Monday, March 30, 2009

Torture Porn

That title has a certain draw to it, don't you think? It's been on my mind lately - and not in the fun "Oh boy, oh boy" kind of way.

 A few days ago, I had the opportunity to see a play titled Not Such Stuff - written by Chris Wind, produced by Venus Theater, and costume designed by fellow gentleman Brittany Graham. Brittany did an exceptional job designing a fitting costume for each character (an all-female cast), my favorite being Kate's (which complimented the actress and the character very well). The play itself was decent, a little ham-fisted, but well performed all around. The script seems very unfinished, a little unbalanced (Cordelia's part was a bit of a stretch, but appropriate when looked at as simply raising a question), and it read a lot like a term paper. A lot, a lot. But, its heart is very much in the right place - exploring themes into heavy feminism still relevant today in the modern world. The play takes classic female characters from Shakespeare, puts them directly in the spot light, and affords them a voice to speak out. By doing so, Wind explores male fantasy, objectification, token resistance, the classic double-standard, victim blaming, entitlement, and other impositions that have been placed on not just female characters, but on women since the hunter/gatherer days. A quick look might make it appear "anti-male," but a long, hard one reveals a fervent reaction to hundreds of years of masculine imposition on femininity (which is different from feminism) and affords ample relativity to the present day. And, right now, I'm taking a cold, hard look - fire-eyed - at the horror industry. And I do so while stroking my man-beard.

The skew of Hollywood horror has progressed past simple schadenfreude, cathartic reaction, and inventive methods of simulating entertaining violence, and devolved into torture-porn. Movies like Saw (a movie named for the fact that, in order to attempt a proper escape, the main character has to cut his foot off with a rusty saw) and Eli Roth's Hostel (famed for a gruesome scene where, as a brand of torture, an eyeball is extracted and severed while the victim is awake) capitalize on this continuing trend. Normally, I don't object to gore or violence in movies - I've always felt that it's never about what's used, but how it's conveyed to the audience. And, the current trend has turned to a horribly misogynistic conveyance. It's called torture "porn" not just because there may be gratuitous sex involved, but because it conveys violence in a sexual manner by presenting a dominated party (typically attractive, female, usually white, and often blonde) and, literally, orchestrating scenes so that torture is dolled out and screams are uttered in the framing of someone forcing an orgasm (an obvious logical fallacy). Consider the social repercussions in a concept where a woman is violently subjugated in a forced, erotic fashion, presented to a crowd of people who are supposed to think the experience pleasurable because, well, it's not happening to them. The marketing ploy for the film Hostel II epitomizes the concept by presenting women-to-be-tortured as desired (we'll avoid a rant about the many things wrong with how the highest priced "item" on the menu features American women, making them the  most "desirable" to see in this fashion).

Continuing on, I read a blog post a while ago written by Buffy/Angel creator Joss Whedon discussing the Death of D'ua Khalil titled "Let's Watch a Girl Get Beaten to Death" If there's a reason why I'm such a fan of the man, here it is. I've been a Buffy fan since middle-school and, I admit, I am a bit of a "Whedonphile". I acknowledge that he's just a man and that there will be, one day, more "Whedons" to grace the small and silver-screen alike (perhaps one is chosen every generation or so). This one's just our Whedon. And I think that we would see very eye-to-eye on a lot of issues that I don't necessarily see with many of my male friends. If you've ever wanted a fairly accurate take of my perspective on, well, the world click above (although, I'm not sure if "womb envy" quite explains things completely). For those who opt for naught, to the point: it's a disheartening tale of a woman "honor" killed by being kicked and stoned by a group of men, made exponentially worse by the fact that it made itself around the globe, not for awareness or alarm, but because it was something people just wanted to see. The equivalent of a joke e-mail. Seriously, it's depressing - and it proves that this inappropriate kink is not just present in one culture, but nearly all that use technology. Yay.

How does this relate to torture porn? If Joss's example, using Elisha Cuthbert's recent foray into horror movies, does anything, it outlines the striking similarity between what happened to Ms. Khalil and what Hollywood's been crapping out for the past few years. This goes beyond films with poor story-telling, dependent on cheap thrills and gore factor. When Saw V has made $56,729,973 at the box office (noting, of course, many of these people refuse to admit that they watch it - doesn't that sound like porn to you?) we're looking at a symptom of a social disease. I'm waiting for popular horror to return to its glory form (i.e. For awesome storytelling: The Orphanage, For violence used appropriately with some sweet story: The Signal). I know that doesn't mean things will be fixed - for that I have no delusions (being an open feminist will do that). But, it'll definitely be a step forward in the right direction (or at least help me feel like the flames are dying down).


PS - I talk a little more about this on my private blog here. It's a place to explore my creative writing impulses. Click and look around. Let me know what you think.

3 comments:

Chris Evans said...

Great post, John. It's why I can't stand to watch much horror these says, especially gore (which I've never appreciated very much anyway). There's very few female screenwriters and directors to begin with that get opportunities in Hollywood, it's especially problematic when it comes to genres like sci-fi and horror that are typically geared toward a male audience. It's natural that women would be objectified when heterosexual men are at the helm of creating these films. Whether intentional or not, underlying desires typically surface. I've always said it's human nature to objectify others or to sometimes want to be objectified, the problem is when there is one sex that is the predator and another sex that is the prey. There is absolutely no balance. But being sexually objectified is one thing, actually craving seeing brutal violence toward women (or anyone, really) is truly disgusting. And the fact that there are those who are actually sexually stimulated by this sort of thing is really disturbing.

Joss Whedon is probably the best in the business at creating 3-dimensional female characters in a genre that usually makes women sexualized or infantile as to be lucrative to the men watching. Hopefully some more female filmmakers can break through and even the playing field so women aren't treated like animals in mainstream films.

B.Graham said...

John, Chris, you guys are fantastic. I just wanted to let you know.

Ozkirbas said...

Chris, nice to hear from you and thanks for reading.

In much agreement, Sci-fi is another genre, unfortunately, that historically gears itself almost exclusively towards the masculine - which is ultimately to the genre's detriment - since droves of women are clamoring now to become fans of these series. Science fiction, as a genre, has the ability to be far more honest, compelling, and deal with more issues than many other genres because of its ability to simply "appear" escapist. In a sense, it has the ability to deal with more complex and moral issues because it can hide in plain sight with aliens, vampires, or robots acting out the script (as opposed to people). Ironically enough, non-Sci-fi genres actually are far more escapist despite their more "realistic" premises because they either 1) can't deal with issues as deep or 2) simply choose not to because it's not their nature. Due to this, more and more people want to digest and think about the material Sci-fi has to offer and women are a significant part of that group.

Objectification is a very interesting topic and I would love to hear more of your perspective on it. I've never bought that it's a "natural" human compulsion - I think it's very, very learned. That's not to say a certain degree of it is wrong or that choosing to be objectified is wrong, of course. But, when it causes you to stop viewing people as people and view them solely as a means to an end or objects for your gratification, the "predator-prey" dynamic steps a lot closer to actualization. And I've never bought that "predator-prey" was a natural implication in human sex. That's just me, though. You're welcome to disagree. I've definitely heard the "objectification as human nature" argument pitched and found it compelling. I just found objectification as a socialization issue argument more so. Anyway, Segway.

On the positive, Sci-fi is seeing some very significant breakthroughs in this arena. Starbuck (portrayed by Katee Sackhoff) from Ron Moore's re-imagined Battlestar Galactica has been heralded as television's most 3-dimensional, complex female character to date. Jane Espenson (who's written for a slew of television shows since '94, including Buffy and BSG) is a woman on the front lines of the genre, pushing for fair representation of minorities, women, and the LGBT community in the media. (I'll post her website here: www.janeespenson.com) But, that's far from the majority. And these, also, aren't films in the traditional sense.

I share your hope that more female filmmakers are able break through the that ceiling. It will, certainly, be an interesting influence to see on film and television alike.

(Hmmm... this maybe should be a post... at some point..)