Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pardon Me While I Beat a Dead Horse

I don't mean to turn my blog into some sort of home to feminist (or would it be anti-feminist?) diatribes. It's one of those topics that can generate discussion and controversy, which is great when you want to drive traffic to your blog; but it gets old quickly. And yet... Sometimes things happen in real life that spur you on to write a post. A few weeks ago I was asked to write a post on another blog about whether women were treated fairly in comparison to men when written as action heroes. You wouldn't think this would be a hard topic to write on-- especially for me-- but let me tell you, I struggled with it. I threw up a post here asking what people thought of when I said "female superhero," originally envisioning the post would be about the more traditional comic book heroines. And while I got some good answers it failed to inspire a real dialog in my head that I could transfer to the page. Originally my problem stemmed from the fact that I was concentrating on costumed heroines and the only "flaws" I could think of, from a generalized standpoint, were the typically revealing costumes and over-exaggerated figures. Okay, they were physically idealized-- but is that a "flaw?" Didn't seem that way to me. Then I started pondering other female action heroes and landed on Ellen Ripley from "Alien" and Sarah Connor from "The Terminator" as well known female bad-a**es and and tried to see how they ranked in comparison to their male counterparts but had a hard time landing on specifically female flaws. Sarah is obsessed and maybe a little crazy-- but are women the only characters portrayed with these characteristics? Batman seems slightly obsessive doesn't he? Anyway, I struggled and cobbled together a post and submitted it, but it's not my best work by a long shot. It hasn't been published yet (and maybe won't be) and I won't be remotely bitter if it isn't because I just couldn't get any traction and probably hit the "submit" button just so I wouldn't have to agonize over it anymore. It also happens to be part of what prompted me to write my "Be a Man" post because I ended up thinking that some of the more recent male vs. female pairings have been more complimentary to the women than the men. So I thought, why not do a side-by-side comparison of some such pairings and see what conclusions I could come to. Lee Adama and Kara Thrace (Battlestar Glactica) On the surface Lee Adama would seem to be far more idealized that Kara Thrace. He's the super responsible son of Commander Bill Adama and a top notch fighter pilot while Kara is unpredictable, temperamental and sometimes flat-out crazy. However, Kara has had a far, far harder path than Lee. He gets no sympathy points from me from feeling like he has to live up to his old man's expectations when Kara survived a fairly heinous childhood and a prolonged stay in the hands of the cylons. Kara is miles ahead as the more complex character and one would have to take a very cursory look at her to write her off as inferior to Lee. At best I would say these characterizations rate a tie, but actually Kara, whether you like her or not, is more of a survivor than Lee even as you could say she is more flawed. Number Six and Gaius Baltar (Battlestar Galctica) Battlestar Galactica was the show for male/female pairings and I could also include Bill Adama and Laura Roslin, Saul and Ellen Tigh, Chief Tyrol and Callie etc. in this list, but I'm limiting myself to the two couples that made the largest impressions on me. I loved Six and Baltar even though most of their interactions were probably imaginary. It would be easy to dismiss Six as little more than eye candy (and Tricia Helfer is gorgeous), but Six sparked a civil war among the cylons due, largely, to her feelings for Baltar. She may have been the most significant cylon even though Ellen was the most mysterious. It should also be noted that Baltar could (and probably should) qualify as the most flawed character on the show. Was he crazy or narcissistic? Both for sure. He was also an abysmal leader. I liked Baltar, even when he became tiresome with his cult-leader preachiness, because he was always interesting. But I think the edge goes to Six in this match-up. Tony Stark, Pepper Pots and Natasha Romanoff (Iron Man 2) Tony is the leading man so he gets most of the good lines. Pepper is capable, but no superhero-- so match to Tony Stark right? Well, maybe. But if you're going to make a checklist of flaws, Tony wins hand down. He's brilliant and charismatic but his narcissism is so profound it nearly unwinds all of his hard work. But Pepper isn't the only woman who should be mentioned when it comes to "Iron Man 2." Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) is the heroic female counterpart to Iron Man and when it comes to flaws-- I can't think of any. She's beautiful, capable, focused and the best fighter in the room. She doesn't need no stinking suit of armor. So she posed for lingerie photos...something tells me she had a good reason. We might like Tony best, thanks to Robert Downey Jr.'s incredible acting, but on paper Tony's a bit of a jerk. Sam Witwicky and Mikaela Banes (Transformers) This one is sooo easy. Once they cast Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox in these roles, it was all over. Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on Shia, it's not his fault that he's not the manly type, but once he was cast as the son of Indiana Jones, I lost my ability to be polite. Why oh why was this kid cast against women who are so clearly out of his league? I know, I know-- it's the everyman thing. Though Shia, as Sam Witwicky, might be a likable guy, he seems kind of high strung and a bit nebbish compared to the popular Mikaela. She's given a slightly less-than-perfect background, but she's a beauty (aren't they all?) and she knows her way around a car. Sam just inherited some glasses. He steps-up though-- you have to give the character credit for that. But he loses points when he starts toying with Mikaela's feelings in the horrid second installment of these movies. When would a guy, who looks like that in real life, blow off a girl like Mikaela? Megan Fox isn't the best actress in the world, but I think the ladies win this one. Neo and Trinity (The Matrix) This one is tough. Neo is "the One" so he's written as an almost perfect character. He might have some growing pains, but the guy doesn't have any glaring faults. But Trinity is also a terrific female action hero. Interestingly these two also have a very good match-up as far as their real-life counterparts go. We might make fun of Keanu Reeves for his wooden acting, but I can't say he didn't do a good job as Neo. He's good looking, athletic and a credible match to Carrie Anne Moss. I can't pick a winner here because I can't pick any losers. Buffy and Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Vampire slayer vs. Vampire-- slayer wins right? Well, sort of. When "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" first aired I was tempted to write it off as a show geared toward teenagers that was as deep and interesting as... I don't know, some teen show I don't watch. But it was a good show and the Buffy/Angel dynamic was a big part of it. Buffy wasn't perfect but what other high school kid could have saved the world as many times as she did? She was fierce, sarcastic and somehow managed to go to school and slay demons at night. Angel was the vampire cursed with a soul and had a past as one of the most vicious vampires who ever existed. That's gotta rank pretty high on the list of flaws right? But, to the credit of the show's writers, Angel held his own and even rated a spin-off show all his own. In the end, it's pretty tough to pick favorites here. Okay, I secretly like Angel better. But don't tell anyone. Hercules and Xena Do you know I never see these shows on television anymore? That's a totally irrelevant aside, but I loved them. In fact, I'm going to start hunting down the DVD's once I'm done here. Like some of the other pairings here Xena and Hercules are both pretty great characters. There is no doubt that from a completely objective standpoint Hercules is the less-flawed character. It isn't because he's the son of a god, but because he never had a past life that included murder and mayhem like Xena. But, in a way, it's Xena's past that elevates her beyond Hercules. Xena not only had to recognize her evil acts, but she had to repent and attempt to atone for them. Like most cinematic heroines she was beautiful, but that had very little to do with her character. I love Lucy's Lawless as Xena because she did intimidation so well. No matter how perfect Hercules was written to be, I think Xena wins here because she's so much more interesting. Is it me, or does it seem like the ladies are doing very well here? Obviously there are a lot more pairings I could come up with that would, perhaps favor the men (Daredevil and Elektra comes immediately to mind) but these were the first ones to pop into my head because they come from television shows and movies I particularly like. It's also very subjective and many people will have different opinions and preferences. I also stayed away from romantic comedy pairings like the Seth Rogen/Katherine Heigl pairing I'm so fond of referencing because I was specifically trying to tackle the action hero genre. Just think how I could have skewed the results if I been allowed to include movies like "Juno" and anything with Ashton Kutcher? But, for me, the takeaway here is that women are not being poorly represented as action heroes. There might be a disproportionate focus on the way they look, but the characters are given a comforting amount of complexity-- and I didn't even have to compare Sarah Conner or Ellen Ripley to anyone to make that point. Thankfully they aren't the last word in well written, well acted heroines.


Arrgh said...

Now add up all the male female pairs where the female treats the male like he's an idiot, and then all the ones where the male treats the female like she's an idiot.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Hey, that post will be posted.

As for pairings, I am not sure it's fair to look at pairings this way. I think one character dominates and the other is the foil, created as a way of helping highlight or be a catalyst for the other character's actions.

That line might be blurred with characters on a long running tv show because they tend to swap dominance as writers try and figure out what more to do with a storyline. Also, on tv, remember different writers may handle episodes, and though a producer may hold the key to uniformity, the writer may color it a certain way.

T.D. Newton said...

A great post. Very interesting thoughts.

By the way, Buffy, Xena, and (I believe) Hercules are all offered on Netflix Watch Instantly (in case you can't find the DVD's fast enough or don't want to wait to get them to watch the shows). I've watched some episodes of the former two, but I've had too much going on to really pursue the entire serieses (not a word, but whatever).

Charles Gramlich said...

Neo and Trinity are a great match for sure. One of my favorites in SF. I liked Buffy but was not a big fan of Angel. But as characters they seemed well matched.

SQT said...

Arrgh-- Man, that could take all day.

Stu-- While I see what you mean, I'm not sure how else you would do it. Taking characters arbitrarily might not work either... I don't know. I mean, should I compare Hercules & Buffy? Would that make sense? To me it's important to see how they're written together and see how male and female parts are intended to stack up to each other. It's more revealing that way-- in my opinion.

T.D.-- *Perk* Netflix you say. I'll check that immediately.

Charles-- The original Matrix will always be one of my favorites. Buffy had to grow on me, but I ended up enjoying it.

BStearns said...

Woot! Angel for the win! I know, not the topic of the post, but I'm such a huge fan of Angel I just had to say it. But you do make some very valid points. A lot to think about. Keep it up!


SQT said...

BStearns-- Angel's great. I like David Boreanaz and "Bones" is probably twice as good as it would be without him.

Christine Purcell said...

Your mention of Natasha Romanoff wearing lingerie got me thinking.

What is the difference in the use of sexuality with male and female superheroes?

Do female superheroes use their sex appeal as a source of power more often than men? Are vampire stories so popular because male vampires use their embodiment of sex appeal as power?

Cleopatra allegedly said:
Women can use sex to get what they want.
Men can't, because sex is what they want.

I think Cleopatra just may have been a pretty smart lady.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I've been thinking this through and perhaps we are neglecting one of the great male/female combos of all time---Boris and Natasha. No, wait..that's just me being obnoxious. Never mind.

SQT said...

Christine-- Man, that's a great comment. Society has changed but have we reached the point where men can use sex as a means of power like women (as referenced in "Twilight?") I still don't think so, I think sex is still primarily something women can wield as a weapon better than men.

Stu-- What about Bullwinkle and Rocky?

Karen said...

Good post! You make some valid points. Trinity was cooler than Neo in the original Matrix. I don't count the rest of the trilogy.