Saturday, December 24, 2011

Funny Girls and Double Standards

Soooooooo I just saw Bridesmaids.  I know I’m mad late on this but I was too busy to catch it this summer.  And by “too busy” I mean I was watching my new favourite achievement in the positive enforcement of gay characters in films, X-Men: First Class- which my poverty-stricken ass coughed up the price of admission for on three different occasions.  (McFassy fourever!!)  Before I say anything about Bridesmaids, I have to say that I enjoyed the film.  However, from the poster and the things I was hearing about it all summer, I thought it was going to take place within the bridal suite in the hours before the wedding and it would just be a bunch of really crass ladies in gorgeous dresses proving that female comedians can be just as funny as their male counterparts.  I was really excited to see that.

What it ended up being, of course, was much sillier and zanier and conformed more to rom-com conventions than I expected it to.  I was still pleasantly surprised by what I saw; I was just a little disappointed.  But more than anything, I am disappointed in what I’ve been reading people say about the movie. 

It’s not that I’m a feminist.  First of all, I don’t consider myself a feminist.  Secondly, I don’t think you need to be a feminist to see that there is a total fucking double standard in the way women are allowed to behave in public/media.  It pisses me off to see people crying about the gross bathroom scene in Bridesmaids, which takes up a lot of space on the imdb boards.  Personally, it’s not my cup of tea; I’m not one for shit and vomit humour but I was glad that it was in the movie.  It didn’t feel gratuitous or unnecessary to me; it felt like a natural part of the story’s progression.   

I’m rewatching Knocked Up right now as I write this and it’s a movie I love a lot but it puts me in an awkward place.  Minus all the pot-smoking and sexism, I relate more to Seth Rogen’s character than I do to Katherine Heigl’s.  I’m pretty chill and conventionally unattractive and I say inappropriate things.  Most importantly, I have a sense of humour.  But there’s no room in Hollywood for women to be funny if they’re not supermodels too.  And a lot of the time, when these gorgeous women do get to be funny, they are usually either the straight-man (pretty gendered terminology there, no?) or the joke is at their expense.

The great thing about that food poisoning scene in Bridesmaids, in my opinion, was seeing women do those vile bodily functions without men around to deem them disgusting, as in Not Another Teen Movie or The Change-Up.  If a man shits or pukes in a comedy, it’s hilarious; when a woman does it, it is only considered hilarious if there is a man present to say how gross it is.  You would never get a woman crapping in the middle of the street in a bridal gown as the entire joke in a man’s comedy.  The joke in that scenario would be whatever insultingly amusing line the man would say about such a thing.    

There is a part of me that gets so giddy whenever Leslie Mann straddles a toilet.  Even when the movies are as horribly offensive (on a multitude of levels) as The Change-Up, I find it kind of liberating to see women getting just as nasty as the boys do; because we can.  We can be just as good at disgusting and we can also be just as good at clever as any man in the industry but women are rarely given the chance.  I think the first time that ever registered for me was seeing Emma Stone in Superbad.  Yes, she is the “love interest” and remains pretty limited in that role, but the first time we see her, she’s making dick jokes with Jonah Hill- and keeping up!  THAT WAS ME IN HIGH SCHOOL!  There are so many girls that I know who do that yet so few of them on the screen. 

Then again, women are usually only ever seen keeping up with the men.  When I was in school, the class clowns were always boys.  A guy would fart loudly in the middle of class and it would be funny.  It would be his joke for our benefit.  I don’t ever remember a girl doing that.  And I’ve overheard so many conversations about how my male classmate’s balls smelled and felt but I cannot recall a single time when a female classmate discussed the smell of her vagina just as proudly.  Girls are always expected to be ladylike.  And the thing about guys getting so turned off when a woman says “suck my dick,” like, honestly, if you don’t want to hear that then don’t continue to make your penis the center of the universe.  Don’t perpetuate the idea that a penis is a symbol of strength and power and fuel the need for women to prove themselves on your level because it is the only level you understand.  Also, try not being so disgusted at the thought of women having penises, because some women do have them and it isn’t disgusting or unladylike at all.

Speaking of female anatomy, both conventional and unconventional perceptions of it, I think one of the most refreshing things about Bridesmaids was Maya Rudolph’s monologue about how she and Rose Byrne’s character got their assholes bleached.  That was beautiful.  It’s not that I thought it was particularly funny (although I was in stitches at the time because Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig bounce off each other brilliantly), it was that the lines were said so earnestly and that we weren’t supposed to recoil in horror or anything because there was more to the scene than just the picture they were painting.  So it would be dishonest to say that I didn’t feel like this film was kind of ground-breaking.  I know it was ultimately directed by a man but since it was written by two women and the cast was mostly made up of female talent, it is hard to say that it was not a positive achievement for women filmmakers, women comedians, and women in the media in general.

What I will say to critique this film is that the main character was straight, skinny, blonde, white, and middle-class.  All of the women in the film were most of those things, if not all.  They were also neuro-typical, able-bodied, cis gendered, and, though religion was never discussed, I’m sure none of them suffered from religious persecution of any kind.  So while it is amusing to watch Kristen Wiig and her cohorts get in and out of these situations, she is still a straight, skinny blonde woman who has problems like weird roommates and an awful fuck-buddy.  You might argue that she’s poor and say that that creates some problems for her, especially after she gets fired, but I’m pretty sure that never affects her the way it would affect someone who doesn’t have a mother with a… what the fuck was that? a three-bedroom house?!  Does her measly paycheck of over three times more than I make in two weeks stop her from buying any of the things she buys in this film (the expensive bridesmaid dress, the plane ticket to Vegas) or from owning a car(and getting it fixed)?  And yes, I understand that it’s Hollywood so of course she has a never-ending supply of cash to make things happen, but still.  If your character is struggling financially, show her giving something up to balance it out, don’t just show her complaining about how much things cost and then buying them anyway.

And why was the entire plot of this movie about how competitive women are?  The whole movie hinged on the fact that Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne are each trying to establish themselves as the best companion and go to such catty lengths to do so.  One of the worst scenes in my opinion was when they were trying to out-do each other with the engagement party speeches.  It’s not that the premise of the scene was not funny or that the writing/performances was/were weak; it’s that the whole thing went on for too long.  I think it would have been more effective if they had just made it Wiig, Byrne, Wiig, Byrne instead of dragging it out like they did because a) how is Maya Rudolph NOT going to fucking notice there’s something up at that point?! and b) it ruined the flow of the movie. 

As ground-breaking as it was, the whole movie was about how women are obsessed with social status and will be total bitches to attain it.  AND THEN!!!!!, when they feel too threatened by the competition, they waste no time calling that competition a lesbian… as an insult.  Any shred of positive, let alone neutral, imagery this movie promoted towards homosexuality- and it takes more than a brief drunken kiss between two women during an action-packed moment in the film when seven other things are happening at once, though I did appreciate the fact that it never turned into a pornographic male fantasy- burns to a crisp when Kristen Wiig calls Rose Byrne a lesbian for stealing her best friend.  While we’re at it, I’d like to say that I’m glad the Melissa McCarthy character wasn’t a lesbian because oh my god, what a stereotypical dyke she would be!  And she was totally my favourite character and performance by the way, from her first scene, talking about the dolphin.

Basically, the problem with women in comedy is that they have to be smoking hot or their looks become the joke.  Even Melissa McCarthy flirting with her real life husband Ben Falcone is presented as unappealing.  And the sex they have during the end credits… I just don’t know.  I’m fat and I don’t require a fucking 3-foot sub when I have sex.  Like, I get it, they were trying to show us the weirdest, nastiest sex they could come up with but I’m not entirely sure why they felt it was necessary to make that happen between two fat people or why the weird, nasty sex between them had to include food.  There are just so many things, sooooo many things, they could have done for that scene and they just didn’t.  And yes, I laughed my ass off during the whole thing.

I hope I’m not alone in this, but I think that certain roles and topics should not be off limits for women just because we are women.  And I don’t think that it’s right to call it “forced” or “awkward” when women are being funny, like so many people on imdb did.  I’m not trying to tell people that what they don’t find amusing is actually really hilarious; that’s not my place.  What I am saying is that we need to reevaluate the way we look at women and comedy and the double standards we, as a society, support.    

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Representation in the Media (and How Screwed We Appear to Be)

As a film studies major at [Rich, White Hipster College], I often look to the media to help me understand people.  I think that when we study the outlets people use for expression and the things they create, we can learn a lot about the mentality and the culture that fostered the creation.  Of course the media is never really an accurate reflection of the truth, but it is a decent indication of what the people want to see.  When The Cosby Show came out (I am obsessed with The Cosby Show and have to talk about it) the average Black family in America was not nearly as well off as the Huxtables were.  In fact, the show has often been criticized for being so unrealistic in that respect.  However, when you look at television ratings from the 1980s, you see that The Cosby Show was rated #1 for five solid seasons.  Clearly, America was beginning to warm up to the idea of successful Black people and true assimilation.  We’re still not entirely there but it would be impossible to look at how far we’ve come and ignore the impact of The Cosby Show

Right now I’m taking a course on Middle Eastern cinema and media.  Earlier this week I had to watch the film Towelhead for this class.  Based on the novel by Alicia Erian, the film tells the story of a thirteen-year-old Arab-American girl growing up in Texas during the Gulf War.  She is psychologically abused by her white mother, physically abused by her Lebanese father, bullied by virtually every person in her school, and (most horrifically) raped by her neighbour.  

Now, it’s not a spectacular film but it’s okay and, anyway, I think that the themes it deals with are more important than the composition of the film itself.  The thing is this was the umpteenth screening for my Middle Eastern Cinema class where rape and/or abuse occurred.  All semester, we have been watching films where the most godawful things happen to the principle characters.  Today I finally confronted my professor.  At the beginning of the semester he said that he hoped to challenge what we thought of the Middle East.  Well, we’ve talked a lot about Edward Said and Orientalism; we’ve talked a lot about the veil and the most recent uprisings and the role of the internet in those uprisings but then we study these films like Scheherazade Tell Me  A Story, Persepolis, Under the Bombs, Head-On, my favourite, The Yacoubian Building, and now Towelhead.  Ultimately, I feel like we have explored more about these different cultures than we would have in our everyday lives, but I’m not sure how much our preconceived notions have been challenged when we watch these films.

In the Western world, we have been conditioned to view that part of the globe as savage, violent, irrational, and oppressive to women.  Now, I’m not gonna say a fucking thing one way or the other because I’m not from any of those countries, I’ve never been to any of those countries, and I don’t know a damn thing I didn’t learn in a classroom, so it’s really not my place.  However, I will say that based on what I’m seeing, it certainly seems that way.  But you know what?  It doesn’t look too good in this country either.  So, what I’m wondering about right now is, how are we being portrayed?  

Lest you think I’m talking about how the U.S. constantly comes across as ignorant, belligerent, arrogant, greedy, imperialist dickwads-because, like, we kind of are- I should clarify what I mean by “we.”  As it says in the subtitle of this blog, I am a poor, fat, queer Latina, so my “we” is kind of directed towards other people who fit those descriptions.  You know, the ones Hollywood doesn’t make movies about; the ones whose voices rarely reach the mainstream.   There are just so many thin, straight, white people in movies and on TV and it pisses me off because me and my kind are fucking blips on the radar.  

When I think about which characters are the best stand-ins for me, I think of Santana on Glee.  

First of all, I detest Glee, so I’m not thrilled about this.  My girlfriend loves it though so I’ve seen a few episodes and it’s hard to ignore the similarities.  However, there are obvious differences; I am fat while Naya Rivera is quite thin, and I haven’t seen enough episodes to learn about her socio-economic status but I imagine that she’s middle class if she goes to that white-ass suburban school.  So Santana doesn’t exactly do it for me.  The next character that comes to mind is America Ferrera in Real Women Have Curves.  Of course, I’m not first-generation American and she’s not queer so it’s back to the drawing board.  The only character that I can come up with whose identity is so compatible with my own is Oz, played by Judy Marte in On the Outs.

Oz is a poor butch Latina growing up in the inner city and while she isn’t explicitly out of the closet, she is often perceived as a lesbian and might as well be one.  Also, she’s not exactly fat but Judy Marte is pretty thick in this film.  For all intents and purposes, Oz is my identity doppelganger.  Now, let’s have a look at her life, shall we?  Well she’s a drug dealer who gets imprisoned during the course of the film.  FABULOUS.  That’s the exact path I’ve always envisioned myself taking.  I’m glad that this is how I am portrayed in the media.  It’s so comforting to see such a positive outcome for a character like that.  I can hardly wait to start following in her footsteps.   

I don’t know about you but I think it’s severely fucked up how even in 2011, only a certain type of person gets to be a part of the storytelling process.  We’re not even gonna talk about The Help.  I would like to know why we’re still so closed in.  Why are we still so afraid of hearing other people speak?  And, while we’re at it, why are we still so bent on hurting each other? 

When people look back at our movies and TV shows and music videos to learn about us, what are they going to see?  They’re going to look at Glee (ewww) and see people who are terrified of coming out to their families- and for good reason, when those people respond by kicking them out of the house.  They’re going to look at news coverage of the Occupy Wall Street/Oakland/etc movement and see people being pepper sprayed in the street for peacefully protesting a corrupt government that would love nothing more than to keep us all in poverty.   They’re going to look at this Penn State fiasco and think that we cared more about some fucking football games than we cared about putting a child molester behind bars.  They’re going to see a society in which we actually needed to create the It Gets Better campaign because the present is just so shitty for some people that we need to plead with them to stick it out.

If we don’t change some of this shit, that’s how we’re going to look- because that’s how we will have been.