Agent of Ideas: Why Joss Whedon’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is more than just superhero porn

The new TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D may, on the surface, be an Avengers’ fan’s wet dream; an action-packed, TV series-long Joss Whedon film which packs a giant, end-of-film action sequence punch per episode, but when you look a little deeper, and only a little, new media theory screams through each word new team member and hacktivist Skye (Chloe Bennet) speaks.

This is especially evident in Episode 2 of the new series, where, behind the mediocre dialogue, underscored by barely simmering sexual tension, Skye talks about Peruvian rebels and their inspiring use of social media tools to organize grassroots resistance, a phenomenon which Grant (Brett Dalton), a S.H.I.E.L.D team member, dismisses as troublemaking, and whether the rebels are indeed destabilizing the country for good or bad is not the point. The core ideas which Skye’s dialogue is based upon reflect the underpinnings of new media theory, where traditional boundaries and hierarchies are subverted and start to dissolve as authority and control are very slowly transformed, no longer attributed to traditional notions of government, moving towards acknowledging the power of Anonymous, WikiLeaks and citizen journalists. It is almost too easy to suggest that Skye is the classic pin-up girl for digital dissent; as she pours Grant a drink, she speaks about the power of Twitter in mobilizing the many, to decrease the power of the few. Indeed, the fictional organization ‘Rising Tide’ smacks of a purely evil, highly networked, ‘screw all authority no matter what the motive’ version of Anonymous. The series is almost obnoxiously biased against the people’s organization, who, after Skye’s blatant, unrealistic and unprofessional fangirling upon the entrance of Mr. Super Strength in Episode 1, seems to come across as merely wanting a superhero of their own.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12308893@N07/9357198748/
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12308893@N07/9357198748/

I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the series is post-modern in its self reflection and references to modern cultural movements (although many other quality shows like Community can certainly be said to be post-modern due to their self-conscious references to cultural tropes and pop culture staples), but it certainly does reflect the conversation about good and bad, for the people and against the people, which currently preoccupies government, academia and well… my own mind.

Despite the fact that some of the acting and bias (lets face it, a superhero superfan like Joss is not going to be on the side of the hackers) lets this series down, I’ve got to salute Joss Whedon and his co-creators for the first superhero… well, series of mini-films, which finally acknowledges that if a female has some quality training, she can be just as valuable as a man, and can also be an effective villain. In the first two episodes, we see women acting on both the the ‘good’ side and the ‘bad side’, without trying to attribute their success to the charitable and/or supplementary strength of men. And what’s even better is that this equality isn’t a big deal, it’s just natural; these women aren’t applauded or made an example of, but do their jobs, working with equally great men, both doing what is required of them in extreme situations. And that seems like a good deal to me.

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