The Creepy Cull of the Female Protagonist.
I’m starting to really really like this guy’s videos.
I guess it does seem a little silly to be all “People need to see this movie!!” like it’s an ~important cause~ or a small indie project or whatever. Yes, it’s a blockbuster movie. But I’m getting the impression that people are judging it inaccurately, mostly by comparing it to other blockbuster movies. For example, the vast quantity of people I’ve seen saying, “This looks like a ripoff of Transformers”. Nothing could be further from the truth!
It’s not Transformers.
Transformers is everyone’s favourite example of hugely successful, critic-proof summer idiot movie. It’s based on a popular toy/franchise so the audience already knows what it’s about, it has really great CGI, and it transparently appeals to teenage boys. No matter how bad the reviews were for each successive Transformers movie, people would watch them because they’d spent the past 5 years being beaten into submission by the Transformers publicity juggernaut. And because they were guaranteed to show cool scenes of giant robots smashing into stuff.
Pretty much the only thing Pacific Rim has in common with Transformers is that it includes cool scenes of giant robots smashing into stuff.
Rather than reducing the main female character to a adolescent male fantasy (don’t even get me started on Michael Bay’s glaringly obvious lack of respect for women), it looks like Pacific Rim’s Mako Mori will have a heroic character arc. I haven’t seen the movie yet so I can’t comment on whether it passes the Bechdel test or whatever (AFAIK, there’s only one female lead and one secondary female character in the ensemble cast), but Guillermo del Toro has a really good track record with female characters.
Pan’s Labyrinth, which has a female protagonist, is fantastic, and if you watch Hellboy I think you’ll be surprised by how excellent Liz Sherman is. Hellboy really does embrace its own cheesiness, but at the same time Liz Sherman gets the most interesting character arc I’ve ever seen for a comicbook love-interest. As in, she actually gets to have a life and goals of her own, separate from Hellboy — even though they grew up together, and sometimes work together. In the first movie, she actually has herself committed to a mental institution because she thinks it’ll be the best thing for her. And this is in a mainstream blockbuster movie that basically amounts to “Men In Black: Demon Edition”.
Pacific Rim looks like it was written by someone with an actual brain.
It’s already clear that wayyyy more thought has gone into Pacific Rim than into, say, Man of Steel. Man of Steel is a pile of trash garbage that disrespects its audience in every way, but was a huge success because a) Superman is a well-known franchise, and b) the advertising campaign was obliteratingly intense. (If you want to read an interesting article about Hollywood’s obsession with making stupid & offensive tentpole franchise movies, I recommend this: “The Lone Ranger represents everything that’s wrong with Hollywood blockbusters”.) The concern is that Pacific Rim may flop because a casual glance at the trailer makes people think, “That looks like Transformers vs Godzilla, starring some people I haven’t heard of,” whereas a glance at the Man of Steel trailer makes people think, “That’s Superman. I like Superman, and Zach Snyder and Christopher Nolan have made good superhero movies in the past.”
For a major Hollywood movie, brand recognition almost always means more than the quality of the film. If something stars Will Smith or Bruce Willis, people will go to see it because it’s a Bruce Willis or Will Smith movie. If a movie is part of a recogniseable franchise like Spider-Man or Tomb Raider, people will watch it because they’re familiar with the character, even if it’s so bad it makes your eyeballs roll out of your skull. With Pacific Rim, you’re looking at something that looks kind of like Godzilla and kind of like Transformers, but isn’t “the real thing”. Therefore, it must therefore be a cheap knockoff, like those “Transmorphers” movies. Or Megashark vs Giant Octopus.
In fact, Guillermo del Toro has already put a great deal of thought into the worldbuilding of Pacific Rim. First of all, it’s a look at what happens after the events of a monster movie like Godzilla or Cloverfield. It’s not an origin story. It starts in media res, like Star Wars. Here are some of del Toro’s thoughts on why he didn’t want to make an origin story:
"The part that I was interested in was the part where things are hard. If you start with the origin, then you have to go with investigative characters, which are hard for me to relate to. Like a reporter, or military forensics. For me it has to be a character that has something against him or her, from the get-go. A character that starts already oppressed or down on his/her luck, for me to be interested in them."
Pacific Rim seems to be full of little details on what would actually happen in a society in the aftermath of a monster-movie style event. Because the Kaiju are so enormous, their skeletons are often left behind and people end up building houses around them. One of the main characters is a black market trader who specialises in selling parts of dead Kaiju to people who fetishise or worship the monsters.
But the most significant thing is that it’s an international movie. The Kaiju are a threat to the entire planet, so it only makes sense that people from all around the world are fighting back against them.
In blockbuster disaster movies, the action is almost always reserved for New York or another major US city. In the Star Trek reboot, “Earth” is represented by Iowa, San Francisco, and London. In the Batman franchise, it’s (obviously) Gotham, America. In Man of Steel: Metropolis and the US military, despite the fact that they’re facing a worldwide threat. The formula is: defend America, and occasionally send in the US Marines as canon-fodder against whatever alien attack we’re fighting this week. Actually, I’m struggling to think of a major blockbuster that treats a “world threat” as a threat against the world rather than just America. (Maybe World War Z? I haven’t seen it, but the trailer seemed to have scenes in places other than America.)
However, Pacific Rim shows a diverse cast of characters from around the world, because the Kaiju are a threat to everyone, everywhere. The Jaegers (giant robots) even have a variety of different characteristics, depending on where they were manufactured.
And don’t forget that in order to pilot the Jaegers, people have to forge a mental link. Yes, that’s right, Tumblr. This is a movie with canonical soulbonding.
So yeah, I haven’t seen Pacific Rim yet, but I’m pretty damn sure it’s going to be smarter and more entertaining than every one of the major blockbuster movies that came out this summer. And if you don’t feel like trusting me, trust Kanye:
Excellent, well-reasoned hype for Pacific Rim! It’s important to see this movie because it’s ORIGINAL CONTENT (if heavily inspired by/homage to the monster/mecha genre), it looks like it’s going to be more representational than a LOT of the stuff already out there, and it’s helmed by a director who’s already well known for intelligent, quality cinema. We should support things like this, because we wanna see more stuff like this!
Now this is more like it! Frozen’s trailer: Japanese edition.
this clipart lookin mess
THAT FUCKING SNOWMAN
(Disney’s American marketing choices elude me. If you guys remember, Brave’s Japanese trailers were better, too.)
And the Wreck It Ralph dub? PERFECTION. Like, we own Wreck It Ralph in English, I want to import the Japanese DVD because the Japanese dub is amaaaaazing.
"You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist? And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it."
Junot Diaz (via Tatiana Richards)
semi-casual reminder that john lasseter has explicitly stated that one of his wishes as a storyteller/head honcho at pixar was to make movies starring boys because his young son doesn’t have any ~positive representation~ in children’s movies
[.gif removed by @baroness-boogerface for accessibility]
is there a source for this? my google-fu sucks
I just want my rage to be founded
kind of gave up on finding the original interview bcs i only got so much energy in me to devote to reading interviews with a dude who makes me mad, but @ferrific dug up these two pieces both of which are p gross and supportive of the whole pixar is a boys’ club/pixar makes movies for boys thingamajig: nytimes / esquire
thanks so much, bb
SO THAT’S GOOD TO KNOW 8|
Personally this is my first run-in with any outright evidence of sexism from him. I haven’t thought about his career critically yet
He didn’t want to talk much about certain aspects of Pixar, like the studio’s shortage of directors who are women and female protagonists in its films.
“I typically don’t read the reviews,” he said, not exactly answering the question. “I make movies for that little boy who loves the characters so much that he wants to pack his clothes in a Lightning McQueen suitcase.”
And the BOYSFATHERSBOYS angle annoyed me too much to read it, lol.
The BIGGEST protest ever in Mexico is happening, but almost no media coverage.
In some countries like USA and the UK even YouTube videos have been removed.
wait people got mad at brave because there were no black people in the movie
a movie set in scotland during the 10th century
oh my fucking god
I’m pretty sure the complaint is more along the lines of:
“Ok we’ve been to ‘Total Fantasy World Inspired by Medieval Germany’ ‘Set in Mystical Medieval Scottland’ and now ‘Anderson’s Scandinavia’. They’re just going to the whitest places on earth on purpose now. It’s like a scavenger hunt for places that they can have plausible deniability for not including POC even as background characters.”
Nerds and Male Privilege (definitely worth a read!)
I want to tell you a story.
A few years ago, I was dating a girl who was decidedly not nerd curious. She tolerated my geeky interests with a certain bemused air but definitely didn’t participate in ‘em… not even setting foot inside a comic store on new comic day. She’d wait outside until I was done… which could be a while, since I was friends with several of the staff.
She came in the store exactly once, after I’d explained that no, it’s a pretty friendly place… well lit, spacious, organized and with helpful – and clearly identified – staff members who were willing to bend over backwards to make sure their customers were satisfied.
She was in there for less than 4 minutes before one mouth-breathing troglodyte began alternately staring at her boobs – evidently hoping that x-ray vision could develop spontaneously – and berating her for daring to comment on the skimpy nature of the costumes – in this case, Lady Death and Witchblade. She fled the premises, never to return.
When both the manager and I explained to him in no uncertain terms as to what he did wrong he shrugged his shoulders. “Hey, I was just trying to help you guys! She couldn’t understand that chicks can be tough and sexy! Not my fault she’s a chauvinist,” he said.
And that was when I shot him, your honor.
So with that example in mind, let’s talk about a subject I’ve touched on before: Male Privilege and how it applies to geeks and – more importantly – geek girls.
MALE PRIVILEGE: WHAT IS IT, EXACTLY?
I don’t think I’m breaking any news or blowing minds when I point out that geek culture as a whole is predominantly male. Not to say that women aren’t making huge inroads in science fiction/fantasy fandom, gaming, anime and comics… but it’s still a very male culture. As such, it caters to the predominantly male audience that makes it up. This, in turn leads to the phenomenon known as male privilege: the idea that men – most often straight, white men – as a whole, get certain privileges and status because of their gender.
(Obvious disclaimer: I’m a straight white man.)
In geek culture, this manifests in a number of ways. The most obvious is in the portrayal of female characters in comics, video games and movies. Batman: Arkham City provides an excellent example.
The women are all about sex, sex, sexy sextimes. With maybe a little villainy thrown in for flavor. They may be characters, but they’re also sexual objects to be consumed.
I will pause now for the traditional arguments from my readers: these characters are all femme fatales in the comics, all of the characters in the Arkham games are over-the-top, the men are just as exaggerated/sexualized/objectified as the women. Got all of that out of your systems? Good.
Because that reaction is exactly what I’m talking about.
Y’see, one of the issues of male privilege as it applies to fandom is the instinctive defensive reaction to any criticism that maybe, just maybe, shit’s a little fucked up, yo. Nobody wants to acknowledge that a one-sided (and one-dimensional) portrayal of women is the dominant paradigm in gaming; the vast majority of female characters are sexual objects. If a girl wants to see herself represented in video games, she better get used to the idea of being the prize at the bottom of the cereal box. If she wants to see herself as a main character, then it’s time to get ready for a parade of candyfloss costumes where nipple slips are only prevented by violating the laws of physics. The number of games with competent female protagonists who wear more than the Victoria’s Secret Angels are few and far between.
The idea that perhaps the way women are portrayed in fandom is aleetle sexist is regularly met with denials, justifications and outright dismissal of the issue. So regularly, in fact, that there’s a Bingo card covering the most common responses. Part of the notion of male privilege in fandom is that nothing is wrong with fandom and that suggestions that it might benefit from some diversity is treated as a threat.
But what is that threat, exactly?
In this case, the threat is that – ultimately – fandom won’t cater to guys almost to exclusion… that gays, lesbians, racial and religious minorities and (gasp!) women might start having a say in the way that games, comics, etc. will be created in the future. The strawmen that are regularly trotted out – that men are objectified as well, that it’s a convention of the genre, that women actually have more privileges than guys – are a distraction from the real issue: that the Privileged are worried that they won’t be as privileged in the near future if this threat isn’t stomped out. Hence the usual reactions: derailment, minimization and ultimately dismissing the topic all together.
As much as my nerdy brethren wish that more girls were of the geeky persuasion, it’s a little understandable why women might be a little reticent. It’s hard to feel valued or fully included when a very vocal group insists that your input is irrelevant, misguided and ultimately unwelcome. It’s small wonder why geekdom – for all of it’s self-proclaimed enlightened attitudes towards outsiders and outcasts – stil retains the odor of the guy’s locker room.
HOW MALE PRIVILEGE AFFECTS GEEK GIRLS IN REAL LIFE
Don’t make the mistake of thinking male privilege is solely about how big Power Girl’s tits are, fan service and jiggle physics in 3D fighters. It affects geek girls in direct, personal ways as well.
Remember the example I mentioned earlier with my then-girlfriend in the comic store? Her opinions were deemed mistaken and she was told she didn’t “get it”… because she was a girl.
Y’see, one of the issues that nerd girls face is the fact that they are seen as girls first and anything else second. And before you flood my comments section demanding to know why this is a bad thing, realize that being seen as a “girl” first colors every interaction that they have within fandom. They’re treated differently because they are women.
We will now pause for the expected responses: well that’s a good thing isn’t it, girls get special treatment because they’re girls, guys will fall all over themselves to try to get girls to like ‘em so it all balances out.
If you’re paying attention you’ll realize that – once again – those reactions are what I’m talking about.
Y’see, nobody’s saying that women don’t receive different treatment from guys… I’m saying that being treated differently is the problem. And yes, I know exactly what many of you are going to say and I’ll get to that in a minute.
Male privilege – again – is about what men can expect as the default setting for society. A man isn’t going to have everything about him filtered through the prism of his gender first. A man, for example, who gets a job isn’t going to face with suggestions that his attractiveness or that his willingness to perform sexual favors was a factor in his being hired, nor will he be shrugged off as a “quota hire”. A man isn’t expected to be a representative of his sex in all things; if he fails at a job, it’s not going to be extrapolated that all men are unfit for that job. A man who’s strong-willed or aggressive won’t be denigrated for it, nor are men socialized to “go along to get along”. A man can expect to have his opinion considered, not dismissed out of hand because of his sex. When paired with a woman who’s of equal status, the man can expect that most of the world will assume that he’s the one in charge. And, critically, a man doesn’t have to continually view the world through the lens of potential violence and sexual assault.
Now with this in mind, consider why being a girl first may be a hindrance to geek girls. A guy who plays a first person shooter – Call of Duty, Halo, Battlefield, what-have-you – online may expect a certain amount of trash talking, but he’s not going to be inundated with offers for sex, threats of rape, sounds of simulated masturbation or demands that he blow the other players – but not before going to the kitchen and getting them a beer/sandwich/pizza first. Men will also not be told that they’re being “too sensitive” or that “they need to toughen up” when they complain about said sexual threats.
Men also won’t have their opinions weighed or dismissed solely on the basis of how sexy or attractive they are. The most common responses a woman can expect in an argument – especially online – is that she’s fat, ugly, single, jealous, a whore, or a lesbian – or any combination thereof – and therefore her opinion is irrelevant, regardless of it’s actual merits. This is especially true if she’s commenting on the portrayal of female characters, whether in comics, video games or movies.
Men can expect that their presence at an event won’t automatically be assumed to be decorative or secondary to another man. Despite the growing presence of women in comics, as publishers, editors and creators as well as consumers, a preponderance of men will either treat women at conventions as inconveniences, booth bunnies or even potential dates. Many a female creator or publisher has had the experience of convention guests coming up and addressing all of their questions to the man at the table… despite being told many times that the man is often the assistant, not the talent, only there to provide logistical support and occasional heavy lifting.
Men are also not going to be automatically assigned into a particular niche just based on their gender. A girl in a comic store or a video game store is far more likely to be dismissed as another customer’s girlfriend/sister/cousin rather than being someone who might actually be interested in making a purchase herself. And when they are seen as customers, they’re often automatically assumed to be buying one of the designated “girl” properties… regardless of whether they were just reading Ultimate Spider-Man or looking for a copy of Saint’s Row 3.
Of course, the other side of the coin isn’t much better; being dismissed for the sin of being a woman is bad, but being placed on the traditional pillar is no less insulting. Guys who fall all over themselves to fawn over a geek girl and dance in attendance upon her are just as bad. The behavior is different, but the message is the same: she’s different because she’s a girl. These would-be white knights are ultimately treating her as a fetish object, not as a person. It’s especially notable when it comes to sexy cosplayers; the guys will laude them for being geek girls and celebrate them in person and online. They’ll lavish attention upon them, take photos of them and treat them as queens…
And in doing so, they’re sending the message that women are only valued in geek culture if they’re willing to be a sexually alluring product. Everybody loves Olivia Munn when she enters the room ass-cheeks first as Aeon Flux, but nobody is particularly concerned by the girls dressed in a baseball tee, jeans and ballet flats. One of these is welcomed into geek culture with open arms, the other has to justify their existence in the first place.
WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN TO YOU?
The reason why male privilege is so insidious is because of the insistance that it doesn’t exist in the first place. That willful ignorance is key in keeping it in place; by pretending that the issue doesn’t exist, it is that much easier to ensure that nothing ever changes.
Geek society prides itself on being explicitly counter-culture; nerds will crow about how, as a society, they’re better than the others who exclude them. They’ll insist that they’re more egalitarian; geeks hold tight to the belief that geek culture is a meritocracy, where concepts of agism, sexism and racism simply don’t exist the way it does elsewhere. And yet, even a cursory examination will demonstrate that this isn’t true.
And yet geeks will cling to this illusion while simultaneously refusing to address the matters that make it so unattractive to women and minorities. They will insist that they treat women exactly the same as they treat guys – all the while ignoring the fact that their behavior is what’s making the women uncomfortable and feeling unwelcome in the first place. They will find one girl in their immediate community who will say that she’s not offended and use her as the “proof” that nobody else is allowed to be offended.
Changing this prevailing attitude starts with the individual. Call it part of learning to be a better person; being willing to examine your own attitudes and behaviors and to be ruthlessly honest about the benefits you get from being a white male in fandom is the first step. Waving your hands and pretending that there isn’t a problem is a part of the attitude that makes women feel unwelcome in fandom and serves as the barrier to entry to geeky pursuits that she might otherwise enjoy.
Bringing the spotlight onto the concept of male privilege as it exists in nerd culture is the first step in making it more welcoming of diversity, especially women.
*Thanks to Madoka for bringing this to my attention.