Back to Suffragette CityWell, I was going to blog about the upcoming HeroClix expansion set, Supernova. But Mike Norton is the only one of my readers who cares about 'clix, and he's trying to avoid all details on Supernova until he actually opens his case, so, you know, not much point doing that.
Well, let's see what's up at Ragnell's blog -- Oh. Okay.
I don't know where to start. Here. Go read this. Then, you know, we'll see where the day takes us.
Okay. Gotten to the end of the tunnel? Good. So let's plunge in again:
First, while I vaguely sympathize with Ragnell's central point here (to the extent I can make it out through all the oh so strident outrage), I honestly don't think there's much of a hook in this for her to hang her righteous indignation on. Yes, I agree, women make up half the human population on the planet Earth, and, therefore, it does seem as if they aren't exactly fairly represented, simply on the basis of sheer raw statistics, within the rather smaller subset of Fictional Cinema Protagonists That Blow Shit Up Real Good.
However, I'm just not sure that this has either the mass or the weight to really qualify as a feminist cause for action. The U.S. doing business with Saudi Arabia, when Saudi Arabia chases schoolgirls back into a burning building and lets them die horribly rather than allow them out in a public area while dressed in gym shorts; this is a reason for feminist outrage. (It is, in fact, a reason for outrage from anyone vaguely human, but, well, let's leave that aside.) But, the idea that we're supposed to be upset because there aren't enough women in movies firing explosive missiles at shit out of rocket launchers while hanging out the window of a speeding 18 wheeler? Sorry. I can't see that.
Still, assume I'm a dimwitted chauvinist misogynist and I Just Don't Get It, and in point of fact, the lack of Buffed Up Babes Blowing Shit Up Real Good in major motion picture releases is really a valid cause for major cultural concern, as Ragnell seems to strongly imply in this entry. Let's just accept that as a given and go on with it, although, actually, I'm far from convinced. Still, let's embrace the premise, dubious though it is, and move forward:
Kind of a wandering introduction to her thesis, but hey, I'm hardly in a position to critique somebody for that, so let's continue letting Ragnell rock on with her bad self:
I do not regret the expenditure of time and money, but I left the theater saddened. Not in the good, "I just watched well-done tragic story" way. No, this was the "I was feeling down during the previews" way.
You know why? Because each movie had five previews in front of it.
Not a single preview was for a movie with a female hero.
I understand this, and I deeply sympathize. I often go to films and watch a whole bunch of previews and come out of the theater feeling miserable and desolate because not once, at any point in any of those previews, did I see an overweight middle aged male comics geek, like me and my millions of fat aging fan geek brethren, running around gunning down ninjas with an automatic weapon while macking on Heather Locklear. It deeply, deeply depresses me. And then, I come home and I blog about it. Oh yes, I do.
But wait, this isn't about me, or even the millions of cinematically disenfranchised overweight middle aged male geeks like me. It's about Ragnell, and her deep, fuming, offended outrage that Hollywood isn’t giving her exactly what she wants exactly when she wants it, and we must never ever forget that. So, let's get back to her:
Okay, first, I call bullshit on her initial sentence in this paragraph. She’s outraged at the lack of powerful women in movies, but, well, historical movies get a free pass. What the hell for? Because in the past we evil oppressive males were even bigger bastards than we are now and we oppressed women even more, and that’s historical fact, so, you know, Ragnell is willing to let us roll like that in period pieces? Fuck that. Hollywood doesn’t give a shit about historical accuracy. Why can’t Kyra Sedgewick be a Pirate of the Caribbean? Why can’t Michelle Pfeiffer declare ringingly that “all women die, but not all women truly live”, lead her troops in a mass mooning of the enemy forces, and then get tortured to death in front of a jeering crowd? Why can’t Sigourney Weaver play an impassioned politician who represents the little folks and who is determined to reform the system from within back in Depression era Louisiana? Women never actually did any of that shit in the real world? I hate to be the one to break the news, but women tend not to drive Cadillac convertibles at high velocity through the streets of San Francisco while in hot pursuit of a city bus being hijacked by James Remar and Sonny Landham, while Eddie Murphy rides shotgun and makes wise ass remarks, either. If you’re gonna get pissed off at the distaff gender being excluded from powerful protagonist parts in one type of ridiculously unrealistic Hollywood artifact, you really need to get just as angry at women being excluded from such parts in every cinematic genre. Otherwise, you just look like a dope.
Second, what in the name of God is wrong with actresses playing Girlfriend/Wife parts? Is this some bizarre fangirl longing for a return to those golden days of contemporary Shakespearian melodrama, when all the parts were portrayed by guys? But no. Clearly Ragnell is deploring a narrow minded, provincial Hollywood mindset, which refuses to allow talented actresses to show their enormous dramatic range by essaying Boyfriend/Husband roles. I knew I could penetrate to the heart of Ragnell’s fuming outrage, if I just studied and pondered on it long enough. And yes, I agree, this IS a frickin’ injustice, and a horrible one at that. I want to see Sarah Michelle Gellar portraying Jennifer Aniston’s Boyfriend/Husband in the next sophisticated sex comedy Ms. Aniston signs up for. And I want a lot of make out scenes, too, by God.
Ragnell is absolutely correct. This is SO wrong. Laura Linney should play the comedian who is successfully elected President after campaigning as a joke, and Vince Vaughn should be the male lead, her husband, who didn’t vote for her (because us guys are just like that). That would be a much, much better film, and more realistic, too, because, you know, whenever a comedian runs for President as a joke and actually gets elected for real, it’s always Ellen DeGeneris, and never George Carlin or Steve Martin, and even if it was George Carlin or Steve Martin, well, it would still be outrageous if they cast an actress as talented as Laura Linney in a role as obviously limited as the Wife Who Didn’t Vote For Him. By God. By God.
Okay, let me pause in the hilarity here and take note: yeah, there is a vestigial nub of a valid point buried somewhere in Ragnell’s infuriated protest, at least, against this particular movie, which is a high concept fantasy/comedy film about events that have never actually taken place. In such a vehicle, there is honestly no plausible reason why the main character couldn’t be female, instead of male. There are plenty of funny women around, and who knows, had Whoopie Goldberg been cast in the central role, and the movie retitled WOMAN OF THE YEAR, then maybe it would have been just as good a film, or even better, than what we’re going to end up with. I don’t know, because I haven’t seen MAN OF THE YEAR. But it is somewhat regrettable that, simply by default, the leading role in the film is being portrayed by a guy, when you could just as easily have it portrayed by a woman instead, and it might be a better movie, too.
But that’s enough seriousness, let’s get back to the fun stuff:
And, therefore, worthless and stupid and a poor reflection on her entire gender, as well as humanity in general, I guess. But wait, this is a historical period piece, so according to Ragnell, we get a free pass, because in the 19th Century, it’s well known that there were no female magicians, plus, all the male magicians DID have girlfriends, so that’s okay.
Now, if the lead viewpoint were female and met an exotic foreign love interest (male or female) as she discovered the true meaning of life, that would be entirely different. (I think I’ve seen a trailer for that movie; some middle aged British housewife runs off to Greece and has a passionate fling with a studly Mediterranean fisherman, or something. I didn’t actually watch it, because, you know, whenever I watch movies like that I find myself praying that a ninja or a vampire or an alien face hugger will show up and start killing the entire cast with a particle beam weapon, but still, I’m pretty sure that movie actually exists, and I guess it was unobjectionable, because, you know, it was from the viewpoint of a woman discovering the true meaning of life by fucking some stud muffing, and that’s okay.)
Okay, from what I’ve just read about THE DEPARTED, it looks like it’s got one of the more idiotic premises ever made into a film, which won’t stop me from watching it, since it’s a cop movie, and it’s got Jack Nicholson in it, and I seem to always have to give Scorcese another chance no matter how many times I re-learn that all his talent ran down his leg during the filming of GOODFELLAS, so, you know, they got my eight bucks already. And once I actually watch it, I suspect I will have plenty bad to say about it, because if Scorcese can fuck up a wet dream the way he fucked up GANGS OF NEW YORK, I’m morally certain he can find some way to get the entire budget of THE DEPARTED completely up his ass, as well.
Still, I really really doubt that anything bad I have to say about THE DEPARTED will have anything to do with the fact that it doesn’t have a female hero infiltrating the police academy on behalf of some Irish-American gangster, or infiltrating an Irish-American organized crime syndicate on behalf of the police, because I would expect that this movie is set in something that at least somewhat resembles the real world, and in the real world, gangsters and/or police chiefs do not send female operatives to infiltrate either the cops or organized criminal gangs, because, terrible though this doubtless is, in the horribly repressed and masculine dominated worlds of organized crime and/or law enforcement, women tend not to rise to positions of influence and/or power. And if the producers of this film were to have decided to go all radical and cast a woman in one of the main roles anyway, just to make Ragnell happy, I suspect it would have made it very hard to suspend belief in the proceedings.
And suppose there had been a few female cadets loitering around the background in the Academy scenes? I cannot imagine this would have mollified Ragnell any; then we just would have had to read about how “the only women in the whole trailer are background scenery in the Academy shots!” And if the trailer had shown any female supporting characters, then it would have been “Winona Rider has a part, but she’s only a Wife/Girlfriend”. Unless Susan Sarandon is in this movie firing an M203 grenade launcher with her eyebrows while simultaneously napalming downtown Scranton, Ragnell simply will not be happy.
You get the feeling Ragnell really really hates DEADWOOD (or would, if she’d ever watched it) because, you know, only the guys get to shoot people, and nearly all the women in the show are prostitutes. But wait, I’m wrong; DEADWOOD would get a free pass because it’s historical, and, therefore, it is allowed to portray actual male/female cultural roles with some true to life verisimilitude. See, we can do this, when the setting of the film is in the safely distant past, but try to realistically depict male/female roles in present day culture, or an outright fantasy setting, and, oh my God, it’s a global cataclysm, or, at the very least, It Just Isn't Right.
It… I… okay. First, apparently every woman on the planet is not infertile, because, you know, the whole movie centers around this one pregnant woman. I guess it’s truly terrible that, in this three minute trailer, nobody mentions whether or not men are infertile as well as women, although, again, while this betrays a grotesque and atrocious patriarchial bias on the part of whoever it was that edited together the trailer, still, I’m gonna go with “forcing schoolgirls back into a burning building because they’re only wearing gym shorts” as being somewhat worse, or, at least, Not Right.
It’s even more terrible that Julianne Moore isn’t in any of the action/travel shots, because Julianne Moore can operate a rocket launcher and/or some weird ROAD WARRIOR scrap metal dune buggy as well as any goddam man, and it’s a disgrace to all women that she might be portraying a character who can’t, or doesn’t want to, or some such shit. And it’s truly, truly disturbing that in this three minute trailer Ragnell saw, the pregnant woman who is the crux of the entire film is apparently only there as a womb.
And, yeah, okay, I’ll give it up; the fact that the text says ONE MAN and the name of the movie is CHILDREN OF MEN is pretty crappy. Yeah, she’s got a point; this seems pretty frickin’ skewed. However, I also have a point; passing judgment on an entire film, on the basis of its 180 second trailer, is pretty stupid. Changing the goal posts as Ragnell does at this point – i.e., CHILDREN OF MEN not only has female characters in it, but it has Julianne Moore in an inarguably non Girlfriend/Wife part, which is what she’s been bitching about heretofore – is not overwhelmingly persuasive rhetorical technique, either.
Writing 101: All the characters in any fictional artifact, as well as all that fictional artifact’s other elements, are ‘there as part of the plot’. If they aren’t, it’s pretty much bad writing. However, it would be bad writing of such a staggering level of non-professionalism as to boggle the mind of even the William Hurt role in ALTERED STATES to create a movie in which the main character is not actually part of the plot... so much so, in fact, that I honestly cannot imagine such a thing ever occurring, unless Jim Jarmusch wrote and directed it. In which case, well, it’s not actually a movie anyway, but more a live performance art event that, you know, isn’t actually live, so I can’t believe it would count. Or at least, not higher than ten.
However, leaving aside all that, let’s take a closer look at the opening of that paragraph. “Most of these are action movies?” I’m sorry, but what the fuck? ALL THE KING'S MEN, CATCH A FIRE, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, and THE PRESTIGE, out of her list, are historical films, and while I don’t know if most of them are action movies (ALL THE KING’S MEN, the only one I know anything about, certainly isn’t) they’re all, by Ragnell’s own cumbersome non-logic, excerpted from being held to the standards whose egregious violation she is at present bitching about.
MAN OF THE YEAR and A GOOD YEAR, going only on what Ragnell has said about them, sure as shit aren’t action movies, either. At this point, we’re at six out of ten, which means, ::bzzzzzzzttttt:: I’m sorry, the statement ‘most of these are action movies’ is shown to be the most utter and egregious bullshit. Or, at the very least, the combined statement ‘Most of these are action movies. Not a one of them stars a woman’ is shown to be nonsensical and meaningless, since most of the movies Ragnell is fuming about, whether they are action movies or not, are demonstrably either (a) not subject to the standards she is insisting should be applied to them, or, (b) not action movies at all.
None of which matters, because I understand what Ragnell is upset about here, but jesus, she makes you work to do it, doesn’t she? As with the notion of a movie where the protagonist is somehow not part of the plot, this is just plain damn bad writing.
Although Ragnell is actually complaining about the lack of any kind of films that have female leading roles, what she keeps returning to, near obsessively, is the lack of action movies with lead female roles in them. So, let's address that in some detail:
There have been action movies with female leads in them (To Ragnell's tally, I’ll add Geena Davis in THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, and Bridget Fonda in POINT OF NO RETURN, just off the top of my head), but yeah, these films have been a definite minority within the genre, and certainly, we don’t seem to be seeing any action movies with female leads in them set for release in the immediate future, as far as I can tell.
However, I just can't accept that this is (a) a particularly significant cause for feminist, or even general non-differentiated human, dismay, mostly because (b) I don’t think it results from any inherent anti-female bias amongst the Hollywood power structure. I do think that when an action movie screenplay actually goes into development, probably most of the folks involved in the casting decisions tend to think more immediately of male actors for the lead role than female, and perhaps that’s regrettable – or perhaps it’s just that in our culture, we tend to associate the kind of action sequences that lie at the core of these movies’ appeal, i.e., scenes where a lot of people get beaten up, badly injured and/or killed and a lot of property gets destroyed, with violence providers who are male, rather than female.
And perhaps that’s a terrible, terrible error. Certainly, a woman could blow up most of east Los Angeles just as well as a man, given the right buttons to push and triggers to pull, and I’ll admit, I think it would have been very interesting if TERMINATOR II had featured a female killer cyborg instead of a male (to the extent that gender would even matter to an essentially asexual homicide machine), or if, for that matter, as I frequently proposed prior to the film actually being made, if it turned out at the end that Sarah Conner had actually been killed sometime after the end of the first movie, and replaced by a reprogrammed female Terminator who looked just like her, sent back from the future to preserve the timeline in which Sarah had raised John Conner to be the savior of humanity.
I do not deny that you can come up with some very interesting frissons and conflicts when you take a role that is traditionally regarded as male by right and reassign it to a woman. (That works in reverse, too.) However, once again, I just think Ragnell is beating a great deal more chaff out of this non-issue than the non-issue really contains. Should there be more movies that feature heroines instead of heroes? Yeah, sure, I guess so. Should there be more action movies starring girls slapping the crap out of obnoxious informants and blasting set pieces into hailstorms of smoking cinders? I don’t know; I tend to think that if there were more of those movies, the feminists would be screaming about how disturbingly exploitative this current trend in Hollywood films was. But what do I know? I’m just one of those friggin’ male oppressors, so screw me.
Personally, I wish they (whoever They is, in this context) would just make fewer damn action movies, or, if they don’t want to do that, that they would make at least slightly more intelligent ones. I honestly don’t care whether Geena Davis or Samuel L. Jackson play the lead/sidekick parts in an action movie; what I care about is that the dialogue in THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT sucked hard, the plot was nonsensical, the characterizations were moronic, and the scriptwriter apparently learned everything he or she knew about internal physics from old Road Runner cartoons.
Unfortunately, this is more typical than not with action movies; for this reason, I simply cannot become distressed over which gender/race/culture/religion is best or worst represented in the lead roles.
I don't understand why historical/true crime stories 'of course' have to have male protagonists; this would seem to presuppose there are no historical events involving crimes from which it would be possible to create a compelling film with a central female character, and I reject that specious non-reasoning altogether. But apparently, Ragnell believes that historical set pieces are always all about misogynistic portrayals of women, and, you know, That's Okay, so, whatever, I'm moving on.
Just not all the time.
And again... she says it's okay for historical true crime dramas to 'of course' have male leads (something I disagree with, but hey, it's what she says she believes), but then she turns around and bitches because, while these were good films and she enjoyed watching them, she's still sad that they both had male leads.
Beyond that, though... first, I’m not part of an oppressed minority, and I tend to find people who zealously and near-exclusively identify with focus groups, lobbies, and/or special interests to be onerous and aggravating; much more a part of the problem than any feasible solution. Claiming an oppressed status and expecting fair redress is one thing, but so many who do that seem to be using it as a thin disguise for an actual demand of special treatment.
And that strikes me as being exactly what Ragnell is doing here, and I suppose that's the crux of what aggravates me so much about this current entry. It annoys her that more movies aren’t coming out with female characters. She could simply say “well, this annoys me” and move on, but instead, she presents this as an insult to all femininity and an outrage to the cosmos -- something she shouldn’t have to tolerate, because, as she closes with -- 'it’s just not right'. Something that is, in point of fact, simply a personal irritation, becomes a Major Social Issue, because the person who is irritated regards herself as a member of an oppressed minority, and this is, therefore, a Significant Problem That All Of Us Should Be Concerned With.
Can we have a little perspective here? Forced prostitution is just not right. Suicide bombings are just not right. Nearly everyone in the current Administration not being in prison, or not carrying a rifle on the front lines in Baghdad, is just not right. Child molestation is just not right. Ragnell being forced to sit through ten trailers representing ten movies that do not have female protagonists… this falls short of any sane, objective standard for the descriptor ‘just not right’.
And even more than maintaining some kind of reasonable perspective, could we kinda make an effort to, you know, stop regarding ourselves as This One Particular Overwhelming Physical/Cultural/Emotional Detail, and instead, try to view ourselves as individual human beings? I think we get further along that way, with fewer ulcers all the way around. But maybe that’s just me.
Now, personally, and speaking of course only for myself, I like watching good movies. I dislike watching bad ones. My standards for measuring such things have to do with dialogue and characterization and internal consistency and intelligence and wit and does the film manage to surprise me and is it atmospheric and is there some kind of interesting intrigue going on and how good the people involved in the creation of the film are at doing their jobs and, you know, annoying, dumb ass, utterly inane and inconsequential criteria like that.
I’m afraid, though, that I am hopelessly enfeebled and irrefutably retarded when it comes to judging movies, or other fictional artifacts, by what are apparently the only important standards, which is to say, what gender the characters in it are, or what race they are, or what their sexual orientation is, or how often they get to fire off a really big gun during the film’s running time, or whether or not they get to drive in the big car chase, or what color shoes they are wearing, or whatever the hell else the minority du jour is up in arms about right now.
But, wait, she’s still going --
You’d better. Because, you know, if you post a comment on Ragnell’s blog that in any way indicates you DON’T remember what she said about the Wonder Woman movie, or any other frickin’ thing she’s ever said anywhere at all on the Internet or, presumably, in private snailmail correspondence to Harlan Ellison, she will take a chainsaw to your worthless no good condescending overly simplifying ass right there in the comment threads, and if that doesn’t generate quite enough emotional viscera to satisfy her, she’ll devote an entire post to your destruction, you lousy no good rotten miserable non-remembering what she said about the Wonder Woman movie jackass, you.
Indeed. FUCK that. Say it with me, brothers and sisters. FUCK that. Whatever Ragnell said about the Wonder Woman movie, whether you remember it or not… FUCK that. Yea, verily, I say unto thee. I could sing this particular hymn all day long, I kid you not. FUCK that. FUCK that. Oh yes, oh my, oh please, FUCK that.
Not next week, not tomorrow, not 4.7 picoseconds in the future. By God, by GOD, we need that fucker NOW. Remember what she said about the Wonder Woman movie? FUCK that. We need that sonofabitchin movie NOW. NOW!!! NOW!!! NOW BY THE LIVING CHRIST NOW!!!!! Someone invent a time machine and hurtle back to 2002 and start filming that bad bitch THEN, because by sweet baby jebus and all his adowable widdle piggie toeses, we need the Wonder Woman movie NOW. Or else Ragnell will continue to be sad, and, you know, that’s like Hurricane Katrina and the frickin’ Indonesian tsunami and the London Blitz and the firebombing of Dresden and 9/11 and the Great Goddam Deluge all rolled into one, with a planet killing comet strike thrown in as a Free Bonus Gift If You Order Before Midnight Tonight.
Because, you know, if the WONDER WOMAN movie makes a bazillion bucks, and therefore, every schlock producer in Hollywood throws together some godawful appalling piece of crap rip off featuring an obscure giant-tittied model-actress picking up cars and flinging them at cheap claymation monsters while her magnificent bosom heaves splendiferously beneath her skintight spandex tank top, well, this will be a huge victory for global feminism, and Gloria Steinem can finally die happy, and Ragnell won’t be sad any more, which has nothing to do with Gloria Steinem dying happy, or at least, Ragnell won’t admit to it if it does.
Which, you know, means this year sucks so much harder than the hypothetical year following the release of the bazillion dollar WONDER WOMAN movie, in which moviegoing audiences will be subjected to dozens of bad knock off flicks featuring voluptuous non-actresses wearing next to nothing while hip-checking and/or boob bashing their evil opponents through cement walls and into giant tanks filled with sharks, piranha, and killer octopi. Oh yeah. I can just see COSMO going into hyperoxygenated raptures about the brave new feminist frontiers Hollywood will be boldly exploring when all this astonishingly liberated cinematic product is rolling out to the multiplexes.
Yeah. And the world would be a better place if everything in it didn’t suck so much, but, you know, a lot of things in the world really do suck, and guess what? In the vast scheme of things which suck, the fact that Sigourney Weaver has gotten too old to kick alien ass, and Linda Hamilton isn’t making action movies where she shows us her fine, fine titties, and Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewitt are no longer doing movies where they basically run around screaming because some lunatic in a mask with a knife is chasing them all over the place… okay, sure, I admit, the first two at least should be at the very top of the Things That Suck list, even higher than limbless children in Iraq and/or our government thinking it should be able to torture anyone it wants to. I agree absolutely; Sigourney Weaver getting too old to kick alien ass and the loss of Linda Hamilton’s delectable jahoobies do indeed combine to be a cataclysm of interstellar proportions, and I’m pissed about that too. The lack of further entries in the idiotic SCREAM franchise, not so much.
And, again, in the real world nearly all of us inhabit whether we want to or not, there are a great many things that are, indeed, Just Not Right. Watching ten movie trailers, none of which seem to reflect the presence of a female protagonist in any of the movies they represent, doesn’t make the cut. Straight up.
Now, if Ragnell was simply writing an entry about this thing that happened that made her sad and that she thought was kind of aggravating, too, fine, great, it's her weblog and she can cry if she wants to. I myself find any number of things exasperating, and many of them would strike most other people (if they're sane) as pretty frickin' trivial, too. I understand that.
Which is why I say this: if I wrote a post in which I bitched at great length about how horrible it is that they just couldn’t leave Spock decently dead, after what may well have been the finest heroic sacrifice scene in all heroic fiction, and I finished that post by stating, in the utmost lip quivering big eyed earnest outrage, that “I shouldn't have to put up with this. That’s just not right”, well, please, for the love of Whatever You Hold Dear, find me and slap me hard.
A plan I’m sure Ragnell, at least, is on board with, regardless of what I post, actually.