Saturday, May 17, 2014

fix your bra, honey

pa·tri·ar·chy \-ˌär-kē\

: a family, group, or government controlled by a man or a group of men
: a social system in which family members are related to each other through their fathers

Full Definition
1 : social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly : control by men of a disproportionately large share of power
2 : a society or institution organized according to the principles or practices of patriarchy

Other forms: plural pa·tri·ar·chies

First use: 1632

Before catching up to where I left off--the movie is on Day 3 as I write this opening--I wanted to mention Barry Brummett's (2015)...

(Seriously, this Google Books find has next year as its copyright. On the one hand, that means, I guess, this is an as yet unpublished book. On the other hand, Brummett is writing from the future, and doesn't cite me; this makes me sad.)

The chapter title is "Simulational Selves, Simulational Culture in Groundhog Day" and it's from an apparently upcoming fourth edition of Rhetoric in Popular Culture. Brummett claims it (the chapter) "combines culture-centered and feminist techniques of rhetorical analysis to study the message this film brings us about our simulational world" (p. 264). That simulational world thing is basically the same thing as Paul Hannam's Groundhog Day Effect--

caused by our unique set of behavioral and thought patterns, which create our personal reality. We do not directly experience the world around us; we experience a personal reality through our senses. Personal reality is a reflection of reality, not reality itself. So, in effect, there are two realities. The reality of what is, the real world, and the world as we see it, our personal reality. We might not repeat the exact day over and over again in our outer lives, yet our personal reality can effectively create the same day again and again in our inner lives. (Hannam, 2008, p. xxii)

It's Giddens' structuration in action. You do things one way one time, the second time you do it that same way because, hey, it worked last time. By the third or the fourth time, you cannot even imagine doing it another way. This same process works for Phil's breed of sexism. I offered the definitions for both sexism and misogyny to start yesterday's entry, but I don't think it is fair to suggest that Phil is a misogynist. Phil does not hate women. But, he operates in a world where he has always been part of the dominant class--he is a white male in America, the power is his to lose. I suggested yesterday that Phil's interactions with Nancy are not sexist. While strictly true on the surface, that argument is entirely wrong when we look beneath that surface. Phil's specific interactions with Nancy may not contain anything particularly sexist, but generally speaking, they embody a patriarchal world in which men can readily take advantage of women by lying to them. Nancy is not stupid, I don't think. But, she lives in a world that tells her constantly that she needs a man to complete her. So, when a guy comes along who she might have known before, and who apparently liked her, and she's still single after all these years, why wouldn't she say yes to a date? Why wouldn't she be at least flattered by a declaration of love and a proposal of marriage? That is what society has been saying she should do since she as far back as she can probably recall. This patriarchal world has Nancy backed into a corner, working in the dress shop and pining away for a man. Hell, there's probably at least one wedding dress on display in that dress shop.

Date night continues:

And, I missed something at the end of yesterday's entry. When the first snowball fight gets going, Phil says the following:

Hey, an assassin! I’ll protect you, Your Majesty. I shall die for you! You shall not take her! Find cover, my lady!

First, let me add another definition:

chiv·al·ry \ˈshi-vəl-rē\

: the system of values (such as loyalty and honor) that knights in the Middle Ages were expected to follow
: an honorable and polite way of behaving especially toward women

Full Definition
1 : mounted men-at-arms
2 archaic
a : martial valor
b : knightly skill
3 : gallant or distinguished gentlemen
4 : the system, spirit, or customs of medieval knighthood
5 : the qualities of the ideal knight : chivalrous conduct

Other forms: plural chiv·al·ries

Origin: Middle English chivalrie, from Anglo-French chevalerie, from chevaler knight.
First use: 14th century

More of the same. Phil is enacting chivalrous behavior, but no matter how it may be literally defined--"honorable and polite"--chivalry relied on the notion that women were lesser beings in need of protection. Though this is the first snowball fight we see, Phil has a carrot and coal for the snowman so he has been in this scene before, he knows the fight is coming, he has had time to prepare what he will say. He hasn't called Rita "Princess" yet but he will. If I remember rightly, calling her "Your Majesty" here implies she is queen, so it may be sexist but not as diminutive.

I can't decide if it is sexist that Phil has ice cream. Stereotypes of single women sitting around eating ice cream and/or chocolate, you know.

And, Phil calls Rita "Princess." As Phil is getting to his lowest point here, the depression stage, let us hope there are fewer things to note through the rest of this list than yesterday.

In the meantime, let's take a look at Brummett (2015). Mostly, Brummett deals with the simulational thing more than feminist (or sexist) rhetoric. But, Brummett makes the same sort of connection I made yesterday in saying that Phil "cares little for others and insults people habitually, carelessly. If he approaches women, it is for his personal gratification" (p. 266). I would specifically note that he approaches men much the same way, or rather he doesn't approach them. It's interesting that we do not see Phil meet Gus and Ralph. Sure, they are at the Tip Top, but Phil calls them morons. He does not befriend them. Does he latch onto these two locals because they can serve him, be a sounding board for his thoughts about the time loop? Are they useful because they are drunk enough to listen? Anyway, Brummett continues: "His exploitive stance toward women is clearly linked to his heedlessness of consequences generally." But, this isn't quite fair. Phil's "exploitive stance toward women" within the context of the story we see, "is clearly linked to his heedlessness of consequences generally." His presumed exploitive stance toward women pre-loop is linked to something else: again, that patriarchal world in which Phil has white male privilege and maybe there were not too many consequences even before the time loop, back when Phil "charm[ed] all the little P.A.'s at the station, all the secretaries, and even some of the weekend anchors" (Rubin, 1990, p. 40).

Phil dead on the hospital bed, Rita manages to say, "That's him," but then ducks into Larry's shoulder. Larry, though, remains upright, even offers up a disingenuous assessment of how much he liked Phil. Rita is the weaker sex here, Larry the white male in Phil's stead. In fact, it seems more relevant now that the doctor is black. The black doctor has no lines here. Rita has one then diminishes into her emotional reaction. It is only the white male who really speaks.

God Day:

Phil identifies Doris by her relation to a male, her brother-in-law who owns the diner, and by her romantic (and feminine) urge to visit Paris. While he identifies Debbie only in relation to her upcoming marriage--a reification of traditional gender normative roles--it's interesting that he identifies Fred only in relation to Debbie. The one consolation for Phil having just ruined Debbie's day--Rita compliments her on her ring, one woman complimenting another on a replacement for the bride price; it isn't just Phil being sexist in this scene.

Another interesting detail in this sequence: Phil identifies Bill as a waiter, as liking the town, as painting toy soldiers and, almost as if it is an afterthought, as being gay. Sure, he is identified by his sexuality, but since he presents as a white male, that is not the immediate concern. It is worth mentioning, but Bill is still almost part of the patriarchal club. He gets a pass, sort of.

Gus--identified by his connection to his Naval service. Despite that old Village People song, the Navy still makes for a masculine reference. Tom is identified by his work in the coal mine--another masculine job.

(The only Tip Top denizen who gets off without a reference in some gendered way is Alice--"That’s Alice. She came over from Ireland as a baby. She’s lived in Erie most of her life.")

Nancy is identified as working in the dress shop--a feminine job--and making "noises like a a chipmunk when she gets real excited." Imagine the latter detail (or the former, for that matter) being applied to a male character.

Rita's description:

You like boats, but not the ocean. You go to a lake in the summer with your family up in the mountains. There’s a long, wooden dock and a boathouse with boards missing from the roof and a place you used to crawl underneath to be alone. You’re a sucker for French poetry and rhinestones. You’re very generous. You’re kind to strangers and children. And when you stand in the snow, you look like an angel.

It starts well enough, then there's the "French poetry and rhinestones" line. And, of course, she looks like an angel...

Wait, those are (so-called) actual angels. Let us see Phil's idea of an angel:

Young, feminine, the fille he called Rita several scenes back.

"Gosh, you're an upbeat lady!" Here's my problem, now. Obsessing about a single film for 288 days now plus majoring in communication studies--I wonder if "upbeat" isn't code like a racist would only call a black person "uppity." I'm pretty sure it isn't, but I thought it worth mentioning that I wondered.

Brummett (2015) suggests, "The film positions the female in the empowered position of being able to validate his experience" (p. 270). But, I don't know if this argument rings true. Structurally, yes, Phil's release from the time loop seems to correlate, at the least, with his winning of Rita's affections. I've suggested before that it is little more than correlation but for the audience's own expectations of what comes in a romantic comedy. Rita is the obvious prize for having won a much greater battle... What I mean is this: Phil's experience is not validated by Rita, it is validated by everyone who thanks him at the banquet, by everyone he has been able to help, by his own accomplishments in making himself a better person, and finally by we the members of the audience. Rita is more a symbolic representative of what Phil has achieved than an example of that achievement. So, no, the film does not put the female in the "empowered position;" in fact, women are just fodder for Phil's exercises of power. To be fair, so are the men. To suggest that women are in the empowered position within this film would be like suggesting that women are in the empowered position in the most exploitative of slasher films. Sure, there is a tiny, tiny little feeling that the last woman standing is empowered because she fought off the bad guy (if it isn't an everyone dies kind of slasher film)--

Sonia Charlotta Reini tells us in "The Final Girl and Scream Queens: A (Feminist) Call for the Revival of Slasher Films," The Artifice, 21 April 2013:

Numerous studies indicate that though horror audiences are predominantly male, the number of women watching--and indeed, enjoying--these films is on the rise, and has been since the heyday of slashers. It has been suggested that women get a kick out of watching a young girl defeat the apparently indestructible killer, when no macho-jock or cop could. It's a form of empowerment, in a sense.

--but does her victory over that one male suddenly mean she has a greater role in the larger society around her? No, not at all. In fact, Heidi Martinuzzi argues in "Horror Show: Faux-feminism and Horror Films," bitch magazine, 29 October 2010, that taking the fact of the lone female survivor as feminist is wrong. Martinuzzi writes:

So why are all these movies touted by fans and filmmakers as "feminist"? Because men are the victims in them. It's creepy when you think about it, isn't it? The norm in horror films, and in most cultures around the world, is that men are seen as the aggressors and women the subservient and the victims. But switching the dynamic and putting men suddenly at the (usually sexual) mercy of a woman with intent to harm does nothing but reinforce the mainstream ideology that women with control of their sexuality (and by default, their reproduction) are dangerous, intend harm, and will always turn on their male superiors. Movies in which teenage girls discover their sexuality and then use it solely to inflict harm on males for the sake of revenge is a guilty male fear if I've ever seen one. So next time you want to call a horror film "feminist", make sure it espouses gender equality—not the cutting-off of penises by horny, monstrous women who like sex.

On another level, this unidentified piece--"Fear, Sex, and Feminism: Analysis of Slasher Films and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"--argues that the female characters who do survive in slasher films so so by exhibiting masculine traits and acting out in masculine ways. The author (presumably Jalena Karanovic, Anthropologist of digital technologies and media) writes:

In addition to these poor portrayals of female characters, the fact that the final victim or character that often escapes is female is problematic when wearing feminist lenses. The “final girl”, as I will call her, opposes all of the negative female portrayals aforementioned: she is smart and more aware, brunette, non-sexual and usually a virgin, and less feminine (but still attractive and girl next door) in appearance; meaning less curves, tomboyish in physical appearance and disposition. Jessica Biel, who plays Erin, easily fits this description and also is able to escape.

This juxtaposition does not oppose the prior feminist critique, however, as it points out a more serious identification and message issue with this and other horror films. Erin’s intelligence, along with her more athletic physique and stable mental state are what allow her to escape from the killer’s wrath. She is able to physically fight him off, something that none of the female characters were able to do. Her masculine features are what propel her to safety.

Whether we take the helpless female victims or the masculine female survivor as sexism in action, there is clearly something wrong... or at least a trend evoking something wrong in the society around us. But, just as I have suggested that maybe Phil isn't particularly sexist inasmuch as he is dismissive and insulting of anyone, regardless of gender, Holly L. Derr argues in "A Feminist Guide to Horror Movies, Part 4," Ms. blog, 23 October 2013, that more recent horror films--the so-called torture porn films have actually moved away from the sexism and misogyny (my phrasing) of slasher films. She writes:

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, America feared the things hiding in the dark. The monsters under our beds were the invisible but menacing power of the Soviet Union, stagflation that kept us suspended in economic limbo, the possible disintegration of family structures and repeated energy crises which undermined our sense of our country as a superpower. Naturally the horror films of those decades were about faceless terrors that might jump out at us at any moment. Though A Nightmare of [sic] Elm Street contained more gore than its predecessors, all three originals rely on shadow, suspense and surprise to frighten us.

But today our fears are of the terrible things happening right in front of us–chemical weapons, gun violence and sexual abuse–over which we seem to have no power. Not surprisingly, this decade’s horror movies have focused the camera on the act of violence itself.

What has all this meant for women? The original slasher films have been rightly criticized for their killers’-eye views of mostly naked women running scared. Theoretically, shifting the camera’s focus to the killer could have disrupted the male gaze. Unfortunately, the emphasis on the psychology of the killers and the focus on torture rather than the chase do just the opposite: The remakes ultimately turn women’s bodies into ever-more irrelevant carnage, with the Halloween remake being the most offensive both to horror fans and feminists.

She calls making women's bodies irrelevant "offensive" but isn't that, on some level, more equalizing than that "switching the dynamic" that Martinuzzi describes? After all, hooks (1981) tells us, "to be 'feminist' in any authentic sense of the term is to want for all people, female and male, liberation from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression" (p. 195). I haven't even completed my list yet, but I already want to find some conclusion that suggests that Groundhog Day is somehow not sexist because Phil is an equal-opportunity offender. But, that seems wrong as well. In fact, the equalizing of murder victims I suggested in this very paragraph is a little wrong, too. It seems to me that Phil's superiority-complex and the slasher-film killer's predatory nature both rise from the same patriarchal traditions that have been keeping women down for, well, ever. The idea that anyone can wield specific power over another person is inherently patriarchal, and inevitably sexist because of the aforementioned process of structuration. Men take charge by force, then they leave that power to their sons, and they to their sons, and so on. And, a few generations down, we get notions like the divine right of kings. We start to believe that not only are men in charge and we have to do what they say but we should. And then everything we do in building our society flows around the idea that men are stronger, smarter, better. And, to mix references a bit, the men in charge may be created equal but some men are more equal than others. Everything turns hierarchical and some men wield power over other men as well as women. We get sexism, we get racism, we get religious disputes because certain men in power in certain locales believe or purport to believe a certain way and want everyone else to follow suit.

And it trickles down until we have the likes of Phil Connors, insulting anyone and everyone because he a) thinks he is better than them and b) knows that he really isn't. There's a false consciousness of his white male privilege and a certain cognitive dissonance between what is proclaimed (explicitly and implicitly) and what is known on a personal level. This is where Phil Connors exists, where we all exist much of the time. And it is far easier to just keep existing in the same place than to try something new.

To be continued.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to allow any tangent to spread like wildfire, because focus is not always the best approach.

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