The Punisher: It doesn’t get any straighter than this, folks….

So let me be honest: Long before gay people were ever cast as heroes, we were cast as villains. The Punisher continues this obscene tradition by making John Travolta’s No. 1 henchman a closeted homosexual. Shades of Admiral Cain flitted through my mind as I watched the film and my palms now have four evenly spaced, red, infected half-moon wounds in them. I really need a manicure. And anger management therapy.

If we see gay people in genre fiction, we normally encounter lesbians. They’re normally fairly attractive and equally evil (or at least less moral than their straight counterparts–Admiral Cain, Lt. Gaeta for all of you BSG fans.) Seldom do we see gay men. It’s a shame that the writers of The Punisher elected to depict an overtly gay character as a sadist. It’s equally deplorable that they elected to use physical comedy to mock male-on-male relationships (as when the two neighbors fell through the door and are seen laying in a pile suggesting intercourse.)

But then The Punisher is awash in heterocentric symbolism as it stands. The message is clear: As long as you are avenging your straight love, your straight institution (the extended and nuclear family–you know, the people that disown you when you come out) then it’s OK to take the law into your own hands and murder dozens. You won’t be caught–you won’t be called to answer for your own misdeeds–because you’re straight and you’re doing right by straight norms. We have got to protect the family.

The Family
Manson protected his family, too.

But all of this serves a purpose, oddly. There’s a depth here that mere outrage overlooks. This film is about transformation, about the alchemy of loss, revenge, and redemption. It’s a Jungian wet dream with a body count (though nowhere near enough blood to be convincing.)

We think we can shield our loved ones from harm but, as Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor liked to say, “Everything has its time and everything dies.” Death stalks us, awaits us, will claim us all in the end. Your gun, your martial arts training, your low fat diet rich in omega 3s, your burglar alarms and smoke detectors–meaningless. They may buy you a moment more (or not) but in the end we’re all worm fodder. One supernova within 10 parsecs and the human race faces a genuine extinction event that we can’t do a damned thing about. A large asteroid, a mega volcano, a sudden shift in the ecosystem and the curtain falls on the human race.

When Frank Castle is finished avenging the deaths of his loved ones, he is left with the realization that there’s nothing left to live for. He shoves a gun under his chin and he has a vision of his wife. She renews his hope and he doesn’t pull the trigger. But in the end, he’s left changed. His old life is gone. Frank Castle is gone. The Punisher remains.

The goal of the alchemist was to start with lead (the metal of Saturn, so symbolic of death) and end up with gold (the metal of the Sun, so the token of life.) The transformation here happens in reverse. The illusory gold of life is stripped away through violence to leave lead, the agent of death, the alkahest of our existence.

It’s a truth I prefer. But I’m weird like that.

5 thoughts on “The Punisher: It doesn’t get any straighter than this, folks….

  1. I can only imagine what it must be like to have what you are reviled and scorned, portrayed as EEEEE-vil throughout popular culture. To have lived with that unfair yolk on your shoulders the length of your life must be hellish indeed. I have a similar experience, although only nominally similar at best. Throughout my childhood, and even to the now, girls with the SoCal phraseology are considered stupid. Brainless. Sex-robots at best. Silverstone in Clueless and Zappa’s “Valley Girl.”

    I hate the representation of my culture, my socio-political position and, sadly, myself. I continue to work hard to excise that framework of my maturation from my existence. Folks still think it’s funny when they “talk the talk of a valley girl” and I’m inescapably offended. Valley Girls are not stupid. We are not obsessed with clothes. We deserve more than to be sex toys and cast aside when done. Equally, homosexuals are not EEEEE-vil and it’s a horrible thing to see Hollywood’s addiction to damaging stereotypes of any kind.

    That being said, I believe the scarred part of your psyche is giving an unfair twinge regarding the Mike(?) character and his sexuality. (And I offer this from a position of near-complete ignorance.) The fact that Mike was gay presents his murder by Howard Saint as even more foul than just a jealous guy fighting his BFF for the girl. It’s a betrayal of soul deep friendship. More, one can see the love Mike had for Saint, even though it was not sexual. What Mike did for Saint are many and diverse things, from dancing with Mrs. Saint to massacring a family upon command to torturing poor Dave. He loved Howard Saint. Deeply. Profoundly. Witness his shock and confusion when Saint attacked him. Could that heartbreak been as beautifully understood by the audience if Mike wasn’t gay?

    Additionally, my days doing research in the BDSM arena for two of my novels, I encountered my share of sexual sadists who are gay as well as straight, and that’s what I saw in Mike’s sexual dynamic with whazzisname-boy-toy. Sexuality isn’t a crime unless it isn’t consensual and, clearly, it was. And yet, if Mike hadn’t been given the dark edge of sadism to his character, he ran the huge possibility to being a sympathetic character to the audience. “Just a guy” who “loved unwisely” or some-such-stuff.

    I honestly think that Mike’s sexuality and his sadism were necessary to explain to the audience the pain Castle delivered to Saint when he manipulated the man into killing the people who loved him the most.

    Again, and my apologies, I’m offering this from a position of ignorance and character-arc only.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maybe, then, if the constant depiction of homosexuals throughout fiction we could more easily accept the character of a gay man being the bad guy. The same things goes for when a Valley girl is depicted as stupid. It wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t a trend. We could understand that people can be straight or gay, sadistic or not, smart or stupid, but what makes it hard to cope with is that more often than not, some groups are stereotyped, and in the worst ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Matt Andrew

    Actually, you’ve got me thinking about Glass, now. The movie led us to believe he was a pretty competent badass. But he was gay, and Castle used that to his advantage by taking secret pictures (which isn’t exactly the MO of comic book Castle, but I digress). Anyway, it seemed kind of weird for a guy like Glass to be so afraid of being outed as a gay. Maybe it’s because I’m straight and don’t fully understand the dynamics, but as a major plot point it seemed way off. Could also be that the movie didn’t delve into his true inner personality, so it made me wonder why Glass didn’t just say “yeah, okay, I’m gay. Now somebody please kill that fucker like I’ve been telling you to, so we can move on.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah I’ve noticed several of the things we’ve studied for this class so far have featured very troubled men who happen to be gay or struggling with their sexual identity in some way. I’m waiting for a femme fatale psycho lesbian who is secretly in love with an alien or something next. I haven’t closely studied the time periods of everything we’ve read or watched, but I suppose if it was X number of years ago then writers may have honed in on the idea of the troubled gay man and decided eh, let’s make him crazy too. Why not? Who knows…but I’m sure it would make for a hell of a literary research paper.

    Liked by 1 person

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