The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Friday, April 16, 2010

"Hit Girl" ruptures the social fabric?

Kinda interesting...having a Facebook conversation with a major SF editor on the "black men's sex in Cinema" thing, and he went to IMDB, looked at the list of movies that have earned over 100 million and declared that I was wrong, that no one was having sex. I looked at the first 150 (out of 450) movies on the list, and found thirty. It is fascinating to me: when something is so common and plentiful, it must get to be like fish swimming in water. Another thing: I'm starting to suspect that this editor is Conservative. For whatever reason, Conservatives are more stubborn about this. Liberals get it in about two takes, Conservatives need about three. I have a suspicion it involves one of those perceptual lens things. It is NOT intelligence or good will (don't even go there!)

In some ways it's almost like going through the stages of dying: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. In fact, it feels almost EXACTLY like that. This is what makes me think that the Conservative mindset is based on a preassumption that racial bigotry is a thing of the past. Once this illusion is punctured, either the person becomes a little more Liberal, or they take the position that it is regrettable, but Conservative policies are still the healthiest and best approach to these issues. But never, not one single time, have I encountered a person who claimed to be a Conservative Republican who understood the implications of the "Sex in Cinema" thing before it was explained, debated, and evidenced. And that adds support to my position that Conservatives tend toward the "Nature" side of the "Nature versus Nurture" argument--they tend to believe that, in terms of social issues, we are in the best of all possible worlds, while Liberals tend to believe that that we can improve that world through social engineering.

I'm not suggesting one or the other position is true. I will say that I support the second position, since I see the inequalities as having been created by human agency. Another difference is that Conservatives tend to believe that discussions of race just create tension and violence--that if we just ignored it, we could move on with our lives and society. Liberals tend to believe that discussions are important. Again, I tend to agree with the second position, on the basis that racism seems to be hard-wired, and breeds in darkness. "All that is necessary for racism to triumph is for people of good will to pretend it will go away if we stop talking about it." But, again, that's just an opinion on my part.
##
"Kick-Ass" sounds like a ridiculously entertaining movie, and I can't wait. (The movie deals with the question: why aren't there real superheros, and what would they be like?) The prospect of 11-year old "Hit Girl" thrashing armies of grown men just makes me giddy. Apparently there is a scene where she is kinda whupped on, and several critics were horrified by this. Several fan boys felt this was hypocrisy--it's all right to show her whipping heads, but if SHE is hurt, well, there's something wrong with that.

Might I suspect that none of said Fan Boys have girl children? That they have no understanding at all of the depth of protectiveness that we, as a society, feel for little girls? I mean, again, you can kill an entire legion of adult men and that is perfectly fine--the acceptance of violence toward or between men is so accepted that we don't even notice. A little girl who can, well, Kick Ass is disturbing for a variety of reasons:
1) We haven't seen it.
2) Little girls are assumed to be the most vulnerable members of society. (I refuse to believe that there wouldn't be MORE ire and faster action if Catholic priests had been raping girls)
3) Women are controlled, world-wide, with threats of violence. The truth is that men are just as killable as women, and just as afraid of death. The game agreed on between men and women is: "we'll pretend to be helpless if you accept the more dangerous occupations and activities." Movies like "Kill Bill" or any Angelina Jolie film are revolutionary in the sense that the image of a powerful woman puts the lie to a fiction that underlies much of our social system, and has both benifited and oppressed men and women for all of our history.

Movies like "Kick Ass" play with one of the most sacred preassumptions of all--the helplessness of girl children. If you turn this one upside down...I'm not certain what the social consequences would be. The ripple would be unprecedented in human history.

Can anyone speculate what changes, positive and negative, would result from a perception that "Hit Girl" is the standard by which we should regard our girl children? Suspicion: Danger, Will Robinson. Here there be dragons.

29 comments:

Pagan Topologist said...

I have always loved stories about strong women, capable of violence if necessary. Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Modesty Blaise, Red Sonja, Friday, and others come to mind. Nancy Drew maybe, also, although she did not break the stereotype so soundly as did the others.

Marty S said...

I'm going to take this post as an excuse to post an-interesting fact that I have just become aware of which touches on the current female image/mind state in our society. There is a surgical procedure which places a band around the stomach to induce weight loss in the severely obese. Based upon the available data it appears that between 80 and 90 percent of the patients availing themselves of this procedure are female. Any thoughts on this.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Pagan Topologist, you'd probably like the PC Hodgell fantasy novels-- the female lead is very strong and dangerous. She's your basic heroic fantasy character-- claws, amnesia, high-level fighting and hypnotic dancing skills.....

Steve, girls have been raped by priests. It seems to be quite rare compared to boys.

Here's an overview of how black women are presented in the media. I don't watch enough tv or movies to have an opinion of it, but it would be surprising if the portrayal of black women wasn't problematic.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Off topic: Accupunture Demystified-- a series of articles saying that the energy/meridian model of acupuncture is the result of mistranslation, and it's really a method of getting the nervous system to react appropriately to pain and inflammation, and to restore homeostasis.

Shady_Grady said...

Marty I think the data you cite would exist because body weight tends to be more important to men than to women in determining attractiveness.

Reluctant Lawyer said...

Marty - I think that your data coincides with early comments regarding the male/female power/beauty dynamic. To put it bluntly, a fat man with enough money can still get a really attractive woman.

Marty S said...

The way this came to my attention is that I know of two women who have had this surgery in the past month and a third who is considering it. One of the two who had the surgery is young, in her twenties and having a problem attracting men This case fits the attract the other sex motive. But the other two women one who had the surgery and the other who is considering it are married and in their late thirties, so I'm no so sure attracting the opposite sex explains their cases.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

One of the people who has been made a saint, in the Catholic Church, is a girl named Maria Goretti. She is what they call a virgin/martyr. At the age of 11, in the year 1902, in Italy, she died of multiple stab wounds inflicted by a man who attempted to rape her. She is said to have forgiven her murderer on her death bed.

A few years ago, a news story made the rounds on several blogs I read. As I recall, the way the story went, an exhibitionist had been exposing himself to children at a Catholic school named for Maria Goretti (this is a random stranger exhibitionist, not a Catholic priest or anyone associated with the school). A group of Catholic schoolgirls pursued him, throwing rocks, and basically prevented him from getting away before police arrived (or something like that, I'm going from memory since I can't find the story at this point). Since a lot of women find the idea of being able to fight back and throw rocks at a sexual predator more appealing than the idea of being martyred and dying at his hand, the general blog reaction was, "Go, Catholic schoolgirls!"

In fact, strong women, and even strong girls, are appealing, but, given that most little girls can't, in fact, kick ass against adults, it's only natural that seeing said girls attacked is considerably less appealing.

I don't entirely agree with you on this, though: I refuse to believe that there wouldn't be MORE ire and faster action if Catholic priests had been raping girls.

I think that level of outrage goes like this:

1) Adult men molesting children (or very young teens) of either gender: Giant yuck. Very, very bad.

2) Adult men molesting barely not legal teenage boys (old enough that they might well be having sex with kids their own age): Bigger yuck than for girls of the same age, because a lot of people still have an extra yuck factor where homosexuality is concerned.

3) Adult men molesting barely not legal teenage girls (old enough that they might well be having sex with kids their own age): Most people would be angry about this, but some, especially if they wanted to think well of the adult men in question, might convince themselves that the girls were sluts who were asking for it, and some who were angry would still have enough yuck factor about homosexuality that they'd be less angry if it were a man and a girl.

4) Adult women with barely not legal teenage boys: Score! The kid got lucky! Much weaker anger at this one, because, absent the yuck factor that many people have for gay sex, it's hard for people to see a 16 or 17 year old boy as a sexual victim; they're supposed to want sex any chance they get.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

The way this came to my attention is that I know of two women who have had this surgery in the past month and a third who is considering it.

Oddly, everyone I've known personally who had this surgery was a man. I would expect it to be more frequent for women to get it, though.

Anonymous said...

Well, hopefully everything works out well for your (niece?) Marty. The lap band surgery isn't without some significant risks. The current image mind/ state of our society in a word, stinks. we see these extremes of youth and beauty on the big and small screen and little else. its not normal and no normal person can reasonably approach those ideal images. Jaime Lee Curtis has done some excellent articles and interviews touching on this subject. Yes she looks fantastic but she has a literal army at her disposal all dedicated to making her look good. someone can have lap band surgery lose weight be healthy and still not look anywhere near as good as what you see on tv. The thing is without the will power to control ones self the surgery wont matter. that why Steve's approach(the 101 program) has value. until you become your own ally, you work in circles, sabotaging yourself. As for Hit Girl hmm.. i believe she is a pre- pubescent assassin. I enjoy strong women but i think this is done simply for shock value. Im going to be open minded but im frankly sick of the whole anti-hero thing. Kick Ass looks to be a really nihilistic ride and i might just have to skip it. Langdon

Anonymous said...

"...The game agreed on between men and women is: 'we'll pretend to be helpless if you accept the more dangerous occupations and activities.'..."

Even today, many women and girls aren't allowed to learn non-sexual ways to earn a living (and learn to afford abstinence, lower their odds of dying of AIDS, lower their odds of dying in childbirth, etc.) because their mothers and fathers want them to depend on male sex partners for food and shelter. Those women and girls didn't agree to play this game even though some of the other people forcing them to *be* helpless (instead of pretending to be helpless) are female themselves.

Anonymous said...

"...'Kick-Ass' sounds like a ridiculously entertaining movie, and I can't wait. (The movie deals with the question: why aren't there real superheros, and what would they be like?) The prospect of 11-year old 'Hit Girl' thrashing armies of grown men just makes me giddy..."

From what I heard of the movie, it's still nowhere near as good as the young-women-fighting-*back* parts of your _Great Sky Woman_ and _Shadow Valley_ series.

"...Apparently there is a scene where she is kinda whupped on, and several critics were horrified by this. Several fan boys felt this was hypocrisy--it's all right to show her whipping heads, but if SHE is hurt, well, there's something wrong with that..."

You might find the comments on MetaFilter interesting! http://www.metafilter.com/91121/Now-open-my-Hello-Kitty-bag-I-think-Im-coming-up

For examples:

http://www.metafilter.com/91121/Now-open-my-Hello-Kitty-bag-I-think-Im-coming-up#3046132

"Ebert isn't against violence, he's against violence _by children_, as a role-model for other children. He didn't like the fact she was remorseless. He wants children to be child-like an innocent, or at least feel something when they've just killed a room full of dudes. In other words, he wants some element of reality and morality in movies with kids."

http://www.metafilter.com/91121/Now-open-my-Hello-Kitty-bag-I-think-Im-coming-up#3046138

"I went to a 10pm showing of I Am Legend at my local Brooklyn multiplex/firetrap. About a minute before the film began, a woman walked in with three kids, none of whom looked over the age of four. They didn't seem to enjoy it much. The lowlight was when one of the boys shouted/cried "I wanna go home. I don't wanna watch him kill the dog." I really wish there was an NC-13 rating instead of the pointless R."

http://www.metafilter.com/91121/Now-open-my-Hello-Kitty-bag-I-think-Im-coming-up#3046156

"...i think the interview is interesting in that there is a definite condemnation of sexualizing someone of this age, yet being disturbed about making her violent seems to be dismissed as a right-wing reaction, which i don't think is really fair. they seem to be trying to push it more toward potential reaction to a female in this kind of role as a kind of cover for the real reaction of a child in the role, but i imagine people would be as upset were it a boy. in any case, the authors knew they were waking a line with this, and surely they were hoping they would, so i don't think the criticisms should be viewed as unreasonable or prudish. i don't think it should be banned or censored, but i'm still happy that there are people around who are concerned about it."

http://www.metafilter.com/91121/Now-open-my-Hello-Kitty-bag-I-think-Im-coming-up#3046178

"From the second link: 'No one would care in the same if a 11-year-old boy said the c-word.'

"Really? I'd be pretty disturbed by that."

http://www.metafilter.com/91121/Now-open-my-Hello-Kitty-bag-I-think-Im-coming-up#3046179

"I'd like to think Ebert's worrying needlessly about kids as young as 6 seeing this movie (wouldn't most parents and theater owners are careful about young kids seeing films so rated?), and I haven't seen this film, so I'm speculating, but I can share his concerns about how violence is handled. The scene in the building lobby in The Matrix has always bugged me even where other violent scenes in the movie didn't. I think it's partly because the tone changes for that scene: violence isn't merely a fact of life in the narrative struggle, it's now... I don't know, cool. Some might say "glorified." It's about how awesome our protagonists are, how efficient they are while killing what are at best other human dupes/pawns -- and _stylish_ while doing it. If the whole movie had been that way, I think my experience with it would have been dark and sad..."

suaznne said...

"...The game agreed on between men and women is: 'we'll pretend to be helpless if you accept the more dangerous occupations and activities.'..."

I also take issue with this!
if it's true
then wouldn't it also be true
that people who are enslaved
also bear some responsibility
or agree to be slaves?

if you are kept from learning to read and write
kept away from paints
by the society in which you live
as most women were
for centuries
how is it exactly
evidence that men are better at these things?

Pagan
you read Alan Moore's Promethea?
fantastic strong women there

Anonymous said...

"...There is a surgical procedure which places a band around the stomach to induce weight loss in the severely obese. Based upon the available data it appears that between 80 and 90 percent of the patients availing themselves of this procedure are female. Any thoughts on this..."

I'm a woman and my first thought upon seeing a diagram of that band was "yikes, wouldn't that increase the odds of acid reflux like crazy?!" I mean, acid reflux is when some of the very corrosive digestive juices of your stomach go up the esophagus and STARTS TO DIGEST YOU. It freaked me out when I found out *that's* why my chest was hurting so much.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Look like lap band surgery sometimes cures acid reflux, and sometimes causes it.

I'm trying to think of very dangerous young women in fiction-- offhand, I've got The Bad Seed and The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Land-- both of them were just smart rather than personally violent, and Firestarter, where the girl had psychic abilities. I'm not sure whether the latter two are young enough to belong in this discussion. Wednesday Adams was satisfyingly spooky, but I don't know if she killed anyone.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of strange elective surgeries that both some men and some women can elect, see this: http://www.medindia.net/news/breakingnews/Four-In-One-Teenager-from-UK-Wants-To-Be-Kidney-Donor-33136-1.htm I bet some other men and women in recent decades have also done this too. :)

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Violence by a child that struck me as somewhat realistic: the point in A High Wind in Jamaica where Emily Thornton kills a man.

Why it struck me as at least somewhat realistic: This little girl has been kidnapped by pirates, threatened with sexual abuse by one of them, and is faced with a stranger (non-threatening, but she doesn't know that) who doesn't speak her language; in fear she strikes him and as luck would have it manages to hit his head with an object in the right place and with the right amount of force to kill him. She's then horrified by what she's done. She's neither a particularly kick ass little girl, nor a particularly remorseless one, just one caught in a situation where practically anyone might kill.

Shady_Grady said...

Cathy Ames from East of Eden was pretty bad as a child and only became more evil with age.

Orphan had this but not really.

Claudia from Interview with a Vampire

The girl in Hard Candy .

Shady_Grady said...

"However chastely, Mr. Vaughn plays on that unsettling image, which shores up the false impression that because Hit-Girl is a powerful figure she’s also an empowering one. A supergimmick, Hit-Girl by contrast is a heroine for these movie times: a vision of female might whittled down to pocketsize."
NYT review

Foxessa said...

"...The game agreed on between men and women is: 'we'll pretend to be helpless if you accept the more dangerous occupations and activities.'..."

Absolutely disagree!

If this was so why are so many men so furiously determined that the military women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are NOT SEEING COMBAT when they are? One woman who is no longer in army has been stalked and harassed, threatened with rape, because, you known, she's lying about having fired weaponry while doing convoy escort duty and so on and so forth.

The Roman Catholic Church, btw, is notorious over a thousand year for extorting sexual services from girls and young women. But that's such a natural behavior by all men all over the world throughout any level of society that the Church never had the need to hide it like it does the activities of the pedophile priests.

Love, C.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"I refuse to believe that there wouldn't be MORE ire and faster action if Catholic priests had been raping girls"

I readily believe such for the simple reason that girls can be impregnated, while boys can't. At the most basic level, this severely complicates the cover-up. Some fraction of the rape victims will get knocked up, period, and no numbers of denials or dioceses transfers will disappear the live evidence. Such illicit pregnancies ill agree with the Catholic cult of virginity. Further, imagine how such would disrupt the mores and marriage dynamics of traditional Catholic societies. Imagine a staunch Catholic family raising a girl in the old European way, carefully guarding her chastity so as to fetch primo husband material, only to find their best laid plans foiled by Father Confessor.

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Marty S said...

I don't think "Hit Girl" ruptures the social fabric. I think it reflects the changes that are occurring in our society. I went to my grandson's soccer game yesterday. Kids in the 11-12 range. About a quarter of the team was female, including the best player on the team. The coach was also female

Anonymous said...

Shall I have feelings, or should I pretend to be cool? Will I seem hopelessly square if I find “Kick-Ass” morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point? - Roger Ebert.

don't think "Hit Girl" ruptures the social fabric. I think it reflects the changes that are occurring in our society - Marty

Forgive me if Im a wee bit sad, and believe me this seems almost bizarre because i am a great fan of comics and action movies but lately it seems the moral component of such stories is almost absent. In Mad Max the hero deals out carnage and death yes but he has reason. the brutal death of his family sends him over the edge. Are any such motivations evident in Kick- Ass? I haven't seen the movie but i suspect not. Remember the controversy over Death Wish? It seems Quaint now. Paul Kersey's loss of humanity and the chilling smile and trigger- gesture at the end. I regretfully suspect that younger people wouldn't get it not at all. Kick Ass doesn't tear the social fabric. Instead it shines a light on how tattered it has become.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Some fraction of the rape victims will get knocked up, period, and no numbers of denials or dioceses transfers will disappear the live evidence.

That actually has happened. In my own diocese, a Catholic priest was arrested for molesting two teenage girls. One of the girls reported that he had molested her for three years, impregnated her, and paid for her abortion: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/EX-PRIEST+CHARGED+IN+MOLESTING.(News)-a098783622

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Support for Steve's general premise: British people whose lives are working well are apt to become less prejudiced against immigrants if there's immigration in their communities. Communities with lack of qualifications and poor social cohesion become more prejudiced.

I'm not sure how this squares with historical evidence of high status people being actively prejudiced, but it's interesting.

Marty S said...

Nancy: I would hesitate reading too much into the report you cite. It is exceedingly easy to find interpretations of numbers that agree with what you want to find. As an example last night a CNN report gave me a chuckle. Discussing the state of the economy, they reported that the number of people behind in their mortgage payments had declined indicating an improvement in the economy. But just two minutes before they indicated that a million home had been foreclosed on in the past year. Well that's a million less people behind in their mortage but has nothing to do with economic improvement.

FishEagle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FishEagle said...

I disagree with you that "liberals tend to believe that discussions are important." Liberals have a tendency to shut down all conversations about race with accusations about racism.

I also think you have misunderstood women fundamentally in your point that "men are just as killable as women." Woman fear so much more than being killed. Have you had any exposure to the mental problems that usually develope in rape victims? The game agreed on between men and women is rather "we'll do whatever you ask as long as you leave us out of your targets" in terms of sexual violence.

Trust me. It's deeply embedded in our instincts. Thirty years after I was raped I still struggle because I don't remind myself enough about what happened to me when I was a child. But when the fear creeps back into my daily routine I know where to find its source. I survived the ordeal when I was only 3 years old, which involved both my parents, and personally I don't know of a single person that required more courage to make it. (Hey, this is an anonymous post so I'm just laying it all out there. I'm proud of my achievements.) I am intimately familiar with the limitations of little girls and I find the whole Hit Girl concept, as explained in your post, rather funny.