Vogue
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This Selena Gomez interview with Vogue will make you feel very, very uncomfortable

Why do I feel like this guy is smoking a pipe right now?

Older men writing creepy profiles of extremely beautiful 20-somethings are nothing new – in fact, they come around with a terrifying regularity. But some are creepier than others, prompting prose bizarre enough to make headlines of its own. (Remember Vanity Fair’s insane Margot Robbie profile?)

The latest victim of a leering fashion magazine cover interview is Selena Gomez, who is the star of American Vogue for April 2017. As Jezebel notes, the story “Reduces Selena Gomez to a Fragile Archetype”, infantilising, pathologising and sexualising her all at once. Come, friend, and take a journey with me through this strange and uncomfortable profile.

Rob Haskell starts his interview by telling us all about a fun joke he made that made Selena Gomez laugh:

She responds with the booming battle-ax laugh that offers a foretaste of Gomez’s many enchanting incongruities.

Leaving aside the use of the word “battle-ax” (and its questionable spelling), let us note that it is seems to surprise Haskell that adult woman Selena Gomez has an adult woman’s laugh, presumably because he expects her to have the “rapturous giggles” of the children in “pretty dresses” he later describes. 

If you are over 30 and find yourself somewhat mystified by Gomez’s fame [...] watch the video for “The Heart Wants What It Wants.” (You will be late to the party; it received more than nine million views in the first 24 hours following its release.) Before the music begins, we hear Gomez’s voice as if from a recorded psychotherapy session, ruminating over a betrayal. “Feeling so confident, feeling so great about myself,” she says, her voice breaking, “and then it’d just be completely shattered by one thing. By something so stupid.” Sobs. “But then you make me feel crazy. You make me feel like it’s my fault.” Is this acting? Is it a HIPAA violation? Either way, there is magic in the way it makes you feel as if you’ve just shared in her suffering. Pay dirt for a Selenator.

This paragraph makes international pop sensation Selena Gomez sound like a begging Edwardian orphan who has somehow managed to make a multi-million dollar empire out of your pity.

As I slip an apron over her mane of chocolate-brown hair, for which Pantene has paid her millions, and tie it around her tiny waist, I wonder whether her legions have felt for years the same sharp pang of protectiveness that I’m feeling at present.

Where do we begin? The simultaneously paternalistic and oddly predatory tone? The fetishistic fixation on her body? The asides continuing to suggest that Gomez is more model than pop star?

The paragraph continues…

Even as she projects strength and self-assuredness, Gomez is not stingy with frailty. “I’ve cried onstage more times than I can count, and I’m not a cute crier,” she says. Last summer, after the North American and Asian legs of her “Revival” tour, with more than 30 concerts remaining, she abruptly shut things down and checked into a psychiatric facility in Tennessee.

We’re making a connection between thinness and “frailty” (am I in a Gothic novel?) and a mental health crisis in just three sentences. I feel dizzy.

“The Heart Wants What It Wants,” a ballad about loving a guy she knows is bad news. The title derives from a letter written by Emily Dickinson, though Woody Allen reintroduced the phrase when he used it to describe his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn.

Who thought it would be a good idea to shove in a Woody Allen/Soon-Yi reference in an article that simultaneously infantilises and sexualises its subject? WHO.

On August 15, Gomez uploaded a photo of almost baroque drama: her body collapsed on the stage, bathed in beatific light. Whether this was agony or ecstasy, it drew more than a million comments from fans.

You know that feeling when you go to an art gallery, and look at all the almost pre-pubescent nudes of blonde white girls with sad faces and skinny bodies and think, “Wow, dudes have been perving over these pictures for centuries and calling it art appreciation?” Yeah, that. Also: why do I imagine this guy is smoking a pipe?

In the tearoom at the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel, little girls in pinafores and pink high-tops sit on heavily tasseled sofas and drink sparkling apple juice out of champagne flutes.

Let’s not talk about little girls any more. Please.

Doll-like and startled in pictures but almost breathtakingly at ease in person, Gomez was once described by her good friend Taylor Swift as “both 40 years old and seven years old".

A sentence that starts by describing Gomez as “doll-like”, pauses to call her “breathtaking”, and ends by referring to her as “seven years old”. Well, I feel uncomfortable. Let’s go home.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Defining The Defenders: the long history of the superhero team-up

Netflix's new show draws on an established traditon of bringing together disparate characters.

Today Marvel’s The Defenders dropped worldwide. It’s the culmination of Marvel Studios’ interlinked series for Netflix, and all episodes will be available simultaneously as is the streaming services’ wont.

The Defenders, and the Netflix series that have preceded it, seem modelled on how the Marvel Cinematic Universe films have worked in multiplexes. At least superficially. Characters get their own solo films/series, which become increasingly interlinked over time, before all featuring together in an onscreen ‘team up’. Here, they combine against a threat greater than any they could plausibly win against on their own, sparring and generating alliances, friendships and even enmities in the process.

This structure, of course, is Marvel’s film and TV projects aping their source material. Marvel’s comics, and superhero comics more generally, have long relished the "team up" and the "super team". The use of this approach by Marvel’s other media ventures is intuitively right, allowing the mass audience for film and television to experience one of the specific pleasures of how superhero comics work in the characters’ new medium.

The concept of the super team goes back a long way. The Justice Society of America, from Marvel’s Distinguished Competition, is usually considered the first. They debuted in All-Star Comics #3 (1940) and the team consisted of the Flash (the Jay Garrick version, Flash TV fans), Green Lantern, Hawkman, and now lesser known characters like Hour-Man, the Sandman (not the Neil Gaiman one), the Atom, The Spectre and Doctor Fate. Within a few issues Wonder Woman would join: as secretary. Because it was the 1940s.

What’s interesting about this initial super team is that half of these characters were published by All-American Comics (who actually published All-Star) and half by DC Comics themselves, making this an inter-company crossover. (The companies would later merge). It also used to be claimed as the first example of characters created separately, and with no intention of them being connected, interacting. It isn’t. There are countless examples in the pulp fictions of the late nineteenth century, but the claim stood for so long because it felt right that the original super team should be the source of such meta-fictional innovation.

The Defenders were created much later in comics history and first appeared in 1971’s Marvel Feature #1. The team, though, had its origins in the "Titans Three" an informal grouping of heroes who appeared in a three part story serialised across Doctor Strange #183 (November 1969), Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), and The Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970).

All three of those comics were written by Roy Thomas. Caught on the hop by the sudden cancellation of Doctor Strange (#183 was the final issue), he wrapped up ongoing plotlines from the cancelled comic in other series he scripted, bringing the now title-less Strange into those other series in the process. A couple more appearances of the group together followed, before the team was formally named in the aforementioned Marvel Feature #1.

Dr Strange. The Sub-Mariner. The Incredible Hulk. It’s quite likely that anyone reading this who is only familiar with the publicity for Netflix’s The Defenders would be surprised by that roster of headline characters. (And that’s assuming they’re even familiar with Namor the Sub-Mariner, a character of 1939 vintage who has not yet reached the MCU.) This is a radically different group to Daredevil, Jessica Jones (a character not even created until the 21st century), Luke Cage and Iron Fist, the stars of the current TV series. None of the telly team are characters a Marvel zombie would associate with The Defenders, although Iron Fist has been a very occasional member of the team’s roster, as has Luke Cage. (In which context, it’s unfortunate that Iron Fist has been the least liked of Netflix’s series, with a mere 17 per cent approval on Rotten Tomatoes.)

The complete absence of all three of the original Defenders from its television incarnation could be seen as an odd decision. Neither Benedict Cumberbatch’s Steven Strange nor Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner are expected to turn up, even for cameos. Marvel Studios has policed a strict division between its Netflix series and its cinematic outings, despite announcing them as being set in the same "continuity". The fourth "classic" Defender is even less likely to turn up. The Silver Surfer (who joined the team in 1972, less than a year after it was formed) is, due to some bad deal making in the 90s, off limits to the MCU. His film rights sit with Fox, who utilised him in the rightly all but forgotten Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007). 

One of the reasonably consistent features of previous incarnations of The Defenders is that the characters have generally faced mystical threats. They first teamed up to fight monsters from HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and generally their antagonists have operated on that kind of scale. With Stephen Strange in the gang, that makes sense. You don’t need the sorcerer supreme to take out organised crime. But organised crime is largely what you’d expect Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist to take on, especially based on the Netflix versions of the characters. All four are "street-level" heroes, operating in New York, interacting with characters like murderous vigilante The Punisher and Kingpin of Crime Wilson Fisk. Perhaps splitting the difference, their team up series will see them take on The Hand. This is a ninja organisation, with mystical origins, that is nevertheless involved in organised crime and can be presented, as it has been so far for Netflix, within the context of crime stories.

Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada has defended The Defenders being The Defenders by pointing out that the original team are largely unknown outside comics fandom, and their name means nothing to the public at large. (Although they have, of course, heard of all three of its constituent members.) Of course, for some this might sensible provoke the question "Why use it then?" What is this series called The Defenders at all?

The (original) Defenders were seen as a "non-team", a phrase occasionally used in the pages of their appearances. There was something deconstructive about this kind of team up. It was the pairing of characters who were unsuited to working, even to appearing, together and who would really rather not. (They had, after all, been brought together in the first place simply because Roy Thomas happened to write their separate titles.) The stories told with the group in some ways challenged and confronted the cliches of the decades old form that had begun back in All-Star Comics #3.

The line-up, and tone, of Netflix’s Defenders more resembles that of another, deliberately slightly interrogative non-team, that of the short-lived Marvel Knights book of 2000-2001. This did share The Defenders somewhat abstract definition of "team", featuring characters who didn’t like each other and didn’t want to work together, albeit without any mystical element to how they were brought together. Marvel Knights was also, in theory, the flagship of the line of the same name, at the time edited by... Joe Quesada. Hmm.

In recent years, Marvel have frequently cheerfully remodelled their comics - the original medium for almost all their characters - in order to incorporate changes and innovations pioneered as part of their film and television projects. Remixing their characters and the way they are grouped together in response to the success of their screen empire. The Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, have become more prominent in the comics, while characters whose film rights lie with film companies other than Marvel’s own, such as the aforementioned Fantastic Four, have been pushed to the margins. Accordingly, this August sees the launch of a new The Defenders title, featuring the lineup of characters from the television series.

Some loyal comics readers see this a case of the tail wagging the dog. Others might like to take notice of the metaphor used by comics writer Grant Morrison in his 2011 book SuperGods: Our World In The Age Of The Superhero. There, Morrison argued that comic books, while the medium in which these characters were created, was essentially the discarded booster section of the rocket in which they had been fired into the public consciousness, reaching vastly greater audiences in the process. 

“That’s not The Defenders,” commented a friend of mine on seeing a publicity photograph for the series a few weeks ago. It is now, mate. It is now.