Amoeblog

His Mother's Voice: Only God Forgives' Feminism

Posted by Charles Reece, September 2, 2013 06:10am | Post a Comment
only god forgives poster gosling bruised

"In the beginning, in the uterine night, was the voice, that of the Mother." [p. 74]

That line is from Michel Chion, borrowed from Kaja Silverman's The Acoustic Mirror, since it could easily have served as the epigraph for the psychodynamic plot of Nicolas Refn's Only God Forgives. In Bangkok, Julian (Ryan Gosling), a man-child, is all seething impotency under matriarchal oppression (Crystal, played by Kristin Scott Thomas), yearning to be punished by patriarchal law (Chang, aka the Angel of Vengeance, played by Vithaya Pansringarm). Julian is without a father figure, since he murdered him at Crystal's insistence some time prior to the current story. Her maternal control is a smothering totality that's produced this one son who can't make any decision without mother's approval and his older brother, Billy, who proves his virile independence by brutalizing and killing adolescent prostitutes. The Oedipal theme could hardly be more explicit as she incestuously traces the muscles on Julian's arm or discusses with his dinner date how he has the smaller cock of the two brothers. After Billy is killed at Chang's insistence for the murder of a girl prostitute (the police commander actually makes the father of the girl do the deed), Crystal demands that her surviving son exact familial revenge, regardless of what Billy might've done. This seems to keep with Chion's description of the uterine voice of the mother as an "umbilical net," which he considers "a horrifying expression, since it evokes a cobweb."

Refn expresses this uterine trap through Lynchian styled oneiric cinematography: a voyeuristic camera follows Julian's imaginary wandering down sanguine hallways without an exit. It's not the male gaze that haunts his dreams, however, but his mother's. Despite being trapped in this seemingly endless tunnel, he also desires a reconnection with with the womb as he moves forward, reaching into the darkness. His hope of a maternal reconnection is cutoff when the dream image of Chang, the substitute father, performs symbolic castration with a sword that severs Julian's arm just below the elbow. This is, as Silverman might explain it, a Lacanian version of the Oedipal: the child yearns for an imaginary union with the mother, but the father says, "No," which introduces the kid into the symbolic register where laws, such as moral injunctions, operate. This original 'no' is the law of the father, a symbolic castration that "grounds" (interpretatively retrofits) all future symbolic behavior on a fundamental lack that has removed the child's feeling of being the center of everything -- i.e., that comforting blanket of squishy sonority that surrounded Julian in the womb, before he became old enough to realize what a repressive force his mother is. Thus, he has typical mommy issues, which are made more troubling by the fact that she's a treacherous drug-dealing crime lord.

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Downton Rapey?

Posted by Charles Reece, March 8, 2013 10:08am | Post a Comment
downton abbey series 1 episode 3 mary
Lady Mary Crawley

The porn debate is underscored by two fundamentally antagonistic views of the purpose of law in society. The first view, to which pro-sex feminists subscribe, is that law should protect choice. "A woman's body, a woman's right" applies to every peaceful activity a woman chooses to engage in. The law should come into play only when a woman initiates force or has force initiated against her. The second view, to which both conservatives and anti-porn feminists subscribe, is that law should protect virtue. It should come into play whenever there has been a breach of public morality, or a breach of "women's class interests.
-- Wendy McElroy, "A Feminist Defense of Pornography"

I recently watched the French documentary Mutantes: Punk Porn Feminism, which contains interviews with women who participate in and/or support what you'd think based on the title. One of the main points Virginie Despentes makes with her film is that much of the antagonism the sex trade continues to face is rooted in an old fashioned patriarchal control of women's bodies. It's as if the entire familial tradition would crumble if women were allowed to do with their bodies what they want, giving sex away for free or for cash. This same notion can be seen in pop culture in the way rape tends to be seen as the worst thing that one can do to a fictional female victim, not murder. The contamination of a woman's body, the violation of her "virtue" is too evil to face, rather just kill her and get it over with. And, despite how much I love the subgenre, the same might be said of rape-revenge films, even those with an ostensible feminist message (e.g., I Spit on Your Grave), as if the moral equation balances out with the quid pro quo of rape and murderous vengeance. But the feminist view here (at least the right one) is that a woman shouldn't have virtue forced on her, solely defined by others to have her live as they see fit. This is McElroy's quoted distinction in the two views of law, which accurately places certain feminists on the side of traditional conservatives.

Pop Cultural Feminist Icons and Why I Really Don't Like Wonder Woman

Posted by Charles Reece, September 2, 2012 11:48pm | Post a Comment
wonder woman 28 cover

My interest in Wonder Woman has always been lukewarm, with a back issue collection ranging somewhere between Dazzler and She-Hulk. This essay was the result of an invite from Noah Berlatsky over at the Hooded Utilitarian who's currently working on a book devoted to William Marston and Harry Peter's Golden Age run on Wonder Woman (they created the character). Noah had blogged his way through every issue of the comic, and was celebrating with a roundtable on the final issue (#28). Since it was clear that I pretty much loathed Marston's ideas, Noah figured it would be fun to get a negative take, and the following was what I delivered. At one time, the bondage theme had led me to try a volume from the DC Archive editions, but the mind-numbing repetition of  “oh, you’ve bound my bracelets” and “now, I have you tied up with my lasso” only proved what I thought impossible: how meek and boring sadomasochism could be. I imagine what Suehiro Maruo might do with the character -- questionable as feminism, true, but free of tedium. This is a roundabout way of saying I prefer my feminist icons with teeth. And Marston wasn’t interested in artistic ambiguity, but propaganda:

[That w]omen are exciting for this one reason — it is the secret of women’s allure — women enjoy submission, being bound [was] the only truly great contribution of my Wonder Woman strip to the moral education of the young. The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound. … Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society. [quote from p. 210, Jones]

Submission as an essential quality of womanhood might sound dubiously feminist, too, if not for Marston’s insistence that what is woman’s by nature should be a virtue for man to follow. There was no Sadean intent for us perverts. Submission was Marston’s end to violence, not a subset. When moralizing critics of his day objected to the overtly fetishistic nature of Wonder Woman, Marston’s response was that bondage is a painless way of showing the hero under duress. Unfortunately, he was correct: his and Peter’s depiction is about as troublingly kinky as the traps laid for Batman in his sixties TV show. As issue 28 indicates, even the villains use physical force only to subdue the heroines, never for torture: When Princess Diana and her mom are bound by burning chains, Eviless makes it clear that the flames don’t actually burn. [p. 20] As fetish or drama, this is about as flaccid as it gets.

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The Basic Instinct of Amazons? Wonder Woman, Masochism & Totalitarianism

Posted by Charles Reece, May 23, 2012 09:08am | Post a Comment

wonder woman lynda carter

It took me a while to finish, but Part 1 of my essay on the Golden Age Wonder Woman is up over at The Hooded Utilitarian, so check it out: "On Second Thought, I Really Don't Like Wonder Woman." Part 2, where I also talk about Game of Thrones, serial killers, and the great Basic Instinct, is here.

The Marriage Plot: Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum's The Woman (2011)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 16, 2011 10:29pm | Post a Comment
the woman poster

Having never seen Offspring (Andrew van den Houten and Jack Ketchum's adaptation of the latter's novel about a Northeastern cannibalistic kin, who first appeared in the book Off-Season), I took its sequel's opening pre-credit sequence to be a phantasmagoric continuation of I Spit On Your Grave where the eponymous Woman retreated into nature after having escaped the tyranny of Man and patriarchal culture. Surely, Lucky McKee and Ketcham's The Woman is more than an accidental synecdoche for the original title of Meir Zarchi's classic, Day of the Woman. Their film is, at its core, another rape-revenge film, but with the twist that the victim is feral, so outside of man's law. The misogynistic repression perforce comes from a different place than horror's generic South, since its resident hayseed hordes are uncultured and would likely sympathize with the bestial Woman. Zarchi's victim-protagonist Jennifer HIll, on the other hand, was an urbane writer who had culture stripped from her by barbarous rednecks. The Woman has just as much dirt under her fingernails as those rednecks, her language isn't much more than a growl, plus she's a cannibal (a taboo even greater than the use of the contraction "y'all"). Therefore, her victimization is a form of structural violence, that which is the repressed base of the status quo. The central fear expressed by The Woman isn't in having the Woman's culture dismantled (as it was for Jennifer) -- for she is pure cultural Other and has none -- but that cultural normativity is structured around the primordial violence she represents. Hillbillies can't victimize her any more than animals can victimize other animals, but the nuclear family can in the same way that a suburban adolescent might torture a cat.

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