Monday, October 6, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 4

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. Here is the continuation:

Toddles is also a fan of "ParaNorman". In fact, "ParaNorman" is currently his Halloween costume of choice. (It is occasionally swapped out for bat, vampire, vampire bat, or dragon. Oh, and most recently, a sword.)
               Norman is a young boy who has the ability to speak to the dead. The opening scene has him watching a horror movie with his ghostly grandmother, which is one of the only strong characters in the film. The main *antagonist* of this film is female. The town is based on tourism surrounding a witch that is rumored to haunt the town. There is even a holiday held every year, and a play put on by students. She is eventually discovered to be a sympathetic character: it seems to be implied that she is a distant relative of Norman, who shared the same talent and was put to death by frightened townsfolk because of it.
           This is not until after a small horde of zombies terrorizes the town, which Norman and friends have to talk down from trying to destroy them. The curse, originally assumed to be meant to torture and terrorize the townsfolk, is actually meant as a punishment for the zombies; the same judge/jury that put the 'witch' to death long ago.  They plead with Norman to end the curse.
                 The theme of the story seems to be not letting fear make you lash out at others. Norman eventually faces the witch character, who is revealed to be the ghost of a girl perhaps a bit younger than himself. He helps her get to rest in peace once and for all, by sharing advice on forgiveness, particularly forgiving those that have lashed out in fear themselves.  I have read a negative view of this exchange, critiquing the boy character having the wisdom that the centuries old girl did not, but I think it is reasonable to have someone who is new to the situation but has applicable wisdom share this wisdom with someone who's earthly experiences have been clouded with centuries of fear and loneliness.
Agency: The witch (Agatha) has been being lulled back to sleep for centuries. She has finally had enough and is going to mess shit up. She's pretty powerful and I don't see that anyone can tell her what to do... only make suggestions.

        Norman's sister Courtney is a checklist of every blonde cheerleader stereotype. I'm sad to point out that she's also vegan. *sigh* I believe she was basically designed to annoy everyone they possibly could. ( Success!) She follows Norman only out of familiar obligation, and then to be close to the brother of Norman's new friend. She does have a shining moment where she stands up to a crowd for her brother, including telling him "I've cheered the uncheerable, Norman, and I'm not letting you give up now!"

Backstory/Goals: Agatha started off set on revenge. The resolution of the film revolves around her letting this goal go and moving on. While Norman certainly influences her decision, it's most definitely her decision, because she might have decided to kill him with a tree bashing to the skull.  
         Courtney's goals seem to consist of not letting her brother die and finding a guy who is  "r-i-double p-i-d"  She exists primarily to aid Norman on his quest.

Traditional Gender Roles: Agatha is a pretty powerful actor in the film, even though she does listen to Norman's reasoning, it doesn't come from a place of him being superior to her. In fact, he argues repeatedly that they are the same, drawing parallels between them.  Her problem comes from being an Elsa-of-Arendale level power of female in Puritan America: those DON'T fit into typical gender rolesSadly, she is killed for it, but not before taking them all with her and making them suffer for centuries.  The movie, thankfully doesn't take the lazier, more misogynist path and have Norman defeat, kill, or depower her.  While he does convince her to end the curse and move on, it's at Norman's asking and not demanding.  She could have just continued with her curse.
          Courtney is (according to the script) "fifteen years-old and is the bleached-blonde cheerleader archetype of every schoolboy's sordid dreams." This object of schoolboy desire comes wrapped in pink velour, and brains obviously aren't part of the bargain. The writers/directors were obviously aiming for a two dimensional character and hit the mark.

Relatability:  The viewer definitely feel sympathy for Agatha. Beyond that, her goals and actions are simplified, they amount to a supremely powerful being who is throwing a tantrum. Still, for the ghost of a misunderstood child, I think she is a reasonable character.
          I don't know that any viewers are meant to identify with Courtney. I believe she is made for the boys in the audience to want and the girls to hate.

Other than the 'witch' (Agatha) and the grandmother, who dishes out words of wisdom, the other females tend to be flat, rather than dimensional characters, like Courtney. The sassy black cop, the nerdy girl with the unibrow who exists only to help out the main characters, the drama director, "an imposing woman with spectacles and a beret who looks like she smells of too-much perfume."

We haven't set out to critique the appearance of queer characters in these films, but it is an issue that is important to us, so we will also ad that there is the notable inclusion of a homosexual character, in no way stereotyped as such or mentioned to be gay until the very end of the film. If anything, the character is a spoof on the stereotypical Lone Hero archetype.  Kudos to the movie for playing with it's audience (The reveal is in a one-liner that can be seen to be at another characters expense, but I still see it as a strength of the film.)

While this movie is much better than say "Sleeping Beauty" or  even The Little Mermaid, they could still have done better.  There is plenty good about the movie I could/ have said, but it's still left wanting for depiction of women in a positive way.    

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