Analysis

Captain Marvel and Toxic Fandom

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we as human beings have the following needs:

  • Self-Actualization: desire to become the most that one can be.
  • Esteem: respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedom
  • Love and belonging: friendship, intimacy, family, sense of connection
  • Safety needs: personal security, employment, resources, health, property
  • Physiological needs: air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, reproduction

In this day of the internet and social media, we are able to satisfy most of these needs with our electronic devices. We are even able to satisfy our physiological needs: we can order clothing on Amazon, search the internet for places to live, and order food online. We can even find sexual partners online.

Among the other needs outlined by Maslow are love and belonging and esteem. We want to be connected with like-minded individuals, and we want to be heard and have our voices respected. In that respect, we can gain self-esteem, status, recognition, and strength through digital connection. This can be a positive experience, but it can also become toxic.

It can be argued that a sense of connection is a central aspect of fandom. If I’m a fan of Star Wars, I would love to be around other Star Wars fans. Can we agree on that? Yes? Okay, let’s move on.

It has become common knowledge that Star Wars fandom has become quite toxic due to outright sexism and racism. This was illustrated clearly through the social media attacks against Kelly Marie Tran (the actress that plays Rose in The Last Jedi) that actually forced her off of social media. Series star Daisy Ridley also left Instagram due to those disagreeing with her political views and her posts with her and close friend (and co-star) John Boyega. I could go on and on about this. The point of this post isn’t about the toxicity of Star Wars specifically, but how we seem to be satisfying our hierarchy of needs in a sometimes-toxic way, and how that is uniting us–for better or worse.

Enter the petitions calling for Disney/Marvel to remove Brie Larson as Captain Marvel.

Now there have been a few petition against Brie Larson. One wanting her removed because she “has the personality of a corner houseplant and cannot stand on the same movie set as Tony Stark or Steve Rogers”. This was, of course, before the film Captain Marvel was released. This petition is posted on Change.org and has over two thousand supporters.

The comments left by petition supporters under “Reasons for Signing” include:

“Brie Larson is hurting the MCU with her obnoxious views, unlikable attitude and stiff acting. Along with mocking the fans, she is insufferable. I’m signing this in hopes she will be removed from Captain Marvel and recast.”

That is just one comment. I do not have the patience to read through the others.

There is another online petition, this one from Care2 Petitions, that is demanding that Captain Marvel be played by a LGBTQ+ woman of color and not Brie Larson. This petition states the following;

“We need Brie Larson to step down from her role to prove she is an ally of social justice and ensure a gay woman of color plays the role.”

I am going to address the latter first because it annoys me the most. Before I get any deeper into this, let me remind you all that I am a person of color. As a person of color, I completely reject this.

Obviously, as a comic book fan, I recognize that Monica Rambeau held the mantel of Captain Marvel before the character Carol Danvers did. Monica Rambeau took the name after the ORIGINAL Captain Marvel, Mar-Vel, the Kree warrior who originally held the title (and the character Annette Benning’s character in Captain Marvel is loosely based on) had died. The title then reverted back to Mar-Vell when he was resurrected. Rambeau then took another code name, and later on Mar-Vell imparted the title of ‘Captain Marvel’ to Carol Danvers. This was done back in the 1980s. The role was not “white washed” as the petition claims. If those that started said petition, and those that signed it, truly feel this strongly then they should have protested Marvel a LONG time ago, before the character was even whispered to be entering the MCU. They didn’t. They probably didn’t know any of this.

Furthermore the Care2 Petition says that Larson should step down to show that she is a friend to social justice. This is ironic because those who have truly been showing hatred toward Brie Larson have done so as a reaction to her statement that she did not want “a 40-year-old-white dude” to tell her what to think about A Wrinkle In Time, the movie. She went on to clarify her remark, framing it as a reference to the disparity between intended audiences and movie critics: “[A Wrinkle in Time] wasn’t made for him [a 40-year-old white dude]! I want to know what it meant to women of color, biracial women, to teen women of color.”

She has further called for more diversity in media coverage when it comes to film as white male reporters tend to dominate the red carpet. Essentially Brie Larson has endured the same attacks that films such as Black Panther and the all-female Ghostbusters remake suffered. These are the same kinds of attacks that Gal Gadot suffered because she wasn’t built like Wonder Woman in the comic books–in other words, that Gal Gadot’s hips and breasts weren’t big enough. Furthermore, these same people lost their minds because Wonder Woman had viewings that were held exclusively for women. I’m not the first one to write about these things, and I am glad that I won’t be the last.

However I digress.

The point is, the petitions against Brie Larson are completely ridiculous, hypocritical, sexist, and just outright ignorant. Brie Larson is a talented actress, with a witty and fun take on the character. The Carol Danvers that I remember from previous cartoons, including the 90s X-Men cartoon, was very serious, stoic, and angry. Of course, if I had my powers siphoned by Rogue and was in a coma for years, I would be angry too. I found her scenes in Endgame fun, and she fit into the MCU just fine for me. 

My final point, and the reason why I am writing this article is this: how toxic have our needs for self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedom, respect, friendship, and sense of connection become? It seems as though the internet and social media, have allowed for an even greater use of mob mentality that offers a sense of power and entitlement to say what we want, when we want, and how we want. Just because we “can”do something, “should” we? Just because you can follow actors and actresses on social media, should you use said connection to be negative? Can’t we like or dislike something without it turning into a toxic mob attack?

Perhaps not. Our need for importance, respect, and connections are just too strong. I used to call people out for being “keyboard tough guys” that use the anonymity of the Internet to trash talk. However, these people unite into various communities within communities within communities, and they encourage each other, which empowers them to do what they do. It’s shameful.

If you do not like Brie Larson’s performance as Captain Marvel, that’s fine. You do not have to agree with me. I’m not asking you to. I love healthy debate between fans of a franchise. If you say ‘I don’t like Brie Larson because she’s just some social justice warrior feminist,’ then I have no desire to have any sort of discussion with you. A woman calling for diversity isn’t a bad thing. A woman standing up against the social norms of a patriarchal society isn’t a bad thing. Women are our sisters, aunts, girlfriends, wives, mothers, and fellow humans, and they deserve our love and respect. I personally believe that, as men, it’s our obligation to stand with women as allies. Women aren’t damsels in distress that need saving. Women are people that have been treated as second class citizens and sex objects for far too long and far too often in human history. So yeah, not liking her for calling for equality won’t win you a friend in me.

In closing, I do not support any call to remove Brie Larson as Carol Danvers. I do call for the Monica Rambeau character to become a major player in the MCU as she is in the comics (she’s been the leader of the Avengers and is a very powerful character), and to finally get her own identity that Marvel has not allowed her to have, which is a massive miscarriage of character justice. I want Monica in the MCU but not at the expense of Carol Danvers and Brie Larson.

You want to petition against Marvel? Petition for Monica Rambeau both on film and in comics. Do your research, and do not base your petitions in bias and hatred. Petitions should be based on passion and opinion, but creators should ensure their opinions are supported by research and facts.

-Bryan

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