Effective feminist criticism

Often when people attempt a feminist critique of a story, they’ll focus on characteristics of the women in the story. For example, Pacific Rim‘s Mako Mori was criticized for not having much of a speaking role. This sort of criticism does no favors to feminism and actually perpetuates one of the worst aspects of patriarchy: the determination of who a woman is “supposed to be” by someone who isn’t that woman.

Just as we reject that all women must be submissive, passive, good with children, helpful to a fault, etc., we must also reject that all women must be anything. Some women are loudmouths. Some women are quiet. Some women are great with kids. Some women hate kids. Some women want to be lawyers. Some women want to be designers. Some women find nothing as fulfilling as being a homemaker. And men are the same. People have different beliefs, backgrounds, interests, and skills, and they make different decisions.

An effective feminist critique of a text, then, is not one that judges how “badass” or outspoken a female character is. Instead, it focuses on how the film portrays her life. Does she make choices? Are her choices realistically effective? She doesn’t have to be right or successful all the time. She does have to receive the same story treatment as a male character. Does she serve a purpose in the plot beyond furthering a male character’s story? Does she have her own story? Does her story make a difference in the world of the text? Is she essential, or could she be lifted right out? These are the questions to ask, not whether a female character fits some sort of template for the “modern woman”.

We are people, we are different, and we deserve to be portrayed in myriad ways. There is no catch-all character who can speak for “womankind”.

Art, and remakes and revisions thereof

I started this as a response to Hai’s comment to my previous post, but it got long-winded so I decided to put it here.

Regarding the third Harry Potter movie: they did rearrange stuff, and leave a lot out (I was really looking forward to seeing Snape hover unconscious with his head lolling to the side…and they never explained how Lupin knew about the map, or about Prongs! Plus the movie ended early, etc…). As I was telling Brooke the other day, though, I guess I don’t see movies as “adaptations to a different format” so much as I see them as “retellings”. You know how several different people can see the same movie, but they’ll all talk about it differently? Or how the same event can happen to two people, but they’ll both give two different accounts? That’s how I see “remakes”–movie versions of books, anime versions of manga, etc. (This doesn’t typically apply to book versions of movies; I haven’t come across many book retellings that were all that great, because I think they try too hard to bring out the feel of the movie, instead of trying to be good literature.)

So I guess if someone’s complaint is that a movie didn’t include everything from the book it was based on, or if a movie rearranged things to make for a better movie, then I can’t agree that those are good enough reasons to dislike the movie. I feel that movies should be judged as movies, not as “moving picture forms of books”. The media are completely different; it is impossible to make a direct translation.

I think there is a sense in the US that the first version of something is automatically the best version, and everything else must be judged based on the first version. I get the feeling that later versions are supposed to present the perfection of the first version to new audiences, and when this is “unsuccessful” or when the new version goes in a different direction, those who were fans of the original don’t say “wow, that’s interesting”, they say “I want to rip out the entrails of anyone involved in the making of this garbage!” There is a keen sense of betrayal that I think can shoot any chance of good, collaborative, community storytelling right in the foot. Originality, in this particular genre, is not seen as a good thing.

People who know of my disdain for the Star Wars Special Eds (they ride the short bus) may think that I am being hypocritical here. Far from it. I would have no problem with George Lucas making new movies, and reinterpreting what he set down in the originals. My problem comes when he takes the originals and changes them fundamentally. You can’t disagree that the stories were changed. This is, I feel, more of a slap in the face to the integrity of the original work than would be making an entirely new version of it.

I have a strong sense of history in the arts. I feel that any piece that has been published should be allowed to remain available to the public. By revising and revising and then only releasing the revised versions on DVD, George Lucas is sweeping his original Trilogy under the rug. I’m lucky enough to have a set of laserdiscs, but I don’t have a laserdisc player, and my tapes won’t last forever.

A remake, on the other hand, does not in any way “undo” what has come before. It’s just a different version; a retelling from another point of view. Anyone who has studied history even a little should know that we never know the whole truth. Everything is shaded by bias and by the scope of perspective of the observer(s). Only by getting multiple perspectives can we even begin to approach “what really happened”.

I used to be really, really anal about “canon”. Basically, I wanted everything to fit, to be internally consistent, and to recognize that there was only one real “truth”. This gave me plenty of headaches on the AMRN, because we were constantly revising history in order to explain away GM or player disappearances, or to add in new Macross information. It drove me nuts. I felt that the integrity of the game was demolished every time it happened.

I think this mindset came from my childhood, when I believed that everything I read or saw on TV was real, out there somewhere in another dimension that I couldn’t reach. I was comforted by the fact that I could at least watch what was going on. Many times I would pray that God would send me and my family into one of the universes I loved. Back then, when I encountered a remake–like the Popeye movie–I had to explain it to myself as “pretend”, and later as simply more alternate dimensions.

But as an adult, I started to watch more anime, seeing how different stories have been made and remade and accepted not with cynicism and judging but with open-armed excitement at seeing an old story in a fresh, new light. And I slowly began to change my mind. New versions of something do not negate or invalidate the old. They’re all the same story, but told through different eyes. (And if that’s too difficult to grok, then the alternate universe theory should placate you.)