Response to Cracked’s Criticisms of “Kickass” Female Characters in Film

I am a frequent reader of the comedy website Cracked, which has articles on a range of topics including pop culture, weird science and history, and sometimes insightful personal accounts from people with unique jobs or living situations. I usually gravitate toward the articles on pop culture and media for a light, fun read. In doing so, I came across an article entitled “6 Stupid Characters That Hollywood Now Puts in Every Movie.” Like most of these types of articles featured on the site, this article was just some simple observations by a columnist about the way movies are being made today, but there was one entry that really made me stop and think. It was something the author referred to as “Kickass” Female Characters Who Don’t Really Do Anything. The main point the author of the article was trying to make is that there is an ever-growing number of  female characters appearing in films, mainly blockbusters, that are designated as being a “tough” or “kickass” woman but never prove their toughness. He says, “there’s a tendency in modern films to create kickass female co-stars with hot leather fighting abilities who are of zero consequence to the plot … no matter how bumbling their male co-stars may be.” This sounded reasonable enough and even though some arguments could be made against a few of the examples he gives, Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Widow are two that could be considered less than solid,  I was generally on board with his assessment.

My main issue with his argument is that he’s kind of missing the point of why these types of characters are so frustrating, especially to female viewers. He takes issue with the fact that these “badass” characters don’t actually serve the function of being a badass; I find them troubling because they are representative of the type of one dimensional female character that Hollywood has been churning out in response to the call for “stronger” female characters, which has been misinterpreted to mean women who can fight or shoot a gun. What is really meant by “strong female characters” then? It is a desire for female characters that are rounded, three dimensional human beings. This means women who might be tough or vulnerable, strong or weak, but who are probably all of these things because real people are flawed and possess a capacity to experience an array of emotions.

The biggest hole in his argument is one he makes himself. After giving all of these examples of characters that could be construed to fit into this frame of one dimensional badassery, he hinges his argument on the uselessness of Katniss Everdeen. He claims that she is a useless female character because she doesn’t use her archery skills to kill enough people, and because she is manipulated into providing propaganda for the revolution. With this example and reasoning, he proves that he has not only missed the bigger point of why superficially tough female characters are a problem, but that he has also misidentified and misinterpreted one of the few attempts to provide a female hero who is not the perfect, emotionless action hero. The whole point of Katniss Everdeen is that she is a reluctant hero who’s more than just good with a bow. She is only in the Hunger Games to save her sister and has no desire to kill anyone if it can be avoided. The fact that she is manipulated and vulnerable doesn’t make her any less of a “strong” character, it just means that she is a flawed character who’s more than a one dimensional killing machine.

I think it’s great that people try to point out the problems with our modern films, especially those with the portrayal of women on screen, but it’s also very important to understand what you’re actually writing about and the overall point. The point was missed here and the criticisms of female characters should depend less upon how much butt they can kick and more upon whether or not they are dynamic, fleshed-out, and well-rounded characters.

-Shelby Bess

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Horror Stories: A Literary Tradition

In order to welcome Halloween, here are a few classic horror short stories worth exploring. These Victorian writers are particularly interesting, and their work is old. However, many of the stories these men wrote paved the way for the modern horror we see in bookstores this time of year.

The first of these writers is M.R. James. James attended King’s College in Cambridge, England in 1882. After graduating, James became Provost. He enjoyed writing ghost stories purely for entertainment, and at Christmas time, James would invite students up to his study to listen. The students would nestle down around a fire with hot drinks, and eagerly listen to James relay his stories. This tradition continued for years, and his first compilation was published in 1904. M.R. James’s best ghost stories include:

  • “Lost Hearts”
  • “The Ash-Tree”
  • “Number 13”
  • “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”
  • “The Rose Garden”

In addition, H.P. Lovecraft, a contemporary of James, used similar writing techniques. Both of these stimulating writers engage each of the senses, causing the reader to literally cringe over certain descriptions. Lovecraft strikes fear in his readers by showing them the horror of the unknown. People are only afraid of what they cannot understand, and Lovecraft reminds you of this buried fear. Some of Lovecraft’s best tales are:

Both James and Lovecraft played major roles in bringing the ghost story tradition to life in the 20th Century. They inspired famous horror writers of our time, such as Stephen King, and BBC still airs cinematic versions of James’s stories in December.  We should remember their tradition whenever Halloween costumes plague the racks at Wal-Mart or when Paranormal Activity -15 comes out in theaters. Let’s make this Halloween a classy one, and remember a couple of the writers who inspired the modern horror story tradition.

Battle Royale versus The Hunger Games

For those of you who may be aware that a film called Battle Royale was released in Japan several years back,  its hard to miss the accusations that followed Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, when her book was made into an instant blockbuster hit. The “charges”  several fans of Battle Royale made against Collins was that she copycated the storyline from the controversial earlier film.  Although the two seem disturbingly similar at first glance, it is when a further look is granted to the material of the two films that  a very different set of aesthetic objectives for them comes to light. A deeper survey of a film released  even earlier than both of these movies also suggests that there is nothing new under the sun in terms of the idea that is put forth in the them.

In Battle Royale, the premise, shared by The Hunger Games, is laid down:  Kids of an certain eligible age are selected to fight for the death. But where as The Hunger Games focuses on the dramatic story of a girl fighting for her life in the midst of an unjust system of social values (such as the demeaning of life to the point where such competitions are deemed as acceptable), Battle Royale occupies a position of a story where the plot about the fight for survival is really just a background for satire about teenage angst.  There is no overarching progression of events that necessarily ties all of the characters  together under the banner of one particular hero, such as the role that Katniss plays in The Hunger Games. Although two characters, one male and female, are focused on more than the others, each death in Battle Royale is given some sort of cinematic significance, with their death accompanied by a quote from the deceased character that frames them as a certain archetype of adolescence. Such an emphasis is lacking in The Hunger Games, which is a story with a more typical plot line fitting in with the conventions of the development of the hero as embodied by Katniss. In conclusion, even a brief discussion of the two films makes it very obvious—they share the same foundation, but in no way the same story.

The premise of these two films has been portrayed before, in films such as The Running Man, which displays a society that has deemed it socially acceptable to kill felons in a sort of game show where they are hunted down. One can go back even further to the story of The Most Dangerous Game, and find roots in Richard Connell’s tale that hails as a definite forerunner of the dystopic novels and films of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.

Top TEN Hottest Literary Babes

In the great literary tradition set forth in this post, contributor Daniel Myers gives us the first installment of this, the Top ten Hottest Literary Babes. &mdashEditor

10. Marry Poppins

To break this list, being really, really ridiculously good-looking is not enough. Mary Poppins is not just a physically gorgeous specimen (just look at Julie Andrews!), she dances, prances, and sings like a goddess. She is also fun, energetic, and dances with penguins. I’d give her a spoonful of sugar any day to make my medicine go down.

9. Hermione Granger

Through the first tree books, the only subject Hermione never dominated was in the looks department. Right when it seemed as though she would get a mere B on the attractive scale, she drank from the goblet of hotness. Ron is one lucky wizard.

8. Catherine from Wuthering Heights

She had to choose between Heathcliffe and Edgar even though I’m sure tons of guys were vying for her. While she only lives for half the book, her hotness as illustrated by her offspring shapes the second half. Heathcliffe is tormented by her death, and quite frankly, who wouldn’t be?

7. Jane from Pride and Prejudice

If I were a mother and had to pick a favorite, I too would choose the more attractive one. While her only solid characteristic is her good looks, that’s one glorious characteristic. She would be the Kim Kardashian (without the whorish qualities) of our generation, dating someone from the NFL and then the NBA and so on.

6. Ophelia from Hamlet

You know you’re hot when a prince wants you. Even with Hamlet’s realization that his uncle killed his father and married his mother, he still finds the energy to flirt with her during the play. This is not an indicator of Hamlet’s out of whack head frame, but a testament to Ophelia’s hotness.  The reason Hamlet tells her to “get thee to a nunnery” is because he wants to visit it.

The top 5 will come out next week!!!

Top 10 Hottest Men in Literature

IF you’ve every found yourself drooling over the dreamy man on the pages of the of a literature assignment, do not dismay friend for you are in good company. My goal for this blog was to list and rank the hottest men who made up our favorite fantasies, but I soon discovered the research I needed for that post was exceedingly difficult to perform. Sadly, there is no database of literary authors complete with a headshot and rating. Instead, I found tons of posts about the hottest men we’ve ever pretended existed. And honestly, that makes a much better top 10 list. Unlike real men, our fictional favorites won’t let us down with their inadequacies, because they don’t actually have minds of their own. They will forever remain the sensual and attractive guys we found so desirable without all the let downs those all too real authors are certain to be full of. I’ve compiled a list the blog posts of others literature fanatics and a little of my own opinion. I definitely don’t agree with all of them, but our online community has spoken. So here’s to the hottest men we will never actually get to meet in real life, but will always remember!
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