How ‘Justice League’ ruined the ‘Wonder Woman’ Amazonian outfits

I’d been holding out on watching Zack Synder’s “Justice League” because I knew I was going to be disappointed after watching Patty Jenkin’s “Wonder Woman.” What I didn’t know is that not only would I be disappointed, I would be furious too.

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As I’ve mentioned before, the 2017 “Wonder Woman” movie starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins may or may not have changed my life. I cried my way though the whole movie and left the theater with high hopes for future super heroine depictions. Those hopes were somewhat sustained by the 2018 “Black Panther” release because, although the badass females in that movie weren’t the main characters, they were still very much celebrated and given almost as much screen time as the Black Panther himself, T’Challa, and his nemesis, Erik Killmonger (but that’s a topic for another blog).

Regardless, I left the theater after watching “Wonder Woman” with my heart in my throat and my head in the clouds regarding future super heroine depictions. But I was brought back down to Earth hard after I finally got around to watching Zack Synder’s “Justice League.”

Two VERY different designs
Can you guess which set of costume armor was designed by a man? Lindy Hemming designed the set used for “Wonder Woman” (left) and Michael Wilkinson designed the set for “Justice League” (right). Source: Instagram via People.com

By now, you’ve probably heard of the controversy surrounding the late 2017 release and, more specifically, the altered Amazonian warrior costumes (And if you haven’t, have you been living under a rock?).

According to an article from Cinemablend.com, the official line from Michael Wilkinson, costume designer for “Justice League,” is that the reason the costume designs are so different between the two movies is because of the different time periods.

“For the majority of screen time in Justice League, the Amazons appears in 2017: one hundred years after the events of the Wonder Woman film,” Wilkinson said. “We wanted to show the passage of time by having a slight development in their armor, so some of the lines and details are different.”

Saying “some” of the lines and details are different is a bit of an understatement as nearly all the Amazonian costumes in “Justice League” have been reduced to thin lines and bare midriffs, a design that is incredibly impractical for a female warrior race.

[READ: Wonder Woman Calls for a Reimagining of Cinematic Feminism]

Lindy Hemming, costume designer for “Wonder Woman,” has been interviewed on her inspirations for the 2017 movie costumes and several chapters of the book “Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film” were devoted to the subject. But the best analysis of the costumes, by far, came from a fellow costume designer and writer Amanda Weaver. Weaver, an unaffiliated fan of the film, broke down the costume designs in a series of tweets that are well worth the read.

Weaver's Twitter costume breakdown
Weaver’s passionate break down of the Amazonian costumes in “Wonder Woman” – and how they compare to previous “pin-up” incarnations of Diana’s costume – is a real treat to read if you’ve got the time. Source: Twitter

Weaver reversed-engineered Diana’s costume and that of the other Amazons in the 2017 movie and compared it to early Roman armor, ending her passionate “gushing” by saying the armor of Diana and her fellow Amazonians “showed respect” and that “The intent was to portray these women as warriors first and foremost.”

And warriors they are. Even though that’s not how Wilkinson and Synder went about portraying them.

Wilkinson continued in the same article from Cinemablend, saying, “Zack [Synder] wanted a more primal feel. So we harkened back to a time where armor was more primitive, metal was less developed and the Amazons had a more tribal feel.”

[READ: Why Wonder Woman Should Have Her Own Video Game]

Because “primal” and “tribal” apparently mean less clothing, more skin on display, and not as much protective armor, which seems counterintuitive for a warrior race. Never mind that most of the Amazonians wore hard leather armor with only some pieces of metal placed at a few key locations along their bodies.

More Weaver breakdown
Another tweet from Amanda Weaver detailing the use of leather in early Roman armor and how it was used as the inspiration for the Amazonian costumes in “Wonder Woman.” Source: Twitter

I could keep going about how this costume change takes three giant steps back in terms of female representation in the movies by reducing a group of powerful warrior women to dude-bro fantasy babes wearing nothing but skimpy leather bikinis, or about how since “Wonder Woman” was filmed before “Justice League,” Synder probably already had the original Amazonian costumes and made the conscious decision to scrap those designs and waste time and money creating new more revealing outfits, but I’m not.

I’ll just content myself knowing that although Justice League made away with just over 2 million in domestic revenue, according to BoxOfficeMojo, Marvel’s “Black Panther” made almost that much on its opening weekend.

Better luck next time, Synder. Who knows, maybe if you stop catering to dude bros and start broadening your female and POC representation, you’ll start seeing greater returns.

Just don’t ever expect to get on Marvel’s level.

And with that, let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

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Rape in video games: “Sex Sells”

Video games and controversy, especially where sex and violence are concerned, seem to go together like two things that often go together but really shouldn’t.

Violence in video games is no new thing.

Just poke around the Internet or listen to the news for a little while and you’ll uncover a treasure trove of articles and talk show rants about how video games are corrupting America’s children with their gratuitous sex and violence.

Personally, I’m of the belief that violence in video games does not translate to violence and real life, and the idea that it does or will is a myth perpetrated by overly anxious newscasters and parents. While you can argue that we have seen an uptick in casual violence in recent years, I think that’s as much a product of other societal factors including news coverage of wars and crime, gory TV shows and movies and explicit music videos as much as it is a result of teenagers killing pixelating people.

But that’s an issue for another blog.

Instead of picking apart the conservative argument that violence in video games causes violence in real life, I’d like to take a look at the other element of video games that tends to draw controversy like moths to a flame: sex.

[READ: Why sexy modding isn’t really sexy at all]

As a culture that holds conflicting attitudes towards sexuality, especially in regards to women, America often invites controversy over sex and sexual content as a way to sell products and push political or social agendas.

The age old adage “sex sells” is heard so often around some advertising agencies — or in some news reports justifying and/or condemning said sexual content — that it’s become an accepted mode of communication, especially persuasive communication.

Take, for instance, the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. commercials that feature heavily sexualized, buxom blonde babes taking monster bites out of a hamburger too big for her plump all-American mouth. These commercials are so outrageous and over-the-top they’re almost parodies of themselves. Despite recent claims that Hardee’s will dump the “Slutburger,” commercials featuring the sexy models still air in many states, perpetuating this ideal image of American women as sex objects and icons.

father son hardee's commercial screenshot
Even this new commercial with its central message of changing cultural attitudes within the company features big-breasted women with their juicy burgers even if the context in which they are shown is made to satirize such representation. Source: Youtube.com

In a contrast so sharp it may give you whiplash, the LPGA has recently announced a new dress code for female golfers intended at making their outfits less revealing and more “professional.” ABC News reported this tonal shift on morning talk show “Good Morning America” by showing stock footage images of female golfers in low cut, tight tube tops while actual footage of female golfers on the course showed women in skirts, long-sleeved tops and, in a select few cases, colorful racerback tanks.

michelle wie action shot
This dress code has been criticized as a form of slut shaming by the LPGA and, like the “pinky-length” dress codes enforced by overzealous middle school teachers, humiliates women when the real problem are the men who are so often “distracted” by such displays of skin. Source: Guardian.com

This strict divide between how American popular culture depicts women and what society actually wants them to be is confusing, hard to navigate and often leaves many women trapped in a social limbo where they can never fulfill cultural expectations without running afoul of actual societal assumptions.

[READ: ‘Wonder Woman’ calls for a reimagining of cinematic feminism]

But what does all of this have to do with rape in video games?

The answer lies in a discussion of one of the most pervasive social influences of this century, one that plays a hand in the conception and design of everything from TV shows to music videos to movies to video games to news stories to policy and political agendas while simultaneously coloring our perception of events in a way that tolerates and even condones violence and sexual violence against women.

Rape culture.

For anyone familiar with feminist discourse and rhetoric, the concept of a U.S. rape culture should be no new thing, but for those confused as to what rape culture means and what it looks like in our society, buckle in.

It’s a complex and evolving social concept, one that is decried and highlighted as much as it is ignored and tolerated. It’s also one of those social shames that nobody wants to talk about or admit has a hand in shaping how they perceive things. But in order to talk, really talk, about rape in video games, we need to talk about rape culture, what it looks like and how it affects us. The “Sex Sells” mentality of advertising is only one aspect of rape culture, a multifaceted, multi-headed Hydra beast.

Next week I’ll take a crack at defining rape culture and delineating its affects on our societal social perception, but for now just think about the LPGA golfers and the Hardee’s commercials I talked about above. Not only are they results of the rape culture mentality so prevalent in our society, they also further the kind of thinking that most feminists — and most rational people, if they actually stop and think about it — want to eradicate.

Until then, let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

huffington post pic
It should be this simple, but it often isn’t. Source: Huffingtonpost.com

The secret history of video game advertising

This blog has become more of an outlet for all my video game frustration than a place of discussion and learning, but who says it can’t be both?

Way back when I first started this blog, I may have mentioned the fact that my original concept for this experiment in self-actualization included a discussion of a paper I wrote for my English 105i class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Obviously, I’ve deviated considerably from this intent statement, but there are still some important points I would like to address regarding that paper and what I learned while writing it.

And the first is sexism.

Sexism in gaming is an incredibly broad topic, one that cannot be comprehensively tackled in one, two or even sixteen (now seventeen) blog posts . Anita Sarkeesian, gaming’s fearless godmother, and many others have tried tackling this overarching topic but even they have just barely scratched the surface of this pervasive norm in gaming culture.

In this entry, I’m going to narrow the field a bit and talk about sexism in the early days of gaming, or more specifically the marketing strategies used to sell video games in the 90s and how those tactics spawned the toxic reality we now live in.

A good chunk of my paper focused on this topic with nearly all the research pulled out of a Polygon article entitled “No Girls Allowed” by Tracey Lien.

In it, Lien discusses the “chicken-and-egg” marketing strategy that led early developers to target male players.

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Source: Polygon.com.

Basically, early polls suggested that a large part of the early consumer audience were teenage boys. Marketers then took that information and intentionally crafted their marketing campaigns and products to cater to that audience. This led to a cyclical loop that reinforced stereotypes that men were the only ones playing video games, which increased their numbers in poll results which lead to more targeted campaigning, and so on and so forth.

A lot of earlier advertising techniques were incredibly sexist, using sex and violence to sell exclusively to boys with little regard to any female audience that might want to play these games.

Note: some of these pictures are hard to look at. Not just because they’re overtly sexist and piggishly disgusting but because they are mind-bogglingly forthright in their quest to disregard female audiences and cater exclusively to males.

This just makes you think, what advertising executive signed off on this degradingly sexist display?

Even today, when the ratio of male to female players is almost one to one, there seem to be a lot of games with commercials and advertising campaigns meant to emphasis the maleness of those games.

“Call of Duty” is a franchise with a history of catering specifically towards a male audience with little regard to potential female players. Even games with female leads, like Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate” for example, focus almost entirely on the men in the game.

Don’t believe me?

Both the E3 cinematic and the US debut trailer make absolutely no mention of the playable female character. Even the “Syndicate” box art mostly features the robust and rugged Jacob Frye rather than his badass and beautiful twin Evie.

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In case you didn’t see her, she’s off to the right and easy to miss if you don’t know who you’re looking for. 

And Jacob is the only Frye in this trailer, despite the fact that they play equal roles in the story. 

And I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Erik Kain of the game section of Forbes magazine devotes an entire article to the sexism in the box art of a game that focuses equally on both Jacob and Evie, yet fails to include Evie in most of the box art and promotional features.

These are the kinds of subtle advertising techniques that perpetuate sexism in an industry that is just starting to outgrow its early sexist stagnation.

While I can offer no outright solution to this problem in gaming, I can conclude that this disturbing trends needs to change, especially now that there are more games with female leads coming out every day.

“Rise of the Tomb Raider” and “Horizon Zero Dawn” and “Mass Effect: Andromeda” and “Dishonored 2” all feature female leads in some capacity or another. And we should showcase these women and all the others to come rather than burying them in an onslaught of marketing and advertisements meant to cater to men and only men.

Just for clarification, this post definitely isn’t a cry to have more video games cater to women exclusively because Lord knows what kind of disaster marketing execs would come up with to address “female needs.”

In this day and age, when our children are still separated by colors, I don’t want to imagine what stereotypical depictions those execs and the game designers they work for would try to pass off as the female ideal.

Just make more games with female leads and use them in advertisements. Focus on the women just as much as the men and try to be as inclusive as possible.

Continue making the games we love, but don’t blot women out of the picture because we’re a growing demographic. And one day you might regret cutting us out of the picture.

But for now we’ll just game on.

Let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

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