Amoeblog

AFI 2012 - The ABCs of Death (2012)

Posted by Charles Reece, November 18, 2012 10:41pm | Post a Comment
abcs of death poster

Lets just say this film is NOT for the morally conscious.
-- Timo Tjahjanto on his "L is for Libido"

The ABCs of Death
is a collection of humorous horror shorts from around the world, each based on a letter of the alphabet -- so you know going in that, percentage-wise, some of it won't be very good. However, there are a truly inspired few that make enduring the whole worthwhile. What you'll learn, if you didn't already know, is that Americans aren't very good at making horror these days, Asians are the best, with the French and Mexicans falling somewhere in between.

The best of the bunch is undoubtedly from Indonesia, Timo Tjahjanto's "L is for Libido."  Two men are chained to chairs, forced to masturbate to whatever's put before them on a stage. The last one to ejaculate gets gruesomely eliminated, while the winner goes on to the next round, with something even more heinous being put before him and his new opponent. Without giving any of the shock value away, I'll just say that the forced fetish spectacle was sufficiently evil to get the asshole sitting next to me who couldn't stop playing with his cell phone (a video arcade was coming from his seat) to finally pay attention and leave in disgust. A good horror film can't be ignored. Despite Tjahjanto's claim of amorality, there's actually quite a bit going on here. I'm thinking about the assumption of passivity in gaze theory, both on the part of the spectacle and on the part of the spectator. What's being shown in front of the camera is under its controlling gaze (typically, this is thought to be women, objectified and fetishized), while giving the viewer the false impression of being in control of that gaze, when in fact the gaze has been ("always already") structured for him (men tend to be assumed to be in the role of the scopophiliac). The short manifests this theory as horror: the men are actually subjugated to a spectacle beyond their control. But it's unlikely to win many feminist converts, because it's played for laughs (of the gallows humor variety). The problem in gaze theory is that the spectator isn't passive, a mere product of interpellation, which is made comically apparent through sanguine literality. Intentional or not, Tjahjanto has created a perverse satire of Laura Mulvey's theory.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

Bob Hope and the Feminine Spectacle

Posted by Charles Reece, July 25, 2010 10:55pm | Post a Comment
In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.
-- Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"

laura mulvey speaks

I've been reading some feminist film theory lately, and came upon an interesting tidbit about Laura Mulvey (best known for bringing 'the gaze' to film critique). As a member of London's Women’s Liberation Workshop, she participated in the protest of 1970's Miss World Pageant, which involved lighting stink bombs, throwing flour bombs, shooting water pistols and making a lot of other ruckus during one of host Bob Hope's routines. And thanks to YouTube's worker ants, the incident is online:


What's interesting about that is how close Hope's intro lines up with Mulvey's own take on the male gaze: "I'm very, very happy to be at this cattle market tonight. Mooo. No, it's quite a cattle market; I've been back there checking calves." With the emcee, a proponent of the contest, being so direct about what was going on, I wonder if there was any need for the counter-spectacle. Hope did get defensive, though, saying that the protesters must've been "on some kinda dope" to disrupt "an affair as wonderful as this." For her part, Mulvey thought the incident a success, writing with collaborator Margarita Jimenez that it was "a blow against passivity, not only the enforced passivity of the girls on the stage but the passivity we all felt in ourselves" (from "The Spectacle is Vulnerable: Miss World, 1970"). But if being called cattle doesn't wake the girls up, what good is the stench of sulfur and a starchy haze? On the contrary, if you've ever seen one of those MTV docs about the beauty pageant circuit, you know that it's a lot of hard work to be this "passive." The contestants have to really want to be the objects of the dominating gaze, like Phyllis Schafly putting her duties as a homemaker on perpetual hold to defend traditional femininity against the ERA and anything else that's come up in the subsequent years. Beauty contestants are proactive supporters of the patriarchy, true ideologues. One might as well blow kazoos at a Klan rally to alert the racists of their false consciousness.

phyllis schlafly era

The type of woman who enters beauty pageants will continue to exploit her genetic gifts because it gets her things she wants (how else could one explain Donald Trump's marriages). What the demonstration accomplished was, as Lynne Harne explained in her London Feminist Network "feminar" was "an iconic moment in terms of what Women’s Liberation was about." That is, it was a reactive spectacle directed at those of like mind: young, budding feminists. It wasn't activity versus passivity, but ideology versus ideology, action versus action. And it proved that Bob Hope was a real asshole.