Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek Into Alienation: A New Standard for Action Movies

Recently I attended Star Trek Into Darkness, the newest film in the franchise. I knew that there would be aliens, and I appreciate aliens as much as the next sci-fi fan. But I did not appreciate the alienation I felt throughout the film. Not only was this not a feminist movie (in contrast with the TV show's revolutionary opposition to traditional gender roles), but it actively sought to alienate women in the audience.

Now, I felt like I didn't have unrealistic expectations for the movie. I just was looking forward to a fun action comedy with the typical feel-good values of acceptance and inclusion that Star Trek led me to anticipate. I didn't expect it to depict a feminist utopia or take on colonialism or do anything too progressive or awesome. Heck, I didn't necessarily expect it to pass the Bechdel test.

It certainly didn't do any of those things, but instead took every available opportunity to remind the women in the audience that their only purpose in life is to be sexually attractive and available to men. From the threesome that Kirk takes on near the beginning of the meeting, to the totally random and unnecessary disrobing of an attractive scientist, to the way that every woman in the film is defined in relationship to men and all major leadership roles are given to men, just about every choice in the film notifies women, "Not welcome here."

I like action movies. I like them better if they have amazing politics, to be sure, and feature women. Machete, for example, has many strong women and amazing politics (although I am a little unclear why women must go into firefights without shirts on). Kill Bill, Looper and Fight Club are not unambiguously feminist films, but they make it clear that women are part of their target audiences and also discuss intriguing politics.

Further afield, films like the last Mission Impossible movie or RED or The Italian Job don't portray anything amazing. They hardly change the landscape of gender definition. But they avoid insulting the women in their audience. I enjoyed all of those movies, not because they sent great messages about liberation but because they fulfilled their generic promise--good guys winning of bad guys with lots of explosions and vaguely witty dialogue.

This is the basic standard, for me: could I overlook or applaud the film's representations of gender? If, at least, the stereotypes are understated enough to avoid active repulsion, the makers have acknowledged that women will see their movie and expect to make that a pleasant experience.

But then you have Star Trek Into Darkness, which made sure that women were shuffled out of the way except for as prizes for men to claim. Gone were the women scientists, women leaders, women of non-standard body types. The sexism was so overt that I could not enjoy the action. This makes me furious. When women pay for movie tickets, we deserve to be acknowledged as part of the potential audience. I will be very, very hesitant to venture into another Star Trek or JJ Adams movie for some time.

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