Sunday, April 25, 2010

We have enough damsels in distress; how about we try some knights in need?

From the April 23/30, 2010 double issue of Entertainment Weekly:

"'In the original script, there was a huge sequence where Edwin Salt saves his wife, who's in danger,' says [director, Phillip] Noyce. 'And what we found was when Evelyn Salt saved her husband in the new script, it seemed to castrate his character a little.'"

...I'm sorry, but are you saying that it is completely okay for a woman to be a damsel in distress but that it is in no way okay for a man to need a woman to save him? I'm calling shenanigans. I know that women have traditionally been cast as more damsel in distress roles and I know that I feel confident enough in my gender and sexuality to admit that I am okay putting my ego aside. I am not asking that women never be cast as damsels in distress, because it happens; everyone needs saving. But it's just that; EVERYONE needs saving, including men.

I do not think that there is anything wrong with a man playing the role of a "damsel" in distress - let's call him a "knight in need" if we want to keep with alliteration. Knights in need happen because, sorry guys, but you need us probably more than we need you. And I think that it is a horrible message to send to men to tell them that they cannot be vulnerable creatures. We are slowly coming to a time where we can see women as tough creatures, tougher than men, able to kick just as much ass. We are complex.

Men are complex too. The problem with an approach like this, however, is that it is training men to go to the old standby - they always have to be tougher than the women. Maybe the woman is the center of attention, like Evelyn Salt in the upcoming movie, Salt. But the man still needs to be just as tough, if not tougher, than the woman. She can take the spotlight, but he's still the MAN, you know?

No, actually, I don't. I don't presume to know how this will play out in the actual movie, but the way that this article was phrased, the way the director put it, it just riled me up. Being a woman is fucking hard because if we want to be more than the damsel in distress we have to prove it daily and if we are the damsel in distress then we're dragging down those women who don't want it. Men can be vulnerable and women can be tough and there is nothing wrong with either of those options. There is nothing wrong with a woman saving a man, and yet, it makes men uncomfortable.

Well, I'd honestly love to see a few men squirm to see that because that's exactly how I feel when I see silly women having to be rescued by the most masculine of men. It doesn't make me uncomfortable, however, when it makes sense, when it isn't about the gender and it's about the characters. When a female character ends up in harm's way and a male character has the ability and the will to rescue her, that's not always a painful thing for me to watch. And it would be equally comfortable if I were to watch a man end up in such a dire situation where a female protagonist would need to take charge.

Now, I have the feeling that the end product of the film will still prove that Angelina Jolie's Evelyn Salt is a badass and capable of saving her husband and that, perhaps, she will still come out being shown to be the tougher of the pair. But I also have the feeling that the original draft placed Edwin Salt's wife in a much more embarrassing situation because it could because women can be placed in more embarrassing damsel in distress scenarios. Only that's wrong.

We women may not understand quite how being kicked in the balls feels, but that doesn't mean that being kicked in the vagina doesn't hurt.

I don't define myself as a feminist, not that there's anything wrong with empowering women. When I read things like this, I realize that women still need empowering. We are not equal to men and we are not interchangeable. Sure, genders have their differences, but not like this. I hope that Evelyn Salt will prove that women can be tough too. And it'll probably be better for the story if her husband is not a total damsel in distress. But it would have been nice for men to see what we women get to see on a regular basis.

And believe me, the pain it strikes through me and the damage it does to my life as a woman lasts a lot longer than getting kicked in your balls does.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Getting Your Ass Kicked.

Yeah, my apologies as usual for not updating very often.

So I DID see Kick-Ass. Last weekend. When it came out. And yes, I quite liked it. The more I thought about it, though, the more depressing it got for me. It's not depressing like The Dark Knight, where you go in expecting a down movie and get it, but Kick-Ass is advertised as a comedy and the thing is, it is funny... but incredibly sad.

Watch out for potential spoilers, folks. I'll try to be gentle though.

As we all know, Kick-Ass is an average guy. And his first foray into crime-fighting goes very poorly. In fact, he gets stabbed. Then hit by a car. Sure, the getting hit by a car is much worse, but watching him get stabbed was just so painful to me. Once he gets out of the hospital, he's still not very super; just a super punching bag. His "super power" is total defense, which means that to be of any use, he has to get his ass kicked. I took no joy in watching him endure all the pain he does and it is was a sad fanaticism that Kick-Ass pursues his career as a crime-fighter. He's bad at it, he almost gets killed a lot, and his ass is saved by the real super hero, Hit Girl, multiple times. Watching Hit Girl is a delight. Watching Kick-Ass is just so sad.

The movie opens with the question, as we have seen in the trailers, asking why no one else tried being a superhero before Kick-Ass. And after watching this movie, I understand and myself have no desire to pursue a career of crime-fighting. There is no glorious montage where Kick-Ass learns how to fight or actually does any ass-kicking at all. Even his fight with Red Mist toward the end is just a show of his incompetent they both are. With no power, comes no responsibility, sure, but is also means having no power, including all the advantageous parts of being a superhero. While the best superhero stories involve the question of how painful and lonely it can be to be such a powerful figure (see: superhero deconstruction, aka, why I love superheroes), Kick-Ass is so ordinary it is painful to watch him get his ass kicked. When Batman is getting his ass kicked, we know he can handle it, because he is Batman. But Kick-Ass is really just Dave with a scuba suit; his mask is the only thing that makes him different than everyone else. At least Nite Owl and Silk Spectre had some training.

Dave, in the end, is just an average guy in way over his head. He can handle the pain, physically, so he survives because that's his ability: to survive. But that's it. He's just like the faceless human beings that survive with the help of the real, trained, able superheroes, or simply heroes. The tough ones who can endure the pain, but also can't do anything to stop it.

Kick-Ass is not a superhero movie; if it really was, it would be called Hit Girl, because she is the superhero. She's got the training, the bloody fight sequences, and the strong origin story. Kick-Ass is, instead, the story of everyone who is not a superhero, but people like Dave, like me, like every fan on the planet, that dreams even for a second what that life would be like. Kick-Ass shows us that that life sucks. It would be hard and unrewarding. So unless we go to ninja school or have a mother train us for a life of crime-fighting or build a super suit or get bitten by a radioactive spider, we are screwed. Because being a superhero takes more than wanting to be a superhero; it takes dedicating yourself to the role. Dave doesn't do that, so he just manages to scrape through and make a few heroic moves outside of all the non-heroic moments he has in the movie. He's the Bond girl to Hit Girl's Bond; he might lend a hand, but really, he's just normal.

So when I first left the theater, I was a bit disappointed that Dave wasn't more badass, that he wasn't more heroic. But as I thought more about it, I just realized that I wanted him to be tougher because it was hard to see him be so normal. It reminded me just how normal I am and that if I were to try what he tried, to just put on a scuba suit and fight crime, I'd probably get stabbed in the gut too. Superheroes aren't normal. And that's just fine; they shouldn't be. Being good at anything takes real dedication, not just posturing in front of a mirror and doing a few sit-ups.

I'd like to see it again, of course, to further assess it and to understand what it is going to give me rather than what I want out of it. If I want a story of a heroic super-human, I'll watch my Dark Knight or Iron Man DVDs. If I want to be brought back to Earth, well, that's what Kick-Ass is for.

Iron Man 2 hits theaters in 2 weeks. That's good, because I need some badassery to keep me sane.