Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Girls, Gore, and the Female Object

So I should really be reading Roman lyric poetry right now, but I decided to surf the interwebs a bit while eating my lunch, and now I must write a quick blog post. There's been a fair bit of buzz in circles both filmic and feminist about Jennifer's Body, a new horror film directed by Diablo Cody of Juno fame and written by the fabulous Karyn Kusama, best known for one of my favorite sports films, Girlfight. I can't decide whether I want to see the film or not. I'm leaning towards yes, though, (sorry, husband!), and Michelle Orange raises a few of the reasons why in her NYT article about the film. Before I go there, the trailer is here.

Orange mentions some great issues in the article, the first being the tenuous positions of women in horror films, both as viewers and as actors. I'm not a huge horror fan myself. I get scared very easily, so I usually can't handle the genre very well. have lots of female friends who are into it, though (Hi, Jess and Laurie!), and I'm a good enough feminist pop cultural critic to realize that there's a goldmine there in terms of gender analysis. Though I've read Men, Women and Chainsaws, which Orange cites, I don't agree that the women who kill the killer are completely victorious, due to the fact that they are the objects of the camera's gaze. Our watching these films is, to some extent, about watching (and enjoying watching?) helpless women. Orange also throws in the buzzword "torture porn" to describe films of the Saw and Hostel ilk that seem to capitalize on audiences' desires to see beautiful women struggle. This is where Jennifer's Body comes in.

As the trailer opens, it's all about the female object of the camera's gaze (I should note here the importance of casting Meagan Fox as Jennifer. She seems to be our culture's piece of meat du jour, so maybe this role is an ironic comment?). First, Jennifer is swimming naked toward the viewer, then she's walking down the hall at school, all while keeping the fourth wall broken. Then we're given a universal that hearkens back to the high school hierarchy: "There's one girl that every girl wants to be friends with and every guy would die for." The next few frames exhibit this maxim. Amanda Seyfried is Needy (Oh, I hope this is a diminutive and not her actual name, but I can't find concrete evidence to the contrary), the dorky girl (She has glasses, you guyz!) who wants desperately to be Jennifer's friend. Kyle Gallner is Colin Gray, the emo kid with a crush who literally dies for Jennifer, because, guess what, she's a DEMON. WHO EATS HORNY HIGH SCHOOL BOYS. The rest of the trailer is rife with silly high school sex cliches (a joke about lesbian sex at slumber parties, boyfriend stealing, Jennifer calling an equal opportunity murder "swing[ing] both ways"), but what intrigues me most is the part where Needy tries to tell Jennifer that what she's doing is wrong : "You're killing people!" Jennifer's response? "Noooo, I'm killing boys." This, to me, sets the film up as a seeming reversal of torture porn where men are unempowered objects of the camera's gaze. Now, I'm not at all a proponent of affecting change by merely reversing an existing binary. This film is definitely still problematic, but I think it's an interesting shift. How does killing the killer change if, instead of a woman killing a man (who has social and patriarchal power over her, not to mention physical strength, typically), the battle is between The Hot Girl and The Nerd Girl and therefore becomes one about appropriate femininity and the various ways that role is performed? Any thoughts?

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