Posts tagged ‘fictional women who make me shout’

Wonder Woman – in which there is much (more) ranting

Dear DC Animated Universe People, I am going to be very mean now. And the reason I am going to do this is because I watched your Wonder Woman film. There was nothing wrong with the plot or the story, so you can stop worrying. What did annoy me greatly was the women in your film, which is clearly not something that you’re very fussed about. But if you’re feeling low and sensitive, and easily-upset today I suggest you not read any further.  If you try to sue me I will claim that my mind is unhinged.

I’ve always been a little iffy about Wonder Woman. I suspect everyone is. As the major female character in DC, WW is thoroughly weighed down by the need to be every kind of hero for every kind of woman, and every kind of man. And as if that’s not enough, she also needs to be a every kind of heroine, just in case we manage to forget for an entire second that she’s, y’know, a woman.

The distinction between a hero and a heroine, in my opinion, is a narrative one: the hero is the person who is making the journey; the heroine is the person who inspires the hero to make and complete that journey: sometimes it’s waiting at the end of the maze, sometimes back at home, sometimes it travels with the hero providing sympathy, food, advice, weapons, clues, inspiration, and generally being helpful. Please note that the hero isn’t necessarily a man, just as the heroine isn’t always a girl.  This is why when they are not attached to a specific character, I am calling them both “it”.

In Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, the strands of hero and heroine are thoroughly mixed up. The story is told from Sophie’s point of view, and the eccentric Howl functions both as the person she aspires to be, as well as the person she aspires to be with. Howl is written as nice-looking, and as conscious of the fact: Sophie has been aged into a small, round, shapeless person, who keeps house of Howl. Howl is n full control of his (pretty impressive) magic powers;  Sophie (SPOILER!) isn’t even aware she has them, but acts, anyway, with compassion, honesty, and loyalty. Both Howl and Sophie, therefore, give each other something to aspire to. And both of them sustain each other with advice, jokes, food and shelter.

Wonder Woman, unfortunately, isn’t allowed to do something as simple and obvious as this. She is both the ideal woman Steve Trevor aspires to be with, as well as the person who must find and destroy the bad guy, with Trevor’s misogynistic nagging as her only support.  No one ever asks Batman to be Boy Scout and Dark-and-Angsty and Pointy-Boots-Barbie at the same time. But Wonder Woman is so busy being everything everyone in DC has ever expected of a superhero, PLUS bludgeoning the reader’s eyeballs with her breasts and boots (“She is a woman with a lasso! We are Progressive! Fetish Ahoy!” DC incoherently shrieks in every frame), that she has no time left in which to even create an archetype for herself, let alone the option to be one actual person. Not surprisingly she is a black hole of character suckitude.

Even on good days, DC isn’t terribly good at women. But they have outdone themselves this time. The Amazons are all little puppets with labels saying cheap things like “Butch!” “Bookish!” “Woman Scorned!” “Bitter Spinster!” Note to DC: The Amazons are an entire society of warrior women. Ergo: a) they will all be built differently from each other b) they are terribly likely to be muscular. Not necessarily all bulked-up, as some of them will be lean and sinewy instead. And it’s perfectly all right if some of them are stout, or short, or wiry-looking. Using a single template-body for an entire people is stupid. At one point the Amazon army is actually described as “supermodels in armour.” (probably by Steve Trevor but I lack the courage to check) I nearly stabbed myself in the eye with a blunt pencil. If you KNOW that they look like clothes hangers rather than warriors then why did you DRAW them like that in the first place? I honestly prefer the giant-breasted Diana in some of the comics – at least she has some muscle. This lot looks like they don’t even have bones.

As with most DC animated films, the backgrounds and battles are beautiful. Lovely colours, nice movements, some exciting fights, a dragon – all good things.

The film tries terribly hard to give Wonder Woman some character by making her a lot harder and more steely than she is usually written, which I like in theory. (I’ve always found it a bit silly when the comics try to convince me that a) Diana is a Warrior and that b) Diana is this super compassionate pacifist Mother Teresa figure and c) Diana is a supermodel. Stick to one archetype DC morons.) I was sort of charmed by her teaching a little girl how to injure her playmates with a sword. It was wrongheaded, yes, but it was one of the few “Diana-is-an-Amazon-and-is-therefore-puzzled-by-Man’s-World” moments that rang true for me. Also endearing was when I noticed she was fighting barefoot in an alley. Clearly someone on the writing team has tried throwing a kick in giant heels, I thought.

But these moments are soon crushed by the demands of the idiot plot: Diana needs to kill Ares, and Diana needs to kiss Steve Trevor. And so all Diana’s potential complexities of motive and selfhood are just ignored while she does the important business of bashing and making out. In the end, while Diana had to become this has-car-doors-opened-for-her girl, Trevor gets away with being exactly the same cheerful misogynist he is to begin with. He fell for Diana because she has a nice rack, and he continues to hang out with her for that exact reason.

There’re frequent and gross shots of the Amazons’ body parts in battle. Women dying in battle should not be about sex. No one dying in battle should be about sex. (And this applies to pretty much any fight sequence you have ever had, DC). Trevor, of course, does exactly this: “That was hot!” he leers as Diana finishes a fierce fight. Not strong, not quick, not skillful, not smart, not saving-his-life-awesome. Hot.

Ugh.

By the time the film ended and Diana had left her island (Which DC is determined to tell us full of bitter spinsters. Trevor actually calls it “chastity belt island” at one point. Diana looks lovelorn. I looked nauseous.) to stay with gross Trevor carry out her Mission of Peace, I was beginning to think she deserved him. Clearly this particular WW wants what every woman ought – in DC’s opinion – to want: a self-absorbed man to condescend to her constantly.

That this is the lot which gave us Harley and Ivy, high on my list of comfort TV (Also on the list:  Jeeves and Wooster, Monty Python, lots  more of this particular animated Batman, most of Buffy, Season 1 of Veronica Mars, some of Firefly, Merlin, Season 1 of the new Dr Who, some Arrested Development) makes me very sad indeed.

December 17, 2009 at 10:24 am 2 comments

gritty


So I’ve been reading George R R Martin’s series (its called A Song of Ice and Fire, if you’re feeling masochistic) and the rant demon has possessed me. Since my rage is of an orderly compulsive sort,  I have decided to vent in numbered points.

I should add here, that for all its faults, the actual plot of the series is quite excellent. I know I will keep reading it obsessively just to know what happens next. And when Martin forgets to make people thoroughly miserable, all kinds of exciting things happen, mainly involving Daenerys and her dragons, and Jon Snow and his awesome friends. Which makes the rant slightly redundant, but who cares.
1. I don’t mind grittiness, in a general way, when it consists of a lot of non-bathing and death, but when it starts rolling around in the mud with torture and ruthlessness, and the writer in question starts making a game out of how much he can torture a character before they disintegrate, and then goes on to torture disintegrated people, it makes my head hurt. 
Murders are fine. I just tend to like my deaths clean. And quick. All this four-book long, excruciatingly drawn-out torment really gets to me after a while, and I start thinking wistfully of my thesis. For future reference, GRRM, when all your main characters are hardened murderers and your readers just feel relief with every new death, soon enough no one’s going to care enough to read further. Also you might run out of characters and that would be unfortunate.
2. Note to Sansa Stark, aged maybe twelveish, if that: Your life sucks. I’ve watched you get sold off to a louse by your oh-so-honourable father, I watched you sell out said father, I skipped horrifiedly through your endless list of beatings and strippings, I read on through your family dying/allegedly dying in awful ways, I even kept going when you were married off, and then kidnapped and then attacked by your mother’s creepy sister and her obsessive and dreadful husband. And I’ve had to leave out a lot of the comparatively minor stuff, for brevity’s sake. Stop being polite. It’s driving me insane. Yell. Get up and leave. Set things on fire. Kill someone. Just do something about it. Please.
Perhaps you could consider moving to a Georgette Heyer novel? I can promise you no one will try and marry you for another 2 years, at least, and what with your good breeding and wonderful politeness you will probably get a Happy Ending, and I can stop cringing when I see you in a chapter. 
3. And while I’m giving advice to fictional people:
Dear Brienne,
You are a girl. You’re also large. However, since you are also terribly capable of killing anyone you happen to dislike, please deal with facts a and b; the rest of us are managing quite well. Stop making me have to blush for your issues. Also, keep away from Jaime Lannister, who is a sister-doing, child-killing, lying, all-round louse. Now go kill some more people.
4. Resurrections. I just don’t like them. And resurrecting Catelyn Stark, was just low-down and stupid. She was pretty much played out, and honestly? I was relieved when she and Robb just died so I wouldn’t have to watch her agonise over Dead Ned anymore. Beric being brought back to life was, since it was a novelty then, cool. Bringing Catelyn back to life just trivialises a) her b) Beric and c) all the other people dying in the series (which is a LOT. See point 1 on grittiness).
5. GRRM: Child marriage is just plain creepy. Please stop it. You world is harsh and cruel, we GET it. Now stop with the paedophilia.
6. And Eddard Stark? Is not the paragon you seem to expect me to think he is. He was stupid. He knew almost everything we knew in Book One, and watching him passive-aggressively ruining the lives of a) his wife b) his children c) his stupid dukedom d) poor moronic Robert and e) the whole goddamn kingdom only served to convince me of this. An actual genuine good person, even if he had a death wish for himself, would’ve at least sent his daughters home and away from all the machinations in court, before he begged the evil people to destroy him.

If you look carefully, you might notice that almost everything horrible that happened in book two (and even some of book three) happened because Ned Stark spent book one busily navel-gazing, and whining about his honour, and refusing to actually do anything. Except scattering his family around the map in convenient bite-sized bits for anyone at all to attack.
Having relieved myself of all the rage, I feel obliged to say, again, that for all its many faults the series is thoroughly exciting. A lot of the characters is actual real fun people, some are dire wolves (wolfs? Probably not) and I live in hope of meeting an aurochs
More extinct animals and less torturing of sad people, I always say.
(Irrelevantly: it is very sad that the blogger spell-check cannot spell aurochs)

January 31, 2009 at 2:47 pm 7 comments

Gertrude

Again, my Shakespeare class has left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied and more than a little indignant.

When I read the play, I felt more than a little sorry for Gertrude. It cannot be fun having to discuss your sex-life with your self-righteous and prudish son, and to have him heap insult on you. That he happens to be right – and your new husband did in fact murder your old one makes it only worse.
So the situation is this: your husband is a murderer. His predecessor also kinda was (he murdered Fortinbras’ father, remember? And given how much time he seems to spend in his armour I’m willing to bet Fortinbras senior wasn’t his only victim.) And your son is well on the way to becoming a misogynistic prig and a frenzied murderer.

Under the circumstances no woman can be blamed for marrying Claudius. At least he seems to have been more intelligent and suaver and more attractive than his brother, if the ghost’s ranting is anything to go by. Plus Claudius has the added attraction of wearing less of the poky armour. And he seems genuinely fond of her. Claudius certainly does draw the line at using Gertrude as bait for Hamlet, though he has no such qualms with Ophelia.

Ophelia, incidentally, is such a mess that I can do no more than give her up for a lost cause – as she does herself.
I know she is very young and confused and has an idiot for a parent and another for a brother, and Hamlet Prince of Dementmark for a lover. But really. Gertrude is making the best of a bad job – and doing it creditably. And she refrained from enacting any public scenes of angst. Ophelia is making the worst of it – and doing it as noisily and messily as she can.

Talking of which: Hamlet is such a boor. His behaviour to both women is completely unpardonable. Ophelia should kick him in the shins. Get thee to a nunnery indeed. Ideally he should’ve gone off to a nice monastery with no women to trigger off his psychotic spells and spent the rest of his life sitting there writing books on witchcraft. And been sodomised by some nice old friar for his pains. He’d’ve probaby found he quite enjoyed it.

It’ll certainly make life easier for his mother.

March 30, 2007 at 6:34 pm 6 comments

Cordelia

Writing an assignment on King Lear and Oedipus at Colonus, I find I have many bones to pick with Cordelia. She is supposed to be intelligent, kind, and modern enough to speak her mind in full court without worrying about such minor things as offending the king. Plus she gives every indication of knowing (or guessing) exactly what her sisters are up to (unless she just has a fine sense of the dramatic and was just doing the verbal equivalent of turning on her heel and stalking out in style and the rest was just ironic foreshadowing.) Under the circumstances, to walk blithely off to France and not even leave a flunky (she was a princess, remember? And she was going to marry a king. She probably had a surfeit of flunkies.) to keep an eye on her clearly semi-senile father was foolish. And to say that she was deeply hurt and offended by her father’s behaviour doesn’t explain her utter neglect. Goneril and Regan ill-treated their father, but Cordelia just plain neglected him.

Righteous indignation is all very well, but this was important. It concerned her own father. And an entire country, dammit.

And then having left in a huff to enjoy her high moral ground, to stomp back into the country at the head of an invading army (It was a French army she was leading into English territory. From a meta-point-of-view there is no way in hell Shakespeare could let her win the battle. He would’ve been lynched.) to rescue him is pure folly. I am beginning to have grave suspicions of Cordelia’s good intentions. At every point she could’ve acted to halt the damage her actions only made things worse. If your father tries to make an ass of you in court, you might at least learn the lesson from it not to make him look a complete ass in the same court. But no. She can’t just humour a senile old man; she won’t tell a little white lie and then talk it over with him later, in private – where the whole discussion really ought to have taken place. She has to blunder into England at the head of the army of its traditional enemies (What was she doing? Trying to hasten the Norman Conquest?). She practically forced a war onto a country that was already reeling from civil strife. Make no mistake, to a lot of the people she was a traitor – their erstwhile princess attacking them at the head of the French armies? This was the worst behaviour this side of Coriolanus. Of course she was going to be lynched.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

For a girl who had grown up with Goneril and Regan (who probably played Machiavelli instead of hide and seek) she had no conception of subtlety, none of cautiousness.

Ok, you live in a horrible world and want to sail far far away. But having taken a ship to France, why didn’t she have the sense to stay there? She was a queen. I refuse to believe she couldn’t put together a neat, agile group of horsemen. She had already chosen to abandon her father to the tender mercies of Goneril and Regan – and as far as she knew, he didn’t even have Kent. Of course she feels guilty, but surely a missing old man is an event for quick, stealthy action, not an invasion. (In the Kurosawa film the Cordelia figure does just that. It is tragic that his well-meaning father-in-law follows him with a giant army, precipitating the war) Twenty people who know the land and have swift horses are called for, not a mob of hungry noisy people. An armed mob of hungry noisy people.

I am so disgusted.

February 25, 2007 at 5:57 pm 1 comment


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