Calling a Woman a “Skank”: The Spectacular Spider-Man

The_Spectacular_Spider-Man_Vol_2_16Although never directly stated, an important subject in The Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2 No. 16 is whether or not a woman should dress modestly in public.1 The Insect Queen wears revealing clothing: a low-cut black dress that exposes more than half of her breasts.2 In response, Spider-Man calls her a “skank.”3 One theme in the story is that if a woman wears clothing that violates public standards of modesty, people have the right to call her a stigmatizing name.

For Christians, dressing modesty in public is a virtue. 1 Timothy 2:9 says, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety…”4 It is also a virtue for Muslims. The Quran 24:31 says, “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms…”5

For Christians and Muslims, dressing immodestly in public is a sin because whether the woman intended it or not, it can cause men to experience greater sexual temptation, e.g., to commit adultery or have pre-marital sex. Men, having free will, are responsible for how they choose to respond to their sexual desires. Nonetheless, a woman who wears revealing clothing is responsible for increasing men’s sexual attraction to her.

One reason women (and men) wear revealing clothing in public is it increases their self-esteem. If you have a beautiful body, and people look at you and respond positively, you will naturally feel good about yourself. However, when deciding what clothes to wear, it is important to consider how your clothes might affect other people.

Throughout history, women who dress immodestly have been called stigmatizing names, e.g., a slut or whore. Calling someone a stigmatizing name is a form of social pressure, so they will conform to a certain standard of right and wrong. The resulting feelings of guilt and/or shame become a deterrent against committing the stigmatized behavior again. Thus, for good or ill, the stigmatization of women who wear immodest clothing is a means of social control, reinforcing traditional values on modesty.

In The Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2 No. 16, the Insect Queen does not dress modestly. Spider-Man stigmatizes her for how she dresses, and also for kissing him against his will. He says, “You have the right to remain skanky. Anything skanky you do will be held against you by the court of public opinion.”6 Urban Dictionary defines skanky as “looking cheap, dirty and nasty. Also acting slutty.”7 Spider-Man is saying that when a woman dresses or behaves like the Insect Queen, she has the right to do so, but people also have the right to follow his example, and form a negative judgment of her. However, the comic was published in 2004; it is now 2017, and times have changed.

In making fun of the Insect Queen for her clothing and behavior, Spider-Man is politically incorrect. In the “court of public opinion”, he would be accused of slut shaming.8 In America today, it is considered offensive to call a woman a skank, even if in reality, she dresses like one. Furthermore, with decreased public shaming of women for what they wear, it has become more common for women to wear extremely risqué clothing, especially among celebrities.9 Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your moral viewpoint on modesty.

Notes

  1. Marie Jackson, “Modest dressing: Why the cover-up?”, BBC News, June 29, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-40442478
  2. Paul Jenkins, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 16 (Marvel Comics: August, 2004), 2, 4, 18.
  3. Jenkins, Spectacular Spider-Man, 5.
  4. 1 Timothy 2:9 (New International Version).
  5. Quran 24:31 (Yusuf Ali). https://quran.com/24/31
  6. Jenkins, Spectacular Spider-Man, 15.
  7. Urban Dictionary, s.v. “skanky,” accessed June 23, 2017, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=skanky
  8. JR Thorpe, “The Long-Term Effects Of Slut-Shaming,” Bustle, June 22, 2017, https://www.bustle.com/p/the-long-term-effects-of-slut-shaming-64302
  9. Natalie Matthews, “See the Evolution of the Naked Dress in 36 Photos,” Elle, July 26, 2015, http://www.elle.com/fashion/celebrity-style/news/g26/naked-dress-celebs-red-carpet
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How A Murderer Gains Our Sympathy: The Canterville Ghost

the_canterville_ghost hesperusIn Oscar Wilde’s short story, “The Canterville Ghost”, Sir Simon (the ghost) is the most sympathetic character. This is ironic because he is a murderer. Although the story is a parody of the Gothic genre with a plot and characters that should not be taken seriously, a closer examination reveals the psychology of a killer: Sir Simon gains Virginia’s sympathy by manipulating her emotions.

Sir Simon is a murderer who is responsible for the deaths of at least five people. On the floor near the fireplace is “the blood [stain] of Lady Eleanore de Canterville, who was murdered … by her own husband” (160). He celebrates her death, wanting the scene of the crime to be remembered forever. No matter how many times the blood stain on the floor is removed, he returns to re-apply it. (168). In his three hundred years as a ghost, he lists Lord Canterville’s death among “his great achievements” (163). His other “achievements” include a butler who shot himself after seeing “a green hand tapping at the window pane,” Lady Stutfield who “drowned herself” after the ghost burnt “the mark of five fingers … upon her white skin” (163), and Lady Startup who died after “she went off into the most piercing shrieks” (171). The ghost reflects upon these deaths with “enthusiastic egotism” (163). Five innocent people are dead, and he feels no guilt or remorse.

Sir Simon justifies the murder of his wife with an absurd rationalization. When Virginia rebukes him: “you have been very wicked,” and “it is very wrong to kill anyone” (172), he gives the following defense: “my wife was very plain, never had my ruffs properly starched, and knew nothing about cookery” (172). He killed her because she was a bad cook. His rationalization causes him to feel no guilt.

If an act of evil is defined as intentionally causing harm to an innocent person, then Sir Simon is guilty of evil. After murdering Lady Eleanore, he commits acts of evil not only once, but repeatedly, literally scaring people to death. Because he finds pleasure in doing evil, he is evil in nature.

As a figure of evil, the ghost is associated with the devil. In his first appearance in the house, “his eyes were as red as burning coals” (162), and in a later appearance he gave “his celebrated peal of demoniac laughter” (164). The “devil” ghost has terrified countless individuals; however, no one in the Otis family is afraid of him.

Sir Simon’s inability to frighten anyone makes him a sympathetic character. When the twins attack him, he falls over a suit of armor and “rub[s] his knees with an expression of acute agony on his face” (164). Clumsy and inept, he is an object of laughter. Returning to his room, “he entirely broke down” and was “extremely ill” (165) for days. After another encounter with the twins, the ghost’s “nerves were completely shattered” (168), and he is reduced to being “almost an invalid” (170). His physical and mental suffering makes him more like a human being than a ghost. In the past, he was an object of terror to his victims, but after seeing a ghost made by the twins, he becomes a victim himself. Sir Simon utters a “piteous wail of terror” (166) and returns to his bed, “hid[ing] his face under the clothes” (167). By taking on child-like qualities, we both laugh at and like the ghost who has been repeatedly “foiled, tricked, and outwitted” (167). The ghost fails to frighten anyone because he is constantly foiled, and a failure is someone we feel for.

Virginia feels sympathy for the ghost due to his depressed emotional state. When she first encounters him, “his whole attitude was one of extreme depression” (171). After the mischievous twins outwit him, she shows him kindness. Seeing him “so forlorn,” she was “moved with pity, and determined to try and comfort him” (171). He tells her how his wife’s brothers “starved [him] to death” (172), and Virginia offers him her sandwich.

Sir Simon wants Virginia to feel sympathy for him out of self-interest. A prophecy states that if “a little child gives away its tears” (174), his soul can be laid to rest. When he tells her he wants to die and to be buried, her “eyes grew dim with tears” (173), and this fulfills the prophecy.

If a good person like Virginia feels sympathy for the ghost, this signals that the reader should as well. However, her sympathy is misplaced. Sir Simon’s depression is because of self-pity, not the sorrow of regret for the pain he caused his victims. After Sir Simon is gone, Virginia tells her father, “he was really sorry for all that he had done” (177). This is not to be believed. Sir Simon lied to Virginia, telling her what she wanted to hear. At no point did he ever express sorrow for killing his wife. The ghost is a devil figure, and the devil is liar and a deceiver. Virginia has been duped.

In “The Canterville Ghost”, Sir Simon fails to frighten anyone, but in the end, he succeeds as an actor by giving a sympathetic performance. He does this by shifting the focus from the suffering he caused to the suffering he experienced. Virginia feels compassion for a killer who felt no compassion for his victims, whose sufferings pale in comparison, and who felt no sorrow for his crimes. If Sir Simon had been remorseful for murdering his wife and the subsequent deaths he caused, then Virginia’s sympathy would be appropriate. However, in a story filled with absurdities, her sympathy should also be considered absurd.

Works Cited

Wilde, Oscar. “The Canterville Ghost.” The Complete Short Stories of Oscar Wilde. New York: Dover Publications, 2006. 158-180. Print.

A State of Dependency: L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz

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In L. Frank Baum’s novel, The Wizard of Oz, everyone looks to the Wizard to meet their needs. This is ironic because the Wizard is an illusionist, a pretender, and a trickster who cannot meet anyone’s needs. Baum’s novel can be read as an allegory: Dorothy and her friends represent people who look to the state to solve their problems for them, while the Wizard represents an all-powerful state ruler who appears to have all the answers, but in reality does not.

Everyone has illusions about the Wizard. The Witch of the North calls him “the Great Wizard” who is “more powerful than the rest of us together” (12). The farmer says he “can take on any form he wishes” (76). The Wizard has no special powers, and he cannot change form. He is a pretender: someone “who makes a false show.”1 To Dorothy and her friends, he appears as “an enormous head” (87), a “lovely lady” (91), a “terrible Beast” (93), and a “Ball of Fire” (94). They are fooled by the Wizard because he is a master of illusion. He deceives people not only with false appearances, but also by keeping his distance from them. The farmer says, “the Great Wizard does not like to see anyone” (77). This is because the more people who see him, the greater the chance someone will discover who he actually is.

The Wizard creates illusions not only about himself but also the Emerald City he rules. When Dorothy and her friends meet the Guardian of the Gates, he tells them, “you must put on the spectacles” (79). These green-tinted glasses distort people’s perception of reality. While wearing them, Dorothy is “dazzled by the brilliancy of the wonderful city” (82) because the spectacles create the illusion that everything in the city is green. The color green suggests life and the growth of the natural world. Although the people “seemed happy and contented and prosperous” (83), the appearance of something is not always the reality. The Wizard has tricked the people into believing their city is glorious and prosperous.

The Wizard also tricks Dorothy and her friends, taking advantage of their deepest desires. Dorothy asks him to send her back to Kansas; the Scarecrow asks him to “put brains in [his] head instead of straw” (92); the Tin Woodman asks for “a heart that [he] may be as other men” (93); and the Lion asks for courage so that he can “become the King of Beasts” (95). The Wizard promises to grant their requests if they will do one thing for him: kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Dorothy and her friends agree to his terms and become a band of assassins. The Wizard manipulates Dorothy with false promises in order to have his enemy destroyed.

When Dorothy and her friends return to the Emerald City to deliver the news that the Witch is dead, the Wizard’s screen of appearances is finally uncovered. They discover he is a little old man with “no magical powers at all” (138). The irony is that Dorothy and her friends do not need the Wizard for anything—they possess the power themselves to change. The Wizard recognizes this, telling the Scarecrow, “experience is the only thing that will bring knowledge,” and to the Lion, “courage is facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have” (139). Dorothy’s friends, however, do not have ears to hear. Despite the Wizard admitting, “I cannot keep my promises” (139), the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman sill insist that he help them. Dorothy’s friends are dependent on a Wizard who only has the power of good advice.

Unhealthy dependency arises when we stop believing in ourselves and our own abilities. The dependency that Dorothy and her friends have on each other is healthy, serving one another in love; however, their dependency on a Wizard to solve their problems for them is not healthy. At first, Dorothy believes the Wizard is her only hope in getting home to Kansas, but she eventually learns that she can get there on her own. In leaving Oz with her silver shoes, she returns to Kansas, a land of individual responsibility.

Notes

  1. Merriam Webster, s.v. “Pretender,” accessed November 15, 2014, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pretender.

Works Cited

Baum, L. Frank. The Wizard of Oz. London: Puffin Books, 2008. Print.