Anita Sarkeesian is back with the fourth video in her Tropes vs Women In Video Games series. We’ve moved on from Damsels in Distress to a pair of separate but related tropes: The Smurfette Principle and Ms. Male Character. Ms. Pac-Man, this one’s for you.
The dismal state of this summer’s blockbusters is multidimensional: not only did big-budget films generally perform poorly, but they also were conceptually and emotionally hollow. The Lone Ranger didn’t seem to understand why Johnny Depp in redface could possibly be a bad thing, and the failure of the Smith-Smith-fronted After Earth to draw in crowds boggled the minds of film studios everywhere. When the promising prospect of Elysium turned out to be a moralistic bull in a china shop, the summer sci-fi set seemed doomed.
Is there anything to salvage from this black hole of summer cinema? I think there is: Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, which stands out from the crowd of half-baked action/sci-fi juggernauts for one reason: it knows what it is. It knows that it’s a visually-amazing action flick– but what’s even more interesting is that it knows how to subvert pieces of the genre other films blindly pay homage to. In particular, Pacific Rim has a way of smashing gender-based action movie tropes like they’re Kaiju skulls.
Welcome to the third installment of Feminist Frequency’s investigation of gendered tropes in video games, where we’re still, probably not surprisingly, covering all the bases of the Damsel in Distress: including the not-quite-equivalency of role reversals and the unhelpfulness “ironic” sexism. I know from personal experience that the latter is one of those concepts that still escapes a lot of folks. Enjoy!
Sarkeesian’s first entry in this series received over one million views on YouTube and like before, comments are wisely disabled on this latest installment. If you need a reason why, shortly after the video was uploaded, Sarkeesian tweeted this message, “Looks like my harassers abused YouTube’s flag function to get my new Tropes vs Women video removed. Not the first time it’s happened.” [Editor's note: We'd hoped the video would be back up already but it's not. We will update as soon as it is. In the meantime, you can read the transcript.] [Edit: The video is back up!]
Trigger warning: the video contains scenes of violence against women.
Anita Sarkeesian runs a blog called Feminist Frequency and a long running, fascinating webseries of the same name where she examines the ways in which media and most often modern popular culture subtly and not-so-subtly support and perpetuate misogynistic ideas. I love her videos not because I necessarily agree with everything she’s ever said ever (you know, because we are not a single consciousness) but because when I do disagree with her, her detailed approach prompts me to calmly, privately examine why. This is not the case for 100% of human beings, however, and when she began a Kickstarter campaign to gain the means to expand her series to cover video games, it became the go-to example of overblown, vicious, flailing hate directed at a woman by self-identified members of the video game community. The net result of the harassment campaign (in numbers anyway, which is not to discount important qualitative things like personal peace of mind, or the outside perception of the video gamer community) was to encourage others to fund her campaign more than twenty-six times over what she’d initially asked for.
Naturally, the first video in her series is great: slickly edited, reaching back to Greek myths and forward to modern remakes of classic games, and she opens it with an idea that we here at The Mary Sue are all to familiar with: “Remember that it’s both possible and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media while being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.”
We’ve all read enough books and watched enough movies to know that the surest way to make sure that a certain person is in your presence is to start saying things out loud that you would never want them to hear. And from the tone of voice of all these characters when they realize it and say “They’re standing right behind me, aren’t thety?” one can only assume that they’re familiar with the trope, too. So why hasn’t anyone turned this particular, apparently magical, phenomenon to their own purposes?
The next time the Joker escapes from Arkaham Asylum, maybe Batman should try smack talking him a bit in front of Robin and see what happens.
Magic Mike is not a movie that’s been pinging very loudly on my radar, and so it wasn’t really until today that I figured out what it’s all about: Channing Tatum as a veteran male stripper tutoring a younger guy (while dating said young guy’s sister) and deciding that though the work certainly gives him an ego boost he no longer finds it very fulfilling to be appreciated for his physical qualities: it hard to find his own self worth off the stage.
And that’s pretty interesting, as we don’t get a lot of serious depictions in our media of male characters who have made careers out of their looks alone, much less time spent on the personal struggles such a character might have with being in that position, like having to be encouraged by a female significant other (often it’s the other way around) to remember that they have other qualities that they could build a life on. (In the titular Mike’s case, he makes custom furniture). The loose woman who’s shown to be incomplete emotionally because she encourages men to objectify her and must be rescued by a loving man is a practically ancient story. According to director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin, that sort of gender flip was what interested them in making the movie in the first place, and between them and Matthew McConaughey, Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer, who play the movie’s male stripper characters, that process has been kind of revelatory.