Ewoks and Feminist Criticism
September 15, 2015 7:56 AM   Subscribe

If you like Return Of The Jedi but hate the Ewoks, you understand feminist criticism - (slavc) An article by Caroline Siede at the A.V. Club.

Some good links in the linked article.
posted by under_petticoat_rule (48 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
I read this yesterday and immediately passed it around. Frustrating that this has to be explained, but the article is great nonetheless.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:00 AM on September 15, 2015


I like the movie and the ewoks but I also get the article. It was a great analogy.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:00 AM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


It would be impossible to create a non-sexist Age of Ultron movie. Feminism etc cannot exist within the paradigm of a superhero blockbuster.
posted by Nevin at 8:04 AM on September 15, 2015


In her criticism of video games, Anita Sarkeesian repeats that it's possible to like games and yet critique their use of sexist tropes, and yet few if any of her detractors seems to acknowledge it.
posted by Gelatin at 8:08 AM on September 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


It would be impossible to create a non-sexist Age of Ultron movie. Feminism etc cannot exist within the paradigm of a superhero blockbuster.

This seems like an uncreative and dull-minded way of approaching genre fiction.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:11 AM on September 15, 2015 [57 favorites]


It would be impossible to create a non-sexist Age of Ultron movie. Feminism etc cannot exist within the paradigm of a superhero blockbuster.

Counter: Hollywood just needs to embrace non-sexist superhero comics (and the comics world needs to pitch the women in refrigerators trope.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:11 AM on September 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Feminism etc cannot exist within the paradigm of a superhero blockbuster.

I feel like "it hasn't yet" isn't quite the same thing as "it can't." Like the article says, having more than one woman onscreen would be a big step in the right direction.

(so would a She-Hulk show that's basically just Ally McBeal with occasional superpowers, c'monnnnn, Aisha Tyler is RIGHT THERE just CALL HER ALREADY)
posted by nonasuch at 8:15 AM on September 15, 2015 [36 favorites]


And when a character who’s supposed to be smart makes dumb choices—like running away from dinosaurs in high heels—it hurts the realism of the film (just like when tiny bears are able to take down Stormtroopers by throwing rocks at them).

Honestly, that's one of the most delightful bits of Jurassic World. Evidently the actress absolutely insisted on wearing the heels, feeling it was important to the character, even though the male director tried to convince her otherwise.

But the heels themselves are a marvelous example of an unrealistic minor element in a scifi movie becoming and then transcending their distraction to add a bit a surreal humor.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:15 AM on September 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


People keep telling me it's possible to enjoy things despite problematic elements, but I don't understand how. One bad apple spoils the whole barrel, so how can you keep on liking something once it's been tainted? (This is also retroactive. If you make a terrible sequel to a movie I liked, I will no longer be able to enjoy the original movie.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:16 AM on September 15, 2015


It would be impossible to create a non-sexist Age of Ultron movie. Feminism etc cannot exist within the paradigm of a superhero blockbuster.

Genre wise, of course they can (and AoE was hardly sexist). But in the day to day reality of creating a blockbuster superhero flick in an industry dominated by sexist people who hold most of the purse strings, I see your point.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:17 AM on September 15, 2015


OMG Aisha Tyler as She-Hulk??? That would be so rad.
posted by Kitteh at 8:19 AM on September 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


We’ve fallen into an all-or-nothing rut with feminist criticism lately. Battle lines are immediately drawn between movies that are “feminist” (i.e. “good”) and “sexist” (i.e. “bad”). And that simplistic breakdown is hurting our ability to actually talk about this stuff.

This describes almost all forms of "criticism" today, not just feminist criticism.
posted by dogwalker at 8:20 AM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


(and AoE was hardly sexist)

I like that you're spending your day telling people that they're wrong about movies being problematic.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:24 AM on September 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I remember a discussion somewhere, possibly here, where it was revealed that running in high heels actually isn't unrealistic.
posted by I-baLL at 8:25 AM on September 15, 2015


Found a link that the discussion referenced:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newsvideo/weirdnewsvideo/10304486/Woman-breaks-world-record-for-100m-run-in-high-heels.html

Just thought that I'd point that out since I didn't know that as well.
posted by I-baLL at 8:27 AM on September 15, 2015


The Geena Davis article she links is well worth reading:

The basics are that for every one female-speaking character in family-rated films (G, PG and PG-13), there are roughly three male characters; that crowd and group scenes in these films — live-action and animated — contain only 17 percent female characters; and that the ratio of male-female characters has been exactly the same since 1946.
posted by rory at 8:33 AM on September 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


Nor is it great that the wives (who go on to be complex characters) are introduced hosing each other down like they’re auditioning for a Carl’s Jr. commercial.

Interesting take. For me it works thematically it works if you view as Max's first look at the woman, which is all male gazey, because hey he likes women. But he never treats them that way, because they're much more than their physical appearance.

So there's different ways to view movies and individual scenes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:58 AM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


People keep telling me it's possible to enjoy things despite problematic elements, but I don't understand how. One bad apple spoils the whole barrel, so how can you keep on liking something once it's been tainted? (This is also retroactive. If you make a terrible sequel to a movie I liked, I will no longer be able to enjoy the original movie.)

Well, the thing is, I can't think of a single media property I enjoy that someone else can't find a problematic element in, so if I have to stop liking something that's been "tainted" (which is kind of ridiculous, given that if you were born and raised in the US you were raised in a racist, sexist, classist culture and your beliefs and personality are similarly tainted, omfg), what does that leave me with?
posted by palomar at 8:58 AM on September 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


Anita Sarkeesian repeats that it's possible to like games and yet critique their use of sexist tropes, and yet few if any of her detractors seems to acknowledge it..
Well, it's not like supporters are much different, mind. Like the article pointed out (and dogwalker reinforced above), any criticism at this point is almost binary. Either something is or isn't and that's it. At best, you can argue on which side of the line the thing is, but not the line itself.

OMG Aisha Tyler as She-Hulk ___________ ??? That would be so rad.
Fixed.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:59 AM on September 15, 2015


People keep telling me it's possible to enjoy things despite problematic elements, but I don't understand how. One bad apple spoils the whole barrel, so how can you keep on liking something once it's been tainted?

This might seem dismissive, FoB, but I mean this question with absolute sincerity. If this is how you feel, how do you find any thing to enjoy in life at all? Like if you look closely enough, EVERYTHING in the world is tainted with some kind of badness, not just your favorite cultural property. And very few of us are legitimately at the gate trying to burn down capitalism even though many of us enjoy some sort of benefit from it at the eventual harm of someone else.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:05 AM on September 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Feminism etc cannot exist within the paradigm of a superhero blockbuster.

I wouldn't put it quite like this. I do think adolescent male power fantasies are likely to be an unrewarding place to look for nuanced and critical depictions of human behavior.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:06 AM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Star Wars bait and switch!

Valid article, none the less.
posted by Atreides at 9:08 AM on September 15, 2015


the scene where Max first sees the wives is lampshading/deconstructing the "straight men are always filled with lust for attractive women regardless of the situation" trope.

Max sees the wives washing themselves off with a hose and using bolt cutters to escape their chastity belts. Max looks at this scene with lust; we see through his eyes as he does so. we have been primed by our long cultural training in how to interpret film scenes to interpret Max's lustful gaze as being about sexual attraction and desire to possess women, and so that's how we initially interpret this shot. Max isn't stupid (he's crazy). But because we expect straight male action movie characters to be stupid in this particular way, we're surprised when it's revealed that Max isn't lusting after the wives. Instead, he's lusting after the water (omg water so much water!) and the bolt cutters (omg I can finally get rid of this fucking mask and cut myself loose from this fucking warboy!)

It's a really smart sequence, because it shows how patriarchal media tropes are actually making us dumber. we expect a dumb scene, we're prepared to accept a dumb scene, and we're actually a little bit thrown off guard when we realize that the scene is in fact not saying the dumb thing we expected it to say
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:21 AM on September 15, 2015 [50 favorites]


Feminism etc cannot exist within the paradigm of a superhero blockbuster.

Why not?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 AM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


People keep telling me it's possible to enjoy things despite problematic elements, but I don't understand how. One bad apple spoils the whole barrel, so how can you keep on liking something once it's been tainted?

I cannot speak for you, but I'm pretty sure that this is not how it works for most people, for most aspects of life.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:22 AM on September 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


One bad apple spoils the whole barrel, so how can you keep on liking something once it's been tainted?

Has anyone ever bought a bag of apples, found one that was a little off, and subsequently thrown out the whole bag?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:32 AM on September 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Maybe barreling apples isn't the way to go
posted by shakespeherian at 9:38 AM on September 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


the scene where Max first sees the wives is lampshading/deconstructing the "straight men are always filled with lust for attractive women regardless of the situation" trope....

I feel like if someone still found the scene sexist that would be a valid interpretation.
posted by dogwalker at 9:41 AM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


we're surprised when it's revealed that Max isn't lusting after the wives. Instead, he's lusting after the water (omg water so much water!)

I picked up what he wanted was the water (on the other hand, the bolt cutter only made sense later), but I guess most people don't walk 6 or 7 miles under hot weather without drinking, to the point jumping on top of a water sprinkler on a private residence seems a good idea.
posted by lmfsilva at 9:46 AM on September 15, 2015


Max sees the wives washing themselves off with a hose and using bolt cutters to escape their chastity belts.

Additionally, at the start of the film, the Wives have been treated as objects (as a collective object, actually) and forced into roles defined by a male gaze for so long that it seems appropriate that our first view of them is in the space between what they were and what they hope to become. They have rejected Joe's definition in theory, but that scene, where they are washing themselves and cutting off the chastity belts, is their first step toward taking their lives fully into their own hands. In that scene, there is a sameness to the collective Wives in their clothing and presentation; as the film goes on, they cover/replace their ridiculous porn-fantasy clothing with more practical gear, and they begin to diverge from their generic role as "victims" to characters with agency and individual wants and needs.

You have to be really careful playing with Sexist/racist/homophobic/etc imagery, but I think Miller managed to walk a very fine line in that scene, when it's taken as a piece of the entire movie (and I think the actresses did a really great job portraying the growth of their characters).
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:02 AM on September 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


People keep telling me it's possible to enjoy things despite problematic elements, but I don't understand how. One bad apple spoils the whole barrel, so how can you keep on liking something once it's been tainted? (This is also retroactive. If you make a terrible sequel to a movie I liked, I will no longer be able to enjoy the original movie.)

Well, it's subjective. When you have a personal emotional reaction to a work of art, then that's just what it is. So if you don't enjoy something because of problematic elements, then that's your personal interpretation, which is perfectly valid for you, whether anyone else disagrees or not. I can disagree if I feel like it, but I can't actually tell you how to feel about something.

(Although I could say that deciding to dislike an original movie because of a terrible sequel is a rather unusual sentiment, and would start to cut out a lot of good movies).

Personally, I have mixed feelings about almost everything. I can vaguely pick out minor flaws in virtually perfect gems, and find redeeming qualities in hopeless cases. Some jaded and cynical years of pondering these questions has, in some cases, made me like certain things even more especially because of their flaws.
posted by ovvl at 10:07 AM on September 15, 2015


Has anyone ever bought a bag of apples, found one that was a little off, and subsequently thrown out the whole bag?

That's not really what the phrase means. The idea is that, when you are storing apples, if a single apple starts to rot, that will increase the chance that the apples around it will also rot, and, therefore, when you store apples for the winter, you have to periodically check the storage (bags, bins, barrels, whatever) and remove any that have started to rot, lest you lose the whole container.

I am not sure if this folk wisdom is true (ie, if rotting apples are more likely to make other apples rot), but that's the sense of the saying.

Weirdly, the common use of the image is almost 180 degrees off from this -- "there are only a few bad apples," means "the system is working; don't question it" rather than "since we found bad apples, we have to do a complete and thorough cleaning or we will have to replace the entire police force/agency/institution/student body/whatever."

It's like the way that "the exception proves the rule" is bizarrely parsed as "if you can find an exception, it proves the rule is true" (which is insnae, if you think about it at all) rather than "any exception forces you to examine the rule to see if it is correct."
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:08 AM on September 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


I am not sure if this folk wisdom is true (ie, if rotting apples are more likely to make other apples rot)...

Yep.
posted by Etrigan at 10:14 AM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


"We’ve fallen into an all-or-nothing rut with feminist criticism lately." <-- understatement of the year
posted by goblinbox at 10:16 AM on September 15, 2015


I think that the phrase "the exception proves the rule" was from a bad translation which was supposed to read "the exception tests the rule".

meanwhile in another part of semantic world:

Feminism etc cannot exist within the paradigm of a superhero blockbuster.

Could also read as:
Feminism etc cannot exist within the paradigm of a superhero blockbuster... as we know it.

At this point in time the nature of the superhero blockbuster is essentially male-oriented. If a contemporary superhero blockbuster managed to achieve feminist consciousness, it would probably evolve into something new.
posted by ovvl at 10:21 AM on September 15, 2015


If a contemporary superhero blockbuster managed to achieve feminist consciousness, it would probably evolve into something new.

And it would be awesome.
posted by daq at 10:35 AM on September 15, 2015


I think that the phrase "the exception proves the rule" was from a bad translation which was supposed to read "the exception tests the rule".

Not a bad translation, but archaic English; "proving ground" also comes from the older English usage where "prove" had the same meaning as "test."
posted by Jeanne at 10:37 AM on September 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


At this point in time the nature of the superhero blockbuster is essentially male-oriented.

Which stems from the same self fulfilling prophecy that tends to keep major comics geared towards teenage boys (except in the 90's when it jagged over into making comics geared towards investment speculators (which went really poorly)). If they could just get over that (and tell the guys down the hall that not every science fiction movie needs a 10 year old kid to identify with - the ten year old kids I know mostly identify with Han Solo) I think the other changes would take care of themselves without a massive evolution.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:11 AM on September 15, 2015


Feminism etc cannot exist within the paradigm of a superhero blockbuster.

I wouldn't put it quite like this. I do think adolescent male power fantasies are likely to be an unrewarding place to look for nuanced and critical depictions of human behavior.


What is "Astro City"? OK, I'll take independent comics for $800.

Seriously, you want a debate between Wonder Woman and Superman about the nature of feminism? It's in there. You want to see Superman written as a middle aged man whose job is slowly crushing his soul? It's in there. You want to see Batman have to put away the things of youth now that he's become a father? It's in there.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:23 AM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's like the way that "the exception proves the rule" is bizarrely parsed as "if you can find an exception, it proves the rule is true"

I think the proper usage of the phrase is, you have something that looks like an exception, but on closer inspection it's actually the rule working in some nonobvious way, or there are some conditions that mean the rule doesn't apply. I guess this is another way of saying that "proves" means "tests" as others have pointed out, but I think it's more useful to just think of it as "the exception fails to disprove the rule."
posted by bjrubble at 11:25 AM on September 15, 2015


Wikipedia's example:
For example, a sign that says "parking prohibited on Sundays" (the exception) "proves" that parking is allowed on the other six days of the week (the rule).
posted by Etrigan at 11:38 AM on September 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Feminism etc cannot exist within the paradigm of a superhero blockbuster.

I think The Incredibles is the most feminist superhero blockbuster I've seen. Helen Paar has more agency, competence, and characterization than any other woman I can think of in a mainstream superhero movie.

The first Thor movie is probably #2.
posted by straight at 12:14 PM on September 15, 2015


you want a debate between Wonder Woman and Superman about the nature of feminism? It's in there. You want to see Superman written as a middle aged man whose job is slowly crushing his soul? It's in there. You want to see Batman have to put away the things of youth now that he's become a father? It's in there.

Oh I don't doubt that it's possible to produce a feminist—for whatever value of "feminist"— superhero story/movie. Or that it's possible that such a movie could be entertaining and thoughtful and even successful. And I totally agree with Siede that even the superhero/sci-fi movies we have could be bettered by the addition of more women characters in more complex roles. All that, yes. And yet ... at some point ... if what the viewer/reader wants from a dramatic narrative is subtlety, nuance, attention to human relations as humans live them and a critical take on those relations, then maybe superhero stories aren't what that reader/viewer is looking for.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:58 PM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how people defend a movie despite an occasional act of sexism or racism, but those same movies often ask us to define the villain by one act of villainy early in the film. And they aren't entirely wrong. It's not the case that if you find one act of sexism sufficiently disgusting and hate the movie, that means you hate all movies or hate fun. There is a spectrum of bigotry, and it is indeed the case that a single act, if it's sufficiently heinous, is plenty justification enough for hating a movie and its director -- and that doesn't mean you've then slid immediately down the slippery slope to hating everything with its inevitably flaws. Do I now hate Matt Damon for his whitesplaining the other day? No -- but if he had been a bit more of an asshole, then sure, that would be enough. Some movies you can dissociate from the bigotry, and some you can't, and it depends on the size and the way it fits into the rest of the narrative. It's totally legit to say the Ewoks ruined Return of the Jedi (though not my own view), just as it's totally legit to say a single blackface scene at the beginning of some 50's western ruins the rest. Movie makers should be aware that there are stakes here, and they can lose an audience if they are too egregious, and it's not our duty to always separate the good intentions from the bad. Sometimes just one stomped puppy is indeed enough to make you a villain.
posted by chortly at 3:32 PM on September 15, 2015


(so would a She-Hulk show that's basically just Ally McBeal with occasional superpowers, c'monnnnn, Aisha Tyler is RIGHT THERE just CALL HER ALREADY)

plus think of all the great Archer gags that could be included

Archer: I get it: You’re not into guys.
Lana: Okay, so just because I don’t want to bang you, automatically, I am a lesbian.
Archer: Yes. Well that and your Hulk-hands.
Lana: I do not.. have -
Archer: She-Hulk then, whatever.
Lana: Ar- Bob!
Archer: What, Jennifer Walters? Alter-ego of She-Hulk.

posted by Existential Dread at 4:22 PM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


...then maybe superhero stories aren't what that reader/viewer is looking for.

Given the level of OFFS attitude most of my die hard comic book fan friends had about how hastily crammed in there the whole Hulk / Black Widow "relationship" felt in Age of Ultron...well, like I said, self fulfilling prophesy is self fulfilling.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:35 PM on September 15, 2015


And yet ... at some point ... if what the viewer/reader wants from a dramatic narrative is subtlety, nuance, attention to human relations as humans live them and a critical take on those relations, then maybe superhero stories aren't what that reader/viewer is looking for.

I dunno. I feel like Strong Female Protagonist is doing a really good job asking how a superhero can make a real difference (you can't punch economic problems or racial bias or institutionalized sexism, after all). There are fight scenes and superhero stuff, but a lot of the comic is our heroine talking to various people what it takes to be effective and good in a world that is way more complex than four colors. I think the way that web comics can expand without the pressures of "issue size" helps tell different kinds of stories.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:35 PM on September 15, 2015


>I am not sure if this folk wisdom is true (ie, if rotting apples are more likely to make other apples rot), but that's the sense of the saying.

Speaking as a mycologist, yes, it is true.

Since I'm here, for some reason I've been watching the complete "Kolchak: the Night Stalker" from 1974/1975. What's more striking than the vampires and mummies is the presence, in almost every scene, of people of all ages and colors. It wouldn't be so startling if I saw it more often on TV, but I don't. So it's too bad that almost every woman portrayed on the show is a strident "woman's libber" harridan or a dope. The show is much more interesting as a glimpse of the 70s than as a scary or funny show (although I do tip my straw hat to Darrin McGavin).
posted by acrasis at 5:41 PM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


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