Tag: feminism

Post-Oscar Malaise, or My Grandmother, the Feminist Film Studies Pioneer

I am the last and least influential person on earth to weigh in on the whole Oscar misogyny debacle. It’s been talked to death and cataloged. So I guess I just wanted to add a personal spin to it.

I have watched The Oscars every year for my entire life. My mother and grandmother loved the movies–my grandmother especially–and we always settled in under blankets and watched the entire show, delighting in seeing the stars in our living room in their most beautiful and glamorous ensembles–and live, so we knew exactly where they were and what they were wearing (which, in the 1970s and 80s was a treat, believe it or not).

And I grew up enthralled with the movies, watching endless black and white films with my grandmother who knew everything about every star like she had memorized the Old Hollywood version of a Biographical Dictionary of Celebrity Gossip. It was like having my very own low-brow Anne Helen Peterson! We watched our favorites over and over. I really can’t count how many rainy or wintry afternoons we spent watching Gone with the Wind!

In my teens, I was sure I’d grow up to write for Movieline magazine, maybe Premiere. Maybe entertainment editor for Sassy! Oddly, I had no interest in celebrity interviews. I wanted to be Joe Queenan, Libby Gelman-Waxner–writers with wacky personalities and strong opinions. It wasn’t until college that I discovered Film Theory. I quickly switched colleges to pursue it.

Film studies taught me that I’d spent my entire life “reading against the grain” to find the points of and places in entertainment that I could connect to, that I could love. I read three classic pieces in feminist film theory that rocked my world (Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” of course; “Pre-Text and Text in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” by Lucie Arbuthnot and Gail Seneca; and Doane’s “Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator”) and changed how I see movies entirely.

One might argue they ruined the movies for me, of course. But it also made me feel closer to my grandmother. who taught me how to watch movies. She wouldn’t just put a movie on and tune out. No, she offered context and celebrity gossip that taught me a great deal about film studies even though she had no idea what that was.

My grandmother was the one who said to ignore the last few minutes of any movie pairing Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy. “Men used to run everything,” she explained. And they made Katherine Hepburn capitulate in some way in the last scene of her movies so the men could continue to feel like they were in charge even though Kate clearly had the upper hand by being smarter and worker harder than everybody else.

It was through my grandmother’s lens that I learned to watch movies. She filtered them for me so that I understood how to enjoy them. She was a feminist film studies pioneer.

And so it was disheartening to be reminded on Sunday night that no matter how far we’ve come here we still are. Looking for points of identification and people to root for amid a bunch of insults and degradation. And so I did what I would have done had my grandmother been there: rolled my eyes and sighed through a dumb boobs song; cheered for Adele and Shirley Bassey; gasped for Jennifer Lawrence when she stumbled; debated the sincerity of Anne Hathaway’s “It came true”–my grandmother and mother would have debated that one all night; wondered why Harry Potter didn’t give Bella Swan a hand as she limped to the mic and delivered her trademark mix of snarly and spacey; speculated about the depths of Ben Affleck’s marital misery and whether or not he was actually admitting that those blind items are true; and shook my head in sympathy at poor Kristen Chenowith trying to put up her own  charm offensive up in the midst of MacFarlane’s unyielding smarm offensive.

My grandmother would have enjoyed a lot of it, even as she picked it apart.

Still Not Feeling Bret Easton Ellis

I have long disliked Bret Easton Ellis. I remember reading Less Than Zero as a teen in 1989 and throwing the book across the room during a scene where (as I faintly recall) a girl is tied to a bed and repeatedly raped in exchange for drugs. One of the main characters breezes through the scene and rolls on, not even entirely alarmed by the spectacle.

I remember thinking: What kind of life is this person living that wrote this? I suppose this was a challenge to my young adult view of the world. But it felt more like an attack on anybody who would be “uncool” enough to call the cops. Looking back I likely overreacted.

But it would be one thing if Ellis had something to say about the emptiness and horror of the drug culture and lifestyle. However, it seemed to me that he was simply cataloging modern atrocities to surprise and titillate. I felt exactly the same way while reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo just a couple of years ago. Life is awful, indeed. Let’s pour over the details as salaciously as possible! 

Often books with horrific content–for me that generally includes rape and murder (among many others)–are preachy and silly. The vast majority of us understand that these horrors are wrong. I don’t need the perpetrators to be punished in order to walk away from a book and feel satisfied with it. I don’t always enjoy neatly drawn stories that wrap all the problems up in a bow. But there’s something about the ability to describe horror after horror and pretend it’s not an atrocity that I find just as tedious as the preachy books on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Generally, I have avoided Ellis’s work because of my dislike of Less Than Zero. I was a teen then and, so, a few years ago I figured I’d give his work another try. I knew American Psycho was not for me–seemed gratuitous and heavy-handed, even in excerpted form. So I tried the Rules of Attraction. As I recall, it opens with a female character waking up to being raped after getting drunk at a college party. It is her first sexual encounter. And it’s told from her point of view with all of detachment from humanity that seemed to pervade Less Than Zero. So he’s renowned for his depictions of tedious, amoral people in urban (and sometimes collegiate) settings. It’s not for me is what I learned.

Today, I saw that Ellis has been  tweeting prolifically about 50 Shades of Grey. I haven’t read that–though I have the original PDF manuscript of when it was still Twilight fanfiction that a friend sent me. He’s consumed with who will play the lead character (apparently Rob Pattinson is busy?) of Christian Grey. He argued that fan favorite Matt Bomer can NOT play Christian because Bomer is gay–and it would be unbelievable that he might want to make passionate, dominating sexy times with a lady.

The argument made me laugh out loud because there is a long history of gay men being movie stars (though they were traditionally closeted) and the point of acting is to pretend you are feelings things you don’t really feel. So he missed the point of acting entirely it would seem. Or revealed his own inability to separate art from artist–something I’m going to assume he’d like the rest of us to do when considering his art. I’m going to go ahead and assume he’s not a total sociopath divorced from emotion, someone who would easily step over a dead body in an alley as he has one character do.

But something about Ellis eats at me all the same. There’s something about the treatment of women in his books that seems even more disturbing than how women are treated in media across the board on any given day. So I had to look and see who he follows on Twitter. It’s a hobby of mine to see who people follow on Twitter and I couldn’t help but notice he follows only one woman among 42 people. Her name is Crystal Angel. No idea who she is or what she does.

I must admit that I judge men on Twitter who don’t follow a few women. It says something to me about them that perhaps it shouldn’t. It’s my issue, certainly, but I can’t help but think that a man who doesn’t want to hear the thoughts of at least some women? Is missing out on something important, on a whole world filled with points of views that are, perhaps, unlike his own.  Listening to people outside your immediate sphere? Especially if they are leading different lives than you are? Is the kind of lesson that can benefit your fiction and your life, in my experience.