DC Marvel

What Wonder Woman means for the Pop Culture Landscape

I must be the only nerd left alive who hasn’t seen Wonder Woman, although it’s not by choice, simply from force of circumstance. I’m actually suffering from a terrible syndrome labelled ‘nerd-FOMO’ or nerd-fear-of-missing-out.

There’s a spectrum of nerdism. On one end is the person who couldn’t care less. Not so much the anti-nerd, as the indifferent onlooker. In the middle is the casual nerd. The constant stream of pop culture tends to blur at the edges for these viewers. The casual nerds may watch the occasional superhero film while half asleep on a plane, or while baby-sitting the young adolescent in their lives. The films leave barely an imprint on the consciousness of the casual nerd. They pass through like a breeze. The hardcore nerd, which I’m proudly one, knows the difference between DC and Marvel, and is intimately familiar with the perplexing taxonomy of each: the infinity gauntlet, the multiverse, the multitude of universal crises, the civil wars, the New 52, the rebirth, the terrigen mist…

 Wonder Woman is an important milestone. It’s one of the few films that has broken through and reached into audiences who are usually indifferent to the lycra-clad fisticuffs. A female star. A female director. And an apparently well-made film. The casual and indifferent nerds are paying attention.

The comic pop culture world is disturbingly patriarchal. With its foundational roots laid down in the 30’s and 40’s, the superhero model demanded Adonis like bodies from the male superheroes, and the scantily-clad supporting role for the females. Female superheroes are often splayed across comic covers, legs akimbo, reportedly kicking a bad guy’s butt - although the pose would be more convincing as prep for a cervix exam.

The box office success of Wonder Woman is the crest of a wave that’s been building in pop culture for some time. The two most recent incarnations of Star Wars have starred female protagonists.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe sausage fest is overwhelming (Wonder Woman is from the DC ‘universe’, and the Marvel movies don’t have a single female hero who has their own film), but in the comics, Marvel is far more progressive. In recent years, a handful of their all-stars have actually switched genders. Thor, Iron Man, Wolverine and more are now female characters.

 So, as a hardcore nerd, I feel compelled to say: listen, we know it’s not great. We know it’s often misogynistic and gross. But it is improving. Many critics have predicted the end of the superhero film genre, much like the end of Hollywood’s love with the Western and stage musicals. This may be true, but with the explosive success of Wonder Woman, we will hopefully start seeing new female-led franchises. Comics and superheroes have continued to be a strong part of the pop culture consciousness since the 1920’s, and have shifted their values to reflect the zeitgeist of the time. So as a mirror, Wonder Woman is incontrovertible proof that even the most conservative corners of Hollywood are ready to start pushing narratives that counter patriarchy. As a hardcore nerd and a soon-to-be-father of a daughter, I’m immensely grateful.