Girls Gun Wild

Friday, September 28, 2012

My dad likes science fiction movies from the 50s and 60s: Forbidden Planet, It Came from Outer Space, War of the Worlds.  Even before Mystery Science Theater started spoofing the cheesier of these flicks, we had set up a “zone of sarcasm” in front of our TV.  Armed with Red Baron French bread pizza, which always burned the roof of my mouth, and Diet Coke, watching old movies became a Saturday night tradition.  I mean, who can miss a showing of Jack (Father) Frost?  While I loved these old movies, what always annoyed me were the screaming women.  You know the ones.  In the corner.  Horrified.  Too frozen with fear to help the protagonist who was, invariably, male.  It wasn’t until the 70s that the woman even thought of smashing a vase over the head.  Hooray for feminism.  I’d like to credit Charlie’s Angles with the great leap forward, but the opening line, “once upon a time there were three little girls . . .” doesn’t sound very liberated to me.  And of course, they are Charlie’s angels.  But I digress.

The Scream of Fear

Charlie’s Angels

Today, however, everywhere you look you find a strong, female protagonist.  While we occasionally had strong female leads before the 1990s, many times they were over-sexualized or had some other unliberated "hang-up."  Starting in the 90s, however, we begin to see the era of a brainy and brawny female.  Perhaps this is because this is the age when the daughters of the feminist revolution reached maturity.  Hard to say.  An examination of our modern female protagonists might tell reveal something.  There are so many great female heroes that it is difficult to narrow the discussion down to look at history and trends.  But what the hell, let’s give it a try:

Meet Katniss Everdeen
Age: 16
World: Panem, District 12
The facts: Dad is dead.  Mom is a shell.  She has to care for her sister.  Life sucks. A lot. Living in a repressive dystopian society where she is forced to eat squirrels and has bread thrown at her.  What sucks worse?  She has to volunteer to enter the Hunger Games to save her sister from a terrible fate.  But, she wins.  That’s good, right?

Meet The Bride, Beatrix, or I prefer her moniker, Black Mamba
Age: 20s
World: Ours, but she was once part of an underground assassin organization called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad
The facts: She is shot and left for dead by her former assassin pose, while pregnant, then she wakes up to find herself raped, childless, and having lost time due to a nasty little coma.  She avengers her child’s death only to learn her child is still alive and well.

Meet Trinity
Age: 20s
World: There are two.  One is called the Matrix.  The other is a really unfortunate future where we live underground and all our clothing comes from Hot Topic.
The facts: Trin, that’s what I call her ‘cause in my mind we’re tight like that, is a cyberpunk bad ass.  She manipulates the Matrix like a 1950’s female screamer manipulates a set of pearls.  But what is her purpose in the Matrix?  Well, her classic line of “dodge this” can be directed back at her.  No starring role for you, Miss Lycra.  We have Neo for that.  In the end, Trin’s main job is to find her soul-mate, hover really well, then die as she assists her soul-mate, the male protagonist, in his quest to save humanity.

Meet Hermione Granger
Age: YA (some HP fan please tell me her proper age; 19, no?)
World: Muggle/Wizarding/Orlando Theme Parks
The facts: Hands down, the smartest person, in her cohort, in the Harry Potter universe.  Thanks, J. K.  We know she can crack off a spell like nobody’s business, but in the end she is a side-kick to the lovably reluctant hero.  We all know his name.  And we love him, so we don’t mind.

What do all these women tell us about, well, women?

Having a Brain is a Good!

Clearly, Hermione has come to be a symbol of the value we place in society on women’s intelligence.  Neither Harry nor Ron would have survived anything that happened without Hermione.  Potter, one of the most loved protagonists of the last two decades, has shown himself to be entirely dependent on female wisdom.  Before Hermione, we had Trinity cracking databases so well that she caught the attention of Morpheus and the real world.  How does one get free of the Matrix?  You need to be special.  You need to be smart.  It was her wicked technical support skills that won her a “Get out of the Matrix free” card.  Being smart can save you from life in an amniotic pod.  That, as Oprah might say, is a good thing.


Having a Weapon is Good!

Katniss and her bow. The Bride and her Hanzo sword.  Chicks with weapons.  We dig it.  We loved Angie Jolie in Wanted, the Walking Dead fans love Michonne, LOST fanatics loved Kate AND Juliet.  Have gun, will travel.  But when did women get to have a gun?  The Angels did and that was the late 70s.  In the 80s, there were a slew of cop shows, think Cagney and Lacey, with females in the leading roles.  Slowing but surely as the feminist agenda became the feminist reality, women started to appear on the screen much more frequently in totally bad ass roles.  By 1986, Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver’s) second appearance in the Alien franchise we have a female hero who is smart and knows how to shoot an automatic.  She saves lives that men foolishly waste—oh yeah, and she saves the little girl too.  That’s just how she rolls.  No one calls Ripley a “little girl” and she is no one’s “angel.”  Ripley is one of the “fore-mothers” of the Girls Gun Wild agenda.  With Ripley, it became—okay—for women to be smart and tough.  But with toting all those weapons around, are women still sexy?

Having Curves is My Business, Not Yours

In one of the final scenes of the 1979 Alien movie, Ripley has to get undressed down to her panties before doing final battle with the Alien.  In the ‘86 film we again see her disrobed.  Our fore-mother sure bared her assets a lot.  In 1999, the first Matrix film was released.  Trin rocked her lycra which hugged her body so tightly even I felt claustrophobic.  In 2003, Kill Bill’s Bride donned a one-piece yellow jumpsuit.  Nothing says “sexy” like a one-piece yellow jumpsuit.  Seriously, what was wardrobe thinking?  Perhaps, I venture, they were thinking that it was not black spandex that makes a woman beautiful.  Perhaps we were seeing progress?  Perhaps we liked a woman because she had heart, and skill, and a brain?  No, can’t be.  Along comes Hermione and Katniss.  Suddenly practicality reins over sexiness.  Emma never had to put on a push up to earn respect.  Katniss’ practicality saves her freaking life.  This subtle shift in popular literature, while we are still completely saturated with sexual images, does seem to suggest that sex is not everything.  In fact, in our completely over-sexualized society, perhaps sex has become empty.

I like to think that the influx of practical female protagonists who have brains, weapons, and curves that only they care about says something positive about society.  I really like that young women have Hermione and Katniss to admire in a world full of Kardashians, Paris Hilton and her wanna-be’s, and other dog-toting brainless fashion-bots.  The message that being witty and strong might be more important than being sexy is a great message for young women.  These women are just fine being themselves.  They really don't need to be more than they are to be happy and of worth.  While they both choose love, it is done authentically.  Hermione never had to show her g-string to land Ron, and Katniss didn’t do a porno to get famous and then win over Peeta.  These women had something more to offer.  And they did it in the coolest way possible, by acting like regular people (even if in extraordinary circumstances.)
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Dispatch 2

Friday, September 21, 2012

A book was produced.  An author rejoiced.  Inside: lives are saved and lost--but then they get up and walk around, what's up with that?  I am seeing strange things.  I am hearing strange things.  I am in love.  Who will save us?  Must it be me?
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Vampires Are Dead—Again

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On a warm spring day back in 1999, I stood outside of Anne Rice’s house hoping to catch a glimpse of the brilliant mind that created the Interview with a Vampire series.  I was in love with Lestat and the idea of being a "real" writer.  I managed to catch a glimpse of the back of Rice’s head as she rode away in a limo.  While Rice no longer owns the beautiful New Orleans mansion, the experience was enough to make me feel like I was part the vampire trend rampant at the time.  Lestat was the vampire for our grungy, goth age.  Who, then, is the vampire for this age?  Is Edward the (sparkly) face of the vampire of the first decade of the 2000's?  As we roll toward the end of the Mayan calender, I would suggest that we have entered another reality.  The vampire, dear Dr. VanHelsing, is dead.
Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of MysteryI’ve always liked vampire stories.  My dad took a friend and I to see Dracula in '92, and I developed a crush on Gary Oldman (aka Sirius Black--see below).  In fact, my favorite books as a child were the Bunnicula Series.  I remember reading The Celery Stalks at Midnight with great delight.  If you’re not familiar with the books, I suggest you check them out.  They chronicle the tale of a "vampire" rabbit.  As a scholar, I have studied Slavic folklore and early literary works like John Polidor's The Vampyre--a cheap rip off of Lord Byron's "Fragment of a Novel".  It seems that vampires or vampire-like beings have been noted in almost every culture.  Some scholars date the earliest vampire to ancient Sumerian civilization.  For the most part, I’ve always been “checked into” the vampire craze.  More recently, I loved the first Underworld movie.  We have entered the era of a strong female protagonist.  Ladies, we'll have no more shrieking in the corner thank-you-very-much.  As for the Underworld franchise, it has now gone down the same road from which the Highlander series never returned.  Alas.  I watched Blade with a woman who screamed: “Look out!  He’s behind you!” at Snipes all through the movie.  The day-walker ignored her.  But she might as well been shouting to the "race" of vampires as a whole.  Something was stalking them, but it wasn't Buffy.

When Twilight came on stage, I was not disgruntled like many vampire traditionalists.  Meyers did a great job of capturing the essence of a new kind of contemporary vampire.  As Nina Aurbach so eloquently put it, “every age embraces the vampire it needs.”  Edward appeals in Beatle-esque fashion to hordes of young women today.  “Twi-hards” should not be ridiculed.  Instead we should seek to understand the vein that Meyer hit—pun intended—and follow it to its natural conclusion.  While True Blood is still hot and we have another Twilight movie on the way—assuming we can all get past the fact that Stewart is a cheater--it appears that the most recent vampire "ride" is coming to an end.  The vampire doesn't seem to "do it" for us anymore.  But, why? 

Vampires have generally reflected the fears of the society from which they come.  Whether it is the fear of improper burial, contamination or disease, societal disconnect from sexuality, or the need to find someone who will love us “for reals,” the vampire serves a purpose.  The vampire reflects the fears of the society.  But what happens when a society is numbed?  Are vampires still scary?    For many, the answer is no.  With Twilight, we learn that the only one who can really, really love and understand us is someone who is dead inside.  Nice.  He might love you forever, but it’s only because you are both divorced from any sense of humanity.  The vampire has lost its punch, but it’s not Twilight’s fault.  In fact, Meyers clearly sees that the dead lover is the only effective lover we can possible have in western society where more than half of marriages end in divorce. 

We are numb to even the scariest of the bogey men in our closets.  No wonder we are dreaming up legions of zombies invading our streets.  We seek to understand our reality by putting a face on it, but Rice’s romantic Lestat just does not serve anymore and Edward just frustrates many.  We no longer have patience for lace collars, gentlemanly fiends, or poetic creatures of the night.   Our id is searching for a face for the great the dissatisfaction we feel with the general state of the world.  It is rather revealing that even a blood-sucking undead creature can’t serve as a figure of transference for our malaise.  As a result, the vampire is dead again.  Only time will tell if--or in what form--they will next be resurrected. 

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