The Bechdel Test is (was) a hot conversation topic at the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association (MAPACA) conference (last month, which is when I wrote this post I’m only now getting around to editing & posting).

In 1985, a strip from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For comic titled “The Rule” featured two women talking about going to the movies. One explains her criteria for choosing a movie: it has to have at least 2 female characters, those characters have to talk to one another, and that dialogue has to be about something other than a man.

Recently, four Swedish Theaters announced they’ll be applying the Bechdel Test to the movies they show and giving movies that pass an “A” rating.

Yesterday – on her blog and in interviews with other media outlets – Bechdel expressed discomfort with the dogmatic way her work is being used.

For a very long time, The Rule wasn’t a widespread cultural phenomenon – it was a thing women and gender studies scholars talked about in bars. Over the last decade, the Bechdel Test, as it’s now known, has became something akin to one of those weird conventional wisdom-y popular science phenomenon.

Now everyone thinks it’s a great tool for studying gender film, except most of the people who study gender and film.

To many (most) of the feminist lit and culture scholars I know, the Bechdel Test has gone from a thought-provoking conversation starter to a reductionist tool.

I like the idea of the Bechdel Test. It could be a great tool for opening up conversations about women in film and on television as subjects and not objects, but as a blunt instrument it’s a lousy lens through which to actually analyze the representation of power, discrimination, oppression, or ideology on-screen. Or to discuss gender in ways that aren’t hetero-normative and divided into a strict male-female dichotomy, for that matter.

The test doesn’t take into account semiotics, character development, context, or the very fact that film is a visual medium. That’s hard to quantify.

Stefan Solomon’s post, “What the Bechdel test doesn’t tell us about women on film,” includes several film clips that speak louder than words about these problems.

A few months ago I watched a brutal argument on facebook wherein a group of Bechdel Test devotees shamed a female friend who was defending her fandom of Firefly. I hadn’t realized until then how poorly the show does on the test.

Now, in all this talk of feminist movies and tv shows that fail or misogynistic ones that pass, I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t plenty of movies that fail for well-deserved reasons.

A few days ago, a Guardian article included some relevant statistics on the movie business in 2013:

Of the top 100 US films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists, according to a study by the San Diego-based Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Another study, by the Annenberg Public Policy Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that the ratio of male to female characters in movies has remained at about two to one for at least six decades. That study, which examined 855 top box-office films from 1950-2006, showed female characters were twice as likely to be seen in explicit sexual scenes as males, while male characters were more likely to be seen as violent.

“Apparently Hollywood thinks that films with male characters will do better at the box office. It is also the case that most of the aspects of movie-making – writing, production, direction, and so on – are dominated by men, and so it is not a surprise that the stories we see are those that tend to revolve around men,” Amy Bleakley, the study’s lead author, said in an email.

I can understand why people who don’t want to spend their time thinking about critical analysis like the Bechdel Test – it’s a checklist.

If. Then. So.

This debate about whether Black Swan passes the test illustrates the multiplicity of ways one can interpret the test itself. As I learned at breakfast this morning, when it was in theaters this was one of those movies people seemed to enjoy railing at film scholars about it to “prove” the worth of the test.

(I don’t have enough conference-coffee coursing through my system yet to recall some of the other fascinating examples that were discussed this morning. Sorry).

As an example of why gaze and context and on-screen action (and wardrobe!) matters, Solomon discusses Alien, the film that has become the gold standard:

Bechdel’s original comic strip ends on an interesting note. For the cartoon character speaking, the last movie that passed the test (circa 1985) was Ridley Scott’s Alien. In that film, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the other female crew-member, Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), discuss the film’s monster (thereby passing the Bechdel test).

But for those of us who know the film, we will also know that it is not dialogue, but the lack of dialogue that makes Alien such a haunting experience. Indeed, who really remembers the words that pass between Ripley and Lambert on board the Nostromo?

Feminist film critics have been far more interested in how we interpret the final scene, in which Ripley – the lead character and sole survivor – is reduced to her underwear.

In these last shots, the camera, which until now has moved in such a fascinating way through the corridors of the ship, seems to revert to old Hollywood habits, embarrassingly ogling Weaver’s body (or does it?)

The TV Tropes entry on the Bechdel Test suggests some ways to apply the test with more nuance.

The Bechdel Test has, strangely, become something that (well-meaning) people use to try to belittle feminist film scholars into believing we don’t know shit about…you know, the things we study, teach, and write about.

I wrote about ways to use the test for a zine years ago and we got a surprising barrage of criticism from readers who questioned my ability to “think scientifically” about film. This was before the test was particularly wide-spread – hence my surprise. I don’t have a copy of the article, but a friend and I continue to discuss the perception that to apply the Test is to “think scientifically.” It was a stunningly aggressive example of mansplaining, although at the time I didn’t have that word for it.

This is not to say that men have a monopoly on dogmatic Bechdel interpretations, but in that case in particular, it was a festival of mansplaining. There are plenty of female-identifying feminists who would argue it’s merits just as dogmatically.

(On a minor tangent: If I were to construct a scientific test for a social process, it would be to measure the inverse proportion between the amount of time someone rants about the value of their own education and authority and the amount of time they spend arguing that everyone else’s field is bullshit).

Media literacy is an important skill that I think anyone can acquire. It doesn’t require years of graduate school and I’m not trying to advance an elitist argument.

I’m mostly trying to explain why I get that pained look on my face every time a well-meaning person launches into, “I know for a fact that [brilliant feminist film X] is sexist because it fails the Bechdel Test. It’s science! I’m a chemist! I know these things!”

Nor am I arguing that only theorists get to interpret popular culture or are even right about their interpretations. They’re interpretations, after all. (You know, the kind of thing that the Bechdel Test can’t account for). Viewers feel deeply invested in popular culture. They have strong opinions and ideas. It’s what makes studying it so interesting.

What I am saying is that perhaps people who are passionate and devoted to the study of such things might just have a little insight now and then. And many of those people – myself included – strongly believe that the Bechdel test is a great place to start a conversation, but it’s just that: a conversation starter.

It’s understandable that questioning the Bechdel Test’s usefulness sends diehard proponents into a rage. Diehard proponents, on the other hand, should be happy – I’m told it passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Yippee ki-yay, motherfuckers.

NSFW clip:

On Saturday night, things were wild here. Husband had a gig and I read about Godzilla until my brain was full.

Then, it was time for the television.

At MAPACA, one of the my co-panelists presented an interesting paper on the Paranormal Activity movies, so they were on my mind.

I really enjoyed the first 2 movies. (I didn’t hate the 3rd and 4th, I just didn’t like them as much as the first ones). Still, I like the way each film in the franchise plays with narrative tropes and comments on the social and technical aspects of image production. manipulation of the gaze, spaces of resistance, power, and other popular culture studies stuff.

Movies 3 & 4 are available on Netflix and thus were easily and immediately available to me.

Most importantly, movies 3 and 4 are spooky but not super-scary.

Unless you’re home alone.

And by “you,” I mean “me.”

One time I scared myself witless after watching an episode of Supernatural that I’d seen at least half a dozen times.

To be fair, I also scared myself witless once watching the Dick Van Dyke Show.

True story.

But back to Saturday…

I chose Paranormal Activity 4, which was more entertaining than I remembered but, as I also remembered, not particularly scary.

Later that night, just as we were falling asleep, there was a loud, strange sound that seemed to emanate from the living room.

It only happened once, so we’ve decided to believe it was some air in the pipes.

(We aren’t concerned about the sounds on the roof. They aren’t in the attic, and even if they were, we know those are just squirrels. Or demons. Or demon squirrels).

We’d never set up video surveillance a la Paranormal Activity. Not because of the potential for disappearing and leaving behind mysterious footage, but because of the potential for disappearing and leaving behind evidence of early morning conversations like the one that happened this morning when my alarm went off.

Instead of hitting snooze, I yelled at it like a petulant teenager. “Shut UP, Godzilla!”

Disdain dripping from his voice, Husband replied, “It’s NOT Godzilla. It’s CHEWBACCA!”

Then I hit the snooze and we both went back to sleep.

He’s right, of course. It’s Chewbacca. It’s always Chewbacca.

I don’t even have a Godzilla alarm. That would be ridiculous.

While I was finishing this post, Husband and I watched that Dick Van Dyke Show episode, “A Ghost of A. Chantz,” on Netflix.

It’s still creepy and fun.

You know, it’s probably technically the first found-footage type horror movie/tv show. Huh.

Here, I found it for you on YouTube!

The Dick Van Dyke Show: “A Ghost of A. Chantz”

Idea: Casey Rae suggested I start a tumblr to capture the best phrases from parental advisory movie reviews. This gem from today’s Family Filmgoer would be a good place to start.

“The dialogue includes a lot of midrange profanity…”

I read that to Husband, and then this dialogue ensued in our living room:

Husband: “That’s some bullshit!”
Me: “No, bullshit isn’t midrange, it’s a a barnyard epithet.”

Thank you, once again, Family Filmgoer, for starting our Friday morning off with a giggle.

Getting messages asking what this year’s Halloween theme is going to be and when I’m going to start posting. It’s October 5th already, isn’t it?

But wait! I’m not 5 days behind! I can make this year’s theme Archaeology & Anthropology in Horror and then I’m actually ahead of the game because I’ve already been obsessing over this for months.

Everybody wins.

I’ve been sick for a while, but posting will resume soon.

As long as I’m not mutating like the anthropologist in The Relic. If I turn into a South American lizard-god we may have to re-assess the project…

Until the running and the screaming starts, I’ll be working on a subject tag for these posts.

goaty

I have this insane compulsion to read the Family Filmgoer ratings in the Washington Post weekend section.

Last night I came across this gem of a rating for Paranoia.

The film strongly implies murders and attempted murders, although not in graphic detail. Characters drink and smoke. Someone talks about “getting laid.” There are stylized, nongraphic sexual situations between Adam and Emma, which only imply nudity. The dialogue includes an occasional barnyard epithet and one F-word.

It’s an embarrassment of riches, that review. So many things to mock, so little time on this mortal coil.

Before I could begin to peel that onion of absurdity, I became obsessed with the term “barnyard epithet,” which I will put in quotation marks here in homage to the Family Filmgoer’s use of said punctuation in reference to “getting laid.”

A debate between Husband and I then ensued over the meaning of the phrase. The phrase “barnyard epithet,” that is. We’ve got “getting laid” covered.

Husband insisted it meant “bullshit.” This was disappointing to me because I like believing it means something more colorful.

Goatfucker, perhaps.

We debated this for much longer than I should ever admit. But I will. We debated this for a long time.

While we were debating the wisdom of looking this up on the Internet, I remembered that I have a reference book on the subject sitting right on the coffee table. I’d just checked Melissa Mohr’s Holy Sh*t! A Brief History of Swearing out the library and hadn’t even opened it yet.

Meanwhile, Husband had become obsessed with the hilarity we might find on the Internet and had begun reflexively adding the words, “dot-com” anytime one of us said, “barnyard epithet.”

It’s not as funny in the cold light of day.

Maybe I should add that there may have been some mint julep slushies involved.

There, that makes the story of two adults creating a taxonomy of profanity much more socially acceptable.

Unless you’re the Family Filmgoer.

Sadly, Mohr doesn’t seem to mention the term but by the time I’d spent some quality time reading through the amusing index to the book, something buried deep in my brain was telling me that this was actually something I’d learned years ago as an undergrad and had something to do with Cold War era politics in America.

Which sounds batshit crazy, but turns out to be accurate. And sort of batshit crazy:

When leaders of the anti-war protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention were tried in Chicago two years later, defendant David Dellinger uttered an eight-letter word in court that likened a police officer’s testimony to the waste product of a bull. Dellinger was reprimanded and his bail was revoked. New York Times reporter J. Anthony Lukas called his editor, urging that the Times print the word. The editor suggested that it simply be called an obscenity, but Lukas worried that readers would imagine even worse words than the one that was spoken. “Why don’t we call it a barnyard epithet?” the editor suggested. And so they did.

So there you have it. Simultaneously fascinating and disappointing, but what can you do?

This post originally had this image at the top, but even I had to draw the line at using the image of an innocent goat with filthy hindquarters shooting the camera a come-hither look. But that doesn’t seem to stop me from telling you about it. Or posting the picture, which probably contradicts my claim of self-restraint.

IMG_6471.JPG
Goat pictures by MeanLouise

Last month’s SyFy Craptacular of the week, Sharknado, is being released for a (probably) one-day only theatrical engagement.

This means loads of fluffy press, such the Washington Post’s, “Sharknado’s next prey: Big-screen audience,” in which writer John Anderson and art-house owner Greg Laemmle seem to miss the point of craptaculars entirely (or can’t be bothered to take 3 minutes to read about The Asylum’s production process).

No one sets out to make a bad movie, Laemmle said. “But maybe in the case of ‘Sharknado’ they did.”

Vitale of Syfy disagrees. “These movies are made to be entertaining,” he said. “They are made on purpose to be fun; they’re not created to be a ‘Troll 2’ or an Ed Wood movie. ”

We’ll let that slide in order to get to an in-depth discussion of the critical questions raised by Sharknado in this post I wrote when Sharknado first aired and then forgot to post:

1) Sharknado: could it really happen?
2) Who the hell is Tara Reid and what is she famous for?
3) Did that dude just make a menstruation joke while I was slightly distracted by Tara Reid’s IMDB page?
4) Is Aubrey Peeples related to Nia Peeples?
5) Tara Reid? She’s no Ian Ziering.
6) Did you see Swamp Shark?
7) Did you know John Heard was in the Pelican Brief?
8) The Peach Pit? What the fuck? Why would anyone think that would be a good name for a diner?
9) Do you think it’s true Nia Peeples used to open for Liberace in Vegas?
10) This movie is halfway over, are we still sober?

Sharknado: could it really happen?
Sure, why not?

Who the hell is Tara Reid and what is she famous for?
All kinds of crap, it turns out, but she never seems to imprint on my brain. She’s no Ian Ziering. He was in Beverley Hills 90210. (Not the shitty reboot, either. He was in the shitty original show).

Did that dude just make a menstruation joke while I was slightly distracted by Tara Reid’s IMDB page?
Yes.

Is Aubrey Peeples related to Nia Peeples?
No.

Did you see Swamp Shark?
I did. I just pulled out my notes. Here they are, in their entirety: “Blah blah blah blah. Running. Screaming. Terror. Swamp. Shark. Blah.”

Did you know John Heard was in the Pelican Brief?
I worked on location on that movie for 2 days. I never met John Heard.

The Peach Pit? What the fuck? Why would anyone think that was a good name for a diner?
Whatever. If you want me to believe that you’re being pursued by sharks in a flooded L.A., at least hose off the pavement for the exterior shots so we can pretend along with you without needing to get up to get another drink.

Followup question:
Why don’t we have a monkey butler so we don’t have to get up to refill our adult beverages?
Monkeys make terrible butlers.

Do you think it’s true Nia Peeples used to open for Liberace in Vegas?
I have no idea, but Nia Peeples and SyFy/Asylum alum Tiffany were on an episode of Celebrity Wife Swap together.

This movie is halfway over, why are we still sober?
Mischief managed. Moving on…

Not enough people have seen Jaws, judging by the tweets I’m seeing. How could you people not catch that the scene where two characters compare scars and one of them tells the story of being in a shipwreck and everyone else being eaten by sharks is an homage to the scene in Jaws where two characters compare their scars and one tells the story of being in a shipwreck and everyone else being eaten by sharks?

And that character saying, “We’re going to need a bigger chopper!” was a reference to one of the most quoted lines in movie history.

You people on the twitter, you disappoint me.

Many articles about Sharknado were like the mutants that figure in many SyFy movies – plaintive struggles for hip pop culture credibility grafted on to the genetic lattice of massive sharknado-driven web traffic. See also: the Atlantic trying to explain how the Federal Reserve is just like Sharknado.

If you’re interested, Here’s an amusing interview The Asylum’s David Michael Latt did with the Examiner about the fast, cheap but totally in-control production process they’ve honed. (Also probably the only time you’ll ever see me link to the Examiner on purpose).

I do find it amusing to read tweets and posts from viewers who are trying to maintain a facade of ironic distance, despite the fact that their twitter feeds display evidence that they previously “discovered” B movies in 2009 when they watched (in an ironic way) the Debbie Gibson opus, Mega Shark ve Giant Octopus and again (ironically, obviously) in the 2011 follow-up, in which Gibson battled Tiffany in Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid.

In conclusion, Sharknado was good for the internet traffic of a lot of websites who wrote gratuitous articles about it.

Like this one.

The rumors are true. We also watch non-shitty movies. Last night we rewatched ParaNorman because it’s on Netflix streaming now.

It’s a clever, dark, weird, and wonderful movie. Plus, I’m easily amused by Donovan references.

I should have emailed the winners of the MeanLouise Blogiversary present drawing instead of writing this post. I’ll get to you, I promise!

SupergatorPosterSpoilers? Sure. Maybe. I doubt it.

Supergator. Produced in the land before time (2007, when SyFy still had “i”s). Like many Sci Fi/SyFy originals, Roger Corman is producer/executive producer (depending on which credits you check). I mention this because when B-movie nerds, usually male and of a certain age, speak dismissively of SyFy craptaculars, they usually point out that Corman was the master of the genre – he did it first and he did it better. It leaves them flapping their jaws a bit like carp when one points out that the Corman/SyFy dichotomy is a false one and thus their pronouncements are silly.

But I digress.

Supergator.

Kelly McGillis is de-extinticting a supergator. In Hawai’i. Like one does.

It’s a secret.

Since the project to bring Supergator back from extinction is a secret, no one except Kelly McGillis knows that Supergator has gotten loose on this very small, inhabited Hawai’ian resort island.

A plucky geology research team is there to study the impending volcanic eruption that isn’t a big concern to anyone else, even though it’s a very small, inhabited Hawai’ian resort island.

Even though at several points in the movies it’s emphasized that the volcano is dormant.

Except when it’s not.

Whatever.

The research team is lead by a pompous volcanology professor. Accompanied by his annoying grad assistant, a blond woman who is apparently a geologist, and a reporter/ex-geology student played by Bianca Lawson (whose resume is actually miles longer than anyone else in this movie and probably should have gotten top billing), he bravely investigates the dormant and/or active volcano by hiking 5 minutes into the deep and remote jungle on the uninhabited and/or densely populated island.

They arrive at a waterfall where they spot a rock covered in blood:
bloodrocksupergator

The pompous volcanologist explains that it’s probably a birthing stone. You know, a big pointy boulder that women perch on to give birth. The implication being that the native women-folk of the swanky tropical resort have no need for hospitals or flat surfaces or logic.

I don’t know what this weird bit of dialogue was supposed to reveal about these characters, but it failed on every level except the one wherein we began to actively root for Supergator.

The waterfall is Supergator’s Supersecret feeding ground where he’s been chowing down on people since the movie began.

By “people” I mean “actors you can’t wait to get rid of.”

Soon, the running and the screaming begin.

Go, Supergator, go!

Through the whole movie, a wannabee model in a hot-pink thong bikini runs around looking for help because her photographer and another model were eaten by Supergator at the beginning of the movie at that waterfall on the very small, inhabited Hawai’ian resort island that is sometimes very close to the resort and other times very far away.

None of it matters. It’s Supergator. Stop thinking so much.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, when you were still paying attention, Supergator was made in 2007. It was followed 3 years later by Dinocroc vs. Supergator (2010). I’m sure I watched that one when it aired but I think I’ve repressed most of the details. Luckily (?) our Tivo, Overlord II, recently recorded it for me. The heatwave has been highly conducive to staying indoors and watching crappy movies while I catch up on all the other household chores I’ve been putting off, so I’m sure I’ll get to it soon.

I choose to believe that Supergator battles Dinocroc to save humanity, because Supergator is the friend of all children.

Husband tells me that Gamera is actually the friend of all children.

Whatever.

Go, Supergator, go!

Danny Bonaduce and Barry Williams battle bigfoot. Supporting actors include Howard Hesseman, Sherilyn Fenn, Alice Cooper, and the worst CGI bigfoot you’ll ever hope to see.

Over on The Twitter, everyone’s been in a swivet over this Slate article, “Save the Movie! The 2005 screenwriting book that’s taken over Hollywood—and made every movie feel the same,” which tells you the same thing every film school student has been moaning about for the last 8 years. Namely, that Hollywood has become fixated Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat! The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, and every Hollywood movie now follows Snyder’s formula.

Bigfoot also follows a formula: The Asylum/SyFy formula for Saturday night craptaculars.

Here is the formula you will need to survive a night with this movie:

1. Make Martha’s mint-infused simple syrup (can be made ahead of time and refrigerated).

2. Put the following items in the blender:
-2 or more ounces of bourbon
-2 cups of ice
-quarter cup of mint simple syrup

3. Blend.

4. Pour into 2 highball glasses and garnish with mint sprigs.

5. Drink.

6. Repeat.

“Luckily” for you, the movie actually aired in 2012 so you can watch it at your leisure on Netflix.

Saturday night we returned to a simpler time, the time of Snakehead Terror. We enjoyed this gem when it debuted on SyFy (nee SciFi) in 2004. Would we enjoy it the second time around, nearly 10 years later?

Yes.

This classic made-for-TV craptacular featured Bruce Boxleitner’s carefree feathered mane as the sheriff and supermodel-turned-actress Carol Alt as the wildlife biologist determined to save us all from the Terror Of Snakeheads.

Bonus: it was set in our neck of the woods.

Downside: we really have snakehead terror. That’s why it’s set in our neck of the woods.

Snakehead fish“Snakehead Fish” photo of SFU biology grad student Michael Beakesis copyright (c) 2012 by Simon Fraser University Public Affairs and made available under a Creative Commons license.

Simon Fraser University, being in Canada, isn’t in our neck of the woods, but that photo is both awesome and available on flickr. Since this movie was clearly shot in Canada and not the Mid-Atlantic, and both it and this blog are low-budget enterprises, that seems appropriate. (Unlike syfy, this blog is not a profit-seeking entity and use of that photo doesn’t mean SFU condones anything in this post).

Trivia: 12 of the 15 actors credited on the Snakehead Terror IMDB page have appeared in an episode of Supernatural (even William B. Davis, the cigarette smoking man from the X-Files).

An interesting thing about this movie (no, really, this is interesting) is how much more strictly the old Saturday Night Craptaculars adhered to a (slightly) more sophisticated B movie aesthetic. The filmmakers could display a small bit of flare that suggested they do in fact possess a basic level of competence even if the budget doesn’t allow them the time or financing to truly display it. Decent editing. No extended day-for-night scenes. A few extra minutes clearly used to set the key and fill lights properly (and/or to actually use a 3 point lighting set up). Actors mostly hitting their marks. A modicum of wardrobe continuity.

B-movies have never been slick or glitzy (if they were they wouldn’t be B-movies), but Bruce Boxleitner’s hair doesn’t style itself and someone had to teach Carol Alt how to convincingly pronounce all those biologist words.

No, really, she’s convincing. As a biologist, maybe not as an action-movie actress.

Trivia: I’m fairly certain there is a jar of pickled snakehead in our refrigerator. I’m quite certain Husband should think carefully before he considers feeding it to me.

We still haven’t visited the Calvert Marine Museum’s invasive species exhibit, Eco Invaders.

I was going to post more about the movie, but I’ve gotten distracted by the fact that Bad Company is back together and touring and they’re playing at the Calvert Marine Museum, which just seems weird on all kinds of levels. Maybe it’s a really nice venue. I understand the museum is nice, but it’s a small museum far outside any metropolitan area, so the announcement immediately brought this to mind:

But hey, since Bad Company has figured prominently on Supernatural a few times, it seems only appropriate to mention it here. I’m on my first cup of coffee so it makes perfect sense to me.