Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why are horror films still so gendered?

Sat down in the luxurious Metreon Theater (I kid this place is like a living Playstation, with snot-nosed kids and all still intact) in SF yesterday morning to watch the debut film of Breck Eisner, The Crazies.  Due to embargo, you'll have to wait 'till tomorrow to read my review, but I'll say this - it's a great, gory, tense bit of horror that had me on edge for all two hours.

That said, I was, have been, shocked at how the film manages to avoid the trappings of cheap characters produced only to have their heads pitchforked off, but still managed to craft a bevy a female characters seemingly pulled directly from the 1950s.  Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell) is a well written character, she's likable and flawed and at times a strong, smart and funny and on and on, but throughout the film the character is forced time after time in to damsel in distress situations.  She's tied up, she's threatened with a shotgun, she's nearly pulled through the window of a car, and each and every time (sans the last few moments of the film) she always turns, voluntarily or involuntarily to her wiry sheriff husband David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant). 

Again and again, David Dutton, town sheriff and all-around good guy is brought in to a situation where he has to put himself at risk to save his darling wife.  Even more shocking are the moments when his "emotional" and "head-strong" spouse is spouting off and David has to "calm her down."  It's strange, bad-taste leaving, and wonder why we as as a society able to build cyber-worlds still can't craft a female character in an action film that doesn't fall in to the arms of her male compatriot whenever shit gets rough.  Sure, Judy Dutton has some comeuppance moments, but they're played as just that, new additions to her character.  David Dutton doesn't have to worry about ever having to "get tough" when things get dangerous, oh no, he's a man, so he's hardwired to kill, kick ass and protect the feeble. 
This isn't just something I've seen lately in film either.  This is a widespread epidemic that just won't go away.  Did anyone else watch the Super Bro Bowl?  Or at least the seven hours of commercials that surrounded the eleven minutes of actually played football?  Oh you did?  So you also noticed that every single ad featured burly men drinking beer and their scantily clad wives scurrying about the kitchen or the yard or wherever?  Thought so.  And the Super Bowl isn't the event, it's the catalyst.  We're still pumping out films, television shows, and commercials (hell, books as well I'm sure) that are referring to the gender norms of forty years ago.  In a time when we sexuality as a whole is in total upswing, we're still, as Americans, broadcasting the idea that men are big burly tough guys and women are they big-breasted, small-waisted, good-in-the-kitchen side-kicks. 

And this, this just makes my head hurt.


Criterion Counsel: Wow, it's been so long since I've even peeked at the film, I'm going to need to start from frame one.  No worries though, I've got a nice big chunk of time tomorrow and the next day and I'm finishing at least one of Jacque Tati's little masterpieces. 

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