Media Review–Hysteria

Hysteria

2011

Director: Tanya Wexler

Starring Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal

“That woman was hysterical.”

“Yes, very difficult case, that one.”

Symptoms: Erratic behavior, anxiety, depression, and physical aggression. Diagnosis? Overactive uterus. Cure? Hysterectomy. Makes you want to be a Victorian woman, doesn’t  it?

I couldn’t help but feel that I’d been attracted to this movie under false pretenses. The advertising campaign hyped the invention of the vibrator as the film’s main theme. I sat through an hour of Victorians dithering at each other with absolutely no vibrators present. Nada, not even an inkling. All there was by way of amusement were the “vulvar massages” given by the (painfully awkward) Dr. Mortimer in the name of some very flawed science. Volia.

So they hooked you with the vibrators, but what you actually get is just a banal romantic comedy. Honestly, the vibrators get much less screen time than they deserve. I know we’re all desensitized, I know that they wanted to keep the R rating, but something about the presentation of this film strikes me as miscalculated. You would think that the focus would be on women’s pleasure, women’s bodies, and women’s struggle to take back their bodies from men. You would expect sensuality. You would, gasp, expect to be turned on with the “patients” as they discovered the doctor’s invention.

Instead, the film can be summed up with this image:

That’s right. This is a film about men. Specifically, older doctors unwilling to change their ways in accordance with the findings of the younger professionals. This is a film about Dr. Mortimer realizing that his superiors are wrong, and that hysteria as it is defined does not exist. At the end of the day, the film centers around his decision to take the stand (literally) and proclaim that hysteria is merely an excuse to oppress women, to keep them fearful of insane asylums and hysterectomies.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Romantic Comedy may have not been the best genre to deal with these themes. The comedy succeeded brilliantly at parts. And I think that any film dealing with the invention of vibrators must have humor in it. But this film is relentlessly light-hearted, even when it’s trying to be serious.

Observe:

This is Charlotte, our feminist heroine. She is always positioned next to blown-out windows, covered in pale light so we understand that she’s a saint. And then suddenly three-quarters of the way through we’re presented with this Charlotte:

AND THAT RIGHT HOOK.

Bugger the police.

While I adored that moment, it also pushed me over the edge. The playful tone of the entire rest of the film, the bright cinematography, the acting…the conventions of the genre dictate that nothing bad could really happen. Because we know she’s going to end up with the good doctor, like we know Juliet is going to kill herself over Romeo. Some things, like Shakespeare, are inevitable.  Surprise, Charlotte’s uterus was safe the whole time.

And there’s the problem. This film is a romance, with a little bit about body politics, when it should be a drama about body politics with a little bit of romance.

In short, fiery Charlotte is not enough to prod this movie from moderately amusing to mind-blowing.

Ladies, if there are too many mediocre things in your life, Dr. Mortimer and I recommend this once a week.

If you say so, Doctor.

Advertisements

Media Review–Story of O

Story of O

By Pauline Réage

Translation by John Paul Hand

1954

Influences: The Marquis de Sade

 

We had no idea that this book would have such an affect on us. In reflection, we are disturbed, intrigued, confused and frustrated. Story of O was suggested to us by a co-worker who said that he knew of a writing that “surpassed” Fifty Shades of Grey. Curious, we each read it and tears of anger flowed from our eyes. Binge eating, hugging and raving rants were all we could do to fill the void of unpleasantry that Story of O ripped in our hearts (and frontal lobes). Before we officially sat down to write this review, we did “research” for several hours which included watching several Rihanna music videos, listening to the lyrics of “E.T.” by Katy Perry and “No Church in the Wild” by Jay-z, Kanye West and Frank Ocean and, finally, reading the testimonies and self-help blog of an actual submissive / BDSM slave. It was a fun time.

And now, because we simply cannot handle this book or take it seriously, for a limited time only, we have chosen to re-write the beginning of Story of O, almost word for word, with our own context, setting and sense of humor. You’re welcome.

One day Nicole and Darragh go to a section of the Internet where they never go — the scary part. After they have taken a stroll through Youtube and have scanned the higher numbered pages of Google search, sitting together in the dank lighting of the Office, they notice, on one link of Wikipedia, on an interface where there are never any good articles, a page which, because of its title, invites them to click.

“What is this?” Darragh says.

She opens the page. It is Summer, but they have been inside all day. They are dressed as they always are: beat-up Converse sneakers, ripped sweaters, black-framed glasses, and no hat. But long hair which gets caught as they huddle close over the keyboard, and in their dirty book-bags they have their dirty books and feminist theory articles.

The page loads slowly, Nicole still not having said a word in response. But she pulls out a notepad from her bag and her eyes scroll down the window. She takes off her glasses, thinking Darragh wants to talk about what they’ve just read. But instead Darragh says:

“I think I threw up a little.” Nicole hands her a napkin in humorous response. Darragh takes it distractedly, puts it on the table and adds:

“There are just too many things wrong with this. I don’t know where to start. Can you please hold me?”

By now the Internet connection, which is less than trustworthy, has decided to freeze the screen, and Nicole has some trouble closing the window; she’s also afraid that Darragh may actually vomit. Finally, though, the window is at least minimized, but they’re not the least bit embarrassed to be reading NSFW articles at their job. Besides, it the same office in which they started this blog anyway.

“Fasten your seatbelt,” Nicole says, “and hold onto your panties, because I think we need to review this on FF.”

That’s easy enough, all they have to do is read one of the most infamous BDSM “erotic” novels ever written in less than two weeks and retain their sanity. And it’s written by a French woman. Nicole looks over at Darragh and says:

“You shouldn’t stay curled up in a ball in the corner. You’ll only start rocking back and forth.”

The floor is littered with burger wrappers, crumpled pages, broken audio cables and pens left empty and lonely. It’s quite a disgusting sensation to wade through it to get to the computer. Then Nicole says:

“Oh God, there’s a movie version and it’s on Netflix.”

The Internet connection is no longer frozen and is streaming a disturbing clip from the 1975 trailer, and Darragh doesn’t dare ask why Nicole just sits there without moving or saying another word, nor can Darragh guess what all this means to her – having Nicole there motionless, silent, so sad and exposed, so thoroughly glued, to a story going God knows where. Darragh doesn’t need to tell Nicole what she thinks or how she feels, since it’s obvious, but she’s afraid to un-bunch her legs and come close to the screen. She sits with out-stretched arms braced on either side of the wall.

“Well that was…..yeah,” Nicole says suddenly. Here they are: on the Internet, beneath fluorescent lights – they are annoying lights – inside of some sort of institution which can be seen nestled between North Philadelphia and Center City, the type of huge collegiate dwelling where one finds students asleep on sofas at any time of the day or night and wandering aimlessly through the halls along Broad Street. The real world is some distance away, and it is always a little unsettling anytime anyone leaves. Outside it is raining.

Yeah, we did that. And now here’s our actual review:

Enter the world of the woman called O, and give up any thought of mercy. This is no coy rip-off, couched in the supernatural realm of fantasy. Here there are no excuses, and absolutely no safe words. This is a testament to the power of conditioning on the human brain. Also, it’s torture porn.

We have many thoughts about O and her story. The plot is minimal, summed up and spoiled by the blurb on the back cover. O is kidnapped, conditioned to be a submissive sex slave, and given to two men. Both tire of her and discard her at the novel’s end. The last sentence? “O, seeing that Sir Stephen was on the verge of leaving her, preferred to die. Sir Stephen gave his consent.” She needs his permission to die. O has nothing to call her own.

Why do we resent this book? Why does it anger us? Dehumanization, for one.  Previous readers have already commented that “O” might as well be an abbreviation for object. Indeed, the novel follows O’s transformation from a human into a living sex toy. The book glorifies the most generic role-playing of master and servant. There’s no individuality in the characters. They are not defined by anything other than their extravagant sexual acts. They are animals that happen to have extreme mating rituals. We can’t speak for anyone else, but watching dogs and cats have sex is not arousing to us. That’s how detached we felt while reading….as if we were watching several stray cats do it. O isn’t a person, she’s a sex-bot.

[Added Paragraph] But then there is the idea that O may very well be the perfect woman. She is thin, beautiful  and submissive. She lives to be loved in whatever form “love” many take. She is simple and un-materialistic and low maintenance. She doesn’t mind if you beat her, brand her or betray her, as long as you don’t leave her. Because then she’ll want to die. O is so perfect, she’s living, breathing clay for any Pygmalion that comes along to sculpt. She is so devoted to her idea of acceptance that she does whatever she can to find it and receive it, including, but not limited to: being raped by several strangers one after the other, being flogged and whipped until she bears permanent scars, getting a leash attached to her genitals and proclaiming slave status to appease her Master. And what really makes O the perfect woman is that one may assume she does not have a menstrual cycle nor can get pregnant. There are no consequences for her Masters to be concerned about. They have nothing they need to apologize for because their actions only seem to ripple to O, who is literally an “o,” an orfice, a sex doll. O cannot possibly be the ideal woman because she seemingly does not live the lived experience of what it is to be a woman, biologically or gender-chosen.

We are struggling in a conflict between accepting O’s submissiveness, because she accepts it and being overwhelmingly frustrated by her awareness of oppression. At the end of the day though, we just are trying to wrap our brains around understanding how anyone could live an authentic BDSM lifestyle. We’d like to think that Story of O is perhaps an ironical take on patriarchy and a hyperbolized tale of gender roles and politics. Maybe that is myopic, but it is the only way we can consume  its passages in good conscience while hoping, praying and at least pretending it is commentary on the ills of society and institutional brutality against women. From this perspective, it’s as if Pauline, the author, is mocking cultural standards by writing a satirical subversion that says, “Of course women want to be abused! They cannot think for themselves! Yes, violence is the answer! Oh, and men are insane, sex-crazed lunatics without an ounce of compassion. Yes, that’s it; women are merely walking, talking (if they’re allowed) holes for self-centered dicks to put their dicks into!”

Analyzing Story of O in this way lets us compare it to the graphic movies of South Korea’s “extreme cinema” genre. Ki-duk Kim, a director who has created several films that fall into this category, is often called a misogynist for his violent and profuse use of rape, prostitution, gang brutality and sickening sub-cultural realities. His defense for such accusations? Well, he says that his movies are actually more like commentary on society, forcing audiences to see what they ignore in their communities everyday. He believes, like other “extreme” artists, that the “slap-in-your-face” method is disturbing enough that it actually does raise awareness about social issues. We would like to think that this is what Pauline had intended for her book to do; the idea that Story of O is not criticizing the BDSM community, but is highlighting the larger problem of gender-typing and manipulation.

This also settles into the “reality” of “desensitization.” Just look to any one of the music videos listed below as examples of the male gaze, of self-sexualization and of the “pornification” of the mainstream:

Dirty Talk” – Wynter Gordon

S&M” – Rihanna

Disturbia” – Rihanna

Alejandro” – Lady Gaga

Dirrty” – Christina Aguilera

Lady Marmalade” – Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, Pink (there’s a riding crop in this one!)

You can read the novel (if you’re a little crazy or a little curious) here, although we do not take blame for any emotional distress caused.

*Two young feminists were scarred in the reading of this book. No animals were injured. Lots of sweet potato fries were consumed though.

Media Review – “Brave”

IMDB

Kilts and Red-Heads and Bears, Oh My!

“Brave,” the new Disney Pixar film receiving rave review,  is being enjoyed by kids, parents and analytical college students everywhere. From immature kilt jokes and straight-on shots of cleavage to touching moments between mothers and daughters, human or not, “Brave” is sure to be a family favorite.

This past Tuesday, Nicole and I went to the Pearl Theater at Avenue North in Philadelphia. As we hurried up the large staircase to reach theater seven, the promotional posters for “Brave” drifted back and forth above our heads getting us more excited to see the film. When the opening credits began to roll, we both took out our notepads and prepared to scribble away. Here are those very scribblings decoded and our thoughts about the movie:

Communication:

  • ~Curiously enough, Eilnor, the mother, and Merida, the main female protagonist, have to develop their own language to communicate after the mother loses her voice, her primary power. They create a hybrid language of physical gestures and vocal sounds. Much like a secret bond mother and daughter would create in real life anyway, whether or not one of them turned into something other than human…

Gender:

  • ~Merida kicks butt in a dress without being sexualized! She never wears pants. She let’s her hair grow wild and free. She practices archery, but she has a chosen gender-specific femininity about her yet doesn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. WHOOOO!!!
  • ~All the non-royal women in the film are either idiots or passive-agressive. I’m looking at you, childish serving wench. Your hysterical screaming fits were funny, but in a pathetic, tiring, I’m-dealing-with-a-three-year-old kinda way. While she’s not an idiot, the Witch was a Bitter Spinster full of malice and ill intentions. I guess these characters do serve as a contrast to Merida and Elinor, but barely hold up as additional foils or even supporting roles.
  • ~”Hyper-masculinity”:
    • ~The adult male characters are obsessed with physical prowess and strength whereas women are associated with communication/vocalization. The husband and wife are the perfect example. Fergis is always gesturing with his arms, touching his wife, grabbing a spear, pounding tables, etc.  Elinor, the mother, is incredibly still. She doesn’t move unless it’s for a specific purpose (this is when she’s a human).
    • ~King Fergis does not gender-type his children. He teaches Merida the bow for God’s sake. He actually says in the very beginning something like “it’s good for a girl to learn how to fight” (not exact quote). His problem is that he can’t choose between his wife and daughter, and honestly, that’s probably good. He loves them both but he doesn’t want to take sides. The other three clan leaders, however, are caricatures. They are chest-pounding manly men, however, their sons are are their dynamic halves. The way the movie redeems itself is making the children unconventional and then contrasting them with their traditional parents. In that way, I think the film shows itself to be smart and very aware of gender roles.
    • ~Apparently, violence is funny. The Stooges showed us, Tom and Jerry showed us and Jackass and Steve-O showed us. But is it really? Sure it’s an animated kids movie, but violence is never funny…because it’s violent.

Class:

  • ~While the story is about a royal clan, it is unlike any other royal group in Disney movies in that they are self-made royalty. The parents have earned their power through bravery and strength. In this story world, class is not set in stone. There is both upward and downward mobility. Fergis has moved up, but he could easily be moved back down if he offends the other clans, which all together could overthrow him. Each clan is a check for the others’ power. There is certainly not absolute power invested in one person.

In conclusion, Nicole and I seem to disagree on one point: who is the villain? She believes that the mother is the bad guy, but I’m not so sure. Personally, I think that the villain is as the Witch puts it: Pride. Nicole goes on to say “that instead of like in Tangled, where the step-mother was a crazy possessive psycho bitch, Mother Elinor in “Brave” is a complex character. She is the one I feel the most empathy with as a viewer. She has a real dynamic change throughout the film. That’s what draws me to this movie and makes me want to say it is groundbreaking for Disney Pixar. The characters are complicated. They are not black and white, good and evil. Sometimes they’re damn dangerous. Throughout her transformation, mother learns to be more free and physical with her self-expression. Merida meanwhile learns to be more restrained and to vocalize her feelings in a more articulate way better, to stretch beyond her physical nature. Here’s the thing: buried deep in this film is the gender-typing idea that men aren’t good communicators and women aren’t physical beings. Merida and Elinor challenge and successfully break the typing. Ultimately, I think “Brave” acknowledges gender stereotypes and then says that they aren’t unbreakable. The shot at the end with mother and daughter riding says it all:  Elinor’s hair is free from those plaits and is flying in the wind, but they are riding together, not in competition with each other. They have learned to transcend the categorical restrictions imposed by gender. I think this is a positive message for women, that does not necessarily deny men or lay blame on them.” I too agree, and want to argue that there is perhaps a socio-cultural-political message in this movie that is telling women not to compete with each other or even to attack men as a common enemy in the name of seeking equality. Instead, this film is trying to tell women to ally themselves with each other for the bond between women, young and old, black or white, rich or poor, makes us more powerful together than separate. Overcome our differences for the empowerment of all.

And last, but not least, as the icing on the Scottish cake (movie reference intended), “Brave” is proudly directed, written and produced by women, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi. That’s freaking fantastic when so many of Hollywood’s blockbusters are only overseen and creatively controlled by men. We Fatal Femmes acknowledge and commend the beautiful work created by Ms. Chapman and Ms. Mecchi.

Want our thoughts on another aspect of the film that we didn’t explore? Just comment below! Thanks for reading! Come back to for more media deconstruction each week! Go feminism!

Media Review – “Heartless”

“Heartless,” But for Kanye It’s Hopeless

2008

Kanye West

“Heartless”  from 808s & Hearkbreak

Influences: Peter Max, Yellow Submarine, Pop Art

The premise is simple: woman are changeful and cold. And they can apparently take your soul, too! Who knew?

I listened to this song way too many times when it was released, I admit. It was always on the radio or playing over the speakers in a store.

I never got around to watching the video until a few days ago, and I was incredibly put off.

First of all, this is certainly the face of a woman who is cold and unfeeling:


Try again, Kanye. I’m not convinced she’s a bitch.

But more than the coloring book animation style, more than the trite story, what irritated me the most were the soup cans.

Because when I’ve just broken up with someone, I always go into my corner and cry under my paintings of Campbells. Right.

Needless to say, the shots of the woman and the soup cans drove me into an inarticulate rage. I spent half a minute trying to wrestle out words before I had to give up and type it.

Not only do the cans lack context, they also seem utterly devoid of any meaning. It just exists to reference Andy and pop culture.

How unique, a meaningless pop culture reference in a meaningless pop culture video.

At 2:20, the woman starts gyrating against a painting of a cartoon character. What is Kanye trying to tell me here? She’s just a decorative object similar to the pop art hanging all over the apartment. Also, she likes to corrupt boys by grinding her butt against them. Remember, she has no real feelings other than horny.

And then it gets even better. On the apartment walls are three more images of The Jetsons characters.

Animation is difficult and labor intensive and time consuming. Nothing is put in there arbitrarily. The juxtaposition of the male and female characters against the paintings of the Jetsons characters is not random chance. The male singer is positioned between the teenage girl and the mom, in front of the robot. Then there is a shot inserted where he is in front of the dog, Astro, which is presumably hanging in another part of the house. Astro has his huge tongue hanging out, panting for the sexy lady across from him. Or is that what Kanye is doing? He’s associated himself with lust, pure animal lust. I really find that slobbery tongue attractive, I do.

Now the woman is in front of the little boy Elroy. This character is the prodigy, the brilliant child in the family. But still a child, still controlled by father and mother. What are you saying to me, Kanye? Yeah, women might be clever, but you still look at them as children?

According to this video, women might be heartless, but it’s okay, they have their vaginas.

I’ll leave you with this, which I love because of its self-indulgent dependence on the male gaze. (Why have one, when you can have three???)