Monday, 20 May 2013

Equality, the final frontier?

Cross posted from my usual place...
 

I came out of the latest Star trek film feeling angry, and let down.
In a film set in a future that is supposed to be pretty damn idealistic (great tech, multicultural/multi-planetary teams, etc.) this film was behind the times NOW.
This film just felt like one big "Male Gaze" to the point where at times I felt physically pushed out of the moment of enjoying a story by the horrible realisation this film wasn’t made for people like me (that's 50% of the population BY THE WAY film industry). The concept of a film so overtly made by men for men is problematic for several reasons, sexual objectification being one, but my beef is that women have ZERO independent character development; they are defined solely by their relation to the male characters. Meanwhile male characters are given development both within their romance and out of it.
Urgh, it turns out that it is not space that is the final unexplored frontier, it is equality.
First up, in a meeting of senior leaders –out of all the entire table of a variety of species discussing plans, 5 women (mixed races and alien). A few characters are overtly alien. There are Eleven white humanoid men.
Really? In the future, we STILL don’t have gender equality, or racial diversity? REALLY?
Uhura has always been a favourite of mine, and I was looking forward to seeing her in this film. Unfortunately she only had one token scene that didn’t revolve around her holding up the concept of Spock's humanity. She bravely negotiated in perfect Klingon, and appealed to the enemy’s' sense of honour to try and save her team. it didn’t work, but it was a neat moment of one of the team showing their true colours and value. Pity it was the only interesting thing she got to do.
The first scene to make me realise that this movie was NOT going to make me happy, was the arrival of Carol Marcus. A young female member of the team is introduced to her new captain (and obviously, boss) – Kirk. On her arrival to the ship Kirk overtly eyes her up and down, makes a loaded comment about how he is happy she is on board, and proceeds to hit on her for the duration of the film.
So just to reiterate, a man who is responsible for hundreds of lives in a workplace people have to LIVE at, he feels confident enough in his own power, and consequently, her lack of power, to sexually harass her within minutes of being introduced.
When I mentioned this to people the overwhelming, and disappointing response was that the action was in character with Kirk, who is to be honest, a bit of a knob. He is endearingly reckless, thoughtless, and laddish. That’s what “makes” the film.
Talk about missing the point.
In the future, there will still be risk takers and creeps, I can totally understand that. But in this film, Kirk didn’t force her back to his cabin to marry him, and consecrate the marriage to make it legal to make an alliance with his commander’s family… why? Because it’s a ridiculous, outdated concept, based on the B.S. model that women are chattel to be passed from father to husband in some sort of sick ownership.
Star trek is set in the future. The future where I hope fervently the idea that workplace harassment and the idea that any leader has the right to treat a staff member like they are there for their enjoyment is ALSO not ok. JUST as silly as the idea of a man "owning" a woman.
We don’t just stop having creeps in this world, the entire culture around what those jerks are allowed to do to other people changes. This is evidenced by all human rights changes ever.
In the future, all will be equal, right? Star trek was the first show to have a woman of African descent in a non –menial role*. It is SUPPOSED to take strides and be forward thinking – the 1968 episode "Plato's Stepchildren" Uhura and Kirk kiss. The episode is popularly cited as the first example of a scripted inter-racial kiss on United States television.
This show is supposed to be thoughtful, provocative, and philosophical.
I’m well aware that the show has been problematic before now, and will continue to need to improve, but to see that NO progress has been made in this latest film, is as much of a kick in the guts as finding this out was…


*how the actress herself was treated is more problematic – Nichols was the only performer in the cast who wasn't originally offered a contract, but instead worked on a week-to-week basis.


23 comments:

Fears of Gun said...

God, Janeway was a terrible Captain.

Anonymous said...

FFS its a bit of fun and despite your best efforts we haven't banned fun and turned everything into a surreal crap that treats every shallow progressive liberal in the manner they feel suitable at the particular moment you encounter them. How the heck would you kill the evil genius who has feelings, is misunderstood and didn't get breast fed?

Make your own comfortably cuddly version of these classic adventure stories and see if they sell.

P.S. You'll need govt funding - crap that won't sell alweays does.

3:16

bisatser said...

I see your point here, and I do wish that the main character didn't have to be such a sexist jerk. Still, there were some other things that to some extent counteracted this for me.

First, Uhura got about as much screen time as all the B cast. The plot does revolve around Spock/Kirk; Scotty got a bit extra screen time in this film, but I'd place Uhura and Bones as roughly equal.

Second, one of the things I really liked was that when Uhura and Spock were having an argument, here views and feelings were listened to and accepted and seen as relevant and valid - something that deserves a real response, not something to be dismissed as "emotional" or "womanly".

Also, this Spock gets to actually have actual feelings, and the fact that he is incapable of handling them is by himself seen as a failure. To me, this mirrors the trope of people with autism/Asperger's as unfeeling because they do not connect with the feelings of others in a way that makes sense to neurotypicals, although it's more likely a case of feeling things so strongly that it hurts. To Spock, feelings aren't bad or unnecessary, they're something he's unequipped to deal with and he feels the lack.

I'm not much of a traditional Trekkie, but it seems to me that these two cases - allowing feelings other than anger to exist and be valid and encouraged - are unlike both the traditional series and unlike most regular action-films, and I like this film better for it.

Daniel Copeland said...

A revealing comment from Anonymous there -- apparently females being real people would not be "fun".

I get the feeling the film tried, but botched it. They're working with a much-loved series made a long time ago; I suppose they could have gone the "Battlestar Galactica" route and turned one of the major characters female, but, well, I can understand (while deploring) why the fan reaction to that would be too scary for them.

So instead they introduced a new female character, which might have worked, except they then had Captain Kirk relate to her the way the 1960s Captain Kirk would have done, which was a bit of a failure.

As far as the Uhura/Spock relationship, it strains credibility just a little that Uhura would only now be coming to terms with Spock's Vulcan emotional nature. And it is deeply disappointing that Uhura apparently couldn't have a part in the film without being somebody's girlfriend. Again, I think the climax (Uhura being the one who makes the final arrest) was something in the nature of a botched attempt to fix that.

Also, of course, this film (like how many others?) failed the Bechdel test. You had two female characters, but were they ever on screen at the same time? -- let alone having a conversation that was not about a man or men.

K said...

Oh crap. I shall avoid watching then, and if I really need a dose of patronising crap I'll watch something from an earlier time.

It will still be offensive, but I get a great deal of pleasure being reminded just how far we have come. Might go and watch Nine-to-five.

Frank said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank said...

I'm not surprised "Anonymous" decided not to provide his/her/it's name...

P'takh!!

Psycho Milt said...

I saw it yesterday, and it was weird. Coincidentally, a few weeks ago I discovered that the late-60s TV series UFO is available on YouTube and have been watching that recently as well.

As a 10/11-year-old, I loved UFO. It was a live action sci fi for adults, made by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, who were responsible for the Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet etc. Back then, I liked the cool technology - but watching it as an adult, I was struck by what I hadn't noticed about the "for-adults" nature of the show at the time. This consisted of lots of lingering arse-level shots of women in miniskirts or tight jump suits walking away from the camera, women getting changed etc. We're aware the tough-guy hero is a cool dude by the way he leers after the chicks doing the arse-shots, and hits on every attractive actress with a speaking role. This unspeakable awfulness is all done so utterly unselfconsciously that it's almost endearing - there's a kind of retro charm about it that probably wasn't so charming if you were one of the attractive actresses involved.

Which makes it a bit of a shock to sit down to a movie made within the last year and find the same schtick playing. There's nothing remotely retro or endearing about Kirk's leering or his sexual harassment of his underlings - and the thing is they wouldn't be doing it if there wasn't a market for it.

Anonymous said...

Goodness gracious me. You all waffle on about roles, real people and all but the fact is that the hero, who never laid a finger on a damsel (who was darned smart and had skills that were crucial to the plot and rightly got to slap dad for being an arsehole)would have seen his life snuffed out to protect her. Call me old fashioned but that's what real men did in action films and, sometimes, in real life.

Your life must be darned tough constantly wondering if you've offended someone by accidentally creating a perception they are worth less than they think they may be as they dwell on their latest emotional catastrophe. Just being nice and treating people with respect solves a lot of issues. The down side is that the people who most think they deserve respect are sometimes the last people you'd be bothered giving it to.

3:16 - Anonymous etc...

Scuba Nurse said...

A reminder to please use a constant handle, to avoid confusion with different "anonymous" people.
Thanks
I will respond to the great comments tomorrow, my day has only just finished now -and I plan on getting at least 5 hours sleep :)

Hugh said...

Never mind comparing it to the 60s series, just compare it to the 2009 film.

Although the 2009 Kirk kept the character's trademark high sex drive, he only hit on Uhura once and, when she told him she wasn't interested, stopped. And when he was on the Enterprise, he didn't treat her as anything other than another of his officers.

Having said that, the 2009 film -did- have Uhura's fairly gratuitous stripping-down-to-her-panties scene.

Daniel Copeland said...

The new female character's skills were indeed, very briefly, crucial to the plot. Far more important was her family relationship to one of the villains, by virtue of which she basically functioned as a bargaining chip. Again, I think the film was trying (in that it was her who made the decision to bargain that way) -- but not hard enough. Really. She's supposed to be an expert in physics and we get to see, briefly, that she's competent with technology... so where was she when the warp drive failed? Why was it Chekhov the earnest young bumbling comic relief that got assigned that task?

A man "protecting" women might make sense in a story set in the Middle Ages, when all weaponry required muscle-power to operate. It makes less sense in a future setting where energy firearms, which can be operated with equal ease by women and men, are standard equipment.

See, it's all well and good to protect someone as a person against being harmed; it's quite another matter to protect them as property against being stolen. That's kind of the opposite of treating someone with respect. One of the basics of respect is that you do not simultaneously have authority over someone (as their Captain) and also take personal pleasure from them, whether the pleasure involved is full-on sexual intercourse or purely visual. You get why that is, don't you? Please tell me you get why that is.

Anonymous said...

"Please tell me you get why that is."

In the world there are men and women Daniel although I would concede there is some confusion about that in some quarters. In the military particularly there is a chain of command and neither authority nor ability is evenly spread.

We preen ourselves to be attractive to each other. Women wear make up and clothes that flatter them (they hope). Men act tough (and sometimes make dicks of themselves in doing so).

The end point is that men will look at attractive women and admire them and women do the same to men. What I woud refer to as a real man would never take advantage of a position to treat someone, including a woman, without respect - irrespective of how pissed or scantilly clad she is. I'm horrified when that happens and amazed that women expose themselves to being treated like dirt by creeps.

There's no power play going on here beyond that programmed into us to preserve the species. Having evolved beyond the animals its expected we act differently but alas some don't.

I hope that if I pull over to help some self centred liberal change a tyre on a dark and stormy night they will analyse me as a man and send me on my way before I get too wet just because I might perceive them as less than a complete person because they can't change a wheel.

This whole debate reminds me of the film "Something about a boy" with the hippy mother that was screwing her son's life up because she was screwed up and we have to all be like her to make her feel good.

3:16

Anonymous said...

I keep waiting for a sci-fi / fantasy / comic movie to come out that treats women as equals or - god forbid! - has a female protagonist. It has yet to happen.

The whole Marcus female stripping down to her underwear - which interestingly, got on the trailer - was totally unnecessary and complete sexist crap.

I'm just sick of it. Sick of seeing the same sexist, shallow, unimaginative character tropes and dialogue over and over and *over* again.

Yes, I get that Hollywood doesn't want to take a risk in hard economic times, so sticks to tried and tested. But is it *that much* of a risk to give some strong female characters with brains in their heads for protagonists a go?

This is meant to be the 21st Century. I'd have thought we'd have been up to giving more than half the population a fair go by now.

Obviously not.

Yep, disappointed.

Leanne (didn't log in)

Hugh said...

@Leanne: I could point you to several works of sci-fi with female protagonists. Whether you'd see them as treating women equally, I'm not sure, but a female sci-fi protagonist is not unknown.

Jackson said...

"I keep waiting for a sci-fi / fantasy / comic movie to come out that treats women as equals or - god forbid! - has a female protagonist. It has yet to happen."

Try three Alien movies, and the Resident Evil series, for starters.

But with regards the rest of this crap, well, boohoo. It is a movie. If you don't like it, don't go and see it. It is a story, that is all.

When you have posts up complaining about how 50% of coal miners are not female, 50% of motor mechanics are not female, and 50% of logging contractors are not female, then I might have some sympathy for you.

Next you will be complaining about the lack of substantial female Hobbit roles...

Scuba Nurse said...

Jackson, I think someone has already pointed out about the issues around ethnic diversity in the hobbit films- maori/PI actors= orcs and baddies, white people = hobbits and goodies.
Not much point in discussing the role genders when they are based on a book written so long ago.
I find it funny that people are so determined to defend sci-fi's right to continue with BS tropes for female roles- as you say there are good films/series out there (serenity would be my pick).
Having proved that it does work to expand women's roles outside the "someone's girlfriend/love interest) why the hell fight it so hard? What's the big deal?

D Thunder said...

An interesting post, but I do have a few things I disagree with:

“In a film set in a future that is supposed to be pretty damn idealistic (great tech, multicultural/multi-planetary teams, etc.) this film was behind the times NOW.”

The fact a man blows himself up at the start to save his daughter from a terminal illness… The whole Cold War with the Klingons… The fact alcoholism is still the solution when depressed… The militarisation of Star Fleet in the wake of the Nero incident (thus the Dreadnaught and Khan)… It’s not an idealistic future...

“my beef is that women have ZERO independent character development; they are defined solely by their relation to the male characters. Meanwhile male characters are given development both within their romance and out of it.”

This is a film about three men, Kirk, Spock and Khan… It’s not deliberately ignoring women. The focus just so happens to be on these three.
Uhura got a considerably more impressive role than either of the non-North American characters (Chekov and Scotty), and of course, Bones...
But why were they pushed to the 3rd tier of the story, behind Kirk, Spock and Khan on the 1st, and Uhura on the 2nd?
Maybe, it was because the focus was simply elsewhere… The plot was rammed full as was. Too much so if you ask me. They went Spiderman 3 and watered it down with too many plot layers. To try and mash another level of character development into it would have further weakened it, and everybody apart from Kirk, Spock and Khan suffered accordingly. Women weren't targeted…

“First up, in a meeting of senior leaders –out of all the entire table of a variety of species discussing plans, 5 women (mixed races and alien). A few characters are overtly alien. There are Eleven white humanoid men.”

And moments later, they were nearly all killed and maimed…
Can you imagine the response after having a near 100% female Captain meeting blown away by a terrorist…
‘Star Trek makes 15 Captains women, and then kills them all because only men can save the Federation, #sexism #misogyny’…
So really, they couldn’t win either way with this one…

“Really? In the future, we STILL don’t have gender equality, or racial diversity? REALLY?”

No. Star Fleet is deeply racist... That’s one of the points. Haven’t you seen The Undiscovered Country?? The notions of that film were partly embodied in this film by Admiral Robocop’s feelings on the ‘barbarian’ Klingons… If diversity was absent on purpose (which I challenge), but it would be to add food for thought on the mirror for us that Sci-Fi is, that there is much yet to be done…

“Uhura has always been a favourite of mine, and I was looking forward to seeing her in this film. Unfortunately she only had one token scene that didn’t revolve around her holding up the concept of Spock's humanity. She bravely negotiated in perfect Klingon, and appealed to the enemy’s' sense of honour to try and save her team. it didn’t work, but it was a neat moment of one of the team showing their true colours and value. Pity it was the only interesting thing she got to do.”

As I say, she still got a better part than Chekov or Scotty, or Bones…

1/2

D Thunder said...

2/2

“So just to reiterate, a man who is responsible for hundreds of lives in a workplace people have to LIVE at, he feels confident enough in his own power, and consequently, her lack of power, to sexually harass her within minutes of being introduced.”

I need to watch this again, but my thoughts are that he does hit on her, until he knows she will be under his command. His statement on being happy she’s on-board is considerably less flirtatious than his earlier comments.
But I also think you are unfairly critical… Perhaps it is sexual harassment, but that is incidental, it is not the intent...
The intent is a clumsy and badly done plot developer to lead on to the fact that Markus and Kirk will probably have a child together. Into Darkness did its plot development with about the subtlety of a Ferrengi, this was one such symptom. But it’s a symptom of a wider issue, the wider failings of the film, not a symptom of rampant support for systemic sexual harassment within the military etc.
Markus taking her clothes off and Kirk’s gorking however, is the other way round. Its being a plot developer is incidental, the intent is sexism/objectifying, whatever you want to call it… And that's not cool. Though, Kirk got his kit off too...

“Star trek is set in the future. The future where I hope fervently the idea that workplace harassment and the idea that any leader has the right to treat a staff member like they are there for their enjoyment is ALSO not ok. JUST as silly as the idea of a man "owning" a woman.”

I think this is unfair given that it’s based on such small scenes… It also ignores the interactions he has with other female crew members on his ship…

“In the future, all will be equal, right? Star trek was the first show to have a woman of African descent in a non –menial role*. It is SUPPOSED to take strides and be forward thinking – the 1968 episode "Plato's Stepchildren" Uhura and Kirk kiss. The episode is popularly cited as the first example of a scripted inter-racial kiss on United States television.
I’m well aware that the show has been problematic before now, and will continue to need to improve, but to see that NO progress has been made in this latest film, is as much of a kick in the guts as finding this out was…”

And yet, 5 of 16 command crew were female… That’s about 4+ times better than the current gender balance within the United States Navy command. Plus, as I say, had there been more females present, when they were blasted, I am certain there would have been a backlash against misogynistic murderous intent being peddled by a Star Trek film…
I think it is also a shame that the sexuality of a major actor in the film (Quinto-who’s openly gay) is not recognised as a progressive step. Hollywood still has a long way to go when it comes to the sexuality of major players.
Indeed, the sexual orientation front is the one that has received the least attention from the entire Star Trek saga, from the 60’s to today, even with a few bits in Deep Space 9 trying to touch on the issue. Gender, race etc have all been tackled by the series in a much more head on way (Janeway and Sisko).

That being said, I do think that the film was a let down in a lot of ways, including the inclusivity agenda. I think some of the criticism of this film is harsh, because I think its failings towards women etc are part and parcel of wider failings. Other characters, including men, suffer at the hands of these failings too.
Star Trek has been one of the most progressive series there has been. It has pushed boundaries to normalise inclusivity, be it having non-caucasian hero’s, to having women Captains save the future (Enterprise C)…
The fact they have decided not to stick with the progressive ethos at the core of Star Trek is hugely saddening. Many of the most memorable and transformative stories were based on this agenda. At this rate Star Trek 4 will be just another action film set in space. Star Trek is what made the franchise last this long, not a bunch of people bopping about in space.

LudditeJourno said...

Hey Scube, thanks for this, and thought you might be interested in a review I wrote in 2009 raising similar issues about the first "remake":
http://ludditejourno.wordpress.com/2009/05/11/star-trek-just-what-is-the-final-frontier/

Scuba Nurse said...

Oooh thanks!!

news said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brett Dale said...

Just seen the star trek movie, I dont come from a star trek watching background, never saw the tv series, not into si-fi, except if you count, Back to the future.

I took it for what it was, a big budget special effects movie with cheesy one liners.

In terms of the role for woman, well they were all in a role of responsibility.

There are more important movies to pick apart than a star trek film aimed at a particular demographic.