If You Play the Game of Internet Feminism, You Win or You Die.

April 29, 2012 6 comments

This article on feminism in George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series – subtly entitled “Enter Ye Myne Mystic World of Gayng-Raype: What the “R” Stands for in “George R.R. Martin””  has irritated me ever since I read it and I’ve been wondering why I should even continue to think about and consider a piece of criticism on a book that seems to me to be so blatantly incorrect in both its assumptions and conclusions about a book. After all, it’s not even as if I’m married to the idea that ASOIAF is a flawless masterpiece that cannot be spoken about or considered with any sense of negativity. It’s a work of narrative and popular excellence, but it also has its share of flaws, slips and bad prose writing. It’s certainly also very valid to question the political assumptions behind a text and I’d be the first person to encourage people to do so, and to go ahead and write about it.

I don’t think that the author’s bullishness really helped, though I’d probably have been applauding her aggressive attitude if she’d actually been correct in her argument, or at least appreciated the complexities of engaging a text in this way. I didn’t take kindly, either, to the way she so brazenly censors the comments of others or shuts down conversations she doesn’t care to engage with. (“we’re hogging the conversation, we need to let others speak” in internet terms means “I’ve either lost this argument quite badly and need to save face, or I got bored with it.”) I would never do that, although at the end of the day it’s her blog so I guess that she has every right to respond and censor it as she sees fit. Neither are some of her observations all that terrible. I actually agree with a lot of her individual points and comments regarding the female characters, it’s simply the way she ties them all together badly, drawing absolutely terrible conclusions that makes her overall “I don’t like your toys – I have higher ground” demeanour grating to my nerves.

None of that helped but then, I thought, this is the internet. And that’s when it struck me why the existence of this piece was so irksome to me. This is the internet and this piece of critical garbage has garnered thousands of views, and reaped the benefit of many comments from feminist women of the “thank you so much, you said it in a way I couldn’t” variety that made me realise that this woman’s voice was influential whilst a clearly much smarter guy profoundly demolished the author’s arguments in the comments section to little applause or congratulation. I support feminism enough to not just openly label myself a feminist, but to regularly preach it to everyone I know, so one should assume that I could in some way get behind at least the intention of this writing. But I can’t, I loathe it. I loathe it because feminism if it’s going to progress beyond the point that it is now and be taken seriously by the patriarchy, needs to be serious and more importantly it needs to be credible. We’re beyond the stage of women shouting “give me a voice” in the most perfunctory, basic way. Men already think that women have a voice, but they still need to be convinced that voice is continuing to be manipulated and challenged by years of privilege and assumption. We’re beyond the point of saying “this text features rape, I find it repugnant and misogynist”.  I admit a person’s right to not enjoy watching something that features rape, if they find it too disturbing to watch (although if their reactions to a text are this primitive and emotive, they shouldn’t really be attempting to analyse or converse about it), but that categorically does not make it an anti-feminist text. If anything, the more brutalised and physically assaulted women tend to be in a text the more that text is commenting on the negative effects of a patriarchal society.

Dragons. An obvious symbol of feminine weakness. Right? Oh yeah, she’s butt naked too. Again.

We’re at the point where feminine discourse needs to be challenging masculine discourse in a considered and intelligent way. Don’t get me wrong, this has been happening. A lot. And it started as far back as 1949 when Simone de Beauvoir destroyed the foundations of Freudian theory in the Second Sex and she did so by writing intelligently and with knowledge about her subject. Feminism his been hotly debated in Academia ever since and it’s produced its share of good and bad writing, but a lot of it is good and ultimately that’s how I’ve come to consider myself to be a feminist, because I have no cause to deny the veracity of the position and no reason to feel threatened by it as a philosophy. Yet, I find modern trends in internet feminism a little threatening nevertheless. Some of it is good, but all too often I read online “this text has rape” style arguments that make me grit my teeth in frustration, but are showered with “you’re such a wonderful feminist” responses. These people are, however, unwittingly either alienating a lot of people from wanting to associate with feminism as a brand or they’re stifling them from wanting – or being able – to think critically about these issues since the response is so overtyl emotional  “Alas, I don’t like that x is raped, x is killed, x is sexualised in the text”. “Male gaze, male gaze, male gaze, male gaze” (see my piece on Sucker Punch) is brandished around like the ultimate slayer of all the male, patriarchal Gods and one ultimately cannot argue with a feminist who embraces those words because she must be right because she read about the “male gaze” on wikipedia somewhere….1

Feminism is not about emotion. It’s about fighting for equality where that equality doesn’t yet exist.

The point I’m making here is that, although it’s great that people can debate and discuss things on the internet in ways they couldn’t previously do, it’s also having a detrimental effect since it’s helping to spread terrible ideas like wildfire. These ideas look attractive on the surface and since they’re simple and easy for people to grab hold of and since they often key into people’s emotional reactions to a work, they get disseminated more quickly than the more intelligent and interesting ideas which also tend to be convoluted and difficult. In her article Sady makes a fairly horrible critical slip in her reading of ASOIAF in that she underrates the centrality of Daenerys story and writes it off because it’s “racist” (one has to ask if racism is the same thing as sexism and one has to answer that it isn’t. I also happen to find Buffy the Vampire a little racist at certain points… but that’s another story) In doing so she concludes that there are no empowered or convincing women in the text since all of the others are continually punished for being female and repressed.  Given that Brienne, Catelyn, Arya, Sansa and Daenerys et al are all still firmly in the middle of narrative arcs that – seems to me at least –  to be leading them from oppression to empowerment in different ways, it’s surely somewhat premature to speak about this text in such strong, conlcusive terms. One can speculate and surmise that the narratives aren’t feminist and one can question, for instance, Martin’s attitude towards women if one happens to feel that they are overtly sexualised, but one needs to seriously consider the evidence for and against before condemning both a work and its readership.  I don’t know if one can ultimately argue that ASOIAF is feminist or not. I personally think it is in many respects, but I’d have to work pretty hard to put that argument together, but one can certainly say that it’s a murky, complex text with so much depth and detail that it’s simply foolhardy to try and shout out to the world that it’s so obviously disgusting and full of rape and murder of women that one can easily pinpoint its misogyny2.

I really loathe these kinds of internet arguments and truly wish they would go away.

1The concept of the male gaze was extremely important in the development of feminist film criticism and it’s an extremely important one, but that doesn’t mean one can necessarily simply apply it in it’s most basic form to everything in every situation and automatically be right.

2Since I wrote this “Feminist Frequency has chimed in by stating that “I am now completely caught up on Game of Thrones and I do not understand how anyone with a critical bone in their body can look past all the obscene misogyny and grotesque violence. It’s repugnant. I realize there is a serious lack of good quality television, but at what point do we draw the line and recognize that the oppressive values and representations are too overwhelming to make any kind of justifications” Again, as someone with a lot of critical, internet-wide influence it’s extremely disappointing to see Anita Sarkeesian propagating the idea that one shouldn’t examine a text critically and with nuance. For her there’s simply a “right” and a “wrong” here. Worse, feminists that disagree with her don’t have a critical bone in their body, apparently.

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Categories: Literature

Meta-Slash-Feminist Filmmaking : Cabin in the Woods has Lots of Gore, Boobs and Even More Intelligence

April 20, 2012 4 comments

*major spoilers*

When Tarantino was conceiving the Grindhouse project his initial idea was to write and direct a quickie slasher movie as a love-letter to movies that have influenced him over the years. His obvious recent shift in ideology and love of reconceptualising genre movies to make them politically palatable meant that ultimately he couldn’t see a way to direct a slasher that wasn’t demeaning to women and ended up completely rehashing the project into something completely different, albeit still containing slasher-esque elements.

Demmit, she didn’t get nekkid.

Joss Whedon1, another horror fanatic who has also made a name for himself overturning genre conventions and is mostly famous for being the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, perhaps the feminist genre icon for my generation, has since decided to tackle this seemingly impossible beast and has himself created a modern slasher movie with a meta textual element which serves to undercut and criticise traditional attitudes towards the slasher genre. Whedon is often referred to glibly as a postmodernist, but his work is generally nothing like Tarantino’s, a director who could – referring to Kill Bill, at least – more meaningfully wear that label. Cabin In the Woods is actually, mostly, a very traditional film in look and feel and very rarely does it try and undercut our expectations whilst we’re watching it. The premise is, in fact, laid bare from the very start as corporate types are shown very clearly to be manipulating a bunch of teenagers into a deserted cabin scenario and subsequently sending a bunch of slasher-monsters (redneck zombies, as it happens, though anyone who has seen the film knows it could as easily have been a merman!) to dispatch them in pretty gruesome ways. The corporation are ultimately doing this to avert the end of the world (naturally!) but they’re shown to be a sadistic unpleasant lot, running a book on what kind of monster will be dispatched and delighting in the scenes of death and misery that they’ve apparently become accustomed to over the years. In other words, they stand in for the viewer. 

The clever thing about this premise is that – unlike scream which just glibly reels off the rules of a slasher – it allows us, the viewers to watch a traditional slasher move through a lens which questions what’s happening as it occurs. Why are the teenagers always horny? Why do they do stupid things? Why can’t they ever escape? It’s because the movie has a director and he’s willing it to be that way. By uncovering this artifice throughout the movie, Whedon is also uncovering how sinister this set of rules is. As it happens, teenagers aren’t always horny. Sometimes they want to study. Sometimes they act sensibly, Sometimes they’re not virgins and that’s Ok and so on and so on. By showing a bunch of teenagers who are normal Whedon is also showing that the directors and viewers of American movies want to believe a bunch of stuff about teenagers that is blatantly stereotyping them in quite sinister ways. As neat as this artifice is, for me at least it ran the risk of creating a one-note didactic movie that stated the obvious to anyone who has ever seriously had a discussion about slasher movies. In that sense I may not be the target audience since 15 year olds who frequent the current round of slasher movies will be being drip fed the same slasher tropes as those who initially saw the Halloween and Friday the 13th movies so it’s an important message to get across in a fairly direct way. Regardless, I was still concerned from the beginning that the movie revealed its gameplan too overtly to be such a successful artistic statement as, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a successful deconstruction of teen, vampire and superhero stories. True enough, on a narrative level the movie is rarely surprising but as it progressed I realised that it was a roaring success anyway on the level of being a wonderful modern feminist text and in that it’s simply bucketloads of fun; in the way that Buffy is bucketloads of fun.

What intrigued me about the feminism of Cabin in the Woods is that it rarely seeks to be overtly feminist in the way that either Buffy or Death Proof are so desperate to be. There’s no female hero in this movie. If anything the female lead, Dana, is a fairly flawed character. She screams a bit, doesn’t always take control and in a final moment of weakness tries to murder one of the main characters. She’s gratuitously shown in her underwear for a cheap gag. Whedon does a very good job of making us feel, in some respects that we’re watching a traditional slasher. Yet, beyond the overtly highlighted meta-text the movie makes lovely little signals to highlight the patriarchal machinations that have always dominated the movie industry. One nice moment sees Holden uncovering a two-way mirror into Dana’s bedroom, giving him the opportunity to spy on Dana. He wrestles with his conscience as she unbuttons her shirt revealing her bra. We, the audience, realise that we’d kinda like him to go through with it (why else are we watching a slasher other than to see boobs right?) and just after he takes it too far, he alerts her to what’s happening and ultimately agrees to switch rooms. He’s not an arse, apparently. Following this, Dana in turn begins to spy on Holden and faces the same dilemma. Again, she refuses and covers up the mirror. What’s fascinating about this scenario is not just the fact that Holden is a “modern man” about it, but that Whedon shows Dana as sexually independent enough to need to have to make the same decision. Other examples include the patriarchal leering over Jules’ breasts. The boob shot we get is overtly gratuitous and naturally the audience enjoys it. The response of “score” from Hadley, watching on, makes us feel kinda pathetic. Finally Amy Acker’s character, Lin (would it be Joss Whedon without the presence of Amy Acker anymore??) underused perhaps, but as such she makes a wonderful feminine contrast to the two seedy guys running the corporate show. She still goes along with it, she’s still “evil” in the parameters of the movie, but she’s humane and decent with it and her presence serves as a reminder that the patriarchy are still dominating these kinds of shows and that women are quietly trying, but mostly failing, to change attitudes behind the scenes.

Amy Acker? In a Joss Whedon production. Surely not? The film’s main flaw is she doesn’t get to have a 1-1 smackdown with Summer Glau. Oh well, I can always rewatch Dollhouse…

There’s a lot to the Cabin In the Woods and heaps to like about it. I don’t even have space here (or a blu-ray to replay the movie) to delve into the glorious game-changing finale in which expectations are overhauled, the audiences bloodlust is truly satiated and Whedon entertains in ways that Whedon does best. It’s never overtly surprising as a movie but it is gloriously satisfying and certainly one of the best genre love-letter movies I’ve seen outside of Tarantino. On a purely formal level it’s a wonderful movie that’s beautifully paced, surprising and well put together. The balance between horror and comedy, so tough to get right, is pitch perfect and I found myself laughing and squealing in almost equal measures, sometimes – particularly in the climactic monster mash – at the same time. No scenario outstays its welcome and each moves seamlessly into the next. By the time Dana and Marty light up a joint to bring on the end of the world, in the film’s final scene, I was ready to light up and bring it on with them. It was a stupid, funny, poignant and intelligent moment and the perfect end to a crazy, brilliant movie.

After the relative failure of Dollhouse (A show that was sporadically brilliant, but pulled prematurely and artistically never able to stretch its legs) and the falling through of the Wonder Woman project my concerns that a Whedon project would never again be as relevant in the industry as when he created Buffy (and to an extent, Firefly/Serenity) have been laid to rest. As a fan of Whedon, feminism and genre subversion I was delighted that this movie lived up to the expectations I always have for a new Joss Whedon project. What’s more, with the critical lauding the film is getting it seems clear that this is going to be an important and defining moment in slasher movie history.

I haven’t even mentioned how fucking great Fran Kranz was.  Or the zombie arm.  Or the Merman.

1 Drew Goddard did, of course, direct this movie which was co-wrote and produced by Joss Whedon. I’m making a horrible assumption that Joss Whedon’s input into this film was pretty large. It feels like a Joss Whedon movie. I’m sure this a huge unfairness to Drew Goddard who has done some stellar work on Buffy, but I’m not going to continually write Goddard/Whedon but continue to refer to this as a “Whedon” movie. Equal credit must certainly be given to Drew Goddard for this, however.

Categories: Movies Tags: , , , ,

My Film Snobbery : Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Time-Out Top 100 List

March 30, 2012 3 comments

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It’s been about 8 years since I made the decision that I wanted to try and be a film buff, and that as part of this I would make an asserted effort to watch through The Time Out Critics Top 100 Greatest Movies.  Today I finally watched the last movie I had left on the list, Tarkovsky’s “Mirror” and it feels like an end of an era for me.  I’m thrilled at the completion of something that turned out to be, for  a multitude of reasons,  much harder and lengthier than I’d originally anticipated.  To mark this momentous occasion I thought I’d briefly share something about what watching through the list has meant to me and how it relates to my appreciation for film in general.

Pretty much everyone that I know loves watching film and most people I speak to consider themselves to be some kind of a “film buff/ film fan”.  Everybody seems to think that they, personally, have the best taste in film.  These days I find this attitude to be more than a little tiring and it makes for very frustrating conversations as I repeatedly get chastised for my eccentric taste.  People rarely take the time to understand why I might like or dislike something; rather, they play the subjectivity card and go away thinking that I’m all talk and stupidity, at best saying what I do mostly for controversy and effect.  It’s annoying because I have generally thought through my opinions on movies and generally don’t say things that aren’t backed up in some way.

Watching film is one of my main hobbies.  There are few areas in life that one would claim to have knowledge or understanding of a subject they’ve not sought to gain any in whether it’s something complex like Medicine, skilled like Car Mechanics, Academic like History, or a hobby such as birdwatching or knitting.  I don’t and never will consider myself to be some kind of expert in movies (my breadth of reading on the subject is appalling) or the last word in what constitutes “good taste” but since it’s a hobby, I have an arrogant view that I’ve seen an understood more about movies than someone who enjoys the occasional action film or rom-com with their girlfriend.   At some point I began to recognise that if one is going to speak in any meaningful way about what constitutes a good or a bad movie and why, one probably needs to have seen and understood a lot of movies that are generally considered to be “good movies”.  The majority of people I talk to about film and film taste have seen very few of the movies on this list, and when, by chance, they happen to have seen the odd one (generally 2001, or Singin’ in the Rain or Citizen Kane) it’s by chance and with no consideration when watching it that it is “considered” to be great or why.  Worse, I’ve had multiple conversations over the years wth people regarding Citizen Kane’s status as “the greatest movie of all time” whereby I have been informed that the movie is “boring” and that these people who call it great don’t know what they’re talking about or just happen to be boring people.  The conversation eventually swings back yet again to the ultimate subjectivity of taste, the greatest refuge of the ignorant who would rather indulge his or her own whims than grapple with the idea that, even if some of these movies aren’t as amazing as the hype has led us to believe, they’ve been called “great” over the years for a reason by people who have made it their life to either make films or to endeavour to understand them, how they are made and why they might be thought compelling. (Some people, at this point, might be compelled to wax lyrical over how these great movies enlighten us on the nature of the human condition.  I’d rather say that they’re simply “intelligent and thought provoking” in one way or another)

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I don’t expect everybody to enjoy film in the same way that I do, or really care all that much if they get their kicks from watching a Michael Bay or Paul WS Anderson suckfest, but I do find conversations regarding the subjectivity of taste to be circular and dull.  Yes, ultimately I do believe that taste in movies is “subjective” but only within a context of film understanding  and an appreciation as to their place cultural significance.  In other words, one cannot simply watch diet of mainstream Hollywood movies and then assert that “Godzilla” is a good movie because they enjoyed it, but that “Citizen Kane” is a bad movie because they found it boring and turned it off after 20 minutes. (this is a real opinion)  This is not taste; this is wilful blindness to the potential of film as an art form.  If you can’t find one interesting thing to say about Citizen Kane, you clearly don’t like film.

I decided that, at the very least, I would develop an understanding and appreciation of what is considered to be great in film, partly because I had some friends who were film enthusiasts and film students (and have been very enthusiastic and inspirational over the years)  I never expected to like film half as much as I do now.  Before undertaking this project I’d watched a lot of Hollywood dreck, from American Ninja and Steven Segal, to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Armageddon and I’d generally enjoyed it all.  I’d watched Godard’s Breathless and Fellini’s 8 ½ and not understood a word of them, and I’d equally been quite indifferent to Citizen Kane.  I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Harry Potter.  In other words, like everyone in the world, I enjoyed watching movies and talking about movies, but I had no conception that movies were really, really amazing until I watched through this list.  As such I’d say that it’s one of the best projects I ever undertook.  I now can’t survive without a steady diet of arthouse, European, HK, Bollywood  and subtitled film alongside silent, Classic Hollywood and modern indie and mainstream movies.  And I can’t really understand how anyone else can either.  I’m always thinking about what film I want to watch next and overwhelmed by the thought that I can’t watch them all.

Other film-buff wannabes, in my opinion, tend to go down the wrong route when they start similar projects.  The AFI Top Hundred list, the IMDB top 250 or some list of Empire’s Greatest Movies are all too enticing routes to go down, and they’re attractive to people because they offer so much that is  familiar.  Spielberg, Scorcese, Coppola and many other big Hollywood movies always feature prominently with only the occasional off the beaten track pick as well as some Hitchcock and Citizen Kane.  The IMDB list is filled out by what is popular with punters rather than what’s good and that’s a huge flaw (The Shawshank Redemption is currently no.1, a shockingly appalling pick by any standards.   I ultimately chose this Time Out list because, firstly, the TimeOut film guide is an excellent and well-considered resource, more informative than any other of its kind and secondly, because I didn’t actually recognise most of the movies that were on it.  It wasn’t a list incorporating E.T, Raiders, Shawshank, Terminator 2, Die Hard Back to the Future and other childhood nostalgia favourites, it was a list of movies that would most likely be alien to me, demanding and confusing.  It was a list of movies that would make me work to understand them (whereas most Hollywood movies seek to alleviate you from doing that work) and most importantly, it was a list that would hopefully open my eyes to a world of cinematic styles that I was completely unfamiliar with.

To be honest, it hasn’t been an easy journey.  I haven’t loved a lot a lot of the movies.  I’ve passionately hated a good few of them (None moreso though Douglas Sirk’s dull, reactionary melodrama “All That heaven Allows”) and others I find just plain dull.  I still don’t like 2001: A Space Odyssey.  But at least I’ve sat down and asked myself why I don’t like 2001.  I’ve taken it apart and looked at how the film works on a technical and narrative level, and that was fun.  At least I know that abstract, esoteric movies like The Colour of Pomegranates aren’t for me.  At least I could theoretically engage with someone in a conversation about the importance of Robert Bresson’s cinema or why Satyajit Rayis considered to be an important figure in Indian film.    At least I’ve learned something interesting about my own taste.  It’s also been a difficult, slow journey because some of these films have been so hard to find.  Greed, Napoleon, The Colour of Pomegranates, Earth, all took me years to track down; but that in itself has led me to question why such “greats” are unavailable now (and to lament the unavailability of the full cut of Greed, which would undoubtedly a magnificent thing to see.)  It’s been quite exciting to finally find them and only disappointing in the sense that they could never be as great as I’d have liked, having hunted them out for years purely because they were on the list.

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Yet, there have been so few movies that I’ve actively disliked and so many that I’ve loved and have gone on to become my very favourite movies.  I won’t forget first watching Kurosawa’s Ran, Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy, Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West, Melville’s Le Samourai, Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad, Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Blade Runner, Seven Samourai, Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Taxi Driver, Pierrot le Fou, Blue Velvet, The Third Man and so on and so on.    I’ve learned that I love Humphrey Bogart, Anna Karina, Marilyn Monroe, Toshiro Mifune, Robert De Niro, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin and Juliette Binoche.  I’ve appreciated a range of cultural perspectives, discovered that film styles have changed across time and place and I’ve found that a shot held for 5 minutes can be more thrilling than one that changes every 5 seconds.  I’ve found that stories can be immediate and they can also be esoteric.  There’s a thrill in an idea being in your face, but it’s also fun to not understand, but to contemplate.  The greatness of a film can hinge on a great acting performance (Marlon Brando, anyone) or terrible actors can be used as icons for presenting great ideas (John Wayne, anyone?)  Films can be linear, but they can also make no sense.  Some are political treatises, some commentaries on narrative.  Jean-Luc Godard exists in his own fragmented, politicised universe and that makes him wonderful.  Kubrick channels all the pessimism and cynicism of our universe and that makes him wonderful.    Hitchcock seems to completely reflect our universe through mainstream movies and that makes him wonderful.  I’ve learned that a beautiful shot can speak 100 words of dialogue, but also that 100 words of well-written dialogue can say as much as an apparently beautiful shot.  I learned that the final shot of 400 Blows says more to me than five years worth of Hollywood Blockbusters.

Most of all I learned that sharing a great movie with a loved one is the most precious experience you can have.

All of these movies put such a huge smile on my face in ways that modern mainstream movies had failed to do for years and I finally realised that our cinematic past was every bit as rich and exciting as our literary past.

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Yet, it’s amazing how unpopular liking foreign and art house film can make you.  Accusations of snobbery at the hobby abound, and people really don’t like you to say that you feel your favourite film is better than theirs when they’ve never even heard of yours, it’s in black and white, or it has subtitles.  In fact I generally dread being asked what films I like or what my favourite movie is.  I’ve never seen it as snobbery though, I see it as passion and passions should really be shared.  It’s not snobbery to want to tell people that these films are great and that if they watched them or knew something about them and understood them, then maybe they’d find them great too.  It’s not snobbery to say that film can be about more than a cheap thrill or a CGI fix and that there’s as much pleasure in trusting a movie to reward you if you’re patient, think about it and let a director tell a different kind of story in a different way to what you’re used to.  The magic of cinema for me is that you never know what you’re going to dig up next, not digging up yet more of the same.  I love finding movies that are new and exciting.

I have intellectual issues with the idea of canonicity and “greatest films” lists and I do believe in the subjectivity of film taste and that movies should ultimately be understood in the context in which they were made.  But I still had a fantastic time exploring the supposedly “greatest movies ever made” and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that anyone else do the same and to go on and seek out more unusual films from more cinemas than just modern Hollywood.

Categories: Movies

Morning Musume are Feminist – Really? – No, really!

December 15, 2011 1 comment

Morning Musume are Feminist – Really? – No, really!

For at least some of their life, yes.

Mr Moonlight

Ok, maybe we should step back and forget about that statement until we’ve looked at the history of the band, since it’s not just contentious, it’s a downright implausible sounding statement to most since, but then most people’s attitude towards them is based on a bunch of ridiculous misconceptions.

My enjoyment of this pop group, made up of an ever change crew of young and young-looking teenage girls (age unclear to me), is a cause of much bafflement and bewilderment amongst my friends and virtually anyone I happen to talk to about them or show them a video. Reactions have generally ranged from “why on earth do you like this?” to simple, unmistakeable looks of pure disgust and horror.  Never remotely positive.   I think perhaps people just file it away as some strange, unexplainable sexual fetish that I have.

It’s a classic reaction when talking about Japanese pop-culture, though, isn’t it? A westerner, not previously acquainted, can rarely react towards the Japanese  without seeing them through some weird preconceived alien lens.  Japanese culture has long since been associated in the west with extreme kookiness (those weird Japanes TV shows), sex fetishes, rape fantasies, hentai and pedophilia, so it’s as if Morning Musume, from a western perspective is just another defenceless wacky fad, morally contentious, but just about OK as long as it stays firmly in Japan. And so far it has, since I know few people in the West who are interested, and the group ceratinly have no plans to tour the States that I know of (which I find pretty sad)

This isn’t to say that contempt for Morning Musume is purely a Western thing. Watch any of their videos on Youtube and chances are someone will have commented. “For teenage girls or men 35-50 haha” They are clearly mocked in circles of Japanese culture in a similar way to Justin Bieber in the West, as successful and popular but talentless, over commercialised hacks. Based on their music alone that’s a blatantly unfair assumption. The music is commercial, the singing universally unremarkable, but Morning Musume’s output is at worst consistently sparkly, fun and enjoyable pop music and hard to criticise for what it i; and in my opinion, at best it’s some of the finest pop music I’ve ever heard. If you enjoy J-Pop then, frankly, it fits the bill perfectly.

But image is nearly everything in the world of pop music and that’s mostly what I want to address concerning Morning Musume. It’s easy to write something off as oversexualised teenagers and jailbait if you don’t consider it what it’s doing representationally too hard and furthermore their image in the last 5 years has sadly, increasingly moved towards something that encourages rather than refutes this poor snap judgement on them.  Bu, the Morning Musume of today is notably not the Morning Musume that became successful in 1998 or peaked with the brilliant album Ikimasshoi in 2002. I still like them, but that may be more fondness for the brand than anything particular about their music or image. One video Only You, released this year shows where Morning Musume have ended up, as a slickly produced, highly sexually charged MV with the girls looking very young, very cute and frequently staring into the camera with a “come hither” look.  As long as it remains an ambiguous fantasy, it’s defensible, but it’s about as far from feminist as one can reasonably go.  It’s been a pattern for around the last ten music videos and whilst I think it’s difficult to criticise the obvious professionalism of the piece, it explains why they’re gradually losing credibility and fans. In trying to please a broader audience and not disappoint old-time fans, Momosu too often shoot bland blanks.

The Beginning


In the early days of the band there’s definitely a sense that boundaries are being pushed and fun is being had. One can hardly accuse debut video Ai no Tane of being feminist but it’s not hard to see that this is a different group from what we see now, working on a different level. If the girls are still simply standing there to look pretty for an unspecified audience, singing a wistful, sentimental tune, the attraction is less on their youth (some members are in their twenties) or their figure, but more in their normality and approachability. This couldn’t be further from Only You and to watch this, charges of “perversion don’t seem obvious. Through Morning Coffee and Summer Night Town there’s an attempt to sell these girls primarily on the quality of their music, which is strong and infectious, if a little poorly produced. By the time their second album rolled around, attempts were made to sex up their image a little bit but were apparently unsuccessful with the punters as sales started to drop. It does feel like half-way house between the original girl-next-door image and the all-out dance troupe they’d later become, but the music is every bit as strong with Daite Hold On Me and Manatsu no Kōsen really standing out and there’s a strong reluctance to put these girls through the objectification mill and the videos, to me, look pretty classy as opposed to sleazy.

The third album, from 1999 saw the level of slickness increase and the group put out probably their best (and their bestselling) single, Love Machine but the imaging has shifted further towards the sexy, the skirts are getting shorter, the dancing boppier. and more alluring It’s still very mature and sexy though and throwing perverted labels at it is impossible since it mostly matches the kind of output you’d see in the West. 

And then something quite  wonderful happened. Someone in charge of the Morning Musume machine had a revalation, and a string of videos were produced featuring upbeat dance party numbers and a group of girls …. having fun. Not being alluringly sexy, but having fun. To clarify, these girls are attractive but they’re not doing it by fucking the camera or wearing overtly revealing costumes most of the time. The videos aren’t selling pure sex (like Only You later does), they’re selling enjoyability. And sometimes – even frequently – it’s enjoyability of the gender subversive variety.

And I love it.

I can’t, of course, feature all of their videos and I skip over a couple that don’t fit the mould, but hopefully there’s enough here to make the point.

The Golden Age of Subversion

Koi No Dance Site – Starts the revelation with light dancing and humour with a subtle Indian theme.
Happy Summer Wedding – Maxes up the Indian theme and the happiness but we’re still not quite there yet.
I Wish – begins the subversion.  It has the girls in casual costumes and follows a Wizard of Oz theme, and features mimed comedic moments, pratfalling, dressing up as and mocking police officers, karate experts and silent theater tropes. Production-wise the video is quite awful but it’s the first time that the Momosu girls toy with the full-on subversive potential of what they’re doing.

With Ikimasshoi, their fourth album, Morning Musume cranked it up another notch and full on demonstrated the potential of pop music as subversive genre bending theater. The record is a pop masterpiece and it shows that the whole machine was in a great place since the music videos are just as good and the perfect complement to the music.

The Peace!The musical mockery of the chants in the song are reflected in the subverssive messages of the video. The girls are shown singing and dancing in Sailor’r outfits (a masculine mode they confidently embrace and make their own) in a public urinal. Apparently this was mocking a controversy surrounding hidden camera footage that had been taken of a member in a toilet, but the fuck me poses next to the toilet bowls also further make a mockery of the idea that these girls should be on display as sex-objects.  This video is, honestly, as sensational as it is strange.

Mr MoonlightEqually as exciting, if not moreso than its predecessor, Mr Moonlight is a popped up big band show tune which sees lead singer Hitomi Yoshizawa sing in a masculine style voice and cross-dressing galore in an all-female troupe.  Apparently inspiration for this was taken from the Takarazuka Revue an all female crossdressing gender-bending female-troupe in Japan. Giving it a mass-audience through the leading pop idol group of the day is nothing short of genius and yes, this finally justifies my title that Morning Musume were indeed, feminist.


Souda! We’re Alive
– Another great song, but a slightly more generic singing/dancing video, but again showcases the joy and happiness in the jumping and karate posing.

And if Do It Now – properly introduced the group to the fuck me camera pose for the first time and featured sexy slick black dresses, Koko Ni Iruzee – brings back the crossdressing again with old jackets, cowboy hats, caps and army style outfits,all to a barnstorming frenetic pop tune that defies sexual expectation to its very core. Morning Musume at this stage in their career were determined to defy the very idea of a feminine image with a wardrobe that literally makes no sense and cannot be gender coded.

And it continues into 2003,  with Pirate suits, chef outfits and comedy moustaches in Morning Musume no Hyokkori Hyōtanjima” The comic play that started in I Wish has reached it’s full potential as subversive cross-dressing theater that’s natural and completely unforced.

The End of It


If, after these period there’s a move to make the girls more sexy again, there’s still some fun and subversion to be had. Shabondama is a great upbeat song and features the girls in casual streetwear (alongside of fuck me shots and dresses, though)

Go Girl! Koi No Victory half heartedly puts some of the girls in suits, some skirts and juxtaposes it with images of them in football costume. Some of the magic is still there but the camera is starting to want to love them a bit too much now.

After a few further failures (schoolgirl outfits, purple dresses etc) one last final gasp is had with Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari, one of my favourite moments in pop music. The girls jump around on a subway train and directly address the camera talking about their differing personalities and jostling/joking with each other. It’s slightly more adorable than earlier videos in the cute high-school-girl-ness but the personality shines through in buckets and if one loves these girls, it’s not through the camera but through their character. It’s perhaps not a feminist statement – much of it is discussing the girl’s hairstyles – but an image that girls can relate to and not primarily one for perving over. It’s about girls getting together and having fun. The song, also, is infectiously brilliant and my other favourite for the group.

The problem was, that the sexy image was too easy to do well, it seems, and on a few occasions occasions they pulled it off with sublimity. The Manpower sees the girls making love to a bunch of fruit. It’s better than it sounds but in representational turns a comedown. It’s a sexy video and a much sexier song. Sexy Boy and Resonant Blue sungthe death knell for Momosu subversion. They’re both hot, sweaty, beautiful and terrific songs and stunningly produced videos, but we’re so far into the territory of sexing up the girls that it seems there was no way back for the group imagewise. Everything since has been the same, but less good. Sultry dance numbers with the girls dancing sexily.


Conclusion

For a period of  4-5 years Morning Musume turned the tables on expectation and societal conventions of what gender roling ought to be. I originally got into the group through youtubing their videos and loved the crazy diversity of what I was seeing. Looking at their video output chronologically is much more telling and shows a story of an attempt to subvert gender, genre and expectation that eventually sank under the weight of its success, turning a great group into a sexier version of a great group, which eventually became a production machine. That it held up for for a period of nearly 5 years is actually quite a surprise and far from being such an obvious pervert’s dream it seems to me that Morning Musume have left something of a legacy that’s the polar opposite to that.

It’s frustrating that people prejudge what they don’t understand based on assumptions they make about race and gender and Morning Musume’s lack of a respectable place in the pantheon of western pop culture is strong evidence of this and as with so much of Japanese culture, it remains a mystery to the West because the West want it to remain a mystery.

 

The End – Goodnight

Don’t Go On, Put It Back, You’re Reading From the Bible Black!

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I played my first Japanese eroge Visual Novel recently, Bible Black, and have self consciously made the decision not to play through to the end despite the fact that in some respects I found it incredibly intriguing and well made. For those not in the know a Visual Novel is a style of computer game not made in the west; basically a glorified Choose Your Own Adventure the player scrolls through a series of semi-animated text and dialogue screens that tell a first-person narrated story, and chooses from a list of options at key points that will alter the outcome of the story to different degrees. Eroge (erotic) games are pornographic, though not necessarily in the traditional sense of “pornography” since the primary emphasis can still be on the storytelling only with the inclusion of the occasional hardcore sex scene.  These scenes may but not necessarily be seen as a goal or ultimate reward for the player. Many of the more popular anime series in Japan (non erotic) are adapted from eroge games (Clannad, Kanon, Fate/Stay Night) but inevitably I often read arguments that the TV adaptation is inferior to the original work and so I’ve been interested to try one out for some time.

Bible Black game cover

The game cover gives subtle clues as to what you may find within.

In a staggeringly unwise move, thanks to some gloriously inept research skills on my part, I chose to play Bible Black, a game which has been adapted into a well known hentai (meaning perverted – porn) series. It’s a series about an outbreak of sex antics in a high school that is caused by one student having possession of a black magic spell book.  Notably, I didn’t manage to watch this series through to the end of the second episode, despite its good quality production values. I was correct in surmising that playing the game would be a different experience and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a much better made, better scripted work than its adaptation, full -at least initially – of wit, humour and suspense, and there’s a good hour or two of play-time before there’s any hint of  sex or nudity (the hentai pretty much opens up with hardcore sex and continues with it for the entire runtime of an episode). These positive qualities have led some detractors to state that it would be a better game without the inclusion of the many sex scenes scattered throughout. I, on the other hand, think that the perverted hardcore sex featured in Bible Black, help make it the curiosity that it is. For better or for worse.

Bible Black really plays to its strengths as a visual novel by putting the player into the main character’s shoes and giving him – pervert that he no doubt is – what he thinks that he wants.  And then some.  In this case what that amounts to, with the help of the black magic book that you find in a disused basement of the high school, is the ability to make a high school girl strip off and masturbate in class and the option to ejaculate over her when she sleeps. Afterwards one can watch on whilst two girls rape another with a bottle and then you can force those girls to have sex with you. Later on you get to rape a whole coven of black magic acolytes. The squeamish are probably already looking away. In western culture rape fantasies are very much frowned upon and frankly I also find non-consensual sex scenarios to be quite horrifying, and not remotely erotic. But then, nobody claimed that this game was genuinely erotic. My terrible research skills really let me down here. Regardless, I watched on with jaw open in fixated fascination, as one might watch a Saw movie or any other work of extreme horror.

Girl in bed

It’s really just another day in high school when you’re given the option to pull down the covers and masturbate over a naked sleeping high school girl.

What makes this game so intriguing is that it sets you, the player, up for a horrific fall and a slap in the face. In those first two hours of slow paced dialogue one does, in fact, find oneself falling for the main female character, Kurumi Imari, your childhood friend who wakes you up every morning, walks to school with you, tries to get you to go to art classes and later on rescues you from a gang of thugs with her black belt karate skills. What one wants to do as a player of this game is to woo this girl, fall in love with her and eventually sleep with her. The creators of Bible Black know this and initially give you opportunities – game choices – that make it look like you’ll be successful. You can choose to go to her art class or run along home, you can try and get her to love you, or pick somebody else etc As one goes deeper into the game, after you discover the book of Black Magic, the illusory nature of every choice that you make begins to become clear. You “choose” to have a girl walk around school naked, but in actuality she ends up publicly masturbating (and pissing for good measure). You can “choose” not to ogle her in the medical room but her sheet somehow falls down and uncovers her nakedness anyway.  You do at least have the option not to masturbate over her, but that’s the game’s final concession to good manners.(who the hell would choose the “cum on her” option? Ok, don’t answer that – I didn’t.) You can “choose” to barge in and stop the 2 girls raping the other, but what happens is that the game informs you that you are transfixed to the spot and can’t help watching. Instead you get your revenge by magically forcing the girls to fuck each other whislt taking incriminating photographs. One ultimately realises that doing what one “wants” to do in this game is impossible when finally you are forced to sell your soul to another teacher, a black magic guru, and the “no thanks” option leads to your untimely death (yes, she actually force feeds you a pill that makes you masturbate yourself to death.  One of the game’s more horrifically amusing moments). At this point I also discovered that I was on a crash course to brutally raping, possessing and killing Kurumi Imari. Not the ending I was really anxious to see. Apparently the game does have a “good” end in which you get to be with her, but you can only access this after you’ve played through the bad ending. Nice.

It was at the point where I had to rape the girls in the coven – and I really didn’t want to – that I gave up the game feeling that I had a good grasp on what else it had left to offer me. What really intrigues me is how personally I was taking every situation and how frustrated I was getting that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. Yes, I wanted to sleep with the girls – of course (pervert!) – but not like that . I wanted Imari to fall in love with me, I didn’t want to end up possessing and abusing her; that was just too mean. I’ve seen rape scenarios in hentai before and usually I’ve just felt disinterested and switched them off since there’s so much better that anime has to offer. I’ve never felt the level of disgust and aggravation that this game made me feel, because I’ve never so effectively been put into the rapist’s shoes before. One can tell oneself that it’s only a game, with animated drawings and not even live actresses, but whilst you’re playing I it doesn’t make any difference since it feels very real and the choices you make feel very important. Having played this game I now feel like a sick and twisted dirty rapist.

Imari

That’s a cheeky little panty flash. She must be in love with me, right?

The reason I wanted to share this experience? Because this is a particularly effective demonstration of the power of representation. The movies we watch and the games that we play are always subtly manipulating you into thinking and acting in ways that may not necessarily be the personality you previously saw yourself as being. Computer games – not just visual novels – are very strong representationally because they literally encourage you to be and act out a particular role in an increasingly compelling and realistic fashion. I’m not arguing that this is wrong, or necessarily a bad thing, just that it’s worth bearing it in mind when one turns on the TV set or the XBOX. Bible Black is an amazing -or, at least, fascinating – game because it really strips away that artifice and shows representation and manipulation for what it is.

Nevertheless, I think I want to play something with fluffy bunnies and good old fashioned romance right now.

Britney Spears : Femme Fatale Tour. Gets Mostly Naked, Naked.

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

I went to my first pop concert the other night; Britney Spears singing on her Femme Fatale tour. I’ve been a fan and have been following the career of Ms Spears since Baby One More Time caused such a huge a sensation. Back then I was 18/19 and was only really starting to learn about feminism and didn’t give much of a thought to ideas of female “representation”, although obviously I was aware that part of the allure of the single was the kinky video marketing which aggressively sexualised a 16 year old schoolgirl in a way I – or most of the West – weren’t used to seeing (but have seen many times since in popular Japanese anime). Since it was in fact legal (and it’s legal to have sex with a 16 yr old in the UK) it was fascinatingly left to the viewers conscience how they dealt with the question as to whether it was an OK thing to be fantasising about.

I could write multiple blog posts on the way that Britney’s lyrics and her image throughout her subsequent videos has subtly and cleverly shifted over time from male teen sexual fantasy to that of an empowered sexually aggressive woman through I’m A Slave for You, Boys, Toxic and Do Something, the apex of the first stage of her career, before her public breakdown. Evern more so since then, rather than being the object of the viewer’s lust she has become an instigator, expressing her own sexual desires and inviting viewers of her videos to join in with her, rather than simply just to look at her and generally punishing male subjects that treat her as a sex object without appropriately inviting her on board.

However, translating that attitude from one media to another can be a challenge and I wasn’t remotely sure how the experience of seeing a beautiful woman (and her dancers) cavorting around on stage, practically naked, for 90 minutes would compare from a feminist point of view. Or if it really mattered. On some level it certainly felt as if I was watching a well attended, expertly choreographed, beautifully costumed softcore pornshow. Britney romps around the stage in her skimpy lingerie or gold bikinis shaking her ass and her tits around like nobody’s business. Up there on the stage she’s everyone’s ultimate fantasy figure (and yes, she does still look incredible, even though she did shave her head and show her vagina once a long time ago); everyone in the audience’s at least.

Did we all really pay £60 just to spend 90 minutes gawping at a hot woman on stage like pubescent teenagers?

Normally for my live music fix I go to metal festivals where, far more fashionably, everybody goes to gawp at some egotistical guy playing monster riffs, guitar lines very quickly and – so I’ve found out – to watch women in the audience flashing their tits. Ok, that’s an exaggeration but it’s no lie that at metal festivals, as well as some bloody good music, there’s a lot of testosterone flying around; and whilst there are gay men and feminist women in attendance it’s becoming a source of increasing dissatisfaction to me that metalheads – whilst generally a nice, friendly bunch – are thoroughly insensitive towards issues of gender and minorities. I love being part of that friendly metal atmosphere in which people are so quick to pick you up off the floor of a mosh pit lest you get hurt. I hate the aggression, the childish bottle throwing and the sexist jeering.

If initially my thoughts regarding Britney Spears on stage was that this is a form of legitmised sexism, that my craning my neck and jumping to get a better peek at Britney’s figure was little more than institutionalised lechery, as the show progressed I began to realise that, actually her stage performance, like her videos and her career are actually quite uplifting, inclusive and empowering. It’s a very different audience at a pop concert, largely consisting of twenty-something clubbers, a large percentage of who obviously identified as LGBT, and that certainly made a difference to the atmosphere. Without the aggressive dynamic, the constant male demand for sexual satisfaction there’s nothing inherently sinister with looking lustfully at a woman prancing around on the stage and enjoying her music. The audience at Britney’s show are content for Britney – as a female – to do and be whatever Britney chooses to do or be. By contrast the audience at an Arch Enemy concert I attended were constantly screaming for Angela Gossow, one of the most talented vocalists in metal today to “get her tits out”, a demand that would be degrading in any context but I find to be doubly so given the extra effort she goes to in order to entertain her audiences. Britney’s show is far from being the a moving version of a Maxim magazine that it could so easily be, rather this is a sexual arena that Britney has created for everyone’s enjoyment – including hers – and the LGBT friendliness makes one instantly feel that it’s not man gazing at woman in the audience, it’s man gazing at man gazing at woman gazing at woman. Maybe it’s an obvious point to those who frequent pop concerts but I think it’s a key one worth remembering that sexuality is empowering so long as one is control of one’s own sexual image and that people are not demanding you be something that you’re not (the basic central message of a lot of Britney’s songs). Britney and her dancers are very much in control of their image and having a lot of fun with it and so it’s not just safe to watch, it’s also a lot of fun.

This is a star obviously having a lot of fun.

Brief Thoughts: A Lifestyle Too Extreme – Glee’s Rocky Horror is Censorsational

May 31, 2011 1 comment

Brief thoughts on the horror of watching Glee’s Rocky Horror.

I remember watching The Rocky Horror Show when I was around 13/14 and simply having no reaction at all to what I’d seen. it seems wholly possible to me now that my brain simply deleted parts of the movie that it couldn’t process leaving behind a few good memories of the Time Warp, Meatloaf and Susan Sarandon in her underwear. In hindsight I’m surprised that I handled the thing so well and surprised that my parents allowed the experience. Despite English suburbia not being the most progressive place to grow up I’m grateful my background allowed for it.

I didn’t see the film again until I was 25. I fell in love with it’s vibrancy and the sheer joy in the material, despite what I initially read to be a wildly confused subtext regarding gender and sexuality. The problem was – or so I initially reasoned – if Rocky Horror is basically a comedic riff, or love letter to old sci fi B movies, and if it following the same conventions as those old B-movies. Frankenfurter, loveable transvestite though he is, is still the bad guy and Riff-Raff ultimately kills him off after he’s corrupted the heroes Brad and Janet by introducing them to a world of “deviant” sexualities (including crossdressing, bisexuality and orgies). In other words, I felt the film still fell into the queer evil guy trope. However, there’s something about the movie and its creator Richard O Brien – who has himself struggled to come to terms with his own gender identity and now identifies as third sex- that suggests the movie’s narrative is as joyfully subversive as it’s meant to be on the outside, and its only after repeat viewings that I’ve come to appreciate the fact that audience response and reaction to the film (and even moreso the stage show) is paradoxically as defining facet of its textual identity as the actual text itself.

Yes, America finds this offensive.

Audiences are notorious for participating in the experience of Rocky Horror, from dressing up in overtly sexual costumes that break down gender boundaries, to yelling out obscenities the entire way through; after a slow start the film became the biggest movie of all time on the cult midnight movies circuit and the Show has become a phenomenal success. This experience would hardly have been possible had the narrative lent itself to the obvious conclusions of my initial reading. Rather than become the cult, queer classic that it has, Rocky Horror would be the best friend of the conservative wing. It’s a very strange phenomenon but there’s something so powerful about Tim Curry’s entrance and something so cinematically unusual about seeing him strut his stuff in corset and suspenders with such confidence (and lack of prejudice) that despite the fact that, as an audience we know that Brad and Janet are the hero figures, our empathy switches straight to the villain. Any viewer with queer sympathies instantly wants this man to succeed (and “wants” him aswell, I imagine), since he’s so exciting and so honest, whereas Brad and Janet seem so plain, dull and annoying. As Brad and Janet fall under his spell during the course of the movie it’s pretty easy to agree that they’re better off for having discovered a new lifestyle. When Riff Raff shoots him, singing the words “your mission is a failure, your lifestyle’s too extreme” the captivated audience can only agree that the rest of the world probably isn’t ready for this, and that’s why he had to die.

Glee’s tribute to Rocky Horror goes a long way towards proving the point that, 30 years after it was made, Rocky Horror still encourages lifestyles that are too extreme for American audiences who will no doubt cite its “adult themes” as reason to keep it from primetime TV. Not a reason that ever kept Jack Bauer’s insane right wing violence and extreme behaviour off of our screens, but then again, that wasn’t liberal-sexual behaviour. It’s in-fact quite hard to see what prompted the decision of Glee’s creators to even tackle the show, since they clearly knew that censors would come down on them so harshly. During the show there’s a lot of talk about censorship and cuts and Sue Sylvester joyfullfully condemning the Glee club’s production of the show, but ultimately the schizophrenic episode sees Will Schuester agreeing that it was a terrible and inappropriate idea. There’s heaps of embrassment surrounding the production of the show, in particular adult/student interaction and students stripping down to their underwear, and none of it is made up for by a multitude of speeches about “being part of a community of outsiders” or repeated soundbytes about the importance of artistic expression. The problem is, the show tries to complain about this on the one hand but takes away from it on the other by conforming too wilfully to some of the most outrageous censorship I think I’ve seen. This takes place on two fronts that are both silent and aggressive.

Not quite the same….somehow.

Silently) What’s strange is that Kurt, the openly gay character who deals with issues surrounding his sexuality every week is muzzled during the Rocky Horror production. Frankenfurter is, of course, clearly bisexual and one can only assume from this that showing a camp gay character is Ok providing he’s quite clearly camp (and not infectious), but showing something on air that seemingly promotes bisexuality i.e. having sex without conforming to a well known stereotype is seen as very dangerous. The episode sidesteps this by not even discussing the sexuality of the piece, merely mentioning once or twice that it has “adult themes”. Those that don’t know would just presume it’s the fact that there’s a bit of nudity.

Aggressively) Frankenfurter’s now very famous entrance number “Sweet Transvestite” is sung by Mercedes, who happens to be a girl. Not a male transvestite. The director throws the audience who might care a quick bone by way of a reaction shot of extreme horror from Will when this decision apparently goes through over his head. It’s not nearly enough though and what should have been the highlight of the episode becomes a thoroughly conservative and boring rendition of the song without joy or abandon, and even has lyrics like “transexual” replaced by “sensational”. Amber Riley sings very well but this is the worst piece of miscasting since….forever, and I felt acutely embarrassed watching it.

Even though the episode wasn’t all terrible, I’ve never appreciated Glee less. I forget what a dull, normative world TV can be sometimes but it’s doubly sad when shows that I look towards to push boundaries, like Glee, come crashing down under the thumb of censorship like everything else.

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