Saturday, December 17, 2016

When the humorless "hero" is actually the "villain"

In this country we see almost every demographic group claim to be a “victim” of society in one way or another. White women claim to be victims of men, blacks claim to be the victim of whites, and white men claim to be the victim of everyone, and vice-versa. Some claims of victimization have some justification, if based on appearance and stereotypes, such as color, “ethnicity,” weight, height, attractiveness, etc. In other cases—probably the large majority—people with poor self-image, lack of personal responsibility or great self-interest, seek out ways to view themselves as “victims” to gain an “advantage.” White women are particularly susceptible to perceived “victimization”; despite the fact that they are generally better off than most demographics in the job market, and have always benefited from preferential treatment through “affirmative action” more so than minorities by taking advantage of both their gender (as “victims”) and their race (as one of the “entitled” and “privileged”), they still seek ways to deflect attention away from this by constant stories about domestic violence, sexual assault, the “glass ceiling,” female-specific health issues, etc.

There is plentitude of outlets in which this propaganda is disseminated. CBS has an all-female sports talk show “We Need To Talk.” About what? One would think subject matter that isn’t talked about elsewhere? No, it has to have a peculiarly female-oriented orientation. What does that mean? Behind-the-scenes “gossip,” scandal, and of course gender politics. But if you are going to talk about domestic violence by athletes, and you are going have basketball player Lisa Leslie on your show, why don’t you talk about domestic violence by WNBA players (including at least one murder), which seems to be a silent “epidemic”? Is it because they are only “human,” the apologia that Deborah Larkin of the Women’s Sports Foundation offered? If you want to talk to Serena Williams and sports equality, why don’t you ask her about if she can compete with the lowest-ranked male professional player? She’s a great female athlete, but she will be the first to admit that is not the case. I read about how a male player somewhere around the 200th ranking said he played both Serena and Venus together on a lark while they were in a practice session, and it wasn’t even “competitive”—but all in a good “fun,” of course. The “real” issue, of course, is getting equal money for (unequal) output. 

Meanwhile, there is a new movie out in theaters, Rogue One, another “prequel” to the original Star Wars film. In case you’re confused, the last film in the “series” was a “sequel” to Return of the Jedi, and completely pointless, just a money grab. Rogue One has received mostly positive reviews, mainly for the way it “looks,” and this is typical of people who don’t remember the wonder of the original film when it first appeared. A minority of reviewers, for whom character development is important, panned the film; according to the Philadelphia Inquirer review, “Rogue One, opening Thursday…is a minor little story with a likable cast and familiar Star Wars themes. But it tries so hard to be an epic masterpiece – with self-important speeches and an insanely outsize orchestral score—that it ends up a laughable parody of itself.” According to the Village Voice, “Rogue One moves swiftly enough, so it’s never boring. But why is it all so bloodless, so rote — especially when, visually, its surfaces are so lived-in and alive? The script offers a lot of protestations of feeling, but little actual evidence of such: It all seems rushed, as if speed will help make up for the lack of sincerity.”

Like the previous film, the “main” character is a rather diminutive white female, apparently to draw in the (white) female audience and satisfy gender politicians. The problem is that she isn’t very “believable” or credible in the role as a “rogue” outlaw-turned-Joan of Arc. In the original trilogy, the characters of the main quest were “human,” not “superheroes,” and the humor generated from their foibles helped us to have a vicarious connection with them. But in this film and the “sequel,” the humans entirely lack humility, with the “humor” relegated to snarky robots. Everything is so “serious”—especially from the female characters, and this tends to be a turn-off when “politics” is clearly the intent. In The Force Awakens, the main “hero,” a white female, refuses “help” from the black male who accompanies her on the “quest,” but he is made to accept “help” from her. It’s like in Quentin Tarantino-type films that has female “heroes” that are so "tough" that they have to leave an absolutely unbelievable swath of bloody decapitation; what exactly are we supposed to make of this? It’s not very “entertaining” or believable if a male character doesn’t take any punishment even while he is dishing out some of his own; there is no “drama” in it. So why are gender  “revenge fantasies” against  completely impotent males supposed to be anything but un-credible,  eliciting an “oh sure” response?

Some people have commented on this, although for the usual self-serving reasons. Kelsey Snyder of Wired whined that female superheroes in standalone roles are set up to “fail” by male-dominated studios, scriptwriters and directors. If theatergoers are not overly entertained by such films, then it is fault of the creators. Furthermore, “It hardly seems fair that only a quarter of both the Avengers and the X-Men are women. When they do appear, these characters function largely as love interests for the male leads. Black Widow’s highly-criticized role in the recent Avengers film is a prominent example”—or at least that is what she sees, because she expects more women dishing out more “mayhem.” Is that representative of “reality”? I thought males were supposed to the “violent” types, while females were the “peacemakers.” 

And then the total lack of humor in female “action” figures is also an immense turn-off. Someone named Zoe Chevet on a website called “Bitch Media” exclaimed that “It’s a tale as old as…well, the modern action movie. Boy meets girl, boy and girl kick some ass together, boy delivers snarky line that elicits an audience laugh, girl stares at boy like he just announced that maybe the bad guys were right all along. Sound familiar? While contemporary action heroines often have a sparkling arsenal of skills, humor—that most pointed weapon—is frequently left out of the mix…I felt this absence particularly in this summer’s booming blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, which features Zoe Saldana as Gamora, a tough-as-nails assassin who responds to her fellow Guardians’ jokes with eye roles and stern requests that they get down to business. But she’s hardly the only one. Humorless ‘strong female characters’ abound, not only in Marvel’s canon, but in dozens of movies and television shows of similar bent…It certainly comes down in part to the misplaced perception of strong women as humorless, an assertion so deep-rooted it’s become nearly inextricable from the word ‘feminist.’” Chevet goes on to complain about how this isn’t the “fault” of feminists and gender politicians, when it clearly is, but “sexist” male filmmakers; yet do not female commentators complain even more if the female characters were portrayed as “not serious.”

And then there is the lack of “serious” female villains. Outside of Michelle Pfeifer, few actresses seem to know that one can lengthen a career by playing credible “villain”—and bad guys can be more “fun” than self-righteous “good” guys. Unfortunately, there is this fear, perpetuated by gender politicians, that women portrayed as villains tends to reinforce negative “stereotypes” in real life. A (very) few say there should be more “equality” in villain roles, and I would buy that. But do most female actors? Does Angeline Jolie believe that, when she turns what should be evil characters into ones with “understandable” humanness that renders them “sympathetic” to audiences—even more so than the “good” guys? Ask her if she thinks women should be in roles that are pure “villainy.”

Dan Wohl on the gender advocate website “The Mary Sue,” posts “One reason filmmakers might be wary of this idea is that they’re afraid of the optics of a male hero hurting a female villain, given the prevalence of real-world male violence against women. If physical confrontation between hero and villain is absolutely crucial, it’s hard to deny the possibility that the imagery of domestic violence or sexual assault could be evoked…The prevalence of these crimes is, of course, reprehensible on its own. It’s a lesser but still unfortunate side effect that a domain like the escapist fantasy world of film can be affected by their tragic normalcy. And – because it creates a class of characters that can only be male – in a way that serves to marginalize women, no less! That’s one example, of many, of how the different forms of marginalization of women can be interconnected and perpetuating of each other.”

So much for male self-flagellation and hypocrisy at its weakest (or lowest). Real-life violence is most often a matter of temperament and opportunity, not “size.” Statistics on the subject show than men are far more likely to assault other men than they do women. And women are also guilty of domestic violence (nearly as often a men), they also kill people (not as often as men generally), and often their own children (more often than men). Female “villains” are believable if we just admit the truth. So are female “heroes” who have actual “human” traits, such as personal failings that must be overcome (that was certainly the case of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars). 

There is a computer video that I still like to play that is 20 years old but amazingly enough runs on Windows 10 (probably because it is DOS-based), called Raven. It is very simple as such games go, with the first-person character out to shoot down baddies and capture “pods” containing the last remaining animal specimens on the planet. The character can choose from a number of different “side-kicks” to help him on this mission. I prefer to choose one of the female characters, because they are not just “bad,” but whenever some baddie says something like “feel skinhead power,” she is always quick with a “witty” rejoinder while his fundament is being blown out of the sky, and offers astute survival tips when your craft is ready to go on the blink. Perhaps it is so pleasantly “unexpected” to have someone on “your side” rather than constantly attacking you.

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