Sunday, October 10, 2010

gratuitous misogyny: the soylent network poets society

Soylent Green came out when? This is something I can know instantly, isn't it? 1973, as it turns out. And people reduce the film to those four words:

Soylent Green is people.

But that was never the appalling thing about Soylent Green. That was just good recycling. With the benefits way outweighing the costs. I never had a problem with that part. So much for the punchline. The pollution depicted in the film was brilliant. You could reach for your inhaler just watching the screen, it was that bad.

But the worst thing by far depicted in Soylent Green was exactly the same thing that I saw depicted tonight at the movies watching David Fincher's The Social Network.

Don't get me wrong. Aaron Sorkin's screenplay is perfect. Jesse Eisenberg gives exactly the performance he's hired to give — he's got the broody/despicable/pathetic guy down pat. With the casting of Eisenberg, the real Mark Zuckerberg doesn't stand a chance in the sympathy department, does he?

From my point of view, Soylent Green, The Social Network, oh, and Dead Poets Society — and a whole lot of other other-people's-favorite films — are all the same horror show.

School boy movies have even more in common. The smart-boy thing. The wannabe envy. The struggle to make it into the inner circle. To be accepted. The privileged oppressing the less privileged. The underprivileged/socially inept/ethnic guy breaking through the barriers that keep him oppressed.

Oh, and the reward of getting laid.

This latter appears to be the primary function that women play in these films: a repository for sperm. Though I'm not even sure if the smart-boys care whether their aim (or timing) is particularly accurate. And they're certainly not out to please anyone but themselves.

What makes all these movies unbearable isn't the precious dialogue or depiction of boy-brilliant angst (with an occasional milli-second of male sensitivity thrown in, though not, I should add, in The Social Network).

No, what makes them unwatchable is the women-as-furniture thing.

Gratuitous misogyny.

Soylent Green was explicit in this. Women were depicted quite literally as furniture that come with the apartment you (male) rent. In 1973 when the film came out, this was something no one seemed to even notice — it was so ubiquitous not only in film, but in our daily lives. Ms. magazine first appeared on the stands in 1972 and just the title attempted to convey the idea of women not being any man's property. Clearly the Soylent Green 'future' hadn't gotten the message yet.

But neither has The Social Network.

I'm not mad at the film, per se. I think what enrages me is that the depiction of women in this film may well be correct. That these young men with the big ideas still perceive women as perks and playthings, no different than say, drugs, alcohol, loud music and dark clubs with flashing lights. Slithery women populate The Social Network just as they populated Dead Poets, Soylent Green and god knows how many other movies. We should make a list. Or maybe not. It's too depressing.

Granted, The Social Network provides a sole female voice protesting the treatment of women. But it is drowned out by every other female voice in the film just fine with bimboification. With not being the brilliant innovator but the door prize.

I remember seeing Dead Poets with a group of friends when it came out in 1989. And over dinner afterward, they raved about it, how great, how sensitive, how well played... And I sat there grumpy, seething and enraged — that sole voice at the table that couldn't stand the film for what it did to women. They hadn't noticed.

Well, the movies haven't changed much, have they?


or 1989,

or 2010.

I'm still watching the same bloody scene played out again and again — with reviewers clearly not watching the same movie that I'm watching. Not seeing the same thing that I'm seeing.

But nowadays, when I go to the movies, I'm sitting next to someone who not only sees the pattern, but also feels the outrage.

In other words, these days, I'm sitting next to a woman.

And she's a filmmaker.

So watch out...


  1. Next time I'll buy the popcorn but you have to let me pick the film.

  2. Sounds dangerous! You're asking me to relinquish control here? I'll think on it...

    Realized that the above tirade is also why I like BSG and Caprica so much. Kick-ass women with brains abound ...

  3. A kick-ass woman with brains
    Could no longer her fury restrain.
    When she saw “Social Network,”
    Thought, “No more from that jerk!”
    Now she holds the filmmaker's reins.

  4. A character in Alison Bechdel's brilliant comic strip, "Dykes to Watch Out For," refuses to go to a movie unless it has at least one female character that is as intelligent, important, real, multiple-dimensional, …[insert long list of adjective options linked by "or"]… as all the male characters. They end up having dinner instead.

    So many DTWOF readers have adopted the criterion that it has come, among many, to be known as "the Bechdel test."

    I heartily endorse it.

  5. I love Alison Bechdel's work! And while this is my criterion as well, I try to step outside my own paradigm to get a glimpse of mainstream culture, in the hopes that something just might have changed.

  6. I am mostly able to satisfy myself that the world is full of misogyny without leaving the comfort of my Netflix subscription. We can at least be entertained by self-aware misogyny done artistically, though—have you discovered Mad Men yet?

  7. Have not seen Mad Men — and if it's devoted to that period, I don't think I can watch it. Watched the pilot of Boardwalk Empire, and almost threw up. What a great excuse ('period piece') for bashing women near non-stop throughout the episode.

    No, I'll stick to my comfort zone: BSG and Caprica (and Bones, though less interesting) for the TV thing — and do my homework before venturing out to the movies. No Netflix, since they never seem to have the movies I want! Top of my wish list is: Dybbuk of the Holy Apple Field, which I've been looking for since talking to director Yossi Somer during the SFJFF about ten years ago, when he assured me it would be out in a jiffy. And now even he's disappeared...

  8. The beauty of Mad Men is that people who thought those were the good old days finally discover that the good old days sucked.

  9. Well, I just got home after hours stuck on the cliffs in the fog and the dark with a flat tire ... and they just canceled Caprica! So, maybe just maybe I'll try Mad Men and see if I can stand it...

    Very grouchy, very grouchy indeed... Not to mention the elections today...