Thursday, April 21, 2016

some more riffs on Roberts at Mere Orthodoxy on "strong female characters", there are plenty of progressive arguments against the SFC as an embodiement of Hollywood's tentpole fetish for solutions via violence

One of the ironies of Alastair Roberts' case against the "strong female character" is resident in reactions, objections to his case against the "strong female character" as plausible in terms of the use of force.  The biological differences are one thing to discuss, but what hasn't been suggested (yet) in the comments over there is something Noah Berlatsky recently mentioned and it can be seen as a progressive mirror to Roberts' comments on the use of violence to solve a conflict.  
In his review of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Roger Ebert complained that the film ended with a pointless action sequence. “Time after time I complain when a film develops an intriguing story and then dissolves it in routine and boring action,” he says wearily. “We’ve seen every conceivable battle sequence, every duel, all carnage, countless showdowns and all-too-long fights to the finish.” Can’t anyone think of an end other than violence? Ebert didn’t live to see the 2015 Cinderella live action reboot, but if he did, he would have at least been pleased on one count: it doesn’t end with a fight.
Roger Ebert asked why films have to end with violence; Cinderella, inadvertently, explains. Films have to end with violence because violence is the only way that these big-budget Hollywood films can express strength, agency, or even really action. Either you’re swinging a sword and decapitating the Jabberwock, like Alice in Burton’s film, or else you’re letting you’re step mother put her boot on your face because you just don’t have the gumption to do anything about it. You’re empowered and awesome or disempowered and pure. There doesn’t seem to be any middle-ground.

the middle-ground is, of course the place where most people live most of their lives. In most conflicts, in most lives, you aren’t fully empowered to beat the crap out of your enemy and have them cringe at your feet. Neither are you completely bereft of agency, waiting for a prince to save you. Instead, you’re somewhere in a difficult, grey middle, with some ability to make some choices, and push back against some power, if you’re cunning, and lucky,and don’t misjudge. Heroism comes not in using superpowers to blast all before you, nor in staying pure souled and above the fray, but in figuring out how to make the best of difficult situations, using what power you have, and what kindness you can muster.
This is the kind of overstatement Berlatsky traffics in from time to time, like arguing that Marston's origin for Wonder Woman is perfect. But the point is worth noting because when progressives and conservatives alike raise objections to the basic plausibility of the "strong female character" what we might want to resist doing is a reflexive defense of the trope by saying "should women characters be weak?"  Well, if we want to grant that there need to be more unstoppable killing machine female characters in mainstream cinema who get two-dimensional objectified trophies ... well, we could say so. But as someone put it at Overthinking It, that's not necessarily what some feminists had in mind asking for strong female characters. 

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