Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Friday Film blog

I applied to be Shameless magazine's Friday Film blogger (providing Feminist readings of cinema) but I didn't get the gig. The nice feature of the internet is that I can still publish all of the posts that I was planning. So I'm starting a Friday Film column on my blog. For the first installment, here's what I sent them for the application.

Breaking down the Wall-E?

The blogosphere is in love with the gender-bending film Wall-E, Pixar's latest CGI blockbuster. It's a story where a male robot falls in love with a female robot. I know, I know, I was thinking the same thing. Since when do robots need a gender? We all know that Hollywood is obsessed with heterosexual love stories. It would be too scandalous for a movie to show us a toaster in love with a fridge without stressing that they have different hardware. Let's take a closer look at how Pixar chooses to construct their heterosexual robots (Wall-E as male and Eve as female). This week we're asking ourselves:

Does this film break traditional Hollywood portrayals of gender or reinforce them?

It breaks them.
In Wall-E, it is the male who is irrational. Traditionally, Hollywood films show women overcome with emotion but it is Wall-E who makes impulsive decisions for the sake of love. While Eve, the physically stronger of the two, makes rational choices to complete her mission. She's a calm, composed, and fast thinker who takes action when they're in trouble. Eve may be smooth and sleek but she's broad-shouldered and has a gun for a hand -two features that Hollywood usually reserves for males. Eve is never trapped and in need of rescue like a traditional Hollywood action movie where females are typically victims.

It reinforces them.
It's a traditional choice to put the male, in this case Wall-E, at the center (and as the title) of the film. Why do we like Wall-E? Because he's clumsy and rolls around in garbage while Eve's body is clean, sleek, and graceful. This recalls gender rolls from the a 19th century poem where boys are made of "snips and snails and puppy dog tails" and girls are made of "sugar and spice and everything nice". In the end, Eve surrenders to Wall-E's love. She has to change to accommodate him which reinforces the traditional Hollywood perspective that females have to compromise to meet male desire.

I think.
It's great for Pixar to push the gender envelope but it's a shame to see that even they have mainstream limits. Is our culture so homophobic that even our fictional, futuristic, genital-free robots are heterosexual? They score points for broadening Hollywood horizons but, considering we're talking about robots, they could have done a lot more than reinforce the idea of hetero-dominance in the distant future. Read some LeGuin, Pixar.

What do you think?

You might also enjoy Kate Bornstein's excellent analysis.


Plorry Stabworth said...

Just a thought: I wonder if the calm and cool female to the impulsive and irrational male *is* the new gender role in film and television. I'm thinking about all the fat-man hot-wife sitcoms that play this dynamic. I also saw "Open Season 2" a few weeks ago, and they had something very similar. It almost upset me that they were *too* sure to turn the female into a flawless personality - not a *real* person.

I dunno.

Friffo said...

thats what i like about this movie, its not following the "damsel in distress" pattern