‘Thor’ joke demonstrates how entrenched the male gaze is

This is a joke:

Critics Debate Whether ‘Thor’ Gayest Movie Ever

HOLLYWOOD (CAP) – Thor, Kenneth Branagh’s hit movie based on the classic Marvel comic book, has cleaned up at the box office but split critics, with some of them calling it the gayest movie of all time, and others saying that last year’s Clash Of The Titans was much gayer.

“Most of Thor’s 113 minutes felt vaguely gay, but the two or three sections that were really, truly gay were like brief flashes of gaiety that stood out like Morse code messages from another, gayer movie,” wrote Dana Andrews of Salon.com.

Richard Roeper of ReelzChannel disagreed, however, saying in his review that “Thor is the gayest superhero debut since the original Batman, the really gay one from the ’60s where Robin wore those little green briefs.”

The controversy centers on star Chris Hemsworth, whose long golden locks and “impossibly, almost unbearably buff” pectoral muscles combine with his tight-fitting bodice and tremendous hammer to make Thor “the gayest movie of the decade, bar none,” to quote Amy Biancolli of Houston Chronicle.

Of course none of the critics “quoted” here actually wrote anything of the kind… but we can read into this extended joke a kind of vague discomfort that some straight men may be experiencing when watching a film the features an “impossibly, almost unbearably buff” leading man.
Now, sure, it’s easy to suggest that a movie may be homoerotic if it features men — as in more than one man — hanging out together while being impossibly, almost unbearably buff, because then the subtext there can sometimes be seen as the men enjoying hanging out and being buff together (not that there’s anything wrong with that): the men onscreen may well be appreciating one another’s hotness in ways that straight men are supposed to be immune to. But that’s not what’s happening in Thor. Yeah, the god of thunder has his male buddies (and one female pal) back on Asgard, but the bit that, I suspect, has some dudes worried about their sexuality is this one:

This is just after Thor has arrived on Earth and been picked up — pun intended — by scientist Natalie Portman and her assistant, Kat Dennings. I was struck by this scene for how female-gazey it is: Dennings can’t take her eyes off Thor (as he changes into Earthly clothing), she’s that taken with his masculine beauty. It’s not that often that any film, never mind a big-budget Hollywood comic-book action flick, takes the time to linger over the physical attractiveness of a man in the eyes of a woman character onscreen. Kudos to director Kenneth Branagh — obviously a straight man comfortable and confident in his sexuality — for this. And a thank-you, too, because Hemsworth is indeed pretty yummy.

But what the heck is “gay” about this scene? It is overtly about a woman who clearly likes men looking at a man whom, we come to appreciate, likes women. There could not possibly be anything less homosexual about this.

Except… the assumption is ingrained: that the viewer of this film — of any film, really — is a heterosexual man. Regardless of the context of the imagery, regardless of the sexuality of the artist who created the image, something like this is perceived as being gay. Just, well, because… who else but straight dudes are checking this out, anyway?

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