Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sexism at the Cinema? Plus, a Rant!

I really don't have time for this. But I can't help it . . . and I haven't had a good rant in a long time, so here we go!

Look at this little bit of moaning and gender-drenched pewling in the New York Times. The writer whines:
Nobody likes to admit the worst, even when it’s right up there on the screen, particularly women in the industry who clutch at every pitiful short straw, insisting that there are, for instance, more female executives in Hollywood than ever before. As if it’s done the rest of us any good. All you have to do is look at the movies themselves — at the decorative blondes and brunettes smiling and simpering at the edge of the frame — to see just how irrelevant we have become. That’s as true for the dumbest and smartest of comedies as for the most critically revered dramas, from “No Country for Old Men” (but especially for women) to “There Will Be Blood” (but no women). Welcome to the new, post-female American cinema.

Nowhere is our irrelevance more starkly apparent than during the summer, the ultimate boys’ club. Over the next few months the screens will reverberate with the romping-stomping of comic book titans like Iron Man and the Hulk. The sexagenarian Harrison Ford will be cracking his Indy whip (some old men get a pass, after all, especially when Steven Spielberg is on board) alongside the fast-talking sprout from “Transformers.” Hellboy will relock and load, tongue and cigar planted in cheek. Action heroes like Will Smith, Brendan Fraser, Nicolas Cage, Mark Wahlberg and Vin Diesel will run amok, as will funny guys like Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Jack Black and Seth Rogen.

The girls of summer are few in number, and real women are close to extinct.

OK. Where do I start? Oh, heck with it, do rants need organization like a grad school paper? I don't think so.

First of all, the writer is making a basic mistake that quantity is quality. Oh no, this person shrieks: there aren't enough female faces (according to the writer, please note), so the sky is falling and all of us modern women might as well give up on our individual lives and careers and go back to Victorian-age corsets and kitchens. Get real. The place of women in modern American society is not suddenly under threat because of a few movies. Nobody's going to bar me from a job or an education because I'm not a man. Besides, and this is a basic idea here, movies aren't the same thing as objective reality.

Furthermore, the writer seems to think that women should be offended about the summer slate of movies. What, am I supposed to go to the movies only to look through gender-colored glasses? Whatever happened to going for fun? I am absolutely insulted that ANYBODY presumes to make sweeping judgments about what women like to see (or should like to see) at the movie theater. While it is true that a significant percentage of women like to see films about romance or relationships (i.e., the "chick flick"), that doesn't mean ALL women like such films. In fact, I usually avoid "chick flicks" because I am not interested in watching emotional goo plastered all over the movie screen. Besides, this entire sentimental genre basically assumes that the relationship trumping all others is the romantic one. Well, I hate to rain on your parade, but if you go through life like that, you're going to have a miserable time. Romance is great and all, but it can be fickle and fleeting, and the idolization of popcorn insta-romance puts all kinds of pressure on real-life relationships.

Second of all, movies are about a free market of entertainment. Studios make movies that will (they hope) make lots and lots of money. Look, is it so incomprehensible that a movie doesn't have to have a female lead in order for me to go see it? Let's look at the writer's big wail about how summer action films are heavily populated by male actors. So what? Is it SO FAR OUT OF THE REALM OF POSSIBILITY THAT SOME LADIES LOVE ACTION MOVIES TOO? That action movies aren't only for the boys? Could it be possible that action movies could appeal to all sorts of people of both sexes? And if you think there's no such thing as a girl who prefers action movies to chick flicks, then HELLO, my name is Mad Minerva, and I'm pleased to meet you. THERE! Now let's go see a cool summer movie, shall we?

Take a look at how the writer moans about "our irrelevance." She is making an attempt to find solidarity here with female readers, I suppose. Well, here's an idea. As long as I have money in my pocket, I am not irrelevant to the movie industry. I still choose what movies (if any) I want to spend my money on. And in the free market of movies, I -- and the millions of other average folks like me -- are relevant. Why else would studios spend all that time and money on advertising? Because we don't matter? Nope, because we do. We vote with our movie tickets. As for the writer: DON'T PRESUME TO SPEAK FOR ME, EVER.

As for the people starring in the supposedly offensive and anti-woman films? Look at the "offending" list of actors that the writer cries about. The list includes actors whom I really like to watch, so of course I will go see their movies! DUH. Will Smith, Brendan Fraser, Nic Cage? I love their work! I'm so THERE for their films. Hmm, if I know Will Smith is starring in a film, I will automatically go and see it. Does that make me a bad feminist? Actually, on the other hand, I can't think of any actress who will make me automatically go see her film. Maybe I really am a bad feminist! But I'd rather see Will's brand of action-comedy than almost every actress's best attempt at chick-flick-hood. I like ensemble casts too, like the great ensembles of "Ocean's Eleven" or "Serenity."

Going on! Is it also such a weird thought that maybe women can actually exercise individual taste and choice to -- hmmm, oh, I don't know -- like a wide variety of movies? Movies with all sorts of different characters in them? Is it so hard to believe that one moment I want "Casablanca" and the next I want "Transformers"? (And NO, "Casablanca" is not a "chick flick" in my interpretation of the modern term.) One moment I can want "Sense and Sensibility" and the next I want "Lord of the Rings" or "Iron Man"? Am I supposed to show my gender solidarity by only wanting and seeing feminist-approved films?

Try this thought on for size: given a choice at my cinema between two current movies, "Sex and the City" and "Iron Man," guess which one I'll choose every single time? I have zero interest in the tiresome foursome of "Sex and the City." Yes, yes, some enlightened social commentators tell me that they're supposed to be soooooooo revolutionary for women. Excuse me if I think otherwise (oddly enough, the writer of the whining piece seems to think the same). Those 4 are intelligent, educated, professional women with lives and careers of their own in New York City, one of the greatest cities in the world for culture. Yet what are they constantly doing? Chasing after men, talking about men, gossiping about men. Men, men, men. Nonstop. Enough already!

What are my female friends and I doing when we get together? Are we likewise obsessing about men? Here's a shocking slice of real life. The last time I was hanging out with a friend, the last thing we did that evening was chat briefly about guys -- and we did that as an afterthought. Before that, we spent hours -- literally hours -- discussing tax policy, politics, economic concerns, work, school, family, and friends. BELIEVE IT. We talked about taxes before men. And we were laughing and having a great time at it too, swapping songs on iTunes and iPods, catching up on our lives, going for coffee and sweets. Aren't we a picture of what real feminism is supposed to be about? Independent and free, educated, self-sufficient and responsible young women taking charge of their own lives, receiving help from nobody and being successful and happy. Here's a bigger shocker. Neither of us are "campus liberals." Instead, we both trend for center-right and libertarianism. Surprise! Or not. We're too busy making productive lives to be whining about "not enough women in the movies." Frankly, I think that makes us better actual feminists. Plus we don't hate men!

As for the movies. When I went to see the spectacular "300" (that is, by the way, as far from a "chick flick" as you can get), I went with yet another fellow moviegoer and school friend who . . . wasn't a guy! FYI, I also see a great number of movies with my dear Sibling and our friends who are both guys and girls, but I especially see films with the Sibling, because it's a great way to spend time together AND we have very similar tastes in movies.

OK, OK, some of you are possibly asking: well, Min, are you saying that you are only interested in things that blow up on the summer movie screen? I will confess that sometimes I'm also happy to watch the fine folks making things blow up -- and all the happier if they're good-looking guys! And the better-looking and more interesting and substantial and heroic the men, the better. Give me some of that old-time heroic confident masculinity with that popcorn . . . though these days it's easier to get the popcorn. (OK, excuse me while La Parisienne -- another good strong woman like my other friends -- and I sigh over Gerard Butler.)

One more thing: the writer has this final bit of crying: "the truth that when audiences look up at the screen what they want to see are faces much like their own." Errr, sorry to burst your bubble, but that's NOT ME ALL THE TIME. I don't necessarily want to see exhausted, coffee-soaked, bleary-eyed Asian-American library-dwellers poking at slow laptops and collapsing on book tables. Sometimes, just sometimes, movies are about escapism -- about getting a fantasy glimpse into somebody else's world, not my own. Uh, SURPRISE -- that's kind of the point about frothy summer movies! That's why we go! (Besides, if I want to see faces that look like my own, I have the glories of Asian cinema -- but that's another post.)

I'll end now -- partially because I have to get back to work, and partially because the stench of rank identity/gender politics is beginning to choke me. Besides, the writer of the piece actually mentions female genitalia, and I think that's plain vulgar. Why do gender-based whines almost always devolve into anatomically-based argument? Good grief, as if that's all that matters. News flash: people are actually more than the sum of their anatomical . . . parts. In additional to reproductive parts, people do have BRAINS. And if you're really smart, you use your brain a lot more often in a lot more situations.

So let me close by going back to the newspaper article. Its title is (I am not kidding) "Is There A Real Woman in This Multiplex?" The answer is, YES. *ME.* Now will you please sit down and be quiet because I'm trying to see a film and you're in my way!

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