So the new Avengers movie has been out for a while and holy shit, has it created a lot of talking points. But strangely, I haven’t heard anyone talking about the point that I feel is the most salient, which is, “was it better than the first one?”
Nope, instead we need to discuss Tony Stark and his rape joke and thus the continuation of rape culture. Here’s the clip if you haven’t seen it, starts around the 40 second mark. If you didn’t watch it, basically, everyone is hanging out at a party trying to lift Thor’s magical hammer Mjolnir, which can only be wielded by one worthy of its power. Before Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man tries, he quips, “so, if I lift it, I then rule Asgard?” Thor dryly responds, “yes, of course.” Tony then says, “I will be reinstituting prima nocta.”
I have three points I wish to make:
1: Characterization. Tony Stark’s entire characterization is that he is a jerk. He’s funny, he’s witty, he’s insanely smart, and he frequently helps save the world . . . but he is an asshole. He’s on a heroic journey not to transition from asshole to good person but from asshole who used to make weapons that killed everyone to asshole trying to fix the mess he made.”I will be reinstituting prima nocta” is something an asshole would say. In fact, that’s one of the ways we know he’s an asshole!
If Captain “Language, please!” America had talked about the good ol’ days of America before women were people, yes, that would be considerably worse. That would be an indication that the creators of this story want us to think along those lines, want us to agree with that idea. We’re supposed to look up to Cap. He’s the icon, the standard, even if he’s not “the coolest” or the most powerful or the funniest.
But Tony is a dick. He insults everyone around him, often at the same time; I think it’s fair to say his word choice “reinsituting” rather than “instituting” was meant as a dig at Thor’s people.
2: Well, let’s say it’s not okay to make jokes about rape. I actually disagree with that point philosophically as I think humor is a powerful force for social change, but let’s save that for another post. Let’s imagine a different version of this scene: after Tony makes a joke about prima nocta, everyone laughs and nods, not in the audience, but on screen. Thor smiles and says, “yes, those were good times,” and Cap says something charmingly old timey about smacking secretaries on the ass as they walked by. Everyone has a good old laugh about it. Rape culture for everyone! This is a universe where that’s okay, what does it say about our universe and about us?!
Except that doesn’t happen. If you listen closely to the clip, none of the other Avengers even chuckle. No one agrees with him.
Instead, right after making his joke, right after reminding us that he’s a dick, the literal goddamn forces of the universe also point out that Tony Stark is not worthy. The universe itself, in the form of a magical hammer, tells Tony Star that he is an asshole. He does not get a cosmic pat on the back and a vindication of everything he does. He does not get approval. The hammer stays put. He cannot lift it.
God (well, a god) is telling him, Tony, that he is not good enough. Is his misogynist nature be part of that? COULD BE.
This wouldn’t be as noteworthy on its own initially, as no one seems able to lift the hammer, although there are hints that Captain America can and pretends not to, likely to spare Thor’s ego. But later on . . . potential spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie, although I’ll try to avoid specific names: later in the movie, there is a character that can lift the hammer aside from Thor and the fact that he can proves his worthiness to the team. So we know that people other than Thor can lift the hammer if it judges them worthy of it.
Does this mean that the hammer rejected him because of his joke? What about the other characters who also couldn’t lift it? Should we take this to mean they’re also assholes? I don’t think so; there’s enough to suggest that each character who tries to lift the hammer can’t for their own reasons: Banner, because in his heart, he doesn’t want to. Hawkeye and Cap (assuming Cap wasn’t faking) likely can’t because they’re soldiers rather than warriors; to them, the fight is a job, not a way of life as it is for Thor’s people. For Hawkeye, at least, given the choice, it’s obvious he’d rather be hanging out at home (which we do see later).
But Tony does want power in a way that Banner doesn’t. He isn’t fighting out of a sense of duty like Cap and Hawkeye. But Tony still cannot lift the hammer. He is not worthy. If “we” want to be worthy (in the sense that we learn values and ideas from stories), we need to consider that point. If we want to be worthy, we need to be better. Not just funnier, not just wittier, but better.
3: Won’t someone please think of the children? Kids shouldn’t hear this kind of stuff. First of all, the movie is PG-13. If your kid is thirteen, they already know. Secondly, how many children know what prima nocta actually is? Do you realize that the entire point of children’s entertainment (well, one of them, at least; merchandise was the main point) in the 90s was to see how many filthy references one could slip by the kids, because kids don’t know what that stuff means? Seriously, this joke is downright brilliant in its subtlety compared to the cartoons I grew up on.
A closing thought: Why is everyone freaking out about this, but no one seemed to seemed to really care when Loki called Natasha a whiny cunt in the previous film? Why is that?