When I wake up in the morning, my eyesight is equivalent to that of a right hook recipient when they blearily come to in an animated TV show. In other words, I haven’t yet reached blindness on a bat’s scale, but I’m getting there. This myopia results in lots of hilarious mishaps like putting tights on backwards, scrunching my face in a not-so-cute Renée Zellweger impression, and witnessing blurry somethings out of the corner of my eye that should not be there.
This morning, for instance, I ventured into the bathroom and immediately saw a big, dark shape moving like discolored lightning on the far side of the room. Being ballsy (or stupid, as many a horror film casualty has proven), I edged slowly up to my mystery beast to avoid instigating a predatory attack akin to the physics-defying dorm room spider that once leapt three feet from a wall to my face. Still unable to see the perp, I leaned down to the floor as close as I dared and adopted my habitual squint, prompting the question: What the hell is that thing?
Quick as a spooked whippet, I turned and darted for glasses to figure out whether my David would be up against a Goliath of a roach (I know I’m technically the Goliath in this situation but we’re going by phobic proportions here), or if I’d merely trespassed on a butterfly mating ritual. While Hollywood proper is renowned for its household roaches, I’d had yet to encounter one in our current apartment, and my familiarity with the gargantuan palmetto bugs of Savannah and the millions of tiny brown roaches that hosted raves in the cupboards of my former downtown LA apartment still hasn’t honed my mom’s warrior woman ability to slap cockroaches to smithereens with her bare hands. Plus, I’ve always had a faux Buddhist sympathy for creepy crawlies that prevents me from crushing them unless they’re presently engaged in sapping my veins dry or look like they’re thinking about it (my hand is poised and ready for you, mosquitoes). So as I fled the bathroom in search of vision, my rationale was, “Let’s take a real look at what I’m about to try and catch.”
When I returned to the bathroom, four-eyed and ready to behold miniaturized Satan himself, horror ensued. The thing was now racing up the door that adjoined our roommate’s bedroom to our shared bathroom, and damn was this bugger mobile. Long, jointed legs seemingly sprouting from every millimeter of its wriggling body, it looked like a spider that had been stretched by some sociopathic scientist bent on terrorizing domestic comfort. It was nothing like I’d ever seen before, and as such I had no name or knowledge of its toxicity. I’d need a good trap and possibly a shot of adrenaline to the heart to brave the act of catching this sucker.
So I hurried back to the bedroom knowing that my time was limited to the speed of Dash Incredible plus 30 legs, and proceeded to hunt for trapping tools. Because the law of situational necessity requires that the tools you need in a desperate moment must go into hiding, no handy cans or boxes made themselves apparent to me, and I was forced to sacrifice an Urban Outfitters candle that happened to have a lid. As I grabbed my cucumber-melon scented snare and swiveled back toward my hunting ground, I heard the unmistakable click of the door locking: someone was in there, unknowingly holed up with a monster.
I waited until a second click affirmed my reentry, and lo and behold, the fiend was nowhere to be seen…
Terrified that my latency might have unleashed a deadly pathogen-wielding demon into the house, I pulled on sneakers and practically flew over the gap between the bathroom and our bed, tucking my limbs up as far away from the floor as possible and wrenching open my laptop to devote myself to an hour of Google research. With no certain place to start, I used child logic to guess at the insect’s species and plugged “Types of Centipedes” into the search engine. With a little digging through images of thick red, multi-legged, pincered behemoths, I came across my culprit, and thanks to the blog of biological science writer Madeline McCurry-Schmidt, I learned that my centipede went by the forename House.
According to McCurry-Schmidt and Kate Conway’s similar xoJane article, the house centipede is actually a helpful arthropod in the business of eating other household pests, like cockroaches, silverfish, and poor, poor spiders (don’t you know you could team up and hunt vermin together!?). House centipedes bleed purple (a good incentive not to squash them on that prized Van Gogh print), meticulously groom themselves (that there’s a clean varmint), can reach speeds up to 16 inches per second, live from three to seven years, and lay up to 150 eggs at a time. 150 x 7 (assuming they’re weird enough to reach reproductive maturity upon birth) equals 1050, so within the time it takes a puppy to turn 49, you could have a whole colony of house centipedes patrolling your hallways at night.
Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about disgusting infections the likes of which nobody wants to see while scrolling through Google Images, because your new cohabitational battalion is harmless to humans. With fangs tailor made to gobble up the tiny insects their hind legs have lassoed into submission (because yes, that’s how these bizarre creatures wrangle up their cockroach supper), their jaws are simply too small to penetrate human skin and the most damage they could inflict on our tough epidermises is a slight bee sting sensation or a brief allergic reaction. In fact, house centipedes are so nonthreatening when you inhabit our realm of giants that some Japanese people have taken to domesticating them for pest control purposes. Regionally known as “geji,” house centipedes are even available for purchase beside your hackneyed song birds and passé kittens in Japanese pet stores. That means, if I ever catch my newest roommate, big bucks may ensue.
Armed with all my new knowledge, I felt a little better about returning to the bathroom once the heebie-jeebies started to dissipate–that is until I stepped into the shower and noticed the drain was completely uncovered, indicating the intruder’s entryway. So we may have an infestation on our hands if 150 eggs just happened to be unloaded beneath our bathroom sink, but at least our new friends will continue to prevent our nonexistent cockroach problem. I’ll just have to endure these phantom crawling sensations while little Mr. HC browses for comfortable real estate somewhere in the dark corners of my house.
As a species, humans have a baffling obduracy to live wherever we darn well please on God’s green earth as long as Antarctic estates aren’t included in the realtor’s docket. From nomadic tribes to big business promulgators, we seem determined to plant our roots in every plot that fills both this planet and extraterrestrial acreage beyond–just as soon as lunar engineering is up to mass-developmental snuff. To top off our hunger for property, we play this game of land seizure with little regard for the progenitors of mythology: natural cataclysms that the cosmos allotted to each region of this planet long before we staked our mortgage claims.
In this country alone, the North bears the brunt of inhuming ice storms, the East is pummeled by hurricanes, tornadoes ramshackle the Midwest as they bypass the amicable route to Oz, the Northwest lives in the shadow of eight active volcanoes, tsunami-watch spans each coast, and here in California earthquakes reign supreme. Quite frankly, the United States is a veritable smörgåsbord of Mama Nature’s paroxysms.
In a country so tempestuous–even when we eschew the hailstorm that is bipartisan politics–finding invulnerable settlement means betting on a game of renter’s roulette. If someone ends up sowing their seeds in Tornado Alley, I understand that uprooting their entire life and relocating to milder climes when the cyclones amass is no cheap feat, but I can’t help wondering what convinced our nation’s migratory predecessors to hunker down in different disaster zones in the first place. I suppose when you contend with 23-foot long Ripper Lizards and giant sloths scrambling all over Pangea, the occasional lava flow is a small price to pay for a plot of arable land.
Personally, I took up residence in Los Angeles knowing that its toothy, clawed remnants of the Holocene epoch reside in the Page Museum and the only risky natural business I’d be facing was the fact that this be earthquake country. Besides the slight desk tremors that occasionally pique the excitement of Oregon school children, the first bona fide earthquake I ever experienced occurred at 6:30a.m. Hollywood time when our bed staged its own Evening with Fred Astaire and my boyfriend awoke with an inhuman, deep-sleep yell that aided the tectonic plates in rattling me to the core. This wake up call only reached a magnitude of 4.7 on the Richter Scale, but watching my Las Vegas memorabilia topple from the shelves and feeling the wall sway behind me was enough to instill an utter terror of bigger things to come.
And rumor has it in the scientific community that we SoCal residents ain’t seen nothing yet. Based on the geophysical research of Stanford seismologists, apocalyptic tidings of a massive earthquake hitting Los Angeles sometime in the next 30 years have swept across the internet via scientific forums and volatile comment sections alike. Expected to exceed 8.0 on the Richter Scale, this prophetically minacious tremor is fanning the already voracious flames of Godzilla-esque destruction hypotheses–that is, if his latest film depiction hadn’t been more aptly titled Hundreds of Humans and Their Tribulations, Two M.U.T.O.s, and Fleeting, Incessantly Interrupted Glimpses of Godzilla.
Some of the more imaginative voices of the online peanut gallery have taken these whisperings of catastrophic tectonics and ran with them until they’ve woven cautionary tales befitting Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Commenting on Tech Times’ review of Ker Than’s (associate director of communications for Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences) take on the impending LA quake, one such doomsayer predicted that, “[a]fter only a few days the Los Angeles area will be like a war zone. Eventually it will become uninhabitable. Thousands will die not from the quake but from the aftermath… I have had a dream over and over of a very long mass of weary looking people walking east on the interstate up the grade toward Barstow and the refugee camps set up there by the government. When you look back to the west all one can see to the horizon is smoke rising up from what was once a modern civilization now destroyed by mother nature. It will happen. My dreams always come true.”
Whether or not this commenter was film director Roland Emmerich posting under an alias is yet to be verified.
Unfortunately for us Angelinos, the aptly denoted “Big One” bodes more substantiated probability than the portentous theories that mankind will perish at the hands of bath salt zombies. According to Ker Than’s article for Stanford News, scientists have found a way to predict a future quake’s ground movement and shaking hazards by examining the ambient seismic field, or pressure pulses generated and projected through the earth’s crust by colliding ocean waves. While these ambient waves are notably “billions of times weaker than the seismic waves generated by earthquakes,” scientists like Marine Denolle have now learned how to mathematically compare these surface measurements to the temblor waves that occur deep within the earth.
By examining these “virtual earthquakes,” scientists verified a supercomputer’s prediction from 2006 concerning the San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain, northwest of Los Angeles. This prediction suggested that if said fault should rupture, the seismic waves produced by an earthquake would be “funneled toward Los Angeles along a 60-mile [sedimentary] conduit that connects the city with the San Bernardino Valley.” To make matters worse, Los Angeles is a sitting duck atop a large sedimentary basin that study coauthor Eric Dunham compared to a jiggly dollop of gelatin in the midst of a plastic foam bowl. This means that if you’re lucky enough to have set up shop in the plastic foam terrain that circumvents Los Angeles, you might not have to hold on as tight as we Gelatinites strike vogue poses in our doorways to fend off falling furniture. Other cities unfortunate enough to have been founded upon these suicidal basins of sediment include Tokyo, Seattle, and parts of the Bay area, all of which simultaneously stand on the tectonically fruitful circum-Pacific seismic belt. Home to 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes and 81% of the world’s largest earthquakes, this horseshoe-shaped calamity hotbed is a natural exemplar for a sequel to Pacific Rim: Pacific Ring of Fire.
I guess the moral to this disastrously consequential story is hire some scientists to dig in your dirt before inspiring 10 million people to come inhabit your city, you technologically ill-adept Chumash, Tataviam, and Tongva tribes, Spanish explorers, and gold prospectors of yesteryear. That, or just relax all you internet harbingers of doom. For no matter how many Essential Survival Kits-in-a-Can we accrue from California Surplus Mart, Mother Nature is going to do her thing, and because we’ll be a part of that natural ebb and flow no matter where we reside, there’s little point in toiling our lives away in premature fear. After all, a major quake hasn’t occurred along the San Andreas Fault in more than 150 years, and if that’s not enough to smooth out your apprehensive gooseflesh, we still have a supposed grace period of three decades to decide whether volcano, blizzard, tornado, or hurricane territory would be a more suitable habitat for relocation.
- Doomsayer. “Dystopian Dream.” Tech Times, Comment Section, 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 May 2014. <http://techtimes.com/articles/2967/20140128/los-angeles-brace-yourself-for-a-bigger-earthquake-scientists-predict.html>.
- Than, Ker. “Stanford scientists use ‘virtual earthquakes’ to forecast Los Angeles quake risk.” Stanford News, 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 May 2014. <http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/january/la-quake-risk-012314.html>.
- “Is it true that scientists are predicting a really big earthquake will sink western California?” How Stuff Works, 7 Feb. 2001. Web. 24 May 2014. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/question567.htm>.
In our contemporary blogosphere, it’s becoming commonplace for opinion pieces to spark galled backlash. With these internet ripostes in mind, allow me to start by addressing a point that’s heated “Jezebel” and “The Gloss” writers alike. I am now and have always been of the opinion that skinny female characters and the actresses who portray them can most certainly be strong. Some examples of this reality include Jada Pinkett Smith as The Matrix trilogy’s Niobe: a skinny woman who’s physically buff and whose on-screen presence as captain of the Logos packs a commanding wallop. Jennifer Lawrence as The Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen: a skinny woman who exudes strength in controlled stoicism, perseverance, deft reflexes, and cunning. Emilia Clarke as Game of Thrones‘ Daenerys Targaryen: a skinny woman who commands dragons, the most powerful weapons in all of Westeros… when she can find them. In fact, my list of skinny badass women could go on for the duration of this entry because, quite frankly, skinny badass women proliferate the action genre. In some cases, the tiny but strong physiques that parade across theater screens are totally warranted, such as Katniss Everdeen’s lifetime of meager rations and near-starvation, which produced not only her precision in archery but also her emaciated frame.
These rare cases of justified slenderness aside, last weekend I begrudgingly sat through an aspiring blockbuster which reminded me all too blatantly that in most cases Hollywood’s coveted runway-ready action heroines possess slender builds that go without explanation, or outright contradict their characters’ backstories. Said film that I knew I would execrate from the first teaser trailer was 300: Rise of an Empire.
Now in a continued effort to keep the peace, let me apologize henceforth to anyone who adored the second installment of the 300 franchise and warn anyone who’s optimistically awaiting the DVD release that these next paragraphs aren’t for you. I would hate to rain on anyone’s pending parade but in my effort to lay down the skinny, an explanation is in order.
Perhaps my seventh grade history reenactment of the Battle of Thermopylae gives me a sense of personal connection to the story, or perhaps sneaking into the sold out premiere after enduring Wild Hogs and being forced to sit in my friend Davin’s lap in the front row made it all the more exhilarating, but 300 is one of my all-time favorite movies. A hyper-stylized, Greco-fetishism action film whose place in my heart outlived my teenage affinity for violent, adrenaline-fueled cinema, 300 is like a classical painting injected with testosterone and set to a mashup of choral hymns and industrial guitar performed in a Mediterranean arena. Couple this with my Frank Miller phase sophomore year of high school, during which all my paintings suddenly looked like Sin City and all the dialogue in my stories had the private investigator timbre of a film noir revival, and it’s a shoo-in that 300 would have me hooked.
As such, from the minute my ear registered the first inklings of a possible sequel, I knew I was in for a pile of sepia-toned, slow-motion dog crap. And when I broke down and saw the film as an escape from last Sunday’s heatwave, my expectations were not disappointed. Seven years ago when it was released, 300 was something we hadn’t seen yet. Sure Neo’s back-bending, decelerated bullet dodge in The Matrix ushered in the stylized fight sequences that pervade action films to this day, but as far as I’m concerned 300 was a new form of visual gluttony that was candidly cool. From the sheer mythos of ancient Spartans, to the absorbing narration, to the gritty and simultaneously painterly aesthetic, to the machismo choreography, to Gerard Butler and his conical beard, and to the archetypal characterizations–every facet of this narrative oozed cool.
Zack Snyder may have taken the M. Night Shyamalan route and fallen quickly from a laudable perch in film esteem to directorial leper, but based on the utter disaster that is 300: Rise of an Empire, upcoming director Noam Murro could do with a touch of Shyamalan. Where 300 was fresh cinematic confectionery, 300: Rise of an Empire came seven years too late, after a horde of fanboys reproduced its aesthetic to death in both film and television, à la The Immortals and Spartacus. As if this latency weren’t enough, 300: Rise of an Empire then took everything that was impressive about its predecessor and lamed it past the point of entertainment. Where 300 presented us with hardcore-by-definition Spartans, it’s sequel centralized around the farmers and poets of Athens, and expected us to believe that men of these dispositions would possess the same chiseled and airbrushed abs of life-long, fanatical warriors. Where 300 brought us iconic dialogue to rev up battles of hand-to-hand combat and impossible feats of flight and strength, Rise of an Empire gave us horrendously convoluted and unimpressive speech, generally followed by tedious ellipses, before merely smashing their CGI ships into one another. Where 300 brought us powerful archetypes, such as the inexplicably behemoth god-king Xerxes, the sequel squandered said mystique with inane, humanizing backstories. Where 300 brought us bizarre, prosthetic monsters that served a purpose, the new release tossed in a couple half-attempts at poorly animated creatures that did nothing but hiss, spit, and disrupt deep sea dreams. And where 300 brought us female dynamism in Queen Gorgo’s plight to aid her husband and her people by whatever means necessary, Rise of an Empire brought us Eva Green.
Prior to seeing the film, I read a review in the Los Angeles Times written by a woman who ranted and raved about Eva Green’s magnetism as the Persian navy’s most formidable commander. While it’s nothing against Green’s acting skills, I found both the writing and choreography for Artemisia dry and unimpressive, and the casting of waif-like Green (who attributes her paper-thin mien to her French affinity for “cigarettes and laziness”) really got my goat for the very reasons I started this blog entry.
Artemisia is a Greek woman betrayed by her countrymen and hot on the trail of vengeance, and as such she’s been training with the Persian herald (of all people) in combat since childhood. Her lifelong vendetta builds her up to be one of Darius’ and Xerxes’ most vicious soldiers, and when she’s pitted against the Athenians at sea, her skill with a sword makes her a killing machine amidst the onslaughts of unexplainably robust seafarers.
With a backstory and profile like that, you’re not pulling one over my eyes this time Hollywood. If Artemisia was a real woman who’d devoted her entire life to Greek-Decapitation Boot Camp, she would at least have arms like these female Adonises:
(And look Hollywood, you could even keep the cinched waist for sex appeal!)
For some reason, despite the beautiful, muscular women like the afore-pictured 1905 “circus strong woman” and 1890’s Vulcana–a woman who actually looks like she beats foes to a pulp for a living, Hollywood insists on ignoring the characters’ profiles and casting the Gal Gadots of the industry as Diana of Themyscira.
Occasionally Hollywood does get it right, utilizing Gwendoline Christie’s striking height of 6’3″ to create a totally believable warrior in Brienne of Tarth, or casting stunt woman-turned-lead-lady Zoë Bell for her genuine physical prowess and ability to literally kick butt. More often than not, Hollywood makes feeble efforts at best, tailoring B-movies to women like mixed martial artist Gina Carano, whose leg locks far supersede her abominable acting. That, or they bypass accuracy altogether in favor of sex appeal.
As a girl who’s been a limp noodle far more times in my life than that period of lopsided racquetball strength and that one year track and field made me muscular, I completely understand the argument that thinness does not equate to weakness. After all, there are numerous fighting styles out there that enable a narrow figure to bring down someone twice their size. Plus, there’s always the fact that a thin actress can bulk up for a role. But I’m not going to kid myself into believing that Hollywood’s decision to cast skinny women as beastly characters is an attempt to emanate female empowerment. Rather than utilizing low-weight modes of combat to their advantage or following in the BBC’s footsteps and casting actors that realistically look the part of their roles, Hollywood is clearly only concerned with selling tickets via sex, and the current mainstream definition of feminine attractiveness is runway model thin… with breasts if she can manage to pull off that Victoria’s Secret feat.
Thus, until the the media’s interpretation of desirability begins to morph towards something of Polynesian proportions, I’ll have to buckle down and swallow my gripes, watching adequately muscular film and television contenders get passed by in the casting hunt for the fiercest commanders of the shitty-remake sea.
I live in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, capital of progression in entertainment. As such, I don’t know if I could possibly be more saturated in a trend that future decades may well identify as the zeitgeist of our era. In the way that the 80s are stereotypically characterized by teased hair and overzealous synthesizers and the 20s are remembered for board-thin flappers and sexual revolution, I think our period might be historically defined by the beginnings of the technological takeover George Orwell prophesied. Only rather than relying on technology for every facet of both survival and comfortable living (as science fiction likes to predict) our era seems to utilize the majority of our technological strides for the very concept that makes my current hometown a tourist Mecca: entertainment.
In this day and age, we spend so much time sapping entertainment from our televisions, computers, and cell phones (more aptly known as “cellular devices” due to the increasing antiquity of actual phone calls), that it makes the deeply repressed wild child in me sick beyond Pepto-Bismol relief. So much so that I resorted to college-ruled paper for the crafting of this entry, just to spare my eyes the LED glare of my laptop as long as possible.
When I was a child, long before the invention of Smartphones, Rokus, iPads, and Netflix, I technically had far less access to information. In order to garner new knowledge via the answers to numerous queries, people and books already possessing said wisdom had to be sought out–and this process of learning could take far longer than tapping into your Wi-Fi and posting a thread on Yahoo Answers. But despite the hefty girth of old school dictionaries and the time it took to navigate them, the pre-MP3 world I was brought into was far more wondrous. For entertainment, we looked to nature to provide us with sand to sculpt, rocks to climb, mud to throw, trails to explore, and water to paddle. We looked to our toy box for blueprint-less Lego castles to build, Barbies to direct in plays, and whole worlds to fabricate from disparate pieces. We looked to our friends and relatives for tag between the cherry trees, trampoline acrobatics, and lava monster on the stairwells. And in the pursuit of new knowledge, where wise people and books were scant, personal experimentation in pursuit of an answer thrived. In all, it was a time when imagination and the endless joy you could glean from it ran rampant.
Now I’m not saying the child of my youth doesn’t exist anymore. Trying my hand at teaching elementary and middle school art for several years has proven that there exist many amongst the post-millennium babies who still get a kick out of seed-spitting contests, capture the flag, and playing the time-resistant “house.” But my observations have also yielded a great number of children taking cues from the modern adult: riveted with their iPhones, Angry Birds, Facebook, PSPs, and cable television. Sedentary hobbies that I fear may continue to escalate in child popularity.
Frankly though, I’m one to talk. My sister and I may as well have ushered in the child cell phone craze when at ages 9 and 11 we were envied by our peers as the only two children in school to possess brick-sized, antennae-toting Nokia 5110s. The year was 2001, Snake was one of the few 8-bit games a cellular device could support, and cell phones were still such an up-and-coming phenomenon that instead of confiscating mine when it went off in class one day, my fifth grade teacher merely laughed. But even as early prototypes of elementary school cellonistas, my sister and I only had them as safety precautions for the long, unsupervised walks home from school, not as idle distractions. And when cell phones began to proliferate throughout school systems by the eighth grade, my dad decided our exponential texting warranted the cancellation of our family plan, an act that may have deemed us social pariahs throughout high school, but ultimately did us and our eyesight a world of good.
Nine years later, sitting in a Hollywood apartment with my laptop blinking at me sleepily from the bed, my Smartphone sedate on the table, and my image reflected back at me on my boyfriend’s flatscreen TV, the thought of pre-adolescent children fixating on their digital devices with the same vim the characters of Her demonstrated with their Operating Systems is a frightening notion. I’m 23 years old, living in the age that witnessed the birth and demise of CDs, DVDs, and Blackberries; an age in which the rapidity of technological advancement grants our lifestyles increasing facility on an annual basis. And yet rather than celebrating the ease with which I can archive my music or send my sister messages via satellite, all I really yearn to do right now is ditch the muffled television conversations that eek through every Hollywood wall, throw my phone and its tempting crossword puzzles to the wayside, bid adieu to the computer that served as my life support and safe haven throughout college, and take up residence in a remote, mountain-ringed field somewhere.
For as an active participant in the age of intensifying technological reliance and reproduction, it’s nerve-wracking enough pondering ways to go about shielding my future children from the comparably substandard Harry Potter films long enough for them to read the books. With this and similar obstacles amassing by the day, it’ll be a wonder if I can convince these pending Moon babies that racing you to the other side, climbing to the highest peak, and letting your imagination run away with you provides entertainment that simply can’t be found by poring over an iPhone.
By way of the media-sharing, social networking, and stalker-encouraging faculties of a little web sensation known as Facebook, my attention was recently directed to an article written by author Sophia McDougall for NewStatesman entitled “I Hate Strong Female Characters.” Initially perceived as an odd subject for a woman in full advocacy of female heroism, the article reveals an author’s vexation with the fact that the few female characters Hollywood’s male-dominated industry engenders these days are whittled down to mere “strong” women.
As if to pacify the contemporary consumer’s deterrence from the antiquated “damsel in distress,” screenplays today produce a myriad of women who not only serve as the male protagonist’s necessary love interest, but who also pack a punch. To illustrate the media’s attempt to reverse the princess hype of bygone eras, McDougall cites kung-fu-savvy Fiona from Shrek, trigger-happy Peggy Carter from Captain America, Buffy of vampire slaying fame, and Black Widow from The Avengers (am I sensing an anti-Joss Whedon trend here?), all of whom resort to violence to establish their auras of sexually intriguing power. While there’s no denying these kick-ass women have right hooks and roundhouse kicks in heels down to a T, McDougall’s article surmises that this modern cinematic woman may be nothing more than a convenient rouse to keep the idolatrous masses at bay–to paraphrase Walter Benjamin. In today’s big Hollywood blockbuster, women have to be purveyed as strong in order to receive the respect their male counterparts garner, even though a man can be prone to addictive neuroses à la Sherlock Holmes, and still be considered a hero. Ultimately, McDougall asks for equality between male and female characters. Instead of one gal and five guys in a super hero posse, why not level the gender playing field? And instead of emphasizing nothing beyond that one female character’s strength and sexual magnetism, why not add the dimensions of reality afforded to male protagonists like Spider Man, Hamlet, and Daniel Craig’s James Bond?
After reading this opinionated plea for equality (akin to the egalitarianism my inner, scale-toting Libra is always intent on), I got to thinking. On the one hand, I could rabble-rouse this cinematic platitude as reverse discrimination: a Hollywood ploy so keen on eradicating the helplessness of damsels past that it’s catapulted the blockbuster heroine into a predictable facade of strength, as if to suggest that while men are expected to be strong and therefore require ulterior characteristics to be captivating, women are expected to be weak, and therefore easily transition into compelling characters when caustic gun-wielding comes naturally. But is The Avengers’ Black Widow, with her monotonous, expository lines and repetitive harnessed flips, actually a compelling character?
On the other hand, I realized as I pondered this crux, that I myself am at fault for the fact that the sheer number of male protagonists–be it in The Avengers, Inception, or even The Smurfs–tend to exceed the number of female characters. I haven’t written recreational fiction in years and have honestly evolved well beyond the anti-feminist, male idolizing yahooligan of my youth, but back when I was able to document the adventures of my imagination on a daily basis, I was undeniably responsible for the adolescent egocentrism that results in one primary female character and a horde of dudes. Yes, there was the Holes fan-fiction from middle school that introduced a cast of female equivalents for each of the male Green Lake inhabitants, and yes, the three women featured in my story “Pampa” outnumbered the two men, but generally, my writing enveloped a sole heroine based off some constituent of myself and a host of male characters based off of other personal facets. Blame it on latent, inapparent tomboy-ism, but as a girl who found herself easily relating to a male mindset, it just felt more natural to translate my sardonic voice through a male medium and reserve my sense of teenage trepidation about body image, boys, and school for my female characters.
But just because the men outnumbered the women in my writing, didn’t mean my female characters ascribed to classic Hollywood’s helpless maidens or today’s revamped sword-brandishing pseudo-mutes. My characters may have been uncertain about a lot of the things life presented them with, but some of them certainly emanated natural strength, a couple of them had pulled through harrowing circumstances hardened but notably wiser, many of them could riposte circles around their male companions, and all of them had individual perspectives, experiences, and a distinctive voice of their own. None of them used kung-fu to merit respect (in fact, one character hid her penchant for violence as a hired gun in order to assimilate into the new identity she’d devised), and while a couple of them (my sister’s analog in the Holes fan-fic) had the men drooling, most of them deviated from the stereotypical sex symbol that makes a female character profitable in the eyes of Hollywood.
In fact, as I pondered the subject further, I realized that even though hero movies (generally inspired by comics made by men and produced by men for men) have created the Disney princess foil via their violent, “strong” female archetype, women have come a long way in the media. Just look at Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, idolized for their hilarious goofiness and witty intelligence without having to step into a leather catsuit or be raised by a pulley to conduct Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-esque combat. And even in the realm of tough cookies, Arya Stark combines the honest vulnerability of youth with an adult desire to aid her family and fight because it’s inevitable, not because it’s sexy. While these multidimensional women offer hope to irritated consumers like McDougall, I won’t deny that they’re a long ways off from representing the schema perpetuated by our summer blockbusters–that of the disposable, hyper-sexualized Bond girl or the infamous “strong female character.”
I suppose that when you reside in a country where female politicians still don on pantsuits to be taken seriously, it’s no wonder Hollywood imbues strength in its female characters to elicit respect. While rugged gals can punch a chauvinist into silence or shoot their loved ones with fifty arrows out of unverified jealousy, you know our blockbuster screenplays have a few reality checks in order when the closest fictional woman I can relate to for her perseverance is Liz Lemon (that, or I just really like ham).
I’m a proud proponent of the fact that Hollywood has come a long way since Snow White lay in entombed waiting after a gullible run-in with an apple, but I can also recognize the validity in McDougall’s sentiments. Hollywood seems to be opposed to the notion of a female hero chartering her own film (and headlining a movie poster rather than standing behind Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth) because, quite frankly, they haven’t figured out how to make her compelling enough yet. Personally, I don’t want them to make that movie until they learn to do it right–two hours worth of Scarlett Johansson’s blank expression while she pulverizes villains with the powers of… karate would make for a sure-fire box office flop. Perhaps the secret lies in employing female writers, girls who, like my adolescent self, dreamt up women who equalled men in battle but possessed senses of humor and honest queries about life to boot. Maybe Hollywood just needs to hand over the reigns to the female script writers and guys in tune with their feminine sides, thereby enabling those underused artists to revel in a little geeking out of their own.
Picture it: a dimly lit hall illuminated by a line of rustic, brass chandeliers emitting a faint yellow light onto the slice of Cahuenga Boulevard just visible through the open door. A boar’s head hangs high on the wall, serving as a taxidermic spectator to the affairs below, too enshrouded in shadow to be suspect of cheap facsimile or costly verisimilitude. Yards down, an oxyn-colored bar stretches the length of the room, reflecting a mural of light: yellow from the glowing lanterns and variegated from the polychromatic bottles arranged seductively in a backlit cabinet. Opposite this extravagant display stand eight circular tables, their gloaming mien a perfect respite for the patrons of a more private disposition than the raucous guests steadily occupying stools at the bar.
Three bartenders dart amongst this throng, their hands ever moving to fulfill increasingly slurred behests. One, a tow-colored Englishman in a satin vest and ensemble intended to match the brooding palette of the furnishings, might own the place–or at least have some influence on the Anglian pub décor. The second is a sharply dressed Hispanic man making his debut in this particular tavern but clearly no novice mixologist as he swiftly produces Blackberry Sidecars, London Eyes, Basset Hounds, Strawberry Fields, Cranky Butlers, and crassly titled Abortions. The final barman speaks through a pierced lip as he recognizes a girl who shamefacedly attempts to avoid his gaze, certain that she unintentionally called him a jackass in a drunken stupor during her last weekend soirée. Little does the mortified customer realize that the bartender, with his penchant for remembering her face, has no memory of the accusatory slight, and instead plots a transgression of his own by inviting her to partake in free shots despite the boyfriend she visibly fawns over.
The din ebbs and flows to the rhythm of an electronic bass, spiking with each bout of high pitched laughter that peals from intoxicated women, raising the hopes of their interlocutors. Men play Ring the Bull with no knowledge of the game’s title and little luck at its objective, groups of women in towering heels and tight dresses throw back tumblers of transparent liquid with pinched expressions and successive giggles, couples inch gradually closer to one another with obvious intent, a large party convenes in the upstairs loft to celebrate the birthday of a beloved east coast screenwriter, and a typical Friday night in Hollywood unfolds to a cacophonous collage of diverse people with the shared goal to unravel.
In short, business at The Blue Boar booms.