Thursday, 29 August 2013

Rant about Brains in Hollywood

I love movies.  I mean, who doesn’t?  While I have some friends that go for the “artsy” types shown in little independent movie theatres, I’m an unapologetic Hollywood girl.  My favourite movie is the Lord of the Rings.  Next in the list are the Usual Suspects, Shawshank Redemption and Madagascar.  A powerful Kiwi movie called Once Were Warriors probably makes it to the Top 5, but that’s about it, as far as non-blockbusters are concerned.

The problem with movies is that if you go to see them for “pure” entertainment and diversion, you must be able to switch your brain off.  I’ve recently been struggling with that, and the biggest culprit is a comic artist called Alison Bechdel.  In her 1985 Dykes to Watch Out For she introduced a test to see whether a movie had THE BARE MINIMUM in terms of women’s presence and storyline.  The test, which has become colloquially known as the “Bechdel test” is composed of three very simple criteria.  The movie must:

(1) have at least two named women in it, 
(2) who talk to each other,
(3)  about something besides a man.

Knowing how often in real life women talk to other women (err... all the time) and how often those conversations don’t concern men (err... all the time), you’d think the test would be a walk in the park for most movies, right?


Trying the test out in action, here are the movies that I’ve seen in the past couple of months:
  1. Monsters University;
  2. Now I see You;
  3. Hair;
  4. Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest;
  5. Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost Ark;
  6. Iron Man;
  7. Silver Linings Playbook; and
  8. Viva Riva.

Guess how many passed the Bechdel test?  Three.  Guess how many of those three were Hollywood?  One.  Silver Linings Playbook scrapes by with a single dinner conversation between the sisters played by Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Stiles.  Ironically enough,* along with the one Swedish movie on my list, passing the test with flying colours, the other one that does is the Congolese one.  And before anyone gets to say anything like “obviously action movies like Indiana Jones and Iron Man will not pass it, chicks don’t do action”, I can inform you that Viva Riva is a violent crime thriller.  But what do you know, apparently in Congo women can get a piece of the action too, and might even have a conversation or two with each other while they’re at it!

The problem with the Bechdel test is not just that it irks the feminist in me.  It is that once I became aware of it, and started applying it to the movies I saw, and liked, I began being also aware of the numerous other failings in them.  Apparently there is an ethnic diversity version of the Bechdel test as well: 

(1) Are there at least two named non-white characters in the movie,
(2)    who talk to each other,
(3)    about something besides a white character?

Most Hollywood movies fail again...

Is it really that only the stories of white heterosexual men are interesting enough to be told?  Why do other characters in movies only exist in relation to the storyline of the main white dude, as if they have no interesting stories of their own?

So basically the Bechdel test has ruined movies for me.  Because once I have it in my head, I can’t help but notice how shallow and stereotypical all Hollywood movies are.  My top 5 of all times listed at the top?  Yeah, you guessed it, they all fail, apart from the Kiwi one.  Thanks a bunch, Alison Bechdel.

PS. Going back to the feminist in me that gets irked, I will give a big thumbs up to the first person to think of a movie that would fail a “reverse Bechdel” test.  I doubt it has been made.

*I say “ironically enough” because we in the North have this tendency of thinking that we’re the most progressive people on the planet.  On everything.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Quickie about Pushbacks

Hi everybody,

Departing from my usual practice of posting only what I hope to be at least mildly thought-through pieces, I'm doing a short post just to promote a campaign Amnesty is doing on refugees and their "pushback" in the Aegean sea.  I'm a typical liberal leftie in many senses (and I don't apologise for any of it), not least because I believe that we here in the comfort of rich Europe should do our bit to help those less fortunate elsewhere.  Sending help to remote corners of the world is one thing, but booting out desperate individuals from our own doorstep is something else and puts all of the EU in shame.  SHAME, I say!

A more thorough piece on Syria and the refugee situation there will be posted in the next weeks, but for now, please at least see what Amnesty is saying and decide whether this is something you want to support.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Rant for Less Science and More Marketing

I don’t know if you’ve noticed the same phenomenon, but every time I read an article online that in any way touches upon global warming, the comments section gets immediately inundated with the “climate sceptics” regurgitating their mantra, which is never limited to “I don’t believe that climate change is happening”, but inevitably includes some data and/or references to scientific “evidence”, in order to make it appear more convincing.*  The comments remind me of the scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo that you can sometimes read in alternative media telling you, for example, that sun doesn't give you cancer, sunscreen does.
It makes me wonder whether this is what comments sections of internet articles on the health effects of smoking cigarettes would have looked like in the 1970s if internet had existed at the time.  We now know that all the data that denied the harmful effects of smoking was pathetic in scientific terms and financed by the tobacco industry, but as a case study of how scientific discourse can be distorted by vested interests we seem to have learnt nothing from it.
I have not heard about the “scientific” “facts” about the non-existence of climate change only on internet noticeboards, but also in real life - and sometimes from pretty smart people. 
I will not enter into a discussion about the scientific evidence of climate change, because I’m not a climate scientist.  What do I do instead?  I take the word of the experts, i.e. the climate scientists, as I do with just about every scientific question.  Here’s the non-news-flash: They all say it’s happening.  We rarely get such consensus on a contemporary scientific phenomenon as we do on climate change, thanks to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with 195 member states, uniting THOUSANDS of experts from all around the globe.  When climate sceptics try to get me into a discussion about the science of climate change, I always ask whether they have read all the IPCC’s reports and why they disagree with the evidence and conclusions in them.  The conversation ends there, because inevitably they have not read the reports.
Despite the impressive amount of evidence, the persons screaming the loudest, getting their opinions not only heard, but accepted by a mind-bogglingly large part of the population, are these non- or pseudo-scientific climate changes sceptics – in other words the people who are not interested in the evidence itself.  How can this be?  The evidence is all there!  Why is it being ignored and dismissed in this era of easy access to information? 
The problem is clearly not one of facts, but presentation.  Science journalists, for example, are not (collectively) doing their job as they are not writing engaging and easily comprehensible articles on the scientific data and new evidence as it emerges and is analysed.  The organisations that employ the scientists themselves are doing no better.  The IPCC, the UN Environment Programme and national meteorological organisations should hire less scientists and more PR and marketing professionals.  The story is compelling, but it apparently needs to be written on glossy paper with tabloidesque headlines and colour pictures for it to be of interest.** 
If that is what it takes, then do it.  The message is too important to be lost because of shoddy and boring presentation by uncharismatic and (probably also) self-satisfied scientists.

*Those of you that read Finnish can find a good example of both: a good, readable article debunking the recent efforts of climate sceptics and the comments that follow here.
**It can already sometimes be found in fairly user-friendly format, such as on Skeptical Science, but I should not have to go look for it myself, as I currently do.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Rant about a Particularly Hot Piece of Ass

My cousins A and P told me that they were watching the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest held a few months ago in Malmö, Sweden. (Hooray to great cultural traditions!)  Apparently in the Finnish broadcast one could send text messages to the production company and these would scroll along the bottom of the screen as the finalists were performing.  A and P noted that many of the comments were lewd and openly sexual, saying nothing about the songs, but focusing solely on the physical attributes of the artists.  Once they noticed this, they began following the comments and discovered that they related solely to the men – without exception.  Nobody made comments about the looks of the female artists (or at least none were published), many of whom were trying just as hard as the men (if not harder) to look sexy.

This is of course what I did at the end of my last post on football.  I made a very thinly veiled crass remark about the looks of professional male football players.  Had I been a man, and making a similar kind of a comment about, say, a female swimmer or gymnast, it would probably have come across as stupid and more than a little sexist.  But I will hazard a guess that that is not how it came across when I made it about men.

Why is that?  Is it not a double standard?  Why do women feel the need to make sexist remarks about men’s bodies, and why are these tolerated?

I gave this idea some thought, and while I don’t have any definite answers, my guess is that it is some kind of a reclaiming exercise.  “Reclaiming” is what black people have done in appropriating the previously used derogatory term “nigger” for their own use, just like women have done with “bitch”, handicapped people with “cripple” and gay men with “fruit” or “queen” – just to give a few obvious examples.  So what I think has happened with the whole objectification thing is that women have taken a practice formerly reserved for men and appropriated it for their own use.  While men are no longer permitted to do that with impunity (remember what recently happened to BBC’s John Inverdale and his blooper about Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli?), women are cheekily turning the tables and giving men a taste of their own medicine.  What we are in effect saying is “I don’t give a damn whether you have talent / brains / sense of humour – I just see you as a hot piece of ass and it is my right to objectify you in this way”.  

The fad will undoubtedly die down, but for now, I may just take advantage of it a few times before it is gone.  So all overpaid famous men beware: I couldn't care less about you, your skills, opinions or personality.  What I want to know is whether I am getting some eye candy or not.  

I'm sure all Wayne Rooneys of this world are quietly crying into their beers having learnt this harsh truth about my wishes and intentions.