May. 2nd, 2017

dmilewski: (Default)
I've sat with some feminist theory on stories lately, and I find that I have a number of issues. The one that I'd like to talk about today I call the Burning Couch issue.

Is the couch burning? Yes, it is. Sexism has found, identified, analyzed, moralized, and solved.

What that question misses is whether the room is burning. That question is never asked, much to the detriment of the listener. The focus of the criticism is at the wrong level of abstraction, so any analysis based on it will be technically correct but functionally useless. What's the use of producing criticism that's functionally useless? Nobody will learn anything because the lessons cannot be applied.

If you want to change the world, the listeners have to walk away with actually useful, applicable lessons that can be implemented. (Needless to say, but it has to be said, "Don't do that," is not a useful, applicable lesson.)
dmilewski: (Default)
 Another issue that I have with feminist criticism is that the critics don't know how to tell a story, so they can't produce criticism that's useful.

For example, "Female should be fully fleshed out characters."

While that sounds nice, it's not actually very useful with many caveats. More useful advice would be, "Female characters must be similarly fleshed out to comparable male characters." That's not right either, but it's better.

I'll use Flash Gordon as an example. Should Dale Arden be a fully fleshed out character while none of the male protagonists are fleshed out? Of course not, that would be weird. Dale Arden should be similarly fleshed out, as iconic, as the male characters.

A second issue centers around the importance of a character. Should a walk-on waitress have the same depth of character as the protagonist? Of course not, that would be silly. Secondary characters tend to be far less fleshed out, and walk-on characters are just there just to be seen, to be functional. Any female character must be developed proportionately to her standing in a story, and that standing is not necessarily sexist. Some characters are there to get talked to, some are there as plot devices, and others are there to add complication to our protagonist's life. If you can swap genders and the character still works, the part is, most likely, not sexist.

To be clear, the plot revolves around the main characters. The secondary characters are there to progress the plots of the main characters.

For example, Dale is sexist in Flash Gordon because she's basically a prop for Flash to care about, and she can't be gender swapped as she's the romantic interest in this interplanetary romance. In contrast, we could turn Ming into Minga and the part holds up pretty well. The evil villain is the evil villain. Minga may want to force Flash to marry her instead, holding Dale as hostage to trap him, but that's just villainous stuff. Likewise, we could turn the Lion Man into a woman and that part would hold up as well. The parts are sexed, but not necessarily sexist. (That doesn't mean that there isn't sexism. Plenty of people would think that a lion-woman is sexist.)

Was Flash Gordon sexist for using Dale Arden as an object of prettiness? Yes. Was the serial sexist for using Flash as an icon of male muscle and sexiness? Yes. (If you doubt me, note this ass-fitting battle shorts and his buff physique. And yes, I did say battle shorts.)

This all goes haywire with a first person game. In such games, the protagonist is written as a projection of the player, so the protagonist has the strange situation of being the most and least developed character, both at the same time. Secondary characters usually exist as plot devices because you don't want a secondary character overshadowing the player. (Overshadowing a player's POV character is a good way to get a player miffed. Secondary characters shouldn't outdo the primary characters in the primary character's role.) While secondary characters may be helpers, they usually aren't drivers except in special circumstances. Remember, the primary character is the defacto hero. While it's OK for the hero to get out shown up here and there, for the most part, the games purpose is to make the hero shine. This means that any female secondary character will, by definition, be secondary most of the time. The simple truth is that companions are game mechanics that sometimes come with identifiable personalities. They are illusions of real people.

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