Monday, August 08, 2005

“Only My New Powers Can Save You, Padme”: Female Victimhood & Male Sacrifice

I was reading an article the other day about Kate Winslet. It was the usual sort of interview where the interviewer felt it necessary to spend half of the interview talking about Winslet’s weight and how much “slimmer” she is now and what an icon she is for non-slender women and blah blah.

In any case, it got me to thinking again about Titanic.

See, there was always something about Titanic that didn’t make sense to me. I mean, besides the silly dialogue. See, I was one of those Crazy Teenage Girls who saw it eleven times in the theater. It helped give me the courage to ditch my loser boyfriend and buy a one-way ticket to Alaska.

I mean, hey, Kate could do it. Why couldn’t I? I had that fire! That passion!

I completely understood why young women went crazy for that movie. James Cameron plotted the old cliché man-saves-woman from herself script, but with a twist. See, all the guy really does is tell her she’s cool, which she already knew, and then he dies. The rest, she pretty much does herself. If he lived, it would have been an entirely different movie.

And you know, a lot of people feel like they’ve got a script to follow, a perfectly coiffed fem life to live with the family-perfect boyfriend, when secretly, you don’t really want any of that bullshit at all.

At any rate, here’s what didn’t make sense to me:

Titanic blew up the box office and make a shitload of money. Now, when a movie does that, what happens afterwards is that a bunch of people usually make copy-cat movies to try and get in on the same audience Titanic found.

So where’s all the movies about a strong woman with real breasts who’s inspired by an aimless drifter hero to live a great big life?

After Buffy died, they’ve been trying wildly to figure out the formula and make another winning series: teenage girl with supernatural powers battles evil. Unfortunatley, Buffy was a little more than that, which is why stuff like Tru Calling and etc. keep getting cancelled.

But where are the Titanic ripoffs?

Now, I’m not talking about those men-sacrificing-themselves-to-save-women shows, like, say, Anakin going all nuclear cause he has to “save” Padme, when she would have been just fine in childbirth all by herself. I mean, that whole sacrifice thing always sorta bugged me, because it’s a “romantic” expectation that’s not good for men or women. It encourages men to “save” women who may be terribly toxic and encourages women to wait around to “get saved” instead of actually starting their lives (I’m a hopeless romantic, and was stuck with this idea for years). Ideally, I’d like to see a “romance” where two people bump into each other, improve each others lives, and then go on their way.

But hey, I’ll take a Titanic rip-off, too. I’ll take a movie where a gutsy heroine is shown the value and adventure and potential of her own life, and inspired to be better. It doesn’t even have to be a guy who inspires her. Under the Tuscan Sun is a great example.

So where are the gutsy heroines inspired to greatness? Or just bigger, better lives? Without immediate, traditional, romantic entanglements that turn it syrupy?

5 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I love Ever After, especially where the prince comes to save Drew Barrymore's character after she's "saved" herself. She asks him what he's doing, and he says that he came to rescue her, at which I recall her laughing. Even though it's a romantic story, it's about a strong woman who could use a little help to get out of a bad situation. And it's clear that this is a marriage of equals, not one person saving the other. 

Posted by cara

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting into words my reason for loving TITANIC.

I haunted Usenet way back then, and what I remember were the loooong threads in alt.feminism where the men's rights activists were berzerking about this movie. They ranted like crazy about TITANIC, about how much they hated it and that it wasn't historically accurate.

I realize now, with a few years behind me:), that they loathed it for the same reasons that you and I loved it. 

Posted by aeonsomnia

Anonymous said...

When a movie hits it huge, everyone thinks it's the furniture that made it popular, rather than the underlying themes and resonances.

So, the Titanic rip-offs? Big disaster movies with paleolithic gender politics. Like Armageddon, Deep Impact, that awful volcano one that I'm not remembering correctly.

I disliked Titanic for the class stuff, I must admit. It piled on the "poor people are good and happy! Rich people are selfish and mean!" shtick a bit too heavy for my taste.  

Posted by Emily H.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes. The string of disaster movies... Forgot about that. A fascinating blindness, looking at your audience of repeat-business of teenage girls and *not* thinking, "Shit, what's bringing *them* here?" (for some reason, they all believed it was all about Leo DiCaprio. As "Man With The Iron Mask" taught them, this was not so true)

And yea, there were a *lot* of problems with Titanic. But at 17/18, I was quite willing to ignore its shortcomings and try to figure out how I was going to learn how to fly a plane and ride the rollercoaster at Coney Island... 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

That's a powerful reminder of the transcendent affects of art K, even if it was just an updated 'B disaster movie'. Me, 'The Poseidon Adventure' ruined all subsequent disaster movies for me. (And some professional training in 'mass disasters', but that's another story). It's also a testament to how perfectly awful most movie portrayals of 'real women' are. Honestly I think we had more obvious strong role models in the 1940's and 1950's. I think that was the last time you could find real 'dames' working past the age of 35 in studio contracts doing regular pictures, some on a yearly basis. Nothing special, but you suddenly look around today and see the desert they call humanity depicted on the screen, and most don't know what we are missing.

But for a glimpse of the possibilities of a greater life from the eclipse of the Edwardian age, that's some stretch. We might as well be inspired by the Ancients, right? The BBC discovered some very rare lost film footage from the period. It was like watching film from the Paleolithic it was! Very strange, almost recognizably human. The class system was right there, front and center too.

Me, I enjoyed the the Titanic's period sets, (so lovely!), this is rarely done as well today. Excellent stuff really.

Cheers, 'VJ'  

Posted by VJ