Friday, October 24, 2008
Uma Thurman: Living Weapon or Why I'm Sick Of Kick-Ass Babes
I've got a lot to do this morning and here I am making a blog post. Like I keep saying, blogcessive compulsive. Today's thoughts were sparked by a conversation I had with the missus a couple of hours ago. (Yeah, she gets the insomnia too. It's almost worth it for the sake of talking in the dark, he said sentimentally.)
So there's a common... archetype isn't the right word. Model? Stereotype? Anyway, the warrior woman has been making a serious comeback in popular culture over the past couple of decades. But I'm not talking about Anne Bonney or Boadicea. I am flat-out in favor of women being able to handle themselves in a combat situation. While I don't want my granddaughter and nieces to engage in combat, if they are unfortunate enough to face violence I want them to win.
I'm talking about the oo-la-la sexy babe with an oversize weapon and armor that's basically shiny lingerie. I'm talking about armed Japanese schoolgirls with their little plaid skirts. I'm talking about Uma Thurman: Living Weapon.
First off, it's fetish stuff. (Louis Royo, I'm looking at you!) Nothing wrong with that, live it up. Me, I dig fat chicks. Chacun a son gout, baby. These kinds of fiction are fantasies and other people's fantasies are always a little weird.
But there's a certain point where things start going bad. For me one of the breaking points was the promotional campaign they've got going for The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The perfectly lovely young actress Summer Glau plays a Terminator, in case you're lucky enough to be able to avoid the mass media.
There have been a number of images of her that I frankly find offensive. Anyone who's read much of my fiction might be startled to find out that I can be offended -- but yeah. This shit is degraded and degrading. I think it's bad for the culture.
I'm not going to put the images here. The one that I just spotted in a comic book was one that showed Ms. Glau with her shirt off, back to the audience, with a series of bloody wounds that has peeled her flesh off to reveal the metal underneath. The combination of raw meat and a shapely body is torture porn. Right now someone's stroking it to that image right now.
(As an aside, my favorite euphemism for masturbation is 'counting to one.')
But far worse was...
Okay, if you're not a comic book reader you aren't familiar with this form of promotion. From time to time when I buy my comics they come in a specially printed plastic bag bearing an advertisement for something related to genre culture. Just before The Sarah Connor Chronicles (which I watched for a couple of episodes before dropping out to to excruciating boredom -- I hear it's gotten better) started airing I got a bag with an image of Ms. Glau on it.
It showed her fucking head and chest hanging from a rail, wires and mechanical connections dangling from the stumps of her arm and waist. She's nude; her nipples are covered by a couple of locks of her hair (man, that method of hiding nipples is old; next time why not try a couple of slices of pepperoni?) and she is gazing directly at the viewer.
This was fucking pornography. Not just pornography; it was robot amputee pornography. And my suspicion is that those bags were used for every purchase made in that comic store.
There is a sick part of me that thinks it's hilarious that children were given free robot amputee porn. But there's an even sicker part of me that thinks maybe we need to be paying attention to this stuff. At the very least parents should sit down and talk to their children about robot amputee porn openly and frankly.
This is an extreme example. But it is part of the whole hot chick kicks ass phenomenon.
I've talked to women who really enjoy seeing a female character kicking ass. I think this is part of something that doesn't get discussed very often -- one of the reasons why guy stuff is so predominant in a lot of cultural arenas is that a lot of women respond to it -- that by targeting guys you also target a lot of women. When I went to see Kill Bill I saw it with my buddy Megan. (It's more or less her fault that I'm writing -- I owe her a lot.)
She liked the movie a lot more than I did.
So why was Kill Bill an eh for me? Again, the woman warrior was part of it -- when I see an action scene in a movie I'm always thinking of how I'd fight if I were in that position. Now there are plenty of women in the world who can kick my ass. Some of them are, in fact, very attractive. I've got no more problem with that than I do with the fact that I can't go hand to hand with a grizzly or a bulldozer.
(What I mean here is that I've got a fucking huge problem with it. I won't be able to feel at ease until I'm cabable of rending humans limb from limb, tearing buildings apart, smashing holes in the crust of the Earth, crushing the universe in my hands. Anyone know a martial art that could teach me to do this?)
But watching Kill Bill I wound up instinctively imagining myself fighting Uma Thurman. That was grotesque. I mean, she weighs what, eight pounds? I don't want to think about fighting Uma Thurman!
(Who was it who said, "How can you fight a woman? There's no place on 'em you can hit!")
And of course that's my problem. Kill Bill was about someone else's fetishes. The thing is, is that no matter what I'm told I don't really see it as healthy.
That's because I don't see a capacity for violence as genuinely empowering.
I'm not arguing against the study of martial (Just misspelled that as marital -- thank you, Dr. Freud!) arts and I'm not saying that for some folks knowing that they have a capacity for violence is important to their sense of security.
But violence, as much a part of life as it is, is bad fucking news. It's not good for you. People who have been exposed to violence tend to get damaged by it both physically and emotionally. If you really do need to feel like a bad-ass it means that you have a wound. And there's something about combining it with sexy bodies that really bothers me.
It makes violence pretty and sex ugly. It takes things that have consequences in real life, things that we all have to deal with one way or another and it trivializes them.
If women find a sense of empowerment in images of dangerous females that's no worse than men finding a sense of empowerment in images of dangerous males. Hey, I read pulp fiction and comic books and I watch action movies and so on and so forth. I can understand the appeal. I get a serious charge out of extremely brutal depictions of violence.
But I'm nuts -- and I know that there's something degraded about my tastes. I do have a certain critical distance that lets me process this stuff and regulate my own exposure. (For instance, I've kicked my forensic textbook habit and my taste for true crime.)
I think what bothers me about the depictions of violent women in popular culture is that they almost always come from a male perspective -- and very often the sexy warrior babe is, in terms of character, more or less a dude. For example, Molly Millions/Kolodny/etc. from William Gibson's Sprawl stories is a dude. (Given the setting this may actually be the case.)
It is possible to handle this sterotype well, though. The missus got me hooked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it came out on DVD. One of the things that I really liked about it was that as the show went on, you could see Sarah Michelle Gellar's character grow more and more angry, alienated, and miserable as the show went on. For the last few seasons she was pretty damned unlikeable unless you understood what had driven her to that point.
That's what real fighting does to you. Not the controlled and consensual fighting of the dojo, of course. But when you are really fighting because someone really wants to hurt you and you really want to hurt them...
... it will make you a shittier human being. By showing that truth Buffy the Vampire Slayer managed to use the stereotype and subvert it at the same time. Buffy's being a bad-ass made her a worse person -- but she had no real choice.
As silly as the show was in many ways (Why did every single vampire know kung fu?), once you got past the obligatory thrilling action scenes it had a sense of the weight of violence.
If women want to kick ass, they are going to have to pay the price.
I grew up with powerful women. I like powerful women -- if I didn't, me and the missus wouldn't get along. My mom was a powerful woman. My grandmother was a powerful woman. My sister's like Molly Kolodny, though. She's a dude -- but still a powerful woman.
In my novel I am consciously trying to depict women that I would like in real life. Strong, purposeful, and effective when they're at their best.
But I'm not going to make them fight. And while violence is a subject -- and I do use it for adventure thrills here and there -- I'm trying to show how damaging it is. And I want the real turning points and climaxes to come from the rejection of violence rather than its expression.
At the end of the day I don't want it to seem as though kicking ass is cool or fun. Painful, stupid, or necessary -- yeah.
But kicking ass is not cool.
Now if you'll excuse me, for my homework I have to design some wallpaper for a boy's room. I'm going for a blood-spattered reptilian head with crossed chainswords motif.
At least there won't be any cleavage.