Many news outlets have already discussed this, but as the father of two daughters (even though they have grown older than the target demographic) I felt the need to weigh in on the apparent black balling of Black Widow from the Age of Ultron toys currently hitting the market.
For those of you who haven’t heard, Black Widow is a female super hero member of the Avengers and a relatively key character (apologies if my sarcasm drips onto your keyboard) in the latest blockbuster from Marvel and their parent company, Disney. An example of her awesomeness is shown below and was one of the scenes featured in the trailers for the movie.
She drops out of a jet on her motorcycle and speeds off to help save the world. What child wouldn’t want an action figure of that, right?
Evidently, Hasbro, Marvel, and Disney think no child would. Here is the play set based on this very scene that has been rolled out for kids to play with:
Do we notice anything missing from this? Hm. It seems to have a definitive lack of Black Widow.
Yes. That happened. Black Widow was replaced by Captain America in one of her signature scenes from the movie. In fact, there is no Black Widow action figure to be found, even if you wanted to buy one separately and have a proper representation of the movie.
My question is: why? Even if your marketing showed you wouldn’t move as many units of Black Widow figures as Cap, Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk (Hawkeye has proven to be a poor seller, yet he is still represented), wouldn’t you feel it prudent to at least produce a small run of them? There are so many things wrong with this lack of foresight, I have a hard time even typing this post.
We all want our children to grow up in a better world than the one we did. I think that is safe to say for any parent, regardless of generation. I, for one, would like children to grow up to view all people as equals, regardless of gender or race or religion or sexual preference or whether they like broccoli or not. (Broccoli was spawned from Hell, in my opinion, yet I don’t begrudge others who enjoy this waste of a plant — at least most of the time) What sort of messaging does this merchandising send to kids? I certainly can’t see anything positive about it.
So, come on Hasbro, Marvel, and Disney! You can do better! We want our kids to understand that being a hero is not about gender or race. It’s about our actions and what we believe in.
Recently I published a mystery novel called Robbed of Soul that combines a modern-day mystery with a 150-year-old legend of Montezuma’s gold in Utah. This is how the book came about.
In the spring of 2013 I received a strange email. It was from a television producer in England. They were filming a television series called “Myth Hunters” and wanted to do an episode about Montezuma’s Gold in Kanab, Utah. They had found my name on Amazon. I had published various short stories about treasure hunting, including one about Montezuma’s treasure. A month later we met in Kanab and they interviewed me for the show. (See a peek of the episode here.)
A year later I was in Kanab again, this time spending the day with a film crew from “America Unearthed,” a top-rated show that airs on the History Channel 2. Together we explored the mysterious 500-year-old cave Freddie Crystal excavated in search of Montezuma’s gold. (See a promo video of Montezuma’s Gold.)
|Me with the film crew of “America Unearthed”|
After that, I knew I had to write a book about Freddie Crystal and Montezuma’s gold in Kanab, but I didn’t want it to be a historical novel. So I ended up with Robbed of Soul, a modern-day mystery that incorporates historical facts and legends.
The following are pictures of me and Scott Wolter taken as we filmed segments of America Unearthed near the infamous Freddie Crystal cave in Johnson Canyon outside of Kanab, Utah.
I spent three and a half years in college because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
In those three and a half years, I learned many things about the world and about myself. The last thing I learned was I didn’t want to be in college anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I love to learn new things — always have. I had just grown tired of doing it in that particular environment. I had been working toward a degree in English Literature, largely because, at the end of my sophomore year, my counselor informed me I had to choose a major in order to continue. English Lit was the degree I was closest to fulfilling from the mishmash of classes I had taken to that point. Yes, that was truly the determining factor, because I simply couldn’t make up my mind. I was interested in everything. Why the University thought it necessary for me to choose one area of study didn’t make sense, yet I had to play by their rules, even though I (or more accurately, my mom) was paying for me to be there. I had courses in biology, physics, three semesters of calculus, psychology, history, religion, and philosophy under my belt. I also took creative writing, Medieval literature, Shakespeare, Victorian literature, as well as courses in linguistics, two semesters of French and one of Russian. I even spent three semesters in the drama department as extra-curricular — Charlie Brown with wispy red hair? Yes, it was a thing.
Suffice to say, language and how we communicate has forever fascinated me. I also had a year and a half of Spanish in high school and was tutored in Japanese for several weeks as part of a job I had subsequent to leaving college. The variety of the spoken and written word around the world is astonishing. Even within the United States, regional dialects can differ wildly — sometimes to the point of confusion and miscommunication. And don’t get me started on the British Isles, South Africa, India, and Australia, all of which purportedly speak a language dubbed “English”.
Dictionaries give us a basis of understanding, but even they morph and change as language evolves. New words are added each year and the definitions of old words are adjusted in some cases if their meaning or usage has changed over time. Words and definitions can vary between brands of dictionaries. But, why all the confusion? Why isn’t something like the way we communicate more structured and immutable?
Because language is personal.
Yes, many aspects are fundamental. If I describe a woman walking down the street as wearing a red dress, we all will conjure a picture in our minds. That picture would be different for all of us, but we should all be able to agree on the basics: woman, walking, red dress. But what if I said the dress was scarlet in color? It’s still red, but the word “scarlet” will evoke different images — different emotions — within each person, based on our experiences. A young reader might be encountering the word for the first time and have to ask about its meaning or look it up. A fan of the movie Gone With the Wind might first conjure an image of the glamorous Miss O’Hara upon seeing the word. Someone who recently read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter may react negatively toward the word given its use and meaning in that story. Same word, different reactions. What if I used “crimson” instead? Again, more disparate meanings and feelings toward the word — and, by association, the woman wearing the dress — because of the individual experiences we each bring when we read or otherwise communicate.
As a senior in high school, I took AP English and one of our assignments was to read The Old Man and the Sea. I enjoyed the story and during one of our discussions about the symbolism and allegories within the work, my teacher mentioned an interview with Hemingway where he claimed he simply “wrote a story about a man and a fish.” In other instances, he, of course, talked about the deeper meanings within the story, but the quote got me to thinking. We all bring our own frames of reference, biases, and experiences when we read a work and can’t be certain how an author truly intended the reader to feel as they progress through a book. In fact, while doing some research for this post, I ran across an article where some scholars feel Hemingway had been so heavy-handed with the symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea, he might have been poking fun at the critical literary community. That shines an entirely new light onto the story.
Which brings me to the reason why I never finished that English degree.
As I took higher level literature classes, I noticed a pattern. Analysis of the assigned pieces drilled deeper and deeper, investigating why the author chose a particular phrase, or even a particular word, at a certain point in the work. I even remember a lecture on what happened during a dash — yes, a dash, just like these — within a story. At that point, I realized my professors had lost sight of the forest for the trees. Language is too personal to make absolute statements about intent and meaning. We can, more often than not, agree on basic premises when we communicate with one another, otherwise the world would be like the biblical Tower of Babel. But, for me, or anyone else, to say with certainty all an author meant by using a certain word at a particular point in a three hundred page novel just doesn’t make sense. It’s like asking Picasso why he placed a particular brush stroke where he did and why he chose that particular color. Maybe he had a specific reason, or maybe his brush slipped and he thought it looked good. Seeing deeper meanings in a piece depends as much on the viewer, or the reader, as on the artist.
Sometimes, the dress is just red.
The universe is a big place.
It’s so big, the vastness is difficult to comprehend for even seasoned astronomers. I never get tired of contemplating our place in the universe. Recently, a group of scientists studied the dynamics of several thousand galaxies around our own Milky Way and discovered some incredibly interesting patterns. Yes, the universe as a whole is expanding, but the relationships among the pieces within that expansion are even more complex than it first appeared. Have a look at this fascinating video (about 4 minutes) and see for yourself where we fit into the cosmic scheme of things.