Apologies for the bonkers title. It relates to something I read in the papers last week. Zach Snyder has drawn the fire of some who see his inclusion in the forthcoming Wonder Woman movie as a controversial indication that the movie might be less than what many hope for, and more a simple masculine fuelled trope-fest of, arguably, comics most famous female character.
That’s a long sentence.
Here’s the article:
Clarisse has a point. In all the examples cited Snyder does use sexual assault as a form of empowerment for the heroine(s) to succeed. A recycled motif that speaks of lazy filmmaking, not to mention a damaging image for anyone in the audience unaware of the subject matter, and themselves a survivor, of arguably the worst experience a human being can endure.
That’s another long sentence. *Ahem* Apologies, this is sounding preachy.
Why am I blogging this? Well, because it does have an interesting tie-in to my previous post. that of Emilie Autumn’s semi-autobiographical novel ‘The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls’; not to mention my own personal interests in movies and literature and my own life, the opinion that the struggle is just as important as the achievement. Its presence making the post-conflict time, the time where the heroes rejoice and bathe in their victory, all the sweeter.
In that post I cited several examples of movies and novels, their recurring theme one of struggle and suffering, all used as desire to succeed/escape/rebel against their current situation. It is a standard plot narrative, the “Quest” narrative, which sees the protagonist decide to journey to conquer something seemingly impossibly difficult, and the challenges they face, and ultimately the lessons they learn in the process.
Many of these examples include scenes of torture, including rape, on both the men and women in the story. But all are handled with a defter touch than Snyder’s, whose examples seem, at best, clumsy attempts to express a point anyone in the audience understood in a heartbeat, or at worst gratuitous misogynistic indications of one man’s fantasy.
Is Snyder to blame? Well, I’m gonna play devil’s advocate and say no. Of all his directorial efforts, only one is solely his own creation, 2010’s ‘Sucker Punch’. A horribly flawed film, but with some significant highspots. I own the DVD, the soundtrack, and a book of the concept art. And yet it’s not something I dust off and watch on a frequent basis. I remember the critics at the time arguing that how can a film with three sexual assaults be given a 12A rating? But in the end it was, with the baffling logic decreeing that the final assault be omitted altogether from the cut, an annoying decision because it completely neutered the payoff to the story. John Hamm’s sole scene being relegated to the 15 cut.
Everything else, including Superman V Batman and the forthcoming Wonder Woman movie (Snyder’s currently listed as a producer, with Patty Jenkins in the chair) is adapted work. And adapted from the likes of Frank Miller (‘300’) and Alan Moore (‘Watchmen’) two men hardly known for their liberal opinions when it comes to gender equality.
But what do I think?
Well. Okay, I’m going to be controversial here, brace yourselves.
I think that Hollywood in 2016 is happier to see women be sexually assaulted than physically assaulted. Or to turn the tables and be physically assaulting.
It’s a cheap tactic, and I agree with Clarisse in that it is used WAY TOO MUCH. And yet the screenwriters seem stumped at times as how to advance the determination of any female protagonist in such a harsh environment without it. Almost as though the writers locked themselves in their Writer’s Room for 24 hours and were still stumped with an alternative powerful trigger.
I don’t know why I see it a lot in movies. Anyone know? (Seriously, anyone reading this, please reply below and explain it to me)
It crops up in fiction too. Both Lani Taylor’s ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ trilogy and Justin Cronin’s ‘The Twelve’ have unpleasant scenes where you hold your breath. Even Kelley Armstrong’s awesome werewolf saga starts with the protagonist Elena Michaels admitting her childhood was one of trauma and foster care following her parent’s deaths, and how she was adopted by families where the father had a hidden agenda. Two of those authors are women, and all three are happily married with children, so I leave you to draw your own conclusions there. Emilie Autumn herself is a survivor of a troubled miscarriage, and her novel is rife with assault, prostitution and the worst parts of the Victorian patriarchy.
Barry Hines died last week. The author who wrote ‘A kestrel for a knave’, (later adapted to the film ‘Kes’) painted a grim portrait of the lost working class of England, over ten years before Margaret Thatcher brought the hammer down. In an article for The Guardian, Paul Mason cites Thatcherism with destroying not only national industry, but in a sense national identiy in the white working class.
Here’s the article:
The lack of society cited in the article as robbed generations of recognising the struggle they face. That the white working class had a recognised voice, even if it was suppressed, we didn’t want it to be nuked from the annuals of history. But alas, it was.
Some of the trials that I related to growing up were that of Matt Damon’s character Will, in the movie ‘Good Will Hunting’. Happy with his childhood friends, but scared of the world outside the bubble of south Boston, he masks his own trauma with menial work, drinking and violence. I wasn’t that bad. But it took me a while to find my feet after highschool, and until that time, the cleaning corps beckoned. Someone once said that GWH was to the nineties, what ‘Rocky’ was to the seventies. The struggle to achieve in front of a backdrop of industrial decline and emotional uncertainty. These days I think it’s even worse, no one is certain of anything. Anyone in power is only looking out for themselves, and anyone climbing up from the bottom is gradually hardening by their own environment, desperate not to return to where they came from, and willing to do whatever they need to, no matter how immoral, to achieve that fact.
I don’t have the answers. I’m in the boat with the rest of you.
But I do know that the constant use of the sexual-assault trope, as a flimsy parody of empowerment, is weak storytelling, regardless of the medium.
If the writers and directors think that attempted rape/rape is the only way an audience can empthaise with the struggle, then I worry for society right now. It seems like we’ve turned the dial up to 11 with our collective experiences, and now only something happening at 11 will register. At least in storytelling.
Enough with the ‘rape-as-a-plot-trope-for-empowerment-and-impetus’ approach. If you want cert 18/R rated storylines, rewind back to the physical. Remember ‘True Romance’? Patricia Arquette took a hammerin’ from the late James Gandalfini, but she won, and lived, and loved in the end. It’s not a flawless example (she was a prostitute in the beginning of the movie) but it showed me that if you were determined, and creative, and willing to endure, you could thrive. Without the worst experience a human being can endure befalling you.
And if you don’t want to produce such storylines, how about you stick with grinding poverty, the struggle for education (a problem for girls worldwide, even in 2016) and the absence of a social history? Because they are all real, Hollywood, and they seem more prevalent now than thirty years ago. We aren’t asking for protection, we’re asking for a level playing field, equal pay and a chance to administer, and at times receive, the punches that the men get in their own quests for glory.
There’s enough stories in the world for that Hollywood. So, please, leave the rape trope alone.