Friday, 23 August 2013

Fantasy Girl

This week I went to see Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. It's a YA urban fantasy, based on a book series. It's not a great movie by any means (it's good fun if you like that sort of thing, that's all), nor is it clarion-call for feminism. But it got me thinking.

It's a film with a teenaged female protagonist that fully acknowledges not just her centrality in her own story, but her sexual desire. It's a movie with a teenaged-girl point of view that doesn't treat her as an unawakened child.

Getting her wet: the roundabout route
Now, I can't remember any movies from when I was a child that did that. Except Dirty Dancing (1987) ... which incidentally became a massive cult hit among women who identified with the coming-of-age story. But that was marketed as a straight romance. In the supernatural field ... well, there was The Company of Wolves ... but as an 18/X-rated movie that was specifically not meant to be watched by the adolescent girls who might be feeling that way right then. Oh - Labyrinth.  That was the one! For most of my life action movies aimed at teens have had a male protagonist. Girls feature as the love interest or backup to the hero, from Lost Boys to Harry Potter. It's still overwhelmingly the case (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, PERCY JACKSON).

"We'll go when you say the word, Percy! Because you're the only one in our gang who's white and a dude."
But nowadays we have Twilight. We have Mortal Instruments. We have The Hunger Games. Movies based on best-selling books that have humungous female readerships. Girls as a demographic read way more than boys, and they are finally being taken seriously as a cash-cow by Hollywood producers.
Now sure, I'm not saying these are good movies. I saw Twilight (on TV) and I thought it cheesy as a ripe parmesan (and no, I cannot bring myself to read the books), though Hunger Games is actually pretty good.

But wow, look what's happening: they feature girls' fantasies - which are oddly not dissimilar to boys' movie fantasies too - empowerment; being someone who is secretly "special"; getting the most desirable boy; looking cool as fuck in front of everyone; independence from the family circle (the whole coming-of-age thing); being someone who matters to the world.

I can do MAGIC!! I'm a wizard, Harry!
In City of Bones, Clary is ridiculously beautiful but doesn't really see it or make capital out of it (Ugly Duckling fantasy!). She is desirable, but crucially she also desires. She meets sexy shadow-hunter Jace and there's no fudging the fact that she fancies him. Meanwhile, her longtime male friend Simon follows her into peril because he desperately loves her, and at a critical moment reveals his feelings. Now, if Simon had been the protagonist of a boy's movie, what would have happened is gawky plain boy would have proved his staunchness/courage/unselfishness/ninja fighting abilities to super-hot female (probably the only female in the movie except his Mom) and when he told her the scales would have fallen from her eyes and she'd have lurved him back. Because that's what he'd be entitled to, for all his hard work. Because that's the presumed fantasy of all the boys in the audience who are identifying with the hero.
What Clary does in this chickflick is convey, more or less, "Well, that's embarrassing. I appreciate the sentiment and feel bad for you, but ... No. Just no."

Sorry, Jace is just WAY hotter, Simon.
"Ah fuckit."
Good grief, they are starting to get it.
Girls are being seen as a movie audience with a financial footprint. One to cultivate. One to cater to. One, just possibly, that writers and directors might respect in future.
Well, we can dream.

The purchasing power of teenage female lust, made manifest
I wonder what it would have been like, to grow up with empowerment/romantic/sexual fantasies I could recognise on the screen, instead of piggybacking on male fantasies (straight or gay), or the presumed fantasies of much older women. How would it have been to see young good-looking men presented as heroes, instead of plump crusty old farts like James Kirk inexplicably fucking their way round the galaxy?  Or to imagine myself as Katniss, not Indiana Jones?

How would it have affected me?
I can only imagine.


Jo said...

Hmm, yes, I was Robin Hood. And Bagheera was my friend. I think he was my first crush. My daughter wants to be a boy. She thinks they're cooler and better. She's so frustated by all the pink crap and doesn't really accept the 'best of both worlds' argument.

Hopefully things'll change further.

Janine Ashbless said...

"She thinks they're cooler and better."

I have very clear memories from childhood of feeling angry whenever a female character (there was only ever one)showed up in a movie, because I knew that she was only there to slow the interesting action/plot down and get in the way with a bunch of lovey-dovey stuff. I literally resented the existence of women, in the fictional world, because they were so boring the way they were written. How is that healthy for girls?

Janine Ashbless said...

PS: I crushed on Bagheera too ;-)

Chris said...

If you had grown up with this fiction, you wouldn't have found the need to write yourself. And the world would have been a much poor place.

Janine Ashbless said...

Possible, Chris, but I don't know. I can think of other things that would have sabotaged my smut-writing career more effectively.