This week’s links post. Once again, I will be posting links largely without comment. These particular links weren’t chosen because I agreed with them, but because they piqued my interest or amusement in some manner. I might have strong disagreements with some of the positions represented within them. Feel free to share your own thoughts or links in the comments.
In no particular order.
1. The Language of Class – Contrasting Britain and America
2. 19 Year Old Seeks to Revolutionize Nuclear Power (video)
4. The Blip: Was America’s Prosperity Just A Historical Accident?
5. You Can Do Anything: Must Every Kids’ Movie Reinforce the Cult of Self-Esteem?
6. 40 Maps That Explain the World
8. Kids Can’t Use Computers … And This Is Why It Should Worry You
9. Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults
10. Biology, Sex, Culture, and Pitch
11. Evidence-Based Justice: Corrupted Memory – On Elizabeth Loftus
12. The Suffragette and Fascist Mary Richardson and the Rokeby Venus at the National Gallery
13. The Dread Pony
14. From the Abundance of the Heart … the Mouth Speaks
15. I Hate Strong Female Characters
16. What Strengthens or Weakens our Integrity – Part 3: How to Stop the Spread of the Immorality Virus
17. Beds: the Beating Heart of the (early modern) Household
19. Huanglong – Land of the Yellow Dragon – I’ve visited this place. Incredibly beautiful.
20. Grave in Moab – The burial of Moses.
21. Margaret Heffernan: The dangers of “wilful blindness”
22. What the Internet is Doing to our Brains
The teenager into nuclear power is just all kinds of awesome.
He really is, isn’t he!
Thanks for linking my blog post on beds here. Also, love the images of Durham. I lived there for many years and did my BA and PhD at the University. Your phogos remind me how much I miss the buildings and landscape!
Thanks for the post: I found it fascinating! It was linked by a friend on Twitter. Once I read it, I added your blog to the blogs that I follow on feedly.
Interesting to hear that you studied at Durham. It is definitely an incredibly beautiful city!
McDougall’s piece immediately reminded me of a piece at overthinking it “Why Strong Female Characters are bad for women”. Shana Mlawski’s introduction ruminates on Megan Fox stating that the character she plays in Michael Bay’s first Transformers movie is a “strong female character” and the kid gloves immediately come off from there on to the end of the piece.
Thanks for the link: it’s a good read!
Frankly, I wonder whether part of the problem is the glut of comic book style action movies on our screens, which don’t seem to lend themselves to the most character-driven plots in the first place. Their characters, whether strong or weak, tend to fall into a small range of types. And, if the world is going to be saved largely through fighting and brawn (and the world always has to be saved), we shouldn’t be surprised if the cast is predominantly male and the women token characters. Writing believable and strong (in the non-physical sense) women characters might actually give us a broader range of figures to relate to on our screens and more interesting plots. Of course, this would demand more imagination from scriptwriters. Some examples of incredibly imaginative plots with female lead protagonists can be found in Hayao Miyazaki’s films, for instance.
Yes, Western storytellers in cinema might be hard-pressed to make female characters as interesting as Miyazaki’s ANTAGONISTS over the last twenty years. Set a “strong female character” against Princess Kushana from the manga Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind; Lady Eboshi from Princess Mononokel; or Yubaba from Spirited Away and we’d probably rather let the villain win. 🙂 Actually Kushana’s pretty noble in both versions of Nausicaa.
I do think that the complaints about the lack of strong female characters does need some pushback, though. It is an argument with merit, but it needs quite a lot of honing.
Most of the examples of the ‘strong female character’ being brought forward come from action/comic book movies, without much attention being paid to the character of the genre. It is hardly fair to compare characters from such movies to characters such as Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes, Richard II, and other great works of English literature.
The problem here is that action movies are typically extremely poor when it comes to characters and are aimed at a primarily male audience. There is seldom more than one intrinsically interesting character in such films. Actually, there is seldom even that. Instead, what we typically have are powers and simple motives (the ‘character development’ is typically only about the establishment of motives and some baseline sympathy in the audience).
Action films aren’t really character-driven. They aren’t even really plot-driven. Rather, they are about being action-packed. The characters and plot, especially in a Michael Bay movie, largely exist to provide us with the requisite number of explosions, chase scenes, and fight sequences. In fact, the plots of such films are often tiresome and forgettable, as are the characters. Shorn of their powers, most of us wouldn’t find much to interest us in their heroes.
The time afforded to such films should also be taken into account. We aren’t going to see the sort of profound character development that we see in a figure such as Breaking Bad‘s Walter White in the two and a half hours of an action movie. Given the limited amount of time for genuine character development (as opposed to the establishment of shallow and simple motives as a pretext for the action, which is really not the same thing), characters in such films are almost invariably flat and stock. Even though the motives of the lead protagonists frequently feel highly contrived, this is especially the case for non-lead protagonists. Of whichever sex, they aren’t really developed to any degree. Character development would be a distraction from the action and would slow down the pace, which is all important.
I think that there are fairly obvious reasons why movies focused upon action and violence made for a predominantly male market should be dominated by male characters. Also as everything is supposed to be fast-paced and action-packed in such movies (expectations that often seem to apply to many children’s films nowadays too), time for character development, as opposed to the most basic of motive establishment, is at a premium and is often tedious when it takes place. In fact, I wish superhero movies were less bothered with the supposedly ‘rich internal lives’ of their lead protagonists, as they are seldom anything of the kind.
Within such films non-lead characters that stand out typically stand out through action, through being ‘kick-ass’, or whatever. Female characters in such films will always seem to be token, one-dimensional figures, and will be measured up against overwhelmingly male casts, which places pressure upon scriptwriters to show that women can also be ‘strong’ or ‘kick-ass’.
If you asked similar questions of the male characters in films focused upon romance, you might also see similar issues. For all that is said about Disney princesses, for instance, which of us grew up wanting to be a Disney prince? They are typically flat and forgettable characters, defined by little move than wealth, status, and looks.
Or how about looking at the characterization in romantic dramas? The female characters are all too often tedious and have little intrinsically interesting about them. All of the complaints about ‘Schlubby Everydude’ in the article that you link could be made about ‘Schlubby Everygals’ in all sorts of romantic dramas. Is there any reason why Edward should want to end up with Bella, for instance (as this video describes well)? For that matter, the guys in such films are seldom interesting either. Once again, characterization takes a backseat to giving the audience what they want, in this case romance and emotional drama. Consequently, characters are ridiculously emotionally volatile and self-absorbed—the sort of characters that most sane people would avoid in regular life—and the events that happen to them ridiculously contrived, all to heighten the passion of the drama.
It is possible to write interesting characters in a romantic drama. For instance, characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are intrinsically interesting and worthy characters, perhaps in part because Austen wasn’t so influenced by Romanticism as many of her peers. Likewise, it is possible to write men and women of action who are interesting. It just would require a far more wide-ranging rethink of the way that we approach writing such genres. It isn’t only about adding a few more characters to the mix.
The strength of Miyazaki’s films, for instance, is the fact that they are less driven by mere action. Rather they are often focused upon plots and worlds in a way that leads to the reward of such virtues as curiosity and openness in their protagonists. They have adventure at their heart, but of the kind that encourages the opening up and expansion of protagonists, rather than their streamlining into simplistic motive-driven actors. It seems to me that the development of more interesting characters, especially female ones, flows from this, not directly from the desire to represent more women.
I’ll note that I’m not sure that Romanticism is the problem. The Brontes and their male characters, like Heathcliff and Rochester, are competitive with Austen and hers for artistic merit, and the Brontes are Romantic to the hill.
I’d also note that the schlubby everygal (at least when it comes to personality) who gets the guy is more plausible than the reverse because women’s mate value is based so heavily (though not completely) on looks, while male attractiveness is so often heavily based on charisma. So, a pretty but vapid girl actually would actually have some chance with these hero types, while a boring romantic hero seems more unlikely, unless he has immense compensating features.
One could definitely argue that characters such as Heathcliff and Rochester are fascinating, dynamic, and well-drawn in many respects. However, the more general appeal of their volatile personalities is rather lost on me, I am afraid. The problem is that Romanticism (and its bastardized successors) tends to traffic rather too much on such byronic heroes, the sort of self-absorbed, domineering, and self-destructive individuals who produce a lot of emotional heat (which some people are into, I guess), but whose worthiness is altogether overrated. Once this character type has been reproduced so many times and descended into your Edward Cullens and Christian Greys, I find it much harder to develop any interest in them, I am afraid. The poisonous appeal of the personality type has long since eclipsed the actual attention that the type merits.
Steve Sailer has some important thoughts on butt kicking babes here and here A lot of “strong female characters” are actually male fetishes.
Thanks for the links. Yes, I think that many supposedly ‘strong female characters’ are made primarily for a male audience. They are the sort of women that can be ‘one of the lads’ and indulgent of men’s lifestyle preferences, while still being sexually available. Their ‘strength’ enables men to claim that the women in question are just exercising their own independent agency.
Along the lines of the willful blindness clip, is this blogpost on self deception – http://thehighestend.blogspot.com/2013/08/is-self-deception-healthy.html
Very interesting! Thanks for the link.