If you watched Jessica Jones this weekend and have a general understanding of the current superhero cinematic landscape, you’ll probably understand just how much of a game changer this show really is.
There’s the fact that she’s the first contemporary woman within Marvel leading her own show. (Sorry Peggy. You know I love you dearly, but sometimes your place in the world is a little dated.) The villains are real. Really real. To the point that every episode could use a pretty strong trigger warning just to flag audiences of potential pain. Plus the fallout to the horrors Jessica has faced are very prominent. There’s no glossy finish over the PTSD she suffers from.
However, there’s another ground breaking element to the show that I’m enjoying as well. One that may be slightly under appreciated.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Here’s the truth. Within our daily lives, we’re inundated with sex. It’s everywhere. Magazines, TV shows, movies, songs, commercials… There’s no shortage of sexualized images for us to see in a day. Frankly it’s not something that we’re in need of on a larger cultural level – the space for sexual imagery is virtually unlimited.
Where it has become important, however, is inside the Marvel universe. Not for how it’s been portrayed, but for how it’s NOT been portrayed. Many people probably won’t even flag it as being that big of a big deal — that’s how desensitized we’ve become to sex on TV. But Jessica Jones goes where no other superhero show has gone.
At best, the MCU has only alluded to physical intimacy. Incredibly vanilla heteronormative intimacy at that. But Jessica Jones smashes that norm, sets it on fire, and gives it a big ol’ middle finger salute.
Spoilers warning: Jessica Jones has sex scenes. Yup. That’s right. SEX SCENES. Not just fleeting little moments of passion or teases that fade-to-black. Nope. These scenes are full on, sweaty, athletic, intense moments of pleasure. The exact kind of sex you would imagine two supernaturally enhanced individuals would get up to when no one else was looking.
The sexual exploits themselves contain surprisingly little nudity. But nothing feels purposefully coy or hidden for the sake of television cameras. It’s just cleverly shot. The characters are clearly going at it full stop, but you’re not inundated with flesh or profanity, making it so the sex that takes place doesn’t feel gratuitous or played up to fetishize either of the people on screen. It’s just another part of their dynamic as messy, complicated, sometimes lonely, adult individuals.
Plus, Jessica Jones features the first lesbian sex scene in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and the DC world as well — so it’s definitively ground breaking. But we’re not here to ‘get off’ on watching other people ‘get off.’ The reason this is such an exciting deal is because Marvel is finally choosing to grow up and incorporate real, honest to God, desire into their storytelling.
Let’s talk about you and me
You have to ground superheros in a world of reality if you want adults to truly connect to the medium. And there are a million different ways to do that by giving them families, real world problems, and contemporary villains. Sexual desire is just another foothold into that world of relatability.
Now is probably a good time to mention that sexual activity shouldn’t be the baseline for human connection. Identifying as asexual or choosing abstinence doesn’t mean you lose the ability to connect with other people. And honestly, there need to be more spaces and better crafted stories for this perspective to be told. But the superhero genre, at least on screen, has sidestepped the existence of sex in any real way for so long that it’s been almost jarring. Sexuality is a part of humanity and the fact that it’s been glazed over for so long within this world feels inauthentic and artificial.
You could almost compare it to the exclusion of same sex couples, mixed races, and people with physical disabilities — their absence illegitimizes fictional worlds. Because that’s not reality. That’s not what our world really looks like or how our world really works.
So if storytellers want us to buy into the idea that some people can lift cars over their heads, control minds, or have impenetrable skin, then they need to sell us by making everything outside of that as real as possible. Which ultimately will have to include sex at some point. Hence, Jessica Jones being such a refreshing change to the norm we’ve come to expect.
Let’s talk about all the good things
To be clear. It’s not even necessarily that Jessica Jones chose to include sexual acts themselves. It’s because the Marvel powers that be are acknowledging sex as an actual part of human life. Discussing things like consent and rape and violation and pleasure, they’re tackling the whole idea of what sex is and what it can be, how it can be used to bring people together or to tear people apart.
Someone far more skilled and educated than I needs to be the one to dissect the many intricate layers of Jessica’s trauma and how it affects her relationship with sex and intimacy in general, but I don’t think there’s any coincidence to the fact that ALL the women within the show are shown to be the ones driving the more overtly sexual acts. Whether it be above or below (but mostly above), they’re the ones in control and they’re the ones asserting their power.
So not only is Marvel choosing to finally incorporate this basic human aspect into their world, their choice of words and images are quite powerful. Subtly and not so subtly, they are empowering women to speak out and demand respect. Both inside and outside the bedroom.
And the bad things that may be
Sadly, it’s unlikely that Jessica Jones is going to be a complete game changer for the larger Marvel world. It’s not going to overturn 12+ movies worth of heteronormative canon or completely revolutionize the future of superhero storytelling. But as a fan of the genre, it’s always exciting to see another more realistic filter placed across the superpower enhanced world. It makes not just these characters easier to access, but the whole idea of superheros to begin with. Plus, maybe if we keep at it for long enough, it might spark some important conversations with people who typically might not consider these issues.
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