Poison Ivy | Photo: Cliff, CC BY 2.0
In case you hadn’t noticed by now, I have a love/hate relationship with pop culture. It has given me some of the best things in my life—fandoms that I am passionate about, connections to my friends, and the source material for all of the academic papers I could ever hope to write. It also makes me explode in rage and/or disappointment on a regular basis. Guess which one I’m talking about today? (Warning: Spoilers for the show Gotham ahead.)
So if you haven’t been watching Gotham, the basic premise is that we get to see wee!Bruce Wayne progress on his way to becoming Batman, while a block of wood with the inability to emote in anything besides “earnest growl” (Jim Gordon) fights the corrupt system of Gotham. The show plays with the ages of most of the characters—Bruce Wayne starts off the series as a twelve-year-old (played by an actor who is currently fifteen, young Selina Kyle is somewhere in her teens (played by a 17-year-old actress), while the Penguin and the man who will become the Riddler are adults. In something that I thought at the time was an interesting move, Ivy Pepper (the future Poison Ivy) was also cast as a preteen/teen, and played by a fourteen-year-old actress. Emphasis on was. For the upcoming season, Ivy has been recast with a 28-year-old actress named Maggie Geha, and her storyline is going to get…. Uncomfortable.
The blurb for the show goes thusly: ‘“Following an encounter with a monster from Indian Hill, Ivy Pepper finds herself reborn, and one step closer to the DC villain she is destined to become: Poison Ivy. Now a 19-year-old woman who’s harnessed the full power of her charms, she sets her sights on Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz).”’ This is… all kinds of not okay.
First of all, “full power of her charms” sounds like something a creepy old man says about the young woman he’s lusting after. It is a really weird way to try to be coy about the fact that they are going to be sexualizing Poison Ivy in a way that they haven’t for the previous seasons. Now I know that Poison Ivy is well-known for using her sexuality as part of her schtick, but you could also say that about most of the Batman villains that happen to be women. Female Batman villains basically only come in one flavor, and that flavor is “femme fatale.” Don’t believe me? Check out this list and count the number of women who don’t have an hourglass figure. You might, might have to use the fingers on both hands. And for me, one of the points of Gotham was that it allowed the creators to rethink characters. Poison Ivy as a sexy femme-fatale is not new, nor is it interesting. Poison Ivy as an awkward but potentially sociopathic teenager who hangs out with young Catwoman? New and interesting. And now they’re taking it away from us.
Let’s also go with the basic facts. Even if Poison Ivy’s body is now 19, there’s no guarantee that her mind is now also 19. So best case scenario, you have something like Big, where we conveniently forget the fact that the brain occupying the body is not to the age of consent yet. But on the outside, it looks like a 19-year-old trying to get it on with someone who is probably, at most, 14 or 15, and they have a word for that. More of a phrase, really. And remember that the actual actress who is performing the role is 28, and the actor playing Bruce Wayne is 15. Age gaps between leading men and ladies are not unusual in Hollywood (and they frequently actually go in the other direction, which makes this.. somewhat novel? I guess?) but they (usually) don’t involve teenagers.
The whole thing reminds me of one of the weirder aspects of our culture, where a woman (usually a teacher) preys on a young man and the boy is congratulated for winning the attention of an older woman. You usually see at least one comment along the lines of “I wish my teachers had ‘molested’ me like that, har har har.” These reactions absolve the women of much of the responsibility for their actions, and send a message that it is a thing to be celebrated when an older woman pursues a teenage boy. This situation feels very similar to me. It seems as if we are supposed to celebrate the fact that Bruce Wayne, who has been portrayed as the shyer partner in his flirtations with Selina Kyle, is now the focus of Poison Ivy’s (presumably sexual) attentions.
Without having yet seen the episodes in which this will occur, Poison Ivy’s mysterious aging-up feels as if it is a convenient plot device to indicate that Bruce Wayne is growing up. But there are a lot of indicators for maturity that don’t involve a young woman going through a magical super-puberty.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to understand creepy double standards in age-gap relationships, she studies gender in popular culture.
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