"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Miss Representation

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.
- Alice Walker

I watched Miss Representation with several classes in a special presentation at our school last week.


Parts were good, and parts weren't.  And it was sooo American - except for the soundtrack with was mainly Metric songs (from Toronto) because Canada rocks!

What Worked:

The many headlines and discussions of female politicians that focused on their clothes or belittled their accomplishments really illustrated the on-going backlash against women in power.  It ain't over yet!  References to Senator Clinton as "Mrs. Clinton" and people dismissing strong decision-making in female politicians as being a bitch or catty are tactics still so prevalent and so depressing.  For that alone we need movies like this to remind us that there's still lots of work to do.

And I also count Mary Tyler Moore as an early role model.  But I also count Murphy Brown, and Ellen, and CJ Cregg, and many more.  There are still strong women in TV shows.  There's a lot of ditzy women and nagging women, but the strong characters are out there for those interested in finding them.

What Didn't Work:

The description of the filmmaker's personal life didn't seem to fit at all.  She had a rough childhood.  Is it all because of the media?  I think not.  What was the relevance of the lengthy, heart-wrenching bio?

The old claim that eating disorders are all caused by magazines, and therefore we need to change the images shown in order to save these girls is contentious.  Some people who drink or gamble get addicted and sick, and it destroys lives.  But we don't get rid of things because a minority are adversely affected by them.  We only ban things that directly harm people.  I prefer that leaning.  I don't want to stop any image that might cause people offence or provoke people to behave in ways that aren't healthy.  That would obliterate too many excellent movies.  Without movies to fill the off-hours, I might start gambling and drinking (more).

Also, there will always be ideals of beauty.  Without media, we'll look around the neighbourhood, determine the most aesthetic look of the day, and try to emulate it.  I don't think that competitiveness will ever end.  

The many many headlines of girls being gang raped flashing in a row doesn't convince a media-savvy generation of a correlation.  We've had violence and rape long before we had TV and magazines, and the rate of violent crimes is decreasing (even in the States) as our viewing is increasing.  We know propaganda when we see it, and it's unfortunate that the movie heads in that direction.  It undermines some of the more solid messages presented.

That women are valued based on their appearance is the overriding claim of the film.  I think movies like this do more to add to that myth than destroy it.  Many athletes, academics, and professionals have managed to get by on their skills and brains regardless of their aesthetics.  In politics, however, looks do matter.  In the age of T.V., we're unlikely to elect a person with a disability anymore.  But that applies to all genders.  We look at people who are visually pleasing, but we hang out with and hook up with people we're comfortable with, people we truly enjoy.  We definitely value beauty, but when all is said and done, we also value good company, smarts, ability, and a sense of humour.

The biggest problem with the film is that it complained about the state of the world today, but didn't really offer any empowering advice for changing media.  I think a better film would offer an alternative to what's out there - instead of flashing all the booty on the screen today and headlines of tragedies, show us clips of strong female leads and headlines of the many many women who have made it.   Don't show us ways we don't have power - show us ways we do!

It's true that old movies of the 1940s gave women some excellent dialogue and strong characters, but it might be the case that it just happened in the movies that lasted the test of time.  If we look back in 2080 to the movies of today, which ones will be in the Classics section of the Netflix of the future?  I'm guessing that many of the films with annoyingly stupid females won't make the cut.  And we'll look back in awe at how progressive we used to be, and we'll wonder where it all went so wrong.

And the 40s girls didn't shy away from being sexually provocative either!  Lauren Bacall was only 19 here:

And Jennifer Lawrence was 19 here:


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