Subverting Thor

How can you pervert a perversion?  The Marvel version of Thor has about as much to with Germanic heathenry as the screeching crone Madonna has to do with the TheotokosThe entire history of the character is an insult to the old European belief system, and was intended as such.  But the recent controversy over Marvel’s “Thor” being transformed into a woman shows that even bastardized Western symbols have to be subverted, as modern culture is unable to create something original and admirable.    

The Thor of the comics was not simply the God of Thunder put into a fictional universe so he can fight Galactus or Absorbing Man.  Thor has a dual identity within the Marvel mythos as he is sometimes Dr. Donald Blake, a physical weakling.  Odin forced Thor into this identity in order to teach him a lesson about humility and become “worthy” of wielding Mjolnir. 

The latest Marvel movies, which inform how most people think of the character today, dismissed the dual identity premise.  Even when he is not wielding Mjolnir and stripped of his divine power, the movie character is still a highly effective warrior capable of, in Agent Coulson’s phrase, “making some of the most highly trained professionals in the world look like a bunch of minimum wage mall cops.” 

At the same time, they have kept the larger idea of breaking the proud Thor and turning him into a soldier for egalitarianism (and mysterious multinational government agencies).  Thor’s highbrow speech and noble lineage is a punch line, and Thor only becomes “worthy” when he tells Loki to stop being like Hitler and sacrifices himself to make the world safe for Natalie Portman. 

But while the movie Thor is perverted, he’s still a dull reflection of the actual Thor, a greater Western archetype of strength.  More importantly, the character always thinks of himself as Thor, even when he’s lost his supernatural powers.  The subversion is one of ideology, not identity – Thor’s strength and character is “broken,” rebuilt, and then used to save democratic man (or woman, in Portman’s case).  It’s simply the cinematic version of Seal Team Six going through hell so their daughters can be like Miley Cyrus

In contrast, the comic book divorces Thor’s essential characteristics from the character itself.  Stan Lee pictured Thor in his true form as “looking like Vikings of old, with the flowing beards, horned helmets, and battle clubs.”  But Thor’s consciousness is somewhat divided.  While “Blake” is always “Thor,” his status as one of the Aesir is something conditional, rather than something that he just is.  Thus, as recent apologists for Thor’s sex change argue, Thor in the comics is not always a mighty Norse god–sometimes he’s just a man—or even a frog.  Like the word Christ, Thor is apparently less a name than a title

Thus, Marvel can say, “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”  But it’s not really.  It’s just transferring the personification of power into a more politically correct vehicle.  In the Marvel Universe, Thor isn’t really the hero or even really Thor – Mjolnir and the power it contains is.  After all, the weapon is inscribed, “Whomsoever wields this hammer, if he [or she apparently] be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” 

Within Marvel’s announcement there is a representation of the “Unworthy Thor” stripped of power, who looks like some kind of archaeo-futurist barbarian borne of the collective unconscious of the New Right.  Maybe he just got tired of fighting to make the world safe for Tumblr.

As with all actions of this type, there is a financial motivation.  Marvel says it will “speak directly to an audience that long was not the target for super hero comic books in America: women and girls.”  But as Time magazine points out, even young boys don’t buy much in the way of comic books these days, let alone girls.  While there might be a slight uptick in female readers, a “gimmick” like a sex or race change  gets the niche market of comic book fans–mostly “middle-aged men”–to make sure they pick up the latest issue. 

The female Thor accordingly corresponds to the cover girl aesthetics of “strong” female characters—who don’t exactly resemble female powerlifters and couldn’t put up 225 on a squat rack, let alone duel a frost giant.  Fictional portrayals of “strong” women like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Lara Croft are mostly designed to appeal to men by combining cover girl aesthetics with masculine actions.  This of course is prompting criticism that we must have feminine superheroes who defeat enemies through “feminine” abilities.  (Like what?  Posting selfies featuring handwritten slogans about tolerance?)

But there is also an ideological motivation.  Comic book heroes–especially those “born in Lower East Side at some point between 1938-1944”--have often reflected the a dual fantasy of subversion and assimilation, with Superman as the obvious example.  He is alien–yet he is also the ultimate representation of the American nation.  Yet as America herself has become passé and unacceptably tied to a European past, superheroes have had to renounce ties to the historic nation and even to their own racial identity in order to remain “heroes.”     

To facilitate this, we get the racial transformation of various characters, such as Nick Fury morphing from a World War II soldier (albeit one who led a “racially integrated elite unit”) into Samuel L. Jackson in both print and film.  Similarly, comic books today are less telling stories than about beating the correct political ideology into a dumbed down audience.  Therefore, Archie will soon die taking a bullet fired by a fanatical gun rights supporter at his gay friend, who is “married” to a black man.  Soviet propaganda looks like a model of subtlety in contrast.    

What never seems to catch on is the actual creation of heroes that don’t owe something either to a past White identity or Western archetype.  Those that are created come off like unintentional comedy, like “Black Panther”–and he’s probably the best of the lot.  He hails from the “technologically advanced” nation of Wakanda, menaced by the evil quasi-Afrikaner nation of Azania and its evil champions (like “Voortrekker.”)  The defining characteristics of affirmative action heroes--indeed their only characteristics--are that they are black, have a vagina, or practice one of the sexual fetishes that our society has deemed worthy of celebration. 

Therefore, we are constantly hectored that existing heroes of comics and the screen must be made black–we need a black Batman or a black James Bond.  By doing this, we will somehow convince minorities of various sorts that they too can be universally appealing heroes. 

After all, Black Panther represents… being black.

And, Wonder Woman represents… being a woman.

So to get around this, we’ll transform characters with greater appeal.  Archie was supposed to be about wholesome Americana… so we’ll make it about homosexuality and gun control. 

Captain America represents patriotism… so we’ll make him black

Batman represents justice… so the good Republicans at the Wall Street Journal tell us we “need” to make him black soon too.

It is a cultural form of the cargo cult role playing which has led to such historic spectacles like Faustin I of Haiti aping Napoleon by putting a cardboard crown on his head, or America collectively pretending that Maya Angelou’s sub-literate nursery rhyme at a Presidential Inaugural was really a poem.

But Thor is a special case.  The deity Thor is perhaps is most important personage of the indigenous European religious tradition, and certainly the most popular god among ordinary people of the pre-Christian age.  Rather than identifying Odin as the symbolic champion of the old ways, John Lindow in Norse Mythology notes that medieval Scandinavian sources portray “the conversion as a struggle between Thor and Christ.”  During the period of uneasy coexistence between Christians and pagans, believers in the Old Gods would wear Thor’s hammer pendants around their necks–a practice continued by heathens today (and, for that matter, some metal fans).  

Therefore, Thor is culturally specific in a way that Superman or Batman isn’t.  Putting him in a comic book is bad enough, as the character is based on a deity that was once the dominant figure for Germanic civilization and who understood and pictured their gods in highly specific ways.  One imagines that the adventures of “Moses” calling on God to drown a mugger in Greenwich Village or “Muhammad” using a friendly jinn to trick Dr. Octopus might be seen as distasteful (although hilarious). 

But even if the point to “lighten up” is graciously conceded, Stan Lee pictured Thor along the lines of the romanticized image we have of Vikings of the late heathen period. He wrote him as part of that.  He therefore fits in a certain context that represents a group of people that once existed.  The comic book hero’s adventures and changes have to be limited by what makes sense with the character.  The usual objection that “anything is possible” because fictional heroes are in a world of magic misses the point–the character is based in a specific cultural context and is indeed defined by it. 

Moreover, even in fictional universes, magic and supernatural occurrences have rules and context.  A Song Of Ice and Fire has magic, but Ned Stark’s severed head can’t simply start flying around in the middle of the story any more than the wildlings can breach the Wall with an Abrams tank.  Even within the Marvel universe, Thor can’t be a woman and remain Thor just as Cat-Woman can’t be a man and remain Cat-Woman. 

Thor’s sex change is political and is defined by its creators as such.  The reason is that to have a white (indeed Nordic) male character associated with the Germanic past and traditional masculine virtues is simply impermissible.  Even in the most bastardized, degraded, perverted form, the existence of a white male Thor in pop culture is an insult to everything our culture is telling young boys to be.  The Marvel Thor has to be a woman – and it has to be a different race next. 

Political correctness can only achieve popular appeal through subverting symbols that already appeal to mass constituencies because any new symbols will appeal pathetic by comparison.  And certainly European cultural symbols, even in their most debauched form, are superior to affirmative action culture.  Most Americans, especially children, instinctively sense this.  After all, “social justice man” is hardly something to appeal to the imagination of a typical seven year old. 

To be fair, shapeshifting and even gender bending is nothing new even within the lore of European religion.  Loki is, after all, the mother of Sleipnir, having transformed into a female horse as part of a ruse against a giant.  However, while the shapeshifting, androgynous Loki helps various gods (including Thor) on several adventures, he is also the father of monstrous beings who will ultimately unleash chaos and the destruction of the gods.  In this we see the understanding that perversity and chaos, even if used for temporary advantage, further a process of degeneration and final destruction.  Loki is a deeply perverted character, although not an entirely “evil” one in the Christian sense. 

Interestingly, there is a story in the lore where Thor must pretend to be a woman–the Þrymskviða.  Assisted by Loki, Thor must disguise himself as Freyja and attend “her” wedding in order to reclaim his stolen hammer.  The giants recognize something is amiss (like when the “bride” eats an entire ox) but Loki comes up with one hilarious excuse after another.  One can imagine our ancestors roaring around a fire hearing this light-hearted tale. 

Of course, the reason Þrymskviða is funny is because European religion and Germanic Christianity had a sense of social norms and hierarchy as serving a necessary function.  Bending gender roles on occasion could be used for humorous effect or perhaps in extraordinary occasions (like the “shield-maidens” of legend).  However, it would be absurd to take “pride” in the idea that you are subverting a norm and deriving worth from it–the louder someone boasts of their pride, often the less they have to be proud of.   

But America can’t admit that.  “We are all created equal” after all.  So even gods, symbols of gods, and even the fictional heroes of less degenerate times need to be twisted in order to make people feel better about themselves.  In the end, the value of such symbols are frittered away and become objects of indifference or even scorn–arguably, what is happening to American patriotism and identity today. 

What Marvel is doing to Thor is part of this.  We should be glad because even though young boys swinging a plastic Mjölnir is better than nothing, such actions ultimately postpone the inevitable.  European cultural symbols, practices, and even gods need to become the source of a vital living Tradition, not objects of exploitation used to propel the elaborate practical joke we call American culture. 

Besides, Thor is a red bearded war god, not a socialist teddy bear.  The existence of Marvel’s she-Thor may make it a bit easier for Europeans to start looking into the distinctions and rediscover the living well of Tradition media companies have been leeching from for years. 

Yes, it’s an insult.  But we should laugh at how utterly pathetic it is that people feel compelled to act this way in order to feel moral. 

And we should remember the end of the Þrymskviða.  Thor gets his hammer back and deals with the situation as the God of Thunder usually does–by using it to slaughter all of his enemies. 

There can be these games for a while, and comics’ new world begins, where nonwhites are paid for existing, and transqueers don’t pay for their sins. But as surely as Water will wet us, the sons of Europe will learn--and The Gods of the Copybook Headings, or the Gods of the North will return.