Journalism is one of those career fields you go into knowing the potential consequences. There’s a litany of occupational hazards — stress, sleeplessness, terrifying editors, libel suits, alienation of friends and family and being absurdly underpaid top the list. But there’s one that I think many overlook:
We inevitably fall in love with superheroes.
According to just about every comic book film with a hunky hero and no-nonsense newspaperwoman, we can’t help falling in love (or, more often, lust) with caped crusaders.
In Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), a photojournalist intent on finding out Batman’s true identity, ends up sleeping with — and therefore, of course, falling in love with — Batman’s real identity, Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton). Instead of asking herself if ethically she has a commitment to her readers to expose the vigilante as the Gotham billionaire, she instead seemingly throws the entire assignment out of the window. Her editor must be furious with her.
Perhaps my favorite part of Vale’s sudden amnesia concerning her career is that the hero identity aside, she’s “just gotta know. Are we gonna try to love each other?” This is the question she choses to ask while standing in the Batcave. That’s the only question she has when she first steps in the proof that she’s found what she wants because her romantic interest in him has completely muddled her priorities. I’ve missed good question opportunities before, but this one wins:
Almost 20 years later, we see another female journalist open her holy gates to pre-hero Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) in Iron Man (2008). Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb) of Vanity Fair goes at him in attack-journalist mode. Although the approach is not entirely bias-free, it’s a respectable way to get his attention and a quote. She doesn’t even back down when he gives her the line that he admits to practicing in the mirror before bed every night. But despite this impressive performance as a reporter, Everhart is then sexually harassed by the genius-billionaire-playboy-not-yet-philanthropist and in a jump cut ends up in his bed:
Although Downey’s appeal exceeds that of Keaton’s the way Hulk’s strength exceeds his ability to find pants that fit, this is still unacceptable behavior for a journalist, especially one trying to get a hard news story out of a man who’s anything but serious. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) doesn’t let her forget her unprofessionalism by explaining that as Stark’s assistant, she “does everything Mr. Stark requires, which sometimes includes picking up the dry cleaning or taking out the trash” before showing her out the door.
Nice one, Pepper.
But it all began with Lois Lane. She started the trend back in 1938 when Superman #1 hit comic stands. In the movie world, 2006’s Superman Returns casted her as a bitter hero-hater who has recently won a Pulitzer for an article on “Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman,” despite being the mother of his son — it may seem like the ultimate display of unbiased reporting, but Superman’s been gone for quite some time, so chances are she’s a little bitter at the deadbeat dad. Turns out the pen is mightier than both the sword and the man from Krypton.
Even in real life, women journalists can’t stay away from the mask. I refer to, of course, the “Edith Affair,” also known as Edith Zimmerman’s GQ article on Chris Evans that came out shortly before Captain America: The First Avenger. This one’s a doozy that’s been discussed multiple times in my reporting and editing classes. The article detailed a night out with the actor, including flirtatious jokes, lots of “palm kissing” and an excess of alcohol. It all led to her waking up in a guest bedroom at his house, unsure of everything they had done the night before. The man only plays a superhero (OK, two), and bam; he’s got Zimmerman’s heart in his hand.
I still haven’t decided whether I give Zimmerman credit for her transparency for writing the exact story or condemn her for letting attraction get in the way of her ethics. I might just hate her for having drinks (and maybe a little more) with Evans, period. But the moral of the story here is that journalists are just as human as their readers, and even though we’re required to keep our emotions and libidos away from our work, sometimes we slip. I’m not saying that’s OK — we wouldn’t want our superheroes to put the world in jeopardy because they fall for us (in 1966’s Batman The Movie, a beer-belly Batty puts Gotham in danger because he falls for Miss Kitka, a journalist from the Moscow Bugle who’s actually Catwoman in disguise) — but it’s a reality, no matter how real or fake our heroes happen to be.
It may take super-strength to overcome that, but as my mom and sister would say, we are women. Hear us roar.