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Exploitation POW! : Why I Won’t See Sucker Punch, and You Shouldn’t Either

Essay

Editor’s Note: If I had the time to wrestle with the outrage that Sucker Punch engenders in me, I wouldn’t have any time left over to run a blog. Fortunately for me, Zoe Chevat did all the wrestling I could have asked for.

Don’t get me wrong; I love an excuse to slaughter allegorical giant samurai as much as the next Terry Gilliam fan. I like a good mecha fight, I don’t mind trading in my gothic fishnets for a bronze raygun every now and then, and I am certain that Jon Hamm‘s chin remains as chiseled as ever, no matter what size screen it’s on.

But I remain, knowing very few details beyond what I’ve seen in the trailer, disinclined to fork over a wad of sweaty single bills to see Sucker Punch.

Indeed, I am disinclined to spend $11-$13 on any film whose trailer alone sends me into paroxysms of disgust. (Given the slim confines of a graduate student budget, this is probably a wise choice.) My disgust is squarely in the arena of feminist concern, the main problem of which seems to be how to communicate one’s objections without ranting histrionics. I will try for everyone’s sake to explain, without the customary verbal violence, exactly why I find Sucker Punch so objectionable. This is saying something, because, much like the sight of Ann Coulter on television, the trailer for Zack Snyder‘s latest CG-fest sends me for the rawhide sticks to avoid chewing into my couch in my rage.

So please, allow me to ruminate, while I illuminate the possibilities.

I have the same problem with Snyder’s high-kicking girl-revenge festival of maim and bombast as I did with parts of the otherwise enjoyable Kill Bill; it’s unbridled invocation of exploitation. I would argue that all of Snyder’s movies are exploitive on both sides of the gender divide; 300 was riddled with enough Photoshopped beefcake and shiny nipples to put the Fagles translation of The Iliad to shame. But these things are, as we have seen, different for girls.

It’s about power, ladies, and ladies, and gents. Power and the Gaze, that concept your high school feminist art history teacher liked to rattle on about while you were listening to music under your hoodie. The reason this brand of exploitation is different is that, when female characters rally and kick ass, it’s through the prism of a biased gaze. Women in these movies only take revenge after abuse and humiliation by captors, often of an overtly sexual nature. These scenes of abuse are presented to the audience as another in a chain of action sequences, expected to command as much rapt attention as an exploding 747. Using rape or other forms of sexualized physical abuse to elicit audience outrage is a cheap trick . I didn’t care for it when Battlestar Galatica did it, and I sure as hell don’t care for it from the director of Watchmen (which also contained a near-rape scene that played out longer than necessary). This pattern establishes a world in which the ‘powerful’ female avatar is still an object without power, because she is still subject to the appraising gaze of the director and the viewers.

Moreover, the petite bloodthirsty girly-girls of Sucker Punch still bare their midriffs and cleavages even in what is supposedly their own fantasy scenarios. Maybe I’m alone here, but when I am imagining myself kicking some high-fantasy ass, it’s sheathed in the sort of Kevlar weave, full-body armor that would put a Nolan-verse Batman to shame. Leather hot-pants, after all, have a tendency to ride up when one is jumping out of bomber jets into frenzied combat.

Moral of the story? I don’t think there’s anything particularly innovative about a panty-baring schoolgirl fighting robots. I don’t think that it’s healthy for young girls to see, especially young girls who are already having a difficult time competing for space in a male-dominated geek subculture. If I want that sort of entertainment, lads, I can turn the entertainment dial back about 20 years and watch some bad VHS dubs of anime.

I want the power to land some sucker punches fully clothed more than I want Emily Browning‘s flushed pink flesh on display for my edification.

Perhaps I am wrong about Sucker Punch.

Somehow, though, I doubt that I am.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog, Anachrolush.

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