annoying blonde romantic tropes, part I: a Bechdel primer

T-storm and I have been battling with the Netflix queue, and somewhat winning.  Well, at least we’re whittling it down rather than adding to the endless stream.  One day we will watch Restrepo and get all sad and angry,  and I’ll make him watch Don McKeller’s Last Days – it just occurred to me that T-storm loves The Red Violin, which McKeller also directed.  My media-aided pop culture-addled ADHD doesn’t help us conquer this list any faster.

However, late at night, after work, sometimes we don’t have the emotional energy to watch anything but light romantic comedies.  And boy, there are a lot of them on the queue.

I have problems with movies now, mostly because the twitter introduced me to the idea of The Bechdel Test.  I was super super pissed because we saw The Avengers two weekends ago – and it lived up to the hype, and as a geek I am extremely excited for Joss Whedon to succeed – but the movie didn’t pass the Bechdel test.  It was so close, too.  Scarlett Johnansson’s Black Cat character kicks so much ass.  But if she and Cobie Smulders had JUST SPOKEN A WORD to one another about the end of the world when they’re all standing in a circle, it would have just barely passed.  It was a disappointment not only to not see Robin Sparkles shoot for female friendship, but in terms of Joss Whedon, a rare sci-fi dude who has brought us so very many awesome female characters, it was a let-down.  And honestly, waiting for them to speak to each other distracted me from the film.

There is surely something wrong with me.  However!

The movies that best pass the Bechdel test are usually movies designed for women.  Bridesmaids may be one of the best and most prominent examples in the last several years.  (I still haven’t seen it, which is a shame both for someone recently married and such an avowed Gilmore Girls fan – to have missed the biggest success by a GG alum yet!  I just burst with pride watching reruns, thinking, “Hell yes, Sookie, go on and get your Oscar nod!”)  However, movies that are somewhat sexist or play on aforementioned annoying blonde romantic tropes pass the test with flying colors.  I don’t want to talk too much shit about Sex in the City but…

I’ll back it up a little if you don’t want to click an outside link.  The Bechdel Test was born of a comic by Alison Bechdel, and is referred to as a counter-cultural institution.  The particular strip portrays a lesbian couple discussing a movie to see, and puts forth the three prongs of the test.  The film in question must contain:

  1. At least two named female characters
  2. …who talk to each other…
  3. …about something other than a man.

From the popular interpretation, it seems that they can’t not talk about men (or else there would be almost no widely released movies that pass, except for maybe, maybe Black Swan).  But if you really get to the nitty gritty with it all, it really shakes your perception.  So many movies don’t pass.  Or barely pass.  So many.  Don’t even talk to me about The Muppets.  I’m still a little heartbroken.

Then there are movies that are not sexist at all, that even reject standard film tropes and still don’t pass the test.  One of my favorites, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the first one I think about.  For starters, all of the conversation in the movie is about relationships.  As I recall, we don’t even know what Jim Carrey does for a living.  And Kate Winslet pulls off one of the most impressive performances of her career as the anti-Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  Kirsten Dunst (who although has played her share of MPDGs, hates the term) never speaks to Winslet in the film, but, and you can try and call my bluff, there is very little that’s anti-feminist in this film.  It’s a beautiful and honest look at relationships – even the ones that we come back to although they’re unhealthy.  Both protagonists are damaged creatures, and both are to equally to blame for their relationship falling apart.

Or as I’ve seen other people describe it: sometimes, people will name off movies they like just to look cool, and that makes other people like those movies less.  See – Garden State (which also doesn’t pass the test, and Natalie Portman is poster child for MPDG there).  Eternal Sunshine is commonly known as a douche-proof film; no amount of douchey wannabe filmophiles heaping praises upon it can dull its shimmer.

What’s the big deal about women talking together in movies?  It matters, because so many films see women working in isolation.  They don’t talk to each other.  That women can get by without working with other women, which is total b.s.  That women need to work with men, and men can work together all we want.  C’mon, could a team of women really be like the Oklahoma City Thunder and beat the douchepocalypse that is the LA Lakers?

The Avengers only needed one girl, and then a hot office manager in a similar black jumpsuit.  Because obviously, if there were two girls in the group, and they talked at all, if it were about anything else besides a man, it would be periods.  And how would PERIODS stop Loki?

And as we know, when women work together, they gain power.  THEY CAUSE TROUBLE.  Watch out patriarchical society – there are girls working together toward something else than finding husbands or putting on a craft show!

TV is well known for being way better with this Bechdel nonsense than movies are.  Way, way better.  Although there are still problems there.  I worship at the altar of Tina Fey, but it does bother me that many of her relationships with other women in 30 Rock are superficial, at best.  Especially when Mean Girls was so damned good at depicting that.  The show is intended to be representitive of her experience on SNL, so there’s that.

I keep talking about Gilmore Girls because it was truly the funniest, smartest, most culture-savvy show that shattered this rule into a million little bitty pieces.  And granted, the storylines spent way more time depicting Rory’s relationships with dudes than it did her female friendships, but I love the bizarrely depicted support that she and insanely high acheiver Paris gave each other over the years.  And I loved Lane.  And I loved Sookie (see above).

And these things matter.  Kids watch a lot of TV.  In the absence of strong real life role models, they try to figure out how they should live based on TV shows and movies.  The VE kids I work with?  Can hardly communicate with many people, but they know every in and out of every TV show and movie they’ve ever been exposed to.  Stories spread through pop culture give models for how to live, whether we like it or not.  Rory Gilmore and Liz Lemon have been my role models for almost a decade now.  (Um, whoa.)

So are girls commonly referred to as being catty, divisive, and better taken in single servings rather than in large groups because they really are, or because movies and television depict them that way?

To be continued…

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1 Comment

Filed under pop culture, women

One response to “annoying blonde romantic tropes, part I: a Bechdel primer

  1. Pingback: annoying blonde tropes, part II: Fred Willard film festival | The Real Housewife of Wilton Manors

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