Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Horror: other perspectives

How can a feminist make horror continued from last night's post ….

Tonight’s post contains mostly copy and paste from the Facebook discussion. It’s a lot, but I didn’t copy nearly all. (Although I mentioned Brady last night, his comments won’t be included.)

Here we go.

Tim mentions 3 themes that came up in several posts. First that the violence against women isn’t glorified; everybody knows who the bad guy is and we're not supposed to identify with him. Second, that horror films often portray kick-ass women, either as good or bad guys. And third, that some of us have emotional responses to violence (whether it’s in horror films or other genres) that are personal to us, and may exist for various reasons.

Tim: Some genres of horror films -- such as slasher movies -- and some genres of suspense films -- such as the woman in jeopardy films that often show up on Lifetime network -- are often accused of being anti-woman because women are depicted as victims. The counterargument to this is that both male and female audience members sympathize more with women in these situations than they do men. Regardless, there are many, many horror films in which women are not portrayed as victims, where there are no women in the story, or where women are depicted as strong protagonists or antagonists. As for any movie that does show extreme violence (regardless of who this violence is toward), the violence needs to fulfill an important story function. If it does, then -- like any other narrative element -- it's justified. If it doesn't. then it's just lazy storytelling. If the violence is used for obvious sadomasochistic rape fantasy (you can find dozens if not hundreds of no-budget porn flicks like this for sale on Amazon, etc.) then such productions obviously have no artistic intent or merit. Extreme violence happens in the world, and has throughout the history of the human race. It's something our species has struggled with for millennia, so of course it will be the subject of art at times. Some people mistake their individual emotional response to art (or to anything, for that matter) as indicative of something wrong with that art. Their reaction can be summed up as "How dare you make me feel this way?" It's often inconceivable to them that others will have different reactions to art and may find elements in it to appreciate. MARTYRS is a brutal film that depicts the prolonged torture of its female protagonist (who arguably ends up in a position of power at the end), but it's also in its own way a beautiful film that explores some deep and complex spiritual themes. Some people would never be able to stomach it, and some might finish it and feel traumatized by the end. But those are individual reactions. The film itself was made with and communicates artistic intent …

I have a friend who's a survivor of sexual abuse. She can't watch any violent scenes that show the emotional response of the characters to violence, esp. if the character is a woman. But she sees this as a personal trigger and not the fault of the filmmakers. Although she doesn't like violence when it's used as part of lazy storytelling, whatever the reason.

Angie: Artemis house is a fantastic cause rooted in realism and as a rape survivor I whole heartedly support its campaign. Horror movies in general are sensationalism, rooted in entertainment (not truth) and should be taken that way. I don't particularly like them but as a survivor of violence I don't even think of them as "glorifying violence against women" and in fact women tend to be the heroine in more then 50% of them . just my two cents.

Persephone: …[F]or this person to suggest that all horror movies glorify violence against women means they are unfamiliar with the genre. If you are working on a movie that is all about fucking and gutting women, then I might call that out. But horror is an incredibly diverse genre. There are many horror movies in which the hero is a heroine, and where men are victims. Only you know if what you're working on is in conflict with your values.

Chris: … I have wrestled with the idea of whether by enjoying horror films I am enjoying the glorification of violence in general, and violence toward women in particular. The first problem one runs into in trying to answer that question is how to define the word 'glorify,' because I think the denotation of that word in common thinking is unclear.

Is it a case where any depiction of violence against women can be considered a glorification? That would be an extreme view, but I can understand and appreciate how some people are so fed up with violence against women in the real world that they will take such a view.

The other extreme may be something like this: depiction of violence equals glorification if a) The person who commits violence against another is portrayed as having the moral 'high ground' b) the violence is directed specifically and intentionally toward women, and c) the person committing the violence either experiences no consequences, or is rewarded for their actions.

One also has to ask whether the measure of glorification vs. depiction is equal where the person committing violence is also a woman, and why or why not.

In my view, depiction of violence against women, or violence in general, does not necessarily equate to glorification of that violence. But if I were to indict a genre of films for glorification of violence in general, and sometimes women in particular, I would sooner blame the action genre, which often portrays violence as about as devoid of consequences as stopping by the gas station on your way home from work, or treats it as something worthy of revelry, cheers and 'rah-rahs'. So I feel that the worst thing than can be done when depicting violence in film is to trivialize it, because when you remove the consequences, the ugliness, and the tragedy of violence, that's when it becomes possible to glorify it.

In general, violence is not a trivial aspect of most horror films. It is the focus, with a slant that sparks some interest in the viewer and reflects something of the darker side of humanity. At the same time, the horror genre can be empowering, because unlike some real life terrors, a horror film is a terror you can turn off …

And that’s a segue into a point several people brought up. Why judge horror so harshly when other genres are just as guilty of extreme violence? And I think it’s a good point. I can barely watch Quinten Tarantino’s films. And Fight Club left me feeling disturbed for 2 weeks.

Karen: I don't see the horror genre glorifying violence against women any more or less than other genre. If we want to get really picky, I could talk about how Fried Green Tomatoes made lesbians look bad, so in essence, all movies that represent lesbians should only do so in a positive light and that's my take on the movie. See my point? Movies are made to entertain for the most part. If I think a movie is morally reprehensible to me, I won't support it, but I won't tell you I think you're an idiot for supporting Fried Green Tomatoes. Just my 2 cents. Watch and be entertained, or get up and walk out, that's my motto.

Douglas: Horror films (and literature, for that matter) have a problem with their depictions of women because almost all media has a problem with its depictions of women. Tim's distinction between violence that serves the story versus violence that is used to exploit the audience is worth noting. Take The Human Centipede (which I think is poorly made, poorly written, weirdly racist, and uses the excuse of "social commentary" to justify its highly sexualized sadism) and compare it to Dead Girl (a film that uses shocking imagery to tell a story ABOUT adolescent misogyny). Take Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum and compare it to most of the novels by Edward Lee (your mileage may vary, I know lots of people love Lee's books, but I don't understand the appeal, and I don't think he justifies the violence he uses). Is misogyny disgustingly common in horror/science fiction/fantasy/your genre of choice? Probably.

A few people defended their love of horror from a feminist perspective. Here’s an example.

Lola: I am a huge horror fan and a huge feminist and I have found some movies to go much too far in the violence against women, but I also think it is the genre with the most women passing the Bechdel test all around. There are very often women who have conversations with each other that do not revolve around a love interest, women who kick ass, women who fight for when they have been wronged etc. I see no in general reason why horror as a whole would be considered anti-feminist.

And finally, a few of us admitted we’re weenies, and we can’t watch horror movies because we’re too scared. But that doesn’t mean we think other people shouldn’t or that people who love horror in all its forms are future ax murderers. (They aren’t, right?) Be it horror movies, roller coasters, bungee jumping, or any other adrenaline-gushing trigger, some people just like to be scared in a controlled environment.

And some of us don't.

Alice: I consider myself a strong feminist. I don't do horror flicks. Not because I'm a feminist but because they are scary and predictable. (Where does Kill Bill fit in this discussion?) I also favor free speech. Educate folks about misogyny and don't go to films that portray women negatively.

Moxie: … [T]he first horror flick I ever worked on I had a nightmare...about myself.
Who's the weenie now?

I will also admit I’m surprised how passionate some people got over this topic. My daughter Elvira, who is usually razor sharp in her eloquence, simply said, “I just fucking love it! I don’t know what else to say. I love all horror!” Obviously I didn’t pass on my weenie-ness to her.

The discussion on Tim’s page went all kinds of interesting places, but I’m not going to post anything from there without permission, except something Tim said that I think might go to the heart of what many people fear about the effect of horror on viewers.

Tim: Some people believe that some audience members get off on seeing people (most often women) in fear and pain. And I'm sure some do. How many, it's impossible to say. There's no way to know what people are thinking and feeling when they watch a movie. The deeper argument is that watching such films lead to desensitization of the audience, so they are more willing to passively accept living in a violent world or more likely to channel feelings of frustration and anger into violence. These people don't get off on the violence but are still affected by it, probably in ways that are more damaging to the culture. At least, that’s what some would argue. I don't know if it's something that can ever be measured …

It's treating women as objects that exist solely for male pleasure (whatever form that pleasure takes) that people object to. They view some depictions of violence against women as showing the ultimate pleasure-power (almost a form of apotheosis), thereby glorifying violent acts. Less pleasure- power-based violence (like in basic action, thriller, and mystery films) probably wouldn't fit this definition. (At least, that's my best guess. Maybe someone with more knowledge will chime in.)

I guess the idea is that emotionally healthy people will see the villain as a villain. Emotional unhealthy people might get off on the villain's actions and be inspired to act them out to achieve the same level of pleasure-power.

There ya go. I want to express my appreciation to everyone who commented and helped me sort through the deeper answers to this question. I hadn’t given it much thought, but when I was called out on it by Ms. Borowitz, I realized I needed to.

The bottom line is that I work on Billy’s films because I like him and I like seeing it all come together. I don’t see anything that glorifies violence against women in his work. So for me personally, I’m just going to continue having fun making movies.

Thanks for your question, Ms. Borowitz. I wish you could have seen all of the comments it inspired. And I wish I could write everything I have to say about the topic; however it could become a book. But please feel free to continue the conversation in the comments section below.

As for me, I'm going to write about something I'm more familiar with tomorrow. Any guesses what that might be? Starts with a .......

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