Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Equally Human

The last few years have seen the spread of the toxic notion that all public portrayals of women, racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities etc... must not present them in a bad light.

If they do dare to show any characters who are not white males as evil, villainous, "bad people", or even just unlikeable; such portrayals (and the artists who created them) could be, and frequently were, labeled as "racist", misogynist and the like.

This of course is itself racist and misogynist, because it infantilizes and dehumanizes those being portrayed.

Real humans have flaws and faults, and the flaws in any particular character say nothing about the nature of all humans who share some arbitrary identity characteristics with that character.
No single woman, no single black man, no single muslim; is a proxy for all woman, or black men, or muslims everywhere.

To be so reductionist and generalizing is absurd, and is in fact racist or misogynist.

This particular issue has been at the fore this past two weeks, because of the release of the thriller "Gone Girl"; whose female lead is a thoroughly nasty psychopath, who deliberately frames the men in her life for rape and murder.

Such a portrayal is NOT misogynist... Anymore than saying any portrayal of any white male as a sociopath is saying that all white men are sociopaths.

Such notions reveal more about the insecurities, sensitivities, and prejudices of those espousing them, than of the artist who created the characters.

In a New York Times piece about the film (and the controversy), Maureen Dowd says some things I think are worthy of consideration:

"The idea that every portrait of a woman should be an ideal woman, meant to stand for all of womanhood, is an enemy of art — not to mention wickedly delicious Joan Crawford and Bette Davis movies. Art is meant to explore all the unattractive inner realities as well as to recommend glittering ideals. It is not meant to provide uplift or confirm people’s prior ideological assumptions. Art says “Think,” not “You’re right.”"

Yes... indeed... when exactly did we decide otherwise, and who exactly did the deciding?

Of course I'm sensitive to the fact that for decades popular culture has often portrayed minorities as the scary badguys, or at best as gross parodies of reality... but you don't fix that by simply grossly distorting and dehumanizing minorities in the opposite direction.

For gods sake, how many wise, magical, non-threatening black men can hollywood cast Will Smith and Morgan Freeman as?

As a result of this "sensitivity", we have seen every movie where the bad guy isn't a white western European or American male, decried as racist or culturist or sexist etc... etc... etc...

This has resulted in the ridiculous whitewashing of villains. Books with muslim terrorists as the antagonists are made into movies with Belgian Nazis. Hollywood is breathing a sigh of relief that they can portray Russians as bad guys again, because they were running out of ways of making all the badguys white anglosaxons without seeming ridiculous.

Honestly, I think Hollywood really misses the days when they could just make all the bad guys nazis and russians. No "troubling implications" when swastikas are involved.

This dehumanization serves neither art, nor humanity. It's dishonest, disingenuous, and condescending.

We're not really equal, until we can be equally bad, equally good, equally ambiguous... equally HUMAN.