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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Gamora the Green Whore

Ok, I'm sorry.  I apologize in advance to all of my female friends and admirers who might be reading this blog.  I just saw Guardians of the Galaxy yesterday, and there were several lines where I laughed so hard that tears came to my eyes.

And yes, one of them was the following exchange:

Drax:  I want you all to know I am grateful for your acceptance after my blunders. [he just about got them all killed, and was responsible for the infinity-stone-containing orb falling into the hands of Ronan, the most evil being in the universe]

Quill:  We all make mistakes Drax.

Drax:  It is pleasing to once again have friends . . . I can barely see [it's dark and Groot lights the place up with luminous spoors]

Drax:  How did you learn to do this?

Quill:  I'm pretty sure the answer is "I Am Groot"

Drax:  "You, Quill, are my friend . . . . This dumb tree is my friend . . . . And this green whore is now my . . ."

Gamora (interrupting furiously):  "You must STOP!"

The internet seems to be going wild with people saying that calling Gamora a "green whore" was inappropriate, and people wondering how such an offensive line got into this movie.  Herehere, and here are some current examples, I have a feeling there will be more soon enough.

I'm going to use this post to try to analyze whether it was wrong for me to laugh, and whether I need to figure out a way to stop myself from laughing when confronted with a similar stimulus in the future.  The next question is whether it was irresponsible for James Gunn and Marvel to have the line in there, knowing that it would cause people like me to laugh, and that it would cause offense in others.

I can't really explain why that line seemed so funny to me (it was a reflex), although that won't stop me from trying.  First, I can't think of another word right there that would have made me laugh at all. Part of it is that "whore" is so obviously NOT what Gamora is.  She has just recently rebuffed Peter Quill's advances, and has already shown that she is by far the most ethical and moral (yes, these are non-cumulative adjectives) person in the group -- she has explained that all her past killing and rampaging was not her fault (she had been programmed to do it).  We know that she is betraying Ronan and that she doesn't consider Thanos her father.  She is willing to risk her life to save the galaxy, and she's the only one of the bunch that doesn't have any second thoughts that that's the right thing to do.  Maybe I found it funny in the sense that I'd probably find it funny -- in the right context -- if someone called Mother Teresa a "whore."  [I wrote that not realizing that Christopher Hitchens had done so in 2009, and that he's not the only one; thanks Google]

Second, it's in keeping with Drax's character, and the way he talks about people.  I also laughed pretty hard when, during the prison break, Drax got hold of a gigantic gun, and tossed it to Rocket, with the words, "Here, creepy little beast!" (IMDB says "furry", I remember "creepy"; guess I'll have to watch it again).  In the "green whore" sequence, he has just called Groot a "dumb tree" (even though he obviously likes and admires Groot), and that's also part of what makes the "green whore" line funny -- he is calling these people friends, but he thinks of them primarily in terms of pejoratives.  It's also funny because "whore" is such a step-increase beyond "dumb."

And of course, in our introduction to Drax, we had the following, after Drax fails to understand Quill's throat-slashing gesture, and when made to understand it, says that he won't slash the throat, he'll cut the head clean off:

Rocket the Raccoon: "His people are completely literal. Metaphors are gonna go over his head."

Drax:  "Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it."

And third, it's Drax's idiotic way of trying to say the same thing that Gamora had said so eloquently a few scenes earlier:  “I have lived most of my life surrounded by my enemies. I would be grateful to die surrounded by my friends.”

Another thing that makes it funny is that Drax really thinks that he is saying something deep and meaningful (he says it very deliberately), because he has come to realize that these people ARE his friends, and that he really was responsible for the big mess that they are in, and that they have nevertheless accepted him.  He is trying to express his gratitude and happiness, but he has no clue that he is even being offensive by calling Groot dumb or Gamora a whore.

Others have pointed out that in the prison scene, many of the prisoners -- whose families, friends, and civilizations had been killed by Gamora et al., back when she was a killing machine -- called her a "whore."  Given Drax's literal-mindedness, the "green whore" reference might have just reflected the information Drax got when he first encountered her. Unfortunately, when the "green whore" line came up, I didn't recall hearing that word in the prison scene (although I don't doubt those who say it did), so I have to admit I found the line funny (and was not offended) even without that memory.

So my point is that what made the line funny was all about Drax, not about Gamora, not about women generally.  And it's not about whores, either.  Remember, some women actually are prostitutes -- are their feelings being considered in all of this outrage?  Many of them can't help being prostitutes (which is another tragedy), and yet a slang word for their circumstances is so appalling to (some) other women (and some men) that it can't even be said in a movie laugh-line without igniting a firestorm of controversy.  I wonder how that makes them feel?  Of course, Gamora herself speaks for all the feminists (but not the prostitutes) by cutting Drax off.  Why does she need our collective outrage at the line, when she is perfectly capable of defending herself against the dimwitted Drax, and everyone in the audience and on the screen knows that Drax's comment reflects his own stupidity, as opposed to anything about Gamora?

[For the sake of completeness, I will note that a June 7 preview of the movie on comicbookmovie.com has the following occurring right after Gamora cuts Drax off:

Nebula (from off-stage): Gamora, look at what you have done. You have always been weak, you stupid traitorous... 

Drax:  Nobody talks to my friends like that! 

Gamora: But whore is perfectly fine?

Elsewhere on the internet, someone says that this last line ("But whore is perfectly fine") was cut from the movie.  I don't remember hearing it, but that might be because I was laughing so hard.  I'm not sure if this line makes the thing better or worse.  For me, it was unnecessary, because I was already laughing.]

It would be great to do a scientific poll to find out what percentage of people laughed at the "green whore" line, and what percentage were immediately offended, and then get information (including gender, obviously, but not limited to that) about the respondents.   I don't think it can be done, but if it could, we could use that information to all come together and talk about it, and maybe one side could convince the other.

Feel free to comment here on your reasons for laughing or being offended.  Even having written the above, I sometimes think maybe I should have been offended, and I'm very open to being persuaded that that's the case.

UPDATE Aug. 8, 2014:  I just realized that Rocket Raccoon essentially called Gamora a whore twice, but there hasn't been any outcry about that (yet).  I've written that up here.

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If you've gotten this far, maybe you would be interested in my views on other matters, like free speech and Charlie Hebdo and Charlie Hebdo and Boko HaramSony's "The Interview, as well as my question "Why Should I be Charlie?" (featuring a hilarious clip from The Daily Show).
  

11 comments:

  1. (a) Historically, occupying powers suppress the native language of subjugated peoples -- in Ireland or Serbia, speaking and teaching the native language was sometimes punished by death. The Feminist critique of language represents itself as a victim of historical oppression, but in the context of current political society, it is used as a destabilizing force to sever people from their own pasts and their cultural history. Are these people offended when the book of Apocolypse refers to the Whore of Babylon?

    (b) Part of the motivation behind the laughter might be the sad truth of it -- that popular entertainment is willing to provide assertive, intelligent female characters if they are tightly clothed and have great cleavage -- that actresses have to dress and look like whores in order to provide positive role models for girls.

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    1. I'm going to take that as one sad vote in favor of my view.

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  2. whore noun \ˈhȯr, ˈhu̇r\
    Definition of WHORE

    1
    : a woman who engages in sexual acts for money : prostitute; also : a promiscuous or immoral woman
    2
    : a male who engages in sexual acts for money
    3
    : a venal or unscrupulous person

    Drax's calling Gamora a whore was justified in terms of the third definition of what a whore is. I was already familiar with this definition so during the movie I had to think for a second before I could laugh at the joke. If Drax's character is truly literal, then the third definition of this word would fit into his script perfectly. With her background, how she was raised, and what she has done truly fits what a venal or unscrupulous person is.

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  3. The fact that you paused before laughing certainly shows sensitivity. And your reasoning is flawless. As another point along the same lines, if you've ever worked at a law firm, you've doubtless encountered men who proudly call themselves "whores," simply because they do whatever their clients ask, as long as they get paid. But I'm not sure any of this is going to satisfy some of our feminist friends -- when a man calls a woman a whore, the first definition tends to take over for most people. So that just brings me back to where we were in the first place -- trying to decide whether we should be offended by the fact that a man called a woman a whore in the movie, even though we have no reason to believe that she was one under definition 1. I personally would rather laugh than be offended (well, that's what I did, anyway), but I'm still waiting to be persuaded that there's something wrong with that.

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  4. I'll admit that I laughed, however, the use in that scene was jarring and not in character for Drax. He's a literal-minded person. If he called her a whore, he meant it in the very literal sense. The way he calls Groot a dumb tree fits wih the character because Groot seems to be dumb since he can only say, "I am Groot," and he is a tree. I'm not offended by the word itself (Joss Whedon has the character Mal use it frequently in Firefly as an attempt to demean a character who, in a literal sense, is a prostitute, but she flips the tables and uses her occupation to empower her), I disliked the mean-spiritedness in which is was used. James Gunn is a writer, but leaning on "whore" for cheap laughs in this instance is simply lazy writing.

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  5. You and I think pretty much alike Shaun. We both laughed, but now we're looking around wondering if we should have, and if we should take the people who made us laugh to task. But I don't know if I'm quite ready to call it "mean-spirited" or "lazy." When I look at the movie as a whole, and the characters as a whole, it's hard for me to see how that line is going to have any adverse effects on our society or culture. I'm assuming that the reason we don't like offensive lines in the movies is that we are concerned that people who are less enlightened than we are [e.g. children] will somehow absorb the lines into their personalities and become worse people as a result. I personally don't see that happening here, given how much we like Gamora by this time, and how we realize the remark was just a reflection of Drax's stupidity.

    Good point about Firefly, I need to check that out, and also find out how women feel about that. I get the sense that some women think the very thought of prostitution should be taboo, but that seems to ignore the sad (but perhaps sometimes empowering) reality that there is a class of women who are in fact prostitutes.

    I get what you are saying about Drax being literal, that he therefore must "mean" it somehow, but the rest of us all know it's not true, so I don't see how that makes it any worse of a line. And again, I can't think of any other word or phrase that Drax could have said there that would have been so funny. Yes, it was jarringly funny, but I like to be surprised like that.

    in fact, the line is all the more touching if Drax believes it. Drax is a very moral, judgmental person, he thinks she's a whore, and yet he sees her as his friend.

    But I am a man, and every time I start trying to put myself in a woman's shoes and think about this (or worse, try to read what I've written from a woman's perspective), I end up confused, and I realize I might be wrong.

    At the risk of adding fuel to the flames, I just noticed that there's a place in the movie where Rocket essentially calls Gamora a whore twice. No outcry about that exchange so far . . . . I've blogged on that here: http://pricefixer.blogspot.com/2014/08/rocket-raccoon-called-gamora-whore-twice.html

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  6. Gamora is called "green whore" in the prison sequence by some hateful inmates much earlier in the film. Drax hears that and since he is completely literal he uses it himself. That's why he calls Groot "dumb tree" and Rocket "creepy little beast". Completely in character and incredibly funny.

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  7. I see all the justifications and excuses why it's right... but as a chick who dated the same dude all through high school but still had to spend years in therapy over the amount I was slut shamed for just talking about and being open regarding my sexuality: It was just not needed. All it does is alienate women who have dealt with that bull and make them feel like this movie isn't for them.

    For me, I got the same feeling from this I do when I meet someone I think is REALLY cool then they say something randomly SUPER hateful out of nowhere. I really want to like it, but I guess it's just not for me. I'm not some angry outraged feminist... just a disappointed fan.

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    1. Thanks for posting this Tara. I think you put your finger on the problem better than anything else I've read. There's a whole other dimension to this thing that some of us don't have the experience to "get," so we only react to what we do "get" -- the fact that ultra-literal Drax has said something that is patently untrue and disparaging, while actually trying to say something profound and nice. The problem is that the "disparaging" part of the comment spills over into reality and one segment of the audience -- a pretty large one at that -- is instinctively offended rather than amused.

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  8. http://www.tickld.com/x/something-you-never-realized-about-guardians-of-the-galaxy

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  9. I laughed hysterically at that line. What it is is the way he talks, he is basically a character from a ancient greek or medieval style movie, like Spartacus (the series while it was airing). There they called all women whores, cunts, and so on, like it was normal. The men also called each other tons of bad names, although I cant think of any specific lines right now, but usually relating to the size or lack of dicks.
    This Drax character to me has the same style of voice you would often hear brutes speak in Spartacus, so making the whore comment is so fitting it was just genius. I love how it would upset women so much as well, I wish I had seen this in theaters and laughed out loud then.

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