Friday, February 08, 2008

Hang up the Chick Habit.

A few months ago I saw the Tarantino movie Death Proof and it got me thinking. For the record, I am a fan of his work - mostly for his brilliant use of quick dialogue but also for the blur that exists in his depicting a concrete era. I like the fact that Pulp Fiction is 50s influenced however also very much a contemporary look at the culture at the time. It's like all of his work, not quite retro, not quite a homage but very much flavourful of a genre or era without being overpowered by it. I also happen to think he has flawless taste in music and so, no matter the film I know that the soundtrack will be a killer.

I remember though when PF came out. Tarantino got a lot of flack for
a) language.
b) violence.
c) lack of strong female characters in his work.

Personally I think all three were bogus complaints all based in truth of course, but bogus nevertheless. I enjoyed the language and violence and if a man can't make a boy centered movie with a bit of grit then I don't want to know him. Yes, he uses excessive language and yes some of the scenes in all of his movies are disgusting. So what? Deal with it.

Tarantino was a smart cookie though, he saw how popular his character Mrs Mia Wallace (from PF) was among both ladies and gents that he addressed his lack of strong female leads quick smart and made one of the most kickarse lady movies ever - Kill Bill vol 1 and 2. Death Proof once again looks at female leads, however, he also adds in a strong male character to mix it up: Stuntman Mike.

The movie Death Proof has two parts within the movie - and this is going to be full of spoilers folks... The first part - three girls who think they are "badass" take to the road, visit a bar meet Stuntman Mike and end up dead. The second part - another group of girls, take to the road, visit a diner, meet Stuntman Mike and kick the shit out of him.

What was different? And just how did the second lot of girls outsmart and out kick Stuntman Mike? I mean, this guy had his sadist act down. He has a death proof car folks and he was not afraid to use it to kill women of his choosing.

Let's just have a little look see at wider society and women. One could argue in this era of post-feminism we have two kinds of women - women who don't take any shit and women who do. Of course, the reality is that there are many kinds of women, all individual - but this is a MOVIE guys, let's be serious - plus, we're looking at generalities here and in terms of a generality this would be right. Shit takers and shit givers. One could argue the same for men as well. People. People are shit takers or shit givers.

The shit takers in this movie would be seen in the first part of the movie. They are the hot, sexy girls who flirt with any man that moves. Why? Well just because they can folks, just because they can. For the record, no man complains about this fact. Who doesn't want a hot girl dressing sexy and flirting with them? Hell, did I mention they are hot? The guys are lining up to buy them drinks and the girls accept the drinks, give the boys a little sugar by way of kisses and flirting and then leave. Hell, that's their prerogative, girls don't have to put out if they don't want to do they? These girls in part one, in no uncertain terms know what they want. They are not stepford wives. They are not on a hunt for a husband. They are not gold diggers or any of that. They have careers and their own minds. This is very important to the plot because in no way are we to think of these girls as traditionally "weak".

Things for these girls seem pretty peachy. Everyone thinks they are a lovely, and they are. In the land of successful females they go very far. The thing is though, even though they seem so in control of their lives they are not. All men's interactions with these girls are only based on sex. The men buy drinks for them because they want sex. The girls promise lap dances for a certain password from men. In fact they are much more crude than the men in the film - they would see themselves as the type of women who are empowered by their sexuality. Watching the movie, you get that impression too. Their "careers" (or just the way they live their lives) are based around sex, or being sexy. Now, sex is a powerful tool and it has been theorised ad nauseum that sex is the most powerful tool that a woman can have in this world. I'm inclined to agree that it IS but I also happen to think that this SUCKS. It means that our options are quite limited if we want to be successful doesn't it? Here's what I think about these kinds of women: women who use sex to their advantage in dealings with men (by sex I mean flirting, being sexy to get what they want etc) are not the kind of women I like. I think they are selling all of us short and quite frankly demeaning themselves. HOWEVER, I do think that women who do use sex as power get very far. Mostly because our society rewards this kind of behaviour from women, rather than from men.

So why then do these women die if they have all the power? Well because like all people with only one source of power they are easy targets. These are the girls who are watched and while there is power in being 'beheld' there is absolutely no autonomy. All their power is based in sex and so when you take that away - ie: you're not interested in their sex then you render them completely powerless and useless. They don't matter any more. They are nothing. And Stuntman Mike, he's a sadist from way back, he doesn't care about the sex - only the cruelty that comes with exploiting that. They have no power when it comes to him and rightly so; they all die. Now you see why I think those girls who base all their power in sex sell the rest of us short. They don't really prosper in dire situations - and life itself is one dire situation after another really.

Enter part 2; 14 months after the part 1 girls have been brutally murdered by Stuntman Mike. Life has changed dramatically in this time. The opening shot, of a cheerleader makes you think that these are going to be yet another bunch of archetypal females that make male fantasies churn, and yet it is realised immediately that this is a big joke on us. These girls might be watched but they also do the looking, and the choosing. These girls are nothing like the ones that came before. It feels like one decade has gone by, socially speaking, rather than only a year. Enter our four main protagonists - again, all sexy/pretty girls who hang out in a male dominated world. They talk about their boyfriends, they talk about their jobs - but they pay their own way. These girls are lovely as well, but they just do their own thing. Their power is based somewhere outside the realm of sex, though it is apparent that they are not abstaining from sex, nor from men. They are just not concerned with flirting it up with randoms. Stuntman Mike notices them though and he's getting ready to kill again but something happens: The girls won't be bullied. He can't take away their sexual power by hating them, because their power isn't based in sex. They've got something different going on.
1) They stick together when it counts.
2) They make their own fun.
3) They are not afraid to get down and dirty.

This is extremely different from the girls in part 1. Both sets of girls have their own jobs and have lives and their own money. On the surface they are poster children for 'new woman' - but as always it's the inside that counts. The part two girls aren't basing their power in sex. They don't need their sexuality reaffirmed everywhere they go. And so, when Stuntman Mike approaches them, they aren't scared into a corner by him, nor are they titillated or charmed like the part 1 girls were. Sure the circumstances were different in part 2, but in the end the part 2 girls were not to be beaten down and killed. They got back on the horse and chased the man down and then beat him until he died. As in, with their bare hands. I have to make the distinction that they're not targeting normal everyday guys - they aren't the perpetrators of violence but they can turn it on when someone else starts it - I love that.

In the second part, the twist is that the girls win. Which comes as a surprise because actually no one expects that to happen - it's so rare in a movie of this sort (slasher/car movie - incidentally movies I grew up watching - especially car movies which I had major nightmares about). These women also stick together and this is an important point. When women base their power in sex then you can easily tear them apart - you don't even have to try. This is because when you have a group of women who all base their power in the reaffirmation of their sexuality and you add one man into the mix then that group of women will immediately begin tearing each other down in order to get to the man. I've seen it a million times before with girlfriends. In the case of the movie you have the part one girls arguing about whether to take the guys home with them, even though they all agreed not to. And you also have them exchange rivalries with each other over men. This isn't good when you're trying to make it out alive. The part two girls stick together and don't have any interest in being rivals at all. It's why they come out alive.

I guess what I'm saying is, and Tarantino touches on it to, that there are girls who look to men to reaffirm their sexuality and those girls are always going to be beaten down because not only does that not last forever but also there will always be people who will want to exploit that. Hell society exploits that all the time. It may be a HUGE power source to be perpetually sexy - but it's also one of the EASIEST to exploit and manipulate. A girl who is thought of only as a sum of body parts (only praised because she has a great arse or great legs or whatever it is that is admired at the time) is easily cut down into body parts when it comes down to it. She's never whole, she's just legs, or neck, or lips etc. That kind of blows. If a girl only has that going for her then she doesn't really have all that much at all and if that's all she's admired for then it says little about those doing the admiring. You see these kinds of girls everywhere, in life and in blog-land too funnily enough. Sometimes words are enough without pictures even. Everything comes back to sex - or rather to the odd comment or entry that screams; 'remember, I'm sexy!'. Couple that with being ultra competitive with other women and you have someone who is easily dismantled, humiliated and left alone without backup. Not a good position to be in when being hunted down (aka, life)

Girls, keep your girlfriends close and your interests varied. Girlfriends will back your shit up with the chips are down and if you're not afraid to smudge the mascara a bit then you can kick some major arse! Don't worry, you can always keep a makeup compact in your purse, for the touch up afterwards.

Should girls kick arses or are they better off just using sex to get what they want? Is not using sex too utopian for the society we live in - do women HAVE to use their sexuality to their advantage in order to get ahead, not just in work but in life, generally speaking?
How do men use their sexuality to get what THEY want - and why doesn't anyone ever call them on it?

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