Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sarah Connor, Where Are You When We Need You?

Does anyone remember the incredible scene at the beginning of Terminator 2 when we see Linda Hamilton, buff beyond belief, knocking out chin-ups like they're going out of style?  That scene made a big impression on me.  And she was a total badass throughout the movie.  I mean, really, check her out:

They say women have come a long way, baby.  And for sure, women are getting somewhere with respect to important things like professional life and being on the Supreme Court and whatever.  But when I think about T2, I think, Wait, is something going backward?

Because, you know, I saw Ocean's 12 or 13 or whatever it was, and I saw the Star Trek remake, and I saw lots of other blockbuster-y movies over the past few years.  None of them have any powerful or complicated or interesting women in them.  OK, I'm sure you can think of some counter-example but generally these days, if you want to see women being more than eye candy, you gotta go see Juno or Sunshine Cleaners or something like that.  Nothing against those movies -- they were great -- but you see what I'm getting at.

I'm annoyed about it, and even a little angry, maybe even leaning toward feeling a little strident about the whole thing.  And I say this as someone who actually has nothing against women as eye-candy.  I mean, I got nothing against it in principle.  I like watching women in beautiful clothes act seductive as much as the next person.

What's annoying is the absence of anything else.

There was a New Yorker article about a year ago that explained for why every movie these days fails the Bechdel test.  In a nutshell:  men and women both enjoy watching men do things; only women enjoy watching women do things.  So in a movie industry in which every movie has to make gazillions of dollars, every movie has to have both men and women in the audience, and so every movie has to feature men as the principal actors.

I've thought about this and brooded over it often since I read it.  If it's true, it might explain a lot, don't you think?  I mean, if men just enjoy watching men do things, then men will prefer having men around them in all sorts of contexts -- workplace, sports, music.  Even if it's just a small preference, it could really add up. 

I always used to think that it would be better if the whole eye-candy concept were unisex -- I mean, if men and women both could be the objects of visual desire.  It's not so far-fetched:  in Europe men fuss about their haircuts and buy nice shoes.

But this new idea -- that men are just more interested in men, and less interested in women, made the whole problem seem much more difficult.  Just having men join us in the sexual-object-parade isn't going to help with this problem at all, and it isn't going to make action movies suddenly have Linda Hamilton alongside George Clooney instead of . . . wait, who were the actresses in Oceans 13?

Oh right, there weren't any.


Tim said...

Is it significant that in T2, Sarah Connor was not really an integral part of the plot? She was mostly just one of two MacGuffins, the other being the super-chip that had to be destroyed. Once she was freed by her son and Ahnald, her role was not a whole lot more than to spout craziness and be managed by her son. (One measure of characters for movies of that sort is who got the lines engineered to be memes or culturally iconic; what were Sarah's big lines in T2?)

That chin-ups scene was awe-inspiring, but I remember being disappointed that she didn't then turn out to be a plotbadass, as opposed to (mostly) a different sort of eye-candy.

Patricia said...

Hi Tim, Hm ... Well you do seem to remember the plot better than I do -- probably I'm working partly with the fantasy plot that those chin-ups inspired in me!

But the Wikipedia plot summary makes it sound not too bad: " ... after having a horrific nightmare of a nuclear explosion she awakens with strengthened resolve and sets out to kill Miles Dyson. She wounds him at his home but finds herself unable to kill him in front of his family. Deducing her plan, John and the Terminator arrive and inform Miles of the consequences of his work ..."

But yes, of course, you're right, it is significant. I do think things may be worse now, though.