Monday, November 21, 2011

Breaking the Habit

Back when I posted In Defense of Daydreaming, I argued that this blog is more often made up of ambulatory thoughts rather than dutifully planned articles. That has usually led to writing here being incoherent words strung together, making sense to no one but myself, and this particular post will be much more so. You see, at the time of this writing, I've already arrived at Point B, the conclusion to some cognitive dissonance I've been suffering from, but I'm going to attempt to retrace the steps taken to get here. It will be gross, and I'm sorry that you're about to read it.

Also, it's about porn.



Let me back up. (HEYO!) Sometime this summer, I caught wind of the excellent series Women Vs. Tropes, from Anita Sarkeesian Feminist Frequency. To do a grave injustice by attempting to summarize the series, it dissects some common tropes (tropes are things which are not quite cliches, but pretty close) and discusses why they are detrimental to feminism and society's perception of women. Anyway, one of these videos (shown below) put me in a mental pickle:



If you didn't bother watching the video, (don't sweat it. I don't either) allow me to, one again, write a painfully short summary: the evil demon seductress is a female character, of supernatural origin, who uses sexuality to trick men, usually for nefarious purposes. Now, I agree that portraying women as using sexuality as a weapon, whether demon or otherwise, is a negative stereotype. However, in this video, I found myself noticing that a critical component was lacking in Anita's analysis. And that is, the evil demon seductress is fucking hot.

Now, when I say "the evil demon seductress is fucking hot," I don't mean like, "oh snap, Mystique has boobies." No. Well, yes, ok, she does have boobies, but that's not important right now. The evil demon seductress as a trope is an extremely sexy one. I have actually had conversations with my friends that have gone something like this:

"Sexy vampire..."
"Do her. I don't care if she kills me."
"Agreed."

And there's something to be said for that. You see, with many, maybe even all, of sexist tropes, there is an element of sexiness to them. That is the reason that they persist. Nobody is actively trying to show women in a negative or offensive light; That couldn't possibly be anyone's goal. No, instead, people are making their fantasies come to life, whether it be in movies, comics or books. It just so happens that when these fantasies dominate the media, it has a negative effect on the way we see real, non-vampire women.

To put this another way, let's say I have a son, and this son is kept in isolation from any media until he's sixteen years old, when I release him from his cage and out into the world. So hypothetical son comes across a history book and sees an image from America's segregation period (the official one that supposedly ended in the 60s)

"Hey Dad, what's going on here?"
"Well Spider-Man [my hypothetical son's name is Spider-Man, btw,] some people think that just because someone's skin color is different, it makes them less of a person, or more inclined to play basketball."

I think he would hear that explanation, find it reasonable, and agree that this type of behavior should not be repeated. But if he came across an image like this one:


I'd imagine it would be a little bit harder to talk him out of enjoying that one.

"Hey Dad, what's going on here?"
"Well Spider-Man, some people think that just because someone's genitalia is different, it makes them less of a person, and more like an faceless object."

I think he would find that explanation very unreasonable and the above image to be totally rad, or whatever the fuck future children are saying thoseadays. And here's the thing, deep down, I have to agree with him, that picture is totally rad and I wish I could just get a woman's phone number without any effort on my part.

But, here's the thing, even though something would be enjoyable for me, it's not exactly moral to treat people like that. What if a had a slave? Sure, that would make life a bit easier for me, but jesus christ, at what cost? It's inconceivable to find a way to justify behavior like that. So no, things that are enjoyable for one person at the cost of another are most assuredly indefensible.

But then, if I realize that the image that I'm viewing is sexist, and if I tell myself that real women are not objects, and if I know that treating other people like objects is morally wrong, then what's the problem? Can I not enjoy images such as the one above as an individual? Well, let's talk about trust.

Say for example I told a racist joke in front of 100 people, ranging from those that know me very well to those that don't know me at all. Those that know me very well (the three people that read this blog) will still believe that I'm not racist. Further down the list, people will start saying, "Oh that Warzala character is quite the cutup, I'm sure he telling another one of his dickish jokes I've heard so much about." Further down, people start to question how well they know me, and whether or not I'm racist. The people that don't know me at all will assume I'm racist, while meanwhile, Person Zero, me, will be the most resolute in believing that I am not a racist. I can say to myself that I'm just trying and failing at being funny again, and that I'm not actually a racist. Since the only two people inside my head are the government and me, I'll believe the most firmly in my non-racism. But am I right?

Compare the mental exercise of the racist joke with the act of seeking out and watching pornography, the ultimate in objectifying women. Now, if I watch pornography, I can tell myself that I'm not actually sexist, and that I know that this is for pure enjoyment, and I won't let it change the way I view real women. But is it true? Can it possibly be true?

Because here's the thing, I don't trust you. If instead of being the one telling the racist joke or watching porn, I was the one in the audience, how well would I judge somebody else? The answer of course being: exactly the same as they would trust me, which is not much. Eventually, I have to come to the conclusion that perhaps I can't trust myself as much as I thought. Maybe even though I want to believe that I'm not racist, I might be after all, since I tell such jokes. Maybe even though I want to believe that I never objectify women, that I still treat women like real people while still enjoying objectifying images, that I'm still effected by it after all. Chances seem to be much greater that I'm lying to myself than that I'm somehow above media programming.

So, as of last Saturday, I am off the P. And not only that, but any images that might treat a person like an object. This will not be easy, especially since I haven't stopped actually enjoying any of that and I don't think it makes me sexist, but there's a very good chance that I'm wrong. However, in the end, one must do what is morally right over what is enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why is OWS so Pissed?

"Jose!" she said, horrified, "however are going to stop everything?"
"Stop everything, Laura!" cried Jose in astonishment. "What do you mean?"
But Jose was still more amazed. "Stop the garden-party? My dear Laura, don't be so absurd. Of course we can't do anything of the kind. Nobody expects us to. Don't be so extravagant."
"But we can't possibly have a garden-party with a man dead just outside the front gate."
...
"Oh, Laura!" Jose began to be seriously annoyed. "If you're going to stop a band playing every time some one has an accident, you'll lead a very strenuous life."
-Katherine Mansfield, "The Garden Party"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Immortals

Alright, I know I'm somewhat prone to hyperbole. In fact, you might even say that I once hyperbole'd a man to death. But, really, Immortals is the worst movie I've ever seen. It's so bad that I'm surprised a time traveler from the future hasn't come back in time and killed its mother yet.

Let me loll you into a false sense of hope by talking about the good. First thing that comes to mind is seeing Freida Pinta pretty naked. It's next to impossible to ignore the fact that this is a good thing. If you would have whispered in my ear while I was watching Slumdog Millionaire that I would someday see this woman in the buff, I would have done a choreographed group dance. (Get it? Bollywood joke.) However, now that I'm thinking about the naked scene, even that kinda sucked. It was a passionless, awkward moment, like the producer took the final draft of the script and wrote in a red felt-tip pen: "There should be ass and (.)(.) here." If you still don't believe that this is the worst movie ever, take this as your cardinal piece of evidence: It makes beautiful naked women boring somehow.

The biggest obstacle for most people to enjoying this movie will lie in the script. If I'm a good mood, I'll suggest that this movie went through several different drafts, by several different writers, each of them with a specific goal or aim in mind with this movie that got intertwined with all the other goals until it made no sense whatsoever. In an action movie, the script is usually no more important than being the method of propulsion from one scene to the next, so that standard is already pretty low. Here though, the script is actively trying not to make sense.

For one, the two main characters find themselves not only on physically opposing forces (which is fine) but philosophical forces at well. That is, the bad guy thinks that a physical legacy is most important (namely, siring many children), while the good guy argues that one's good deeds is most important. For his victory, the good guy is rewarded with...a child. I'm not stretching this in any way, no sir. The voiceover even informs us that for all his fighting, he's granted a child, the exact thing that was a saying didn't matter not five minutes before. This is like if Drago got beaten, and then everyone in America decided communism is pretty cool.

And another thing, I have no idea what the bad guy was actually doing this entire movie, or what the hell he wanted. Alright, so he talks a lot about making a lot of babies to carry on his legacy or whatever, and he does that. He procures a bow that can shoot an unlimited amount of magic, exploding arrows, but I don't think he actually cares, since he shoots it all of three times in the entire movie. Hey dude, do you want to conquer all of Greece? See your enemies hiding in the mountain? Shoot your magic bow, not once, not twice, not even three times, but forever. Give your army the day off and just shoot things until you're bored. Then plant your seed in some wombs and go shoot some more.

Characters come and go in this movie and I have no idea why anybody would care. I suppose one of the main selling points for this movie is seeing the gods fight, and you do, but they're never actually introduced or display any godlike power other than being able to do 300-style speed changes and punching through somebody's face until it explodes. Not only are the gods excruciatingly dull, they are actively sitting out for most of the movie, because of a law that says gods can't interfere with human affairs. If you have read any Greek myths at all, you will immediately recognize that as being a made-up law, since fucking with people is just about all the gods do. Not only is this non-plot-moving anti-mucguffin boring, but it proves to be a poor strategy, since the gods pretty much lose in the end, when they could have won before the opening credits stopped rolling. See what I mean about this script actively trying to suck?

And the humans, oh sweet christ the humans. Somehow this stupid species manages to do less than the gods. The female lead was put there pretty much just to get naked. The male lead contributes, in descending order of importance: a stirring speech, chilling with John Hurt, not wearing a shirt. Other characters do less and die quicker.

The real moment when I went from just being bored to actively hating this movie was when the...senator? king? I don't even know who the fuck he is or what he does...started talking. The movie does just about everything in its power to make you hate this guy, even though he's the only logical dude in the whole country. See, he has this wacky idea to try and solve problems diplomatically, like a stupid asshole, when the hero, a real man's man, runs up and tells him that the bad guy can use magic, so we should fight him. Then, this stupid asshole doesn't believe the random guy that claims the enemies shoot magic bombs, when really he should be KICKING SOME ASS CUZ THAT'S WHAT YOU DO, YOU PUSSY.

So then he gets killed, twenty minutes of face-exploding happens, and basically nothing you care about happens. The hero gets a son, which is not that impressive considering that most high school freshmen have already done that, and I guess we're supposed to count that as a win? Here's a quick test: Do you like movies where people blow up other people with their hands? Well then borrow your mom's car and go see this movie.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Role Models in Tights

I'm a fan of comics. This is something that I think people think I should apologize for (I won't) or be embarrassed of (I am.) In fact, the first time I wrote that opening sentence, it read: "I'm still a fan of comics," as thought it's something I should have grown out of, like pooping my pants or making poop jokes on the internet. Poop.

To be honest, and painfully accurate, there are many good reasons to be embarrassed for and of comic books. However, I have to start with what I would hope is the most obvious, and the most painful for me to witness, which is the costumes. Exhibit A:


This is Cyclops. And not only is this Cyclops, but this is Cyclops at the height of whatever cool-looking phases he might've gone through, drawn by Jim Lee, widely regarded as being one of, if not the very best artists working today. Personally, I think this costume is his best one, with the shoulder straps and excessive belts, but it's still pretty stupid. There's just no getting around that. Try as I might, I can't force my brain to think that wearing spandex to the middle of a fight is anything but weird. However, this isn't even what I wanted to talk about. The real problem is in Exhibit B:


This is Witchblade. I never really read Witchblade, but she got me through some awkward years. (I won't say which ones.) Now, I have a problem with Cyclops and his yellow undies, but sexist drivel like this is pretty much a deal-breaker for me. Books could be written on this subject, and unfortunately, it won't be me, or at least it won't be me right now. Needless to say, if someone caught me looking at a comic with the Jim Lee Cyclops in it, I would be a little shy about it. If someone caught me looking at Witchblade, I would feel downright shame. And rightfully so, for that matter.

However, as is the common theme among superheroes, that which can be used for evil can also be used for good. For every blatantly puerile depiction of woman, there is a Storm. Just for reference, when Witchblade looked like that, Storm was being drawn like this:

Why yes, that is a full-body suit on a superheroine. While I was growing up, I was reading about women who were more mature than I will ever be. (Poop!) Not only mature, but fully-developed and rounded characters who were sexually active in ways real women are. Jean Grey was of course married to Cyclops at this time. (She also wore a full-body suit.) Rogue was involved in a long-term sexual tension relationship with Gambit, and was not at all shy about admitting that she wanted to be touched, like a real person would. (Guess what she wore? Full-body suit with a jacket over it.)

These days, I'm pissed as hell whenever I see the White Queen on the page. (If you saw X-Men: First Class, you'll probably understand why.) However, Storm is still there, telling Cyclops that he sounds like a goddamn asshole, or Magneto that he sounds like an egomaniac, or reminding everyone that violence has consequences. Not only is Storm not a piece of eye candy, but she's the wisest, most level-headed member of the team.


Again, books could easily be written on this subject, and sadly I have to gloss over these points. However, Storm's character leads me into a strong point on superhero comics: Superheroes provide good role models, in a weird, but not uncommon way.

You may think I'm an idiot for thinking that a fictional character in a medium largely associated with adolescents would be a good role model. The truth is, we use fictional characters as role models all the time. Probably the most common example is Jack Sparrow. After Pirates came out, I imagine that everyone who saw that movie spoke a little smoother or tried to sound a bit more witty and aloof. And I can promise you that you know somebody who went through a phase of saying "savvy?" for no good fucking reason.

The panel of Storm I posted above is a good example of using a fictional character as a role model. In case you can't read it, she is saying, "I don't believe in violence." That's wild. Storm's character is capable of creating a tornado inside your ass until you are dead. The ways that she could kill a person are endless, and even in a world where people shoot lasers from their eyeballs, she's pretty powerful. She could do whatever the hell she wanted but she doesn't. She could easily get whatever she wanted, but she doesn't. She doesn't believe in violence. By virtue of being an adult male in my 20s, I'm stronger than half the people I will see on any given day, and I'm lowballing that number (or maybe not, because I'm a nerd that reads comics and therefore allergic to exercise.) Just like Storm, I don't go around kicking people's asses just to get what I want. I don't believe in violence. I can't say specifically that I learned this lesson from Storm, or even comics in general, but I can certainly say that I never learned it from any professional wrestler, boxer, MMA fighter, veteran, military personnel, or head of state. So, yes, fictional role models do exist.

As I sit here, so many examples come to mind. Spider-Man teaches us that it's much better to be smart than strong, and that we all have the power to help. Captain America, especially in recent years when we need it the most, teaches us that love of country does not mean total obedience. Professor Xavier teaches us an almost Sisyphean idealism. I believe all of these lessons are both important and painfully absent in American society today.