt that way about a story in a long time. The characters may be very simple, but they are very likeable in their simplicity. The Marquis de Carabas’ intelligent wit may just be a part of his trope, for example, but it is a wonderful part, and Neil Gaiman does write it so well. And if we’re talking about characters that I thoroughly enjoyed, Croup and Vandemar, the novel’s villains, are evil to an enjoyable extent, and gory and gruesome to the point of thrilling. I loved every moment that the novel turned to them. Furthermore, the magical world that Gaiman creates of London Below is a fascinating one, fleshed out just enough that you feel like this is a world that could (unbelievably) exist, while leaving just enough unexplained that I frequently found my imagination taking hold and creating explanations of its own.

I loved this novel. I loved this novel like I’ve loved a select few novels. I’m sorry to finish it, but I excitedly await Neil Gaiman’s promised sequel The Seven Sisters.

What I Want to See in the Labyrinth Reboot

So, confession time here: I spend an odd amount of time watching the 1986 film Labyrinth, considering I’m a twenty-two year old woman who didn’t technically grow up watching it or anything. I checked it out for the first time when I was around sixteen, and although I didn’t think it was a perfect movie or anything like that, I came away from it with three distinct impressions: 1) it was a perfect adaption of a standard fairy tale or fantasy storyline, 2) David Bowie was awesome, and 3) Jim Henson’s style and the film’s set designs were positively gorgeous, making it quite possibly the most beautiful movie I have seen to date. From that point on, I’d watch it fairly regularly, and it eventually got to a point where it’s just become a comforting movie for me. Nothing can be wrong so long as Labyrinth is on, so if I’m having a bad day, I can just pop the movie in and come away feeling a little happier and a little bit more inspired.

So when I heard that Labyrinth was going to be rebooted, of course I had an opinion on the matter. Personally, I found the idea a little bit odd, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. There are two huge reasons for why I like the original film, and these are Jim Henson and David Bowie. They made the movie what it was, because let’s face it, the story isn’t the main draw for the film. I’m not even sure the original film cared about the story. If they did, they wouldn’t have meandered off to random subplots about creatures whose heads pop off and bogs of eternal stench. No, the whole film was just an excuse for Jim Henson to show off what he could do to create a magical setting and memorable characters, and it turns out that he can do a lot. Without Jim Henson or David Bowie, what does the film really have? Besides some stock plot about a girl trying to get her baby brother back from goblins, I mean.

This was my opinion for a long while, until my most recent viewing of Labyrinth (and by that, I mean last night) when I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, there were ways that this reboot wouldn’t completely suck.

And before I begin, there has actually been some promising news as far as the development of this reboot, and by that I mean that Helmer Fede Alvarez has been signed on to direct the film. For those of you who don’t know, Alvarez is best known for horror films like Don’t Breathe – a very atmospheric film that does a great job of evoking emotion. Alvarez isn’t Jim Henson, of course, but I think that’s the point. If Alvarez has been cast on to direct, then I think that the intention is to take it in a similar but different direction altogether. And let’s face it: the original Labyrinth had an eerie feel to it that I think a horror director could really do something with.

But there is something else that has been hinted at that absolutely must happen if I am going to approve of this reboot: it cannot be a remake. There is no way to remake the original Labyrinth. The original Labyrinth was built on Jim Henson’s vision and David Bowie’s awesome, and now that both men are sadly gone, there is no way to recreate that. However, that being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to a sequel – something that has been suggested, but as far as I can tell, not quite confirmed.

And I don’t mean a sequel where we catch up on what Sarah has been up to since 1986. I don’t care what Sarah has been up to since 1986. In fact, the reboot can even steal the premise from the original movie for all I care: a young girl wishes for Jareth to kidnap her baby brother, Jareth obliges, and she’s forced to travel through the Labyrinth to recuse him. But everything that happens from then on, all the creatures that she encounters and all the lessons that she learns all need to be original. I don’t want to see Hoggle. I don’t want to see Ludo. The only character that I want to return from the original is Jareth.

And when I say that, I don’t want the reboot to try to replace David Bowie. They can’t. It’s impossible. I want to Jareth to return, but I don’t want him to be some cheap look-alike. After all, Jareth is the Goblin King, isn’t he? He’s a fairy creature, and because of that, I’d totally buy it if everything about his appearance and demeanour were changed.

In the reboot, I want Jareth to be recast as some other iconic celebrity. The original intention for the Jareth character, after all, was for him to represent the id – he was hedonistic and ideal, and Jim Henson wanted to cast a rock star specifically because he thought that a rock star could capture that best. After considering which modern celebrity would best fill the role, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to see Lady Gaga in the role. While she might not be quite as iconic as David Bowie, she does capture that same sense of bigness, that same love of style and fairy-like androgyny, and she would be my perfect choice. However, that being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to other suggestions – just so long as the reboot tries to take the character and the story in its own direction, while still capturing the magic and strangeness of the movie that I have come to love over the years.

Thirteen Reasons Why Review

As the entire internet has been talking about Thirteen Reasons Why, I found myself curious to watch it, despite my reservations based off the fact that I knew the book existed growing up and never really had an interest in reading it. I had always sort of figured that it would read like a teacher’s lecture about why bullying is bad and suicide is never the answer. And while I still haven’t read the book, so I can’t say if that’s the case for Jay Asher’s work, that is not what I found in the Netflix television show.

The television show discusses in close and sometimes graphic detail issues such as suicide, bullying, rape, depression, and women’s issues, and I have to admit, I really admire the show for the directions that it sometimes chose to take. I should say, right off the bat, that I really enjoyed this show and could not stop watching it – but more on that later. First, I’m going to list off the parts of the show that I really enjoyed, and the reasons why I would recommend it to others.

The show represents bullying in a very mature and realistic way. The kids who bully Hannah (for the most part) are not one-dimensional bullies who are completely irredeemable: they are either incredibly hurt people who are too busy dealing with their own problems to notice the pain they are simultaneously causing, or they are realistically dumb kids who just don’t think that this is something that can hurt someone. And the way that the show represented either end impressed me hugely: I liked that I cared about many of the bullies, but at the same time understood why they deserved the retaliation that they received. They were neither good nor evil people, they were just people. To a certain extent, even the show’s hero, Clay, is depicted as an imperfect person, as Clay contributes to some of the bullying that goes on at school, and it’s hard to say how much of the extent to which he blames the bullies for Hannah’s death is rational. And on the other spectrum, I enjoyed the way in which simple dumb kids were depicted. There are several scenes throughout the show where characters (particularly male characters) give Hannah very back-handed compliments and genuinely don’t understand when she gets offended, and this feels very realistic to me. This is something that people (women in particular) experience all the time is a society run on a limited definition of beauty, and it was nice to see this expressed in a very realistic way and to have it explained why, exactly, this isn’t okay.

And although the show has received some criticism about the fact that, while showing characters with symptoms of depression, mental illness is never explicitly discussed, I didn’t really mind the way it was portrayed. As someone who has suffered from depression in the past (and who has a tendency to go back to depressive thoughts from time to time), I found that the symptoms of depression were clear enough that I knew what they were trying to convey. And, more than that, it really reminded me of how it felt to have depression but to not realize that you do, and to not have your mental illness recognized by people around you – which, admittedly, mostly happened to me when I was a teenager. And the majority of the characters are teenagers. Teenagers who, repeatedly, have their emotions and issues belittled unintentionally by the adults around them, and the show does a very realistic job of portraying this as well.

These facts about the show has earned it a very special place in my heart, and when I was watching it, I found that I could not look away – both because I was so engrossed in what was watching and because, at some points, I just couldn’t look away. It was like stumbling upon a car crash – you just want to keep watching until you find out what the body count is and how gory they died. There are three scenes in particular that I found to be incredibly graphic – two rape scenes and a depiction of suicide. Thus far, I’ve been praising the show for how realistic their depictions have been, but these three scenes are where I wonder if a line needs to be drawn. Upon completing the show, I found myself feeling emotionally drained and very low, and these three scenes in particular are responsible for that. They are just so graphic, so intimate, and as much as I can see the benefit of that, I can also see the harm for a specific audience.

And more on that, the way that the show treated Hannah’s decision to kill herself was sometimes questionable. Clay, the show’s protagonist and the perspective through which we see most things, believes that Hannah was justifiably driven to suicide through the actions of those around her. They let her down, they are responsible – not her. We do see other perspectives from time to time, including a school councilor who assures Clay that Hannah’s suicide wasn’t his fault and a fellow student who claims that everyone deals with pain and that “suicide is for the weak,” but Clay’s perspective is the one that is given the most weight, and it’s a perspective that I don’t agree with. When someone kills themselves, it is natural to feel like you could have done something more to avoid that outcome, but it is not your fault. It is not your fault. It is not your fault. Everyone deals with pain, and everyone deals with it differently. If someone makes the choice to end their life, it is because they are dealing with overwhelming mental illness. And more than that, it is a choice that they made. It is not your fault. And the fact that they keep working under the assumption that Hannah’s suicide was the fault of anyone else but Hannah seems a little bit unfair. Yes, those who bullied and assaulted her should be held accountable, but her choice to take her own life is a separate action.

Despite my problems with the show, however, I have to say that I really loved it in the end. I loved how fleshed out and realistic the characters were, I love that they took on such important issues, and I loved that they were willing to take risks and be dark when they needed to be. I don’t know if I would recommend this show to everyone, just because of how dark and how graphic it is, but if you think that you can handle it, I would definitely say that it’s worth the watch.

Psycho 2 Review

Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho is a horror classic. It features images that have become ingrained in popular culture, such as the famous shower scene, the image of the corpse sitting on its chair in the fruit cellar, and Norman Bates’s evil smile to close off the film. It offers many brilliant performances, many subtle notes, and many reasons to come back to the film again and again. Really, it’s a story that doesn’t need to be continued – a story that you almost don’t want to see continued, because the narrative gaps that are left into the film are all ones that you enjoy filling in for yourself. And yet they made a sequel. Yay?

So, yeah, let’s get that out of the way first: this is a sequel that doesn’t really need to exist. The first Psycho was complete unto itself, no one was really clamouring to see how Norman Bates’s story continued, and although the book that Psycho is based on does have a sequel, this film is not based on it. And considering the fact that the first film was a classic, there’s absolutely no chance whatsoever that this film can compare. But that being said, a lot of horror sequels aren’t really necessary, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyed for what they are.

And there are quite a few things that this film has working in its favour. Anthony Perkins returns to play Norman Bates, and his performance was a highlight of the first film. He was the awkwardly charismatic man with a secret, someone who you knew wasn’t quite right but you weren’t quite sure how not right until the movie’s end. Well, in this film, all pretense is dropped and we know how not right Norman Bates is. Sort of. I mean, we know the crimes that he is responsible for in the past, but interestingly enough, the film’s conflict comes from the fact that Norman Bates has been released into the public, considered legally sane, and yet murders have begun springing up again, and Norman has begun receiving messages from his mother again. Is he losing his mind again, or is someone working against him?

On the one hand, I like this conflict. I feel like, at some point, it was the makings for a very strong script. I like the idea of humanizing a person who is extremely mentally ill and responsible for terrible crimes. But, at the same time, there is a fine line between humanizing someone and ignoring the fact that they are a serial murderer, and this film crosses that line sometimes. There are multiple points throughout the film where other characters are accused of being “just as crazy as Norman,” and unless they’ve also hacked up women in the shower because they dared to be attractive, I’m going to say that isn’t true. There are simply too many times in this film where it feels like the writers forget the things that Norman is responsible for, and more than that, they forget just how mentally ill he was. They forget about the internalized misogyny that made him want to punish women he found attractive. They forget that his alter-ego “Mother” was not solely responsible for the things he did, and that getting rid of that alter-ego would not completely cure him and make him an average, neurotypical man. And, yes, I know that time has passed since the first film and that Norman has been in mental institutions ever since, but a) the first film established that Norman had been in psychiatric care before and it hadn’t cured him completely, and b) I can only buy that Norman has changed a certain amount, and being replaced with an entirely different character is not enough.

And, not to mention, there are a lot of plots in this film, to a point where I felt somewhat confused about what was going on. Without spoiling anything, there are multiple villains throughout the film and not all of them are working with one another. Norman just seems to attract crazy. A subplot is introduced regarding the possibility that Norman may or may not have adopted, and I’m not really sure what this subplot adds to the universe of the Psycho films. It just feels really ridiculous and unnecessary.

But that being said, I went into a film called Psycho 2. I was prepared for ridiculous and unnecessary, and that is exactly what I received in abundance. I do not feel let down by the film that I saw, not in the least, and as much as I’m aware that it was a bad film, it still held my interest all the way through. I got the impression that the writer behind this film watched the first Psycho and thought: “This is good, but what if it was more sympathetic toward Norman, and what if the women were all the villains instead?” and that choice was simply so befuddling to me that I wanted to keep watching. And by the time the film ended, I felt like I had thoroughly enjoyed myself.

So the way I see it, when you come across a film called Psycho 2, you know what you’re getting into. You know that it’s probably going to be a little over-the-top, a little ridiculous, and considering it was a sequel to a horror film made in the 1980’s, a little gory. And as long as you expect that, rather than the brilliance of the first film, you will not be disappointed. You might even have a lot of fun with it.