The following is a series of thoughts that went through my mind as I watched the Iron Fist series on Netflix. I had written this at the time I initially watched the show, but decided to hold off on posting them until now. Watching that show brought a lot of things to mind, but it also made my mind wander as I often paused and reflected on what I saw.
Keep in mind that the following are largely reactions to specific scenes right at the instant I saw them. Things conjectured here were often proven wrong as the series progressed.
Now, on to the list:
– In the first two episodes alone, Netflix’s Iron Fist does some interesting things with gender, most notably social conventions regarding contact with women.
– Joy Meachum, an attractive high-status woman, speaks to the homeless “Danny Rand” (whom she is not sure actually *is* Danny from her childhood) in a harsh tone, mentioning mace, armed guards, and a possible arrest for harassment.
– Colleen Wing, the martial arts instructor, does the same thing when Danny asks for a job at her dojo. Unlike Joy, she is of much lower status, yet she speaks to a homeless man — whom she knows nothing about and might indeed pose a threat for all she knows — with the same commanding tone as Joy, as if simply expecting him to defer.
– Both women are well aware of their elevated status compared to homeless men; they understand that all they have to do is speak somewhat harshly to a low-status male and he will flee from their sight.
– As I predicted, Colleen’s interaction with the high-status man Ward Meachum was far more polite, despite not knowing him either, or what he might do. He didn’t even call in advance.
– On the other hand, one cannot condemn the women as callous and hateful because they really don’t know who this homeless man is, and he might very well be dangerous. It makes sense for the two of them to push him away; indeed, that is what most people would do, whatever their status or sex.
– Danny does outclass Colleen, and this is not portrayed as bad. The only reason Colleen is always trying to shoo him away is because she knows nothing about him.
– When Danny tries to teach the students in a more effective manner — even dishing out corporal punishment when they disrespect him — Colleen becomes annoyed. Danny explains that Colleen’s training methods are ineffective, but Colleen answers that her students are often beaten up by bullies or family and that her dojo is meant to be a “safe place” for them where they don’t have to worry about harsh discipline.
– Colleen’s teaching style is feminine, while Danny’s is masculine. This annoys Colleen, who earlier was shown to be much less skilled than Danny.
– Joy has a harsh personality, but remains feminine throughout; it even shows in her choice of dress. She tries to charm Patel with her looks, and she uses paid men and social convention to protect herself, rather than fisticuffs.
– By the third act of Episode 3, however, we are treated to Colleen Wing getting into a cage match with a large, muscular man. The MC quite reasonably warns her not to take part, but Colleen dismisses it.
– As expected, Colleen won the fight — however, they bowed to reality a little bit by showing her take several blows that left her on the defensive. However, it is implied that she tapped into the same power that Danny regularly uses.
– Nonetheless, they could not have a scene where a girl challenges a big guy to a fight and loses.
– Then they have her take on TWO musclemen and win.
– Danny protects Joy from goons who try to kidnap her.
– Joy learns to fight a little.
– Claire learns to fight from Colleen.
– Danny has no love interest because he took a vow of chastity.
– Danny himself is a likable and heroic character, and it’s interesting how his monastic and idealistic ways clash with New York’s practicality.
– I’m also starting to see what Misha means by superpowers giving a character license to ignore moral conflicts. However, I don’t think it will apply here.
– The main appeal of superpowers is that it puts the user on a level above ordinary people — and ordinary society. This detachment from ordinary society — and the moral peril it can create — is the root of Misha’s problems with superpowered characters.
– By contrast, however, this detachment gives superhero stories their escapist quality; otherwise, they would just be realistic fiction.
– That being said, Misha’s critique makes sense. One solution is to create a society where having superpowers isn’t a golden ticket to power.
– Misha’s problem is connected to the problem of RPG players ignoring the cultural influences that informed D&D, as well as being overly focused on destroying monsters and gathering loot.
– If we go by the conjecture that RPG players tend to be socially awkward, they will create a space where social considerations — and the morality that accompanies them — don’t matter, only raw power. Thus, they focus on levels and loot, and we get the “vanilla fantasy” we all dislike, where all the creatures are reduced to stat blocks and power sets that function as little more than weapons.
– The problem isn’t superpowers. The problem is the fact that social and moral considerations don’t matter in these stories because the protagonists are either powerful enough to ignore them, or they can build themselves up to a level where they can ignore them.
– A good story would have moral peril that superpowers would not get the character out of. Death Note did this excellently.
– The point of superpowered stories is to get away from the bureaucratic, rule-bound nonsense of everyday life. To make a story interesting, however, there must be moral peril.
– The fight against Alessa makes sense. Danny was being tempted, and the poison weakened him. On top of that, he dropped Alessa with two hits.
– This is the root of the problem with Action Girl stories — the woman is so physically powerful that the social conventions of womanhood cannot impact her anymore. In fact, no social conventions can impact her.
– Colleen insists on going with Danny to Anzhou to fight the Hand.
– Colleen did well even when weakened by poison.
– Colleen is a member of the Hand, as is Bakuto.
– Make no mistake — Bakuto’s faction of the Hand is just as vile as Gao’s. In fact, Gao comes off as more sympathetic because she doesn’t hide her evil behind a veil of idealism.
– Colleen did need to be rescued, but from poison. When Bakuto captured her, she rescued herself; this is because women can’t be shown to need rescuing, per feminist ideology.