What if heroes had gray hair? A review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

F COUNT: one baby f

I must admit, I am a sucker for action films. The first Indy came out when I was 10 and spoke to my already obsessive fear of snakes as well as my love of adrenaline. I must also admit that I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Indy 4 so I could take my kids, 9 and 11, to see it with me and finally experience Indy on the big screen (they have been prepped with the first three installments – and lest you critical media watchers are concerned – yes, they have been subjected to feminist analysis of the film that considers some of the more worrying sexist, racist, and xenophobic Indy elements!)

The night before Indy 4, we watched Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade at home, a movie filmed nearly 20 years ago with a still brown-haired Indy. Perhaps this is why the next day at the theatre, not too far into the film, my daughter asked “Why is Indy’s hair that color?” Not one for any sort of talking in films, I gave the let’s talk about it after signal and returned to my immersion in the wonderfully villainous antics Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), the ever luminous feminist (s)hero Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), and the heroic academic (yeah!) Henry Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford).

On the ride home, after declaring her love for the killer ant scenes, my daughter again asked about the hair. This got me thinking – perhaps her focus on the hair was not due to Indy looking different in the film she had watched the night before (an actor’s nightmare – aging 20 years in one night!),but due to the fact that gray is a pretty much non-existent hair color in film and television – unless, that is, you are watching a hair dye commercial (or bio-pharm hawking one of its latest medicinal wares that will “make you feel young again” with the minor side effects of chronic constipation, projectile vomiting, and mild heart attack).

Where is the gray these days? The Golden Girls are long gone and the only wonderfully gray woman I can think of at the moment is the fab therapist on HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me who’s hair, true to media form, is really more white than gray (but she does have hot sex with her gray haired lover in numerous episodes – a groundbreaking representation in itself as most media leads us to believe people don’t even live long enough to go gray, let alone still be doing the nasty once they do!) In terms of my kids’ viewing, I can’t think of a show that features gray, let alone gray-as-cool-action-hero hip. In fact, the youth rocks message is so pervasive that most kids seem to think 40 is pretty ancient, let alone Harrison’s 65.

But, what if gray characters were sprinkled in film and television with as much frequency as surgically sculpted faces? What if Superman got older-looking (instead of younger looking as in Superman Returns?) What if they finally made a Wonder Woman blockbuster with Linda Carter as the now graying (or gray) most awesome Amazon of all time?

Well, if the reactions–both pre and post–to Indy 4 were any indication, it would take some major paradigm change to embrace the gray. Ford naysayers abound, claiming things like “the years have dried him out,” as film critic David Edelstein does. As Edelstein’s review in NY Mag further complains, age just should not be something viewers have to deal with:

“The computer-generated imagery removes the intangible elements of gravity and depth of field we see in that early warehouse sequence, and the state-of-the-art effects have a way of making the ages of the actors more, not less apparent. As this elderly crew (only LaBeouf is under 56) rushes down a stone staircase to escape a CGI rock slide, you can almost hear their joints creaking.”

Even Ford concedes that “No one wants to see a hero have to pick up his cane to hit someone.” Well–why not?– I ask. What if we regularly saw gray haired (s)heroes fighting baddies with their canes, using their wisdom to trip up evil masterminds, or simply revealing that not all world saviors come in latex suits with six-packs and wrinkle free botoxed visages?

As an interviewer at Gawker said, “American culture is generally paranoid about aging” to which Harrison replied, “Well, I am here to help. What would you like me to do?” Well, Harrison, keep fighting the good anti-ageist fight and keep up your gray hair activism (Harrison claims “I resisted some early efforts, for instance, to think about coloring my hair. I said, Uh, no.” Heck, Harrison, you might even check out the GoingGrayBlog and give some cred to the joyful embrace of grayness.

I sure do wish the super-gray Indy and the fabulously plastic surgery-free Marion could throw the baddy on You Tube called “tekno dwarf” to the killer ants (as well as all the other gray naysers and ageist aficionados). Tekno dwarf posted a film review of what he calls “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Wheelchair” abounding not only with ageism, but sexism too. Lamenting that upon seeing Indy on screen “I thought he was going to keel over,” he further rants that the Irina Spalko character is “nod to the feminist movement” that is “bullshit.” “I was hoping for that Russian bitch to die,” he spews. Then, in fine misogynistic fashion, he ends his review with “Fuck you women. Go suck a dick and die.” Wow, and some people wonder if sexism still exists?!? It ain’t only on the campaign trail, people.

Of course, sexism and ageism (S&A) go hand in hand – in fact all the ugly isms hold hands in one big intertwined knot (otherwise know as the multiplicity of oppressions or intersectionality). Older women are subject to the friendship between S&A with particular vengeance – women are supposed to be young hot objects with empty minds and open legs dammit – not full fledged adults with brains, life experiences, and (the horror) bodies that age. Jessica Valenti’s new book, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, chronicles this ageist double standard with her entry #15: “He’s Distinguished, She’s Driving Miss Daisy.” Perhaps this is why all those “distinguished” (ugh) men like Sean Connery and Michael Douglas are cast with women far younger – wouldn’t want put them with a Driving Miss Daisy! Thankfully the past few years have eroded this men ripen and mature, women rot attitude with the likes of Helen Mirren, Doris Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Jane Fonda (by the way, thank you Jane for saying “cunt” on national television earlier this year– you rock!)

As for the film itself, each of the female leads is far younger than Harrison and neither, of course, has gray hair. The film is hardly feminist with a capital f, but it may deserve a baby f. Marion is back, and she ain’t no damsel in distress (even though Mutt claims she needs to be saved, she saves the rest of the crew multiple times with her mad jeep driving skills and waterfall navigation management, for example). Plus, casting a gray haired action hero of 65, female leads of 56 and 39, and a plethora of supporting characters over 55 speaks to feminism’s fight against all the ugly ism’s, including ageism.

Now, if only I could find more seasoned screen mentors for my daughter to view so that gray becomes just another hair color, rather than a sign of being “passed it.”

5 thoughts on “What if heroes had gray hair? A review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

  1. Scouring my memory, I came up with Dame Judy as M (James Bond). While M’s no superhero, she’s presented as capable and essential to operations (although subverting her authority is also “essential”).
    I would pay good money to watch Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, and Judy Dench as super-heroes.

  2. Anita,
    Thanks for reading! I love Dame Judy! I too would pay good money to see any of those fab women as super-heroes. Shirley Maclaine, Cher, Jessica Lang would also be great. What a team they would all make! They could break sexism and ageism barriers in a single bound!

  3. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thank you, However
    I am experiencing troubles with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I cannot join it.
    Is there anybody getting similar RSS issues? Anyone who knows the answer will you kindly respond?

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