Un-apologetically female: An analysis of Alien

Arguments about what amounts to a feminist character have always been up for debate. Does a feminine character mean a character who portrays male attributes or a character who supports the traditional female attributes, or is it a female character who is un-apologetically feminine? Although feminist characters do not always have to be women in most cases they are. Ridley Scott’s Alien features two women with almost opposite personality types. On one end you have Lambert, who cries hysterically throughout most of the film. Then you have Ripley, who only has one moment of hysterical crying and spends the rest of the film being the hero. In a way both of these women can be feminist characters, where we have one who is not afraid to reveal her emotions when need be and embrace the expected roles of women. Then we have the other who goes against the typical role women often play in films (especially action based films). In my opinion both of these women embody feminist roles where neither of them are viewed as sexual objects(for the most part) yet are not represented as having predominantly male qualities.

However there is one scene that worries me. This is a scene that features Ripley, who after thinking she has successfully destroyed and escaped from the aliens decides to take not only her armor off but also most of her clothes and walked around in white underpants and a tank top on. The importance of her taking her clothes off brings up many questions for me. Being that there were not many outright sexual events in the film, was this done to satisfy the male gaze? Did this scene disrupt her strong feminist attributes? Did it make these attributes stronger? I will be discussing these questions in this analysis.

According to most people, the film Alien has a lot of sexual undertones and references. For example, the phallic shape of the alien’s head, the vaginal shaped face hugger, the overall reference to rape throughout the film etc. Unless you are watching the film to critically analyze it, it may be difficult to pick up on any of them. On top of that none of these sexual references can generally be viewed as pleasurable. So the scene where Ripley takes her clothes off can be said to satisfy the need to sexually fulfill the male viewers of the film. It is possible that this may undo the feminist character that Ripley is portrayed as; but at the same time it may not. If we base this undoing on the fact that after saving the day she is shown walking around in her underwear with her buttcrack visibly showing, it can easily be argued that it demeans her as a woman. But by saying this, are we policing her body? Her walking around in her underwear reveals her as feminine in the typical way that films often do, and is it not okay for her to be recognized as feminine and female? Although this is not the only way women can be recognized as women in film, it was an interesting choice to make. At first, watching the scene may be upsetting as you wonder why this strong female character has now become an object for the male gaze but on second thought you may understand that it is possible for a woman to be sexual and still the hero.

Throughout the film you have both female characters who cry and are never scrutinized for it. In this scene you have a female character who undresses, but not for sexual reason. The film featured scenes where woman are doing things that they would normally be looked down on for in both filmic and real life societies. Not only were they not demeaned for having these qualities but they did not demean themselves either. Lambert never apologized for crying, Ripley did not apologize for crying, and Ripley had no problem taking her clothes off in the end.

Being able to see this character as a human, a sexual being, and a hero all at once made her feminist attributes stronger. After seeing everyone in her crew die, being attacked by giant aliens, blowing up a spaceship, and barely escaping, Ripley decided that she wanted to take her clothes off, and she did. There should be no problem with the fact that she did this, she should not be denied her body in order to avoid the male gaze. In a way policing a woman’s body in order to avoid the male gaze would have made the scene less feminist. I believe the writers made a good choice by incorporating this scene.

In most action films we have male leading characters, and we have the female characters who are often only put there to satisfy the male gaze. This film did not follow this guideline at all. They had a female leading character who did not seem to care for the male gaze at all. Maybe this was also a reason why she took her clothes off, maybe it was to remind the audience that although she broke the role of the traditional female, she was still human. The fact there is a chance that this scene can be seen as debasing to women shows that sexuality in women is often viewed as shameful. This film did a good job at normalizing not only traditional female traits but also the female body.

 

The inevitability of performativity: An analysis of Crash

Paul Haggis’ 2004 Crash is a film that focuses on stereotyping, cause and effect, and racial tensions. When looked at closely, the film goes beyond the surface of these things and raises important questions. Are we living for ourselves or everybody else? Are we in control of our own lives and will we ever be? Do we in control of our own identity? Crash has more to do with the way we affect each other, more than it has to do with anything else. It is based off of the performativity of race, gender, and status in the typical frame of society. Whether Haggis intended it to or not, it comments on the detrimental effects of performativity on the functionality of life and the fact that we have to constantly perform ourselves. It does this by featuring characters who either choose to play into their given stereotypes or rise above them. The scene involving Cameron (Terrance Howard), Christine (Thandie Newton), and the two police officers who pulled them over (Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe) is a perfect example of how this theory comes into play.

A major theme in the film is existence and the way it works. According to this film we do not exist because of who we think we are, but instead exist based on what people see us as. All we are is society’s definition of us. The film portrays many different lives that are all, in the end, intertwined, which is made possible by everybody playing their roles in society. It features the performances of the intimidating thugs, the successful black man, the sassy black woman, the ignorant foreigner, the white politician trying not to look racist, the politician’s racist wife, the overworked Hispanic father, the white man abusing the coloured woman, the white man saving the coloured woman, etc. Like our everyday lives, all the people in this society had to play a certain role in their lives in order to push the plot of the film forward.  These performances play on the fact that playing our role is crucial to the existence of both ourselves and others. In order for us to push the plots of our lives forward we do not necessarily acquire a role at that moment, but instead we exude the role that we were naturally assigned by society. Not only did these characters behave in their roles but they looked their roles. From the start of the film the audience is able to differentiate the class and expected behaviors of all these characters. We are automatically exposed to character based on the bagginess of their pants, the straightness of a woman’s hair, and the amount of brown a person has in their skin; and from the start they are expected to behave according to their outward appearance (skin tone, choice of clothing, and status).

In the “Wandering Hands” scene Cameron and Christine, an upper class presenting African American couple (the successful black man and the sassy black woman) are pulled over by two white policemen after one of the officers sees Christine performing “fellatio” on her Cameron. Once the couple is out of the car Cameron is roughly slammed into the vehicle. Role number 1: It is often the role of the white police officer to mistreat the black man. Role number 1 1/2: it is often the role of the black man to be violently treated by the white police officer. This scene ends with Dillon’s character sexually assaulting the Christine while Cameron is unable to act because it was not his role, which is later discussed in an argument with Christine where he says: “I mean, sooner or later, you gotta find out what it’s really like to be black.” Role number 2: While it is often the role of a man to be violently assaulted, it is the role of the woman to be sexually assaulted. We know this role comes from the common knowledge that men feel the need to show their dominance physically with men, sexually with woman, and authoritatively over all. In this three-minute scene, the roles of gender is summed up and played out by these three characters. The white man is in control while the black man is being put in his place, and when the woman tries to step out of her role, her husband (her protector) quickly hushes her, urging her to keep quiet and accept the role that society has given to them; he as a black man and her as a woman. Dillon’s character would not have known who he were meant to abuse if he could not correctly identify these people based on their societal roles.

The movie contains many moments of questionable social norms and constructs where it is questioned why these things are happening and why no one is doing anything about it. Yes, the movie shows us that the way we choose to see people and the roles that we automatically expect them to assume are often incorrect and that we are responsible for so many other people’s lives than we are aware of, but it is not pro-active, it does not give us a way to stabilize or change these given identity formations. In the previously mentioned scene Phillippe’s character stood back and watched in horror yet did nothing during or proceeding the incident. This is an example of how, despite the instability and fractal wrongness of these roles that we are made to play, people still play them based on the fact that it is what they are used to.

It can be disputed whether the Phillippe’s character stood back and did nothing because he was too afraid to stand up against the other officer or if it were because in a way he felt that what was happening may have been correct. Although he later asked to be placed with a different partner, he still did nothing while he saw it happen. When he went to his (black) Captain to ask for a new partner he was told to say he had a bad case of flatulence instead of reporting his partner. In a direct quote from the script his Captain responded to him saying “I understand your need for privacy. Just like you probably understand how hard a black man has to work to get to, say, where I am, in a racist fucking organization like the LAPD. And how easily that can all be taken away…you can put your career and mine on the line in pursuit of a just cause or you can admit to having an embarrassing problem of a personal nature”. Here is an example of a black man that stepped out of his expected role, and also an example of a man who knows that the fact that he stepped out of his role is risky. The Captain stepped out of his role to be a leader, but he knew there was a limit to how far he could go.

In another scene preceding the wandering hands incident Christine mentions that as her husband she expected him to have protected her and he responds with “What did you want me to do? Get us both shot?” This is an example of how people are forced to chose between who they think they are and who they are, as perceived by other people. Judith Butler, an American philosopher and gender theorist, explains performativity as “a compulsory repetition of prior and subjectivating norms, ones which cannot be thrown off at will, but which work, animate, and constrain the gendered subject” (Butler 23). So he was naturally placed into the role of a black man, being dominated by a white authoritative figure, and had to choose between protecting his wife and surviving. Throughout the rest of the film it is evident that Cameron is naturally an outspoken character. He was a successful and considerably wealthy TV director, but at that moment he had to misconstrue his identity and fit into his obedient slave boy role in order for he and his Christine to survive. The situation at hand constrained him and forced him into playing the roll that he is most expected to play. Although he stepped out of his initial expected role, just like the Captain, he was forced right back into it because of the way society has chosen to subjectify it’s members.

Although the film is often seen as racist and mislead, rightfully so, it brings up questions on the way society has shaped the way we act and react to certain types of people. It brings up the fact that there is no free will, no living for yourself, and for the most part no identity. It brings up the possibility that we are only real to the extent to which we perform. Everything we do is for everyone else to either see us in the way that we want them to or according to what they believe we should do. This film shows us that we do not anything for ourselves alone and that we are constantly putting on a performance, whether we choose to abide by or go against the social norms.

 

 

 

Work Cited

Butler, Judith. “Critically Queer.” The Routledge Queer Studies Reader. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013. 18-31. Print.

Crash. Dir. Paul Haggis. Lions Gate Entertainment, 2004. Film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our rosebud: An analysis of the Simpson’s “Rosebud”

No doubt The Simpsons is a show infamous for its humor, but it is often known that underneath humor is allegorical truth. This is evident in the “Rosebud” episode of The Simpsons where it deals with youth, innocence, the growth into adulthood, and the reaction of adults to these things; four aspects that can directly compare to life. These aspects are exemplified through the actions of Maggie, Burns, Homer, Bart, and the citizens of Springfield. This episode illuminates the fact that we all have a rosebud.

The reaction to youth is the most predominant characteristic in this episode. This is highlighted through the characters’ reactions to Maggie where they all allow her to keep the bear in all instances where they interact with her. This is first seen when Homer takes the bear from Maggie and is compelled to give it back. This scene is the first parallel between childhood and adulthood. Homer is the adult who, with selfishness, is prying away a part of Maggie’s innocence (in a subtle way telling her to grow up) but once he realizes what he is doing and sees Maggie’s hurt reaction to this he immediately regrets and retracts his actions. This is seen again when the angry mob barges into the house and takes the bear away from her and lastly when Burns tries to do the same. This highlights the certain ways adults react to childhood and innocence. They see it as something that should be protected and preserved. If we were to compare the taking away of the bear from Maggie and the taking away of the bear from Burns, it is easy to say that there is a clear difference. With Maggie the results are regret and disgust with oneself where Homer, Moe (whom is a part of the mob), and Burns shame themselves after taking the bear. While with Burns, no one seems to care about his emotional need to have the bear again unless it is beneficial to them. This can be said to exemplify how adults see innocence as something that only children can have. The bear symbolized a love for youth, both Maggie and Burns were going through the same thing, which was holding on to something that brought them comfort and joy but when Burns had that taken away from him no one seemed to care until he took away TV (the world) and beer (something to disillusion them from the world). The citizens did not care about Burns or his innocence but instead about their own contentment and for a while were willing to revoke a child her innocence before realizing what it was that needed protection.

Burns growth into adulthood begins when a flashy car (life) come to take him away from his simple home (childhood) and he readily accepts leaving his bear (innocence) behind. He later, in his adulthood, realizes that he had left something important. This can be directly compared to real life and how easy it is to loose ones innocence. Bart visualizes another example of the journey into adulthood in the scene where he comes up with the idea to send pieces of the bear to Burns in order to get more money. This can be compared to growing up and the tactics used by adolescent to reach life’s goals, and how some of these tactics are unethical and many times end in failure.

Bart too has reached the age where he may not see innocence only belonging to children but may see it as something that is not important to adults. All of the adult characters seemed to only care about innocence and the joy of childhood when it had to do with Maggie, but Maggie was the only character that seemed to understand that this was not necessarily true. Thus, she gave the bear back to Burns. At the end of the episode it is insinuated that after Burns promised to never leave the bear behind again he does so. Reiterating again that innocence is not something that adults are capable of holding on to.

Through the juxtaposition of childhood, adulthood, and the reaction of adult characters to both, it is safe to say that beneath the humor of this episode lays an anecdote about the inevitability of unattainable innocence in adulthood.

Cognitive dissonance of humanity: An analysis of Sedmikrasky

Chytilova’s 1966 Daises or Sedmikrasky is often recognized as a feminist film for reasons that are very easy to notice. It features two carefree women, running around their town with reckless abandon, doing whatever they please. It can also be said to feature feminist topics mainly pertaining to the role of the woman in society; but to say that the film is solely based on feminist theory would be to undermine its brilliance. Daisies is a film not only about gender roles but also about gaining and losing humanity at the same time. It is about the decision to hold onto humanity in a society that is bent on turning people like clockwork, and it is about if it is worse to become clockwork or rebel against it. This dissonance of humanity is exemplified in all scenes throughout the film with the director’s use of montage. The juxtaposition of mise-en-scene and story in the film is what makes it easy to find its meaning. We follow the characters from black and white scenes to colorful and psychedelic like scenes, from solitary spaces, to a club full of people. The film constantly takes viewers from one end of the spectrum (being mechanical) to the other (being human).

The film begins with images of explosions cut in-between images of turning gears. From the very start of the film we not only see the comparison between humanity and mechanisms but also how humanity in a mechanical system leads to destruction. These beginning scenes foreshadow the last scenes of the film. The first time we see the two main characters they are sitting stiffly against a wall next to each other, talking about how the world is going bad and how they should go bad with it. This conversation is accompanied by their bodies moving in a mechanical like manner with sounds to match. After they decide to go bad with the world the very next scene shows them in a bright green meadow, where one of them takes and eats an apple from a tree. Chytilova contrasts mechanics and nature. Where the two women who at first seemed to be stiff robots and placed in an unsaturated environment are turned organic.

The two women take going bad as a game, where they play with the emotions of men, steal from a singing lady in the bathroom, and in one comedic scene they go to a club and distract both the audience and performers by getting drunk and playing pranks on the patrons and waiter. Throughout their pranks and escapades they often mention whether or not they’ve gone bad or rotten as if they are comparing themselves to food, which they eat plenty of.

Throughout the film the two comically consumes large amounts of food in a way doing whatever they can to stay human, they get old men to buy them meals, their room always has some type of food in it, and in one scene they bathe in what seems like milk. Towards the end of the film they have a food fight and waste food, in a way revealing that they no longer need it because they have finally gone bad and lost their humanity. Immediately after the fight they are drowning and calling for help, but they are now bad and no one is helping them. Chytilova created the film in a way that although they are likeable characters we do not care for them, we do not relate to them, or feel sadness for them; not even when they are in the end crushed by a chandelier.

The goal of the two women in the film was to go bad like the rest of the world. They started off as robots, gained human qualities such as deceit, theft, and hunger, and used those qualities to destroy anything around them. They again became robots going through the same motions of deceive, steal, and eat over and over again until they were destroyed. It is unclear whether going bad meant to become like the typical human or become like a robot in society because the two succeeded by doing both.

 

Recognizing the age of black bodies: An analysis of Do The Right Thing

 

When Spike Lee’s 1989 Do The Right Thing is discussed, the topic that always comes up is whether or not Mookie did the right thing by throwing the trashcan through Sal’s window. This is a topic that always has been and always will be up for debate. When it comes to the issues of race and racial tensions, there is often never a right answer for how to react. If it is too peaceful a reaction, it is attributed to the silent being comfortable in there suffering. If it is too aggressive a reaction, it is attributed to people of color being destructive. There is never a right thing to do by the oppressed in these situations because at the end of the day they end up in the same place, looked down upon, or like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King (racial leaders on two of these ends), dead. This is shown in the ending scene where Smiley puts the picture of the two leaders on a wall in Sal’s pizzeria as it burns. So this analysis will not focus on this aspect. It will instead focus on how the film highlights the fact that black kids are often seen as older than they are and consequently less innocent. “Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association” (Atiba and Jackson). This fact is illustrated in the film mainly with the reference to (or lack of reference to) parental figures.

With exception from one scene featuring Mookie and his sister Jade, none of the black characters were associated with or mentioned having parents. This created the illusion to viewers that these kids were not kids at all. The only characters presented as having parental figures were Tina, who lived with her mother and Vito and Pino who worked with their father, none of whom were black. This raises the question: If the lack of portraying the main group of kids as having parents or even having them allude to having parents affects the age they are perceived as. Although age is never mentioned it is clear by the choices made by these characters and even choice of wardrobe that most, if not all of the kids portrayed in the film were at most teenagers or not far removed from being teenagers. If this is not too hard of a fact to see it is at least forgotten by the audience multiple times, if not throughout the entire film. The scene where all the kids come out to play in the water of an opened fire hydrant is the only scene throughout the movie that depicts these characters as the children that they are. Yes, for most of the film these same kids cause trouble in more than one instance including an incident during this scene where they soak a man’s car as he drives by; but a part of being young is doing things that will get you in trouble. Not saying that children should not be punished for their actions but the man demanding an arrest be made on one of these kids was a bit overboard.

Not only did their actions aid in identifying them as kids but so did their clothes. Incorporating the time period the film takes place and the time period the film was made, the choice of costumes of the characters show that they are in fact kids, from the colorful outfits, to graphic tees, to Mookie’s race car watch. The disrespect for the age of these characters is shown throughout the film, from the introduction scenes where Sal did not give Buggin Out a plate with his pizza, to the closing scene where Radio Raheem was murdered, these kids were treated as if they were not only adults but less deserving, and in a way inhuman.

The mistreatment of black kids based on perception is seen in everyday life incidents like that of Michael Brown, Shakara, Trayvon Martin, and many others. Maybe Lee’s point to depicting these characters in this way was to highlight this fact, or maybe he subconsciously incorporated stereotypical beliefs into these characters as he wrote them. The same reason why people refuse to notice these three victims as kids is the same reason Radio Raheem was not treated as a kid, because of the way black bodies and black children are perceived. Everyone looked to Mookie to do the right thing, but he was just a kid.

 

 

 

Work Cited

The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published online Feb. 24, 2014; Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, and Matthew Christian Jackson, PhD;

 

Urges from the Renwick: A review of the “Wonder” exhibit

Whenever I go to an exhibit for the first time I take two walks around. On the first walk I go in blind. I do not read the descriptions or the artist statement, I go just to look. The second walk around can be more or less exciting depending on the collaboration between my thoughts and the artist’s intentions. On my first through the gallery I had the urge to touch. Not the gentle poke or glide of the hand that many patrons want to indulge in. I had the urge to squeeze and rub and feel. I experience urges like these often and I understand that this is weird. My roommate’s mother defined this as heenya, a Spanish word with no exact definition or spelling that I understand as an overwhelming urge of the sense. This review is about my first walk through the WONDER Exhibition at the Renwick Gallery and the urges it gave me.

 

Shindig

I wanted to stick my hand between the woven branches and feel the smooth edges press against my fingertips and my palm and the back of my hand. I wanted to keep pushing until my arm was all the way in, and then my body. I wanted to know what this would feel like.

 

Untitled

The roundness of this piece made me itch. I could feel the bumpiness of it under my skin. As I walked closer to the lumpy mountains and was able to see the sharp edges of the index cards, looking at it became more bearable. I hated this piece because it somehow crawled under my skin and touched me as if it had its own urges.

 

Anonymous donor

This I wanted to bite. I wanted to grab a piece of tire that was sticking out and bite down on it hard with the teeth in the back of my mouth. I did not want to touch it with my hands though.

 

Volume

I wanted to hear this one. I imagined that if a strong wind blew in and caused the hanging pieces to smack together it would sound like wind chimes. Then I wanted to rub the palm of my hands against the sharp hanging pieces. Then I thought about these two things happening at the same time. I wanted to hear and feel this piece at the same time.

 

Middle Fork

This I wanted to lay in. I wanted to slide down the inside of the hollow tree like shape and feel the curves and the bumps press against my back and neck. I wanted to rub my arms against the sides as I did this and feel the ridges scrape lightly against my skin. This piece I wanted to feel, and inhale.

 

Folding Chesapeake

Surprisingly I did not want to put these marbles in my mouth. The permanence of them laid out side by side on the ground and the wall gave me the urge to roll my palms and the webs of my fingers over them.

 

In The Midnight Garden

Dead things scare me. I do not like to look at them or think about them, and I find it weird that people are able to do either. I thought about how I have no problem killing insects but seeing their dead bodies after the fact makes me uneasy. The skeleton shaped heads formed out of the dead bodies of the insects that decorated the walls quickly ushered me out of the room. The only urge this piece gave me was to run.