JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

Notes  

1. We should also remember that the obsessive relations between male heroes and villains within the comic book tradition emerge from a sort of covert homoeroticism. The villain is obsessed with the hero’s body, with finding his weakness, with penetrating or shattering or inflicting violence upon him. The villain thus becomes a failed version of the hero who must eradicate the hero in order to validate his own perverse ethical agenda. It is never just about "ruling the world," but also about ruling the hero’s body.

2. "Wholesome" tends to be the death-knell for media analysis, and the glass ceiling against which pop-culture scholarship is continually thrust against. Generally, for a show to be deemed worthy of academic attention, it needs to encode some sort of exilic, anarchic, or troubling potential (labeled as "transgression"), and it is this potential that the analysis is interested in, not the show itself. Once a show is deemed to be too wholesome, or too mainstream (the two are often synonymous), all bets are off in terms of scholarship, and the text is abandoned. The necessary alternative is to study media texts for, rather than in spite of, their mainstream inclinations, since the transgressive and the mainstream exist in a mutually co-constitutive relationship, and neither could survive without the other. Just because Disney movies are wholesome doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be worried about their ideological messages, nor that we should discount them as being completely devoid of oppositional potential.

3. Smallville tends to shy away from sexual intercourse, but has no problem with putting its characters in a lot of heavy make-out sessions. Generally, sex is something that happens to Clark, rather than something that he invites. He can only be sexually aggressive when he is under the influence of red Kryptonite (which functions much like alcohol), or when he is within the (relative) safety of a dream. Both of his most intense physical encounters with Lana occur either within a dream (Slumber, 3.04) or within a dream-like memory (Relic, 3.06) whose 1950s backdrop is itself pastoral and nostalgic.

4. Kryptonite, or “meteor rock” as those not-in-the-know call it, is not just Clark’s only real weakness (aside from magic, which doesn’t really get explored until the fourth season) — it is also a transparent and valuable plot device that serves as an explanation for every paranormal occurrence in Smallville. In this sense, it is really no different from alien intervention on X-Files, or mystical power on Buffy. Every SF show needs its explanatory substance.

5. What can we say about Pete? Like the character Kendra in Buffy, he is apparently the only black person living in Smallville, and none of his storylines involve race elements at all. It appears that rural Kansas is the place to live in order to experience racial harmony, since Pete never appears to encounter racism in any form. Pete’s chronic lack of narrative attention on the show (does anyone even notice when he leaves?) suggests that neither the audiences nor the writers were interested in a character who was actually honest, forthright, and dependable, unless that character was Clark.

6. The town of Smallville appears to consist of one main street, which contains the Talon (with its prominently displayed U.S. flag), a jewellery store, an antique shop, and a few apartments. Like Sunnydale or Capeside, Smallville is designed as a network of safe spaces within which its characters can communicate, if slightly illogical from a city-planning point of view. Metropolis, in general, is represented synechdochally by the Luthorcorp building, which is actually a government building in downtown Vancouver shot low to the ground in order to make it appear as a towering skyscraper. No one appears to live comfortably in either of these spaces — characters are always trying to escape Metropolis for the pastoral safety of Smallville, or trying to escape the repressive confines of Smallville for the free-living of Metropolis.

7. In most of the scenes between Lex and Clark, Lex is the one who verbally communicates his own vulnerability, while Clark tends to use ambiguous body language, gestural communication, and positioning. Clark suffers in silence a lot, and is the least emotionally expressive character in the show. He rarely gets angry, and while Lex often seems visibly upset or on the verge of tears, Clark is confined to a perpetually moist expression as he hugs his friends, telling them that everything will be all right. The suggestion here is that Clark doesn’t have the luxury of breaking down, since he has a cosmic/comic responsibility to protect his friends, loved ones, and the world in general. But I also suspect that rendering Clark so visibly emotional would disrupt his mythological potential, and thus disrupt certain entrenched American ideological practices around heroic democracy and the dream of rugged individualism that Superman represents.

Works cited

Austin, J.L. How To Do Things With Words. NY: Oxford University, 1965.

Eco, Umberto. The Role of the Reader. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1984 [1979].

Guy-Bray, Stephen. Homoerotic Space: The Poetics of Loss in Renaissance Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2002.

jenn. “Sleep While I Drive.” Level Three Records Room—Smallville Fanfic. http://www.smallvillefanfic.com, Sept 2005.

Kustritz, Anne. “Smallville’s Sexual Symbolism: From Queer Repression to Fans’ Queered Expressions.” Refractory. Vol 8 (1): Fall 2005.

Lande, Carl. “Intro.” Steffen Schmidt, ed. Friends, Followers, and Factions. Berkley: University of California, 1977.

Martines, Lauro. Strong Words: Writing and Social Strain in the Italian Renaissance. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2001.

Norton, Rictor. The Homosexual Literary Tradition, NY: Revisionist Press, 1974

Penley, Constance. NASA/Trek: Popular Sex and Science in America. NY: Verso, 1997.

Robinson, Michael G. "The Day Superman Changed.” Refractory, vol 6, 2004: 1-15.

Sedgwick, Eve K. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkley: University of California, 1990.

Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. New Haven: Yale University, 1979.

TV Tome: Smallville (http://www.tvtome.com/smallville)

Wilcox, Rhonda. “Lois’s Locks: Truth and Representation in Lois and Clark.” Elyce Rae Helford, ed. Fantasy Girls. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000: 91-114.

Wright, Bradford W. Comic Book Nation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2001.


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