Thursday, 13 August 2009

Do feminists recognise a subversive discourse?

Sometimes I worry about feminist righteousness. Upon reading this blog post I felt I needed to reply, but seeing as someone else already covered some of what I was going to say, I thought I'd just have a little rant over here.

After reading reviews on Amazon and doing about 5 minutes of research, this is what I found:

The Surrogates is a sci-fi graphic novel. The premise of the story is that people have become so concerned with their own safety and inner-world that they stay at home all day, linked to a mechanical surrogate who goes out into the world to do their jobs, errands, whatever. It transpires that prejudice is ingrained, no matter if the race/gender of an individual is no longer a certainty.

And so, what do we know about sci-fi and fantasy? It is a medium used to hold a mirror up to society and show it what is wrong, sick or dangerous about the values it extols.

It appears to me that rather than demonstrating that an all-white and (western-type) beauty would create a perfect society, it actually shows that human beings are inherently prejudiced and the choice that people make to have the 'perfect white' surrogate is a symptom of this.

I would like to recognise the possibility that the poster is actually part of a larger subversive discourse, showing that the current images valued by society are not the way forward, and something needs to be done. The fact that the story is set 5 decades in the future, and nothing about beauty standards has changed, is (to me) a chilling message that more needs to be done about the situation today!

Obviously, there is more to the film than I have written here. My quick analysis could be completely wrong, and let's not forget that the story has been adapted for mainstream cinema, and a mainstream audience might miss such a message completely. However, I am frustrated at feminist writers immediately taking offence over an advertisement, without thinking about the further implications, or even doing a little deeper research into the story.

I look forward to the film (not in the least because Bruce Willis is playing the gritty cop!) and I'm currently trying to find the graphic novel at a cheap price, to check whether I feel the same after reading it.


  1. Hey there -- nice post (I wrote the original that you linked to). I completely agree with your analysis: the movie may provide a message that actually subverts the all-too-common standard of beauty.

    But the ads don't come with that message. They're just yet another example of sexism, racism, and fatphobia -- at least to the untrained eye of someone who hasn't read the book, which I'm guessing is the vast majority of society.

    In these ads, we lose the context, and the effect is harmful. I'd be thrilled if the movie turned out cool -- but the ads, by themselves, are disappointing.

  2. Hi Miranda, thanks for taking my analysis gracefully; I'm quite new to the blogging world so it's nice to receive some feedback.

    I understand your message is that 'no advert should show sexism/racism/fatphobia' no matter what the context. However, don't you find that somewhat restrictive if the aim is to create irony, or be subversive?

    I understand perfectly your argument in the case of product adverts, for make-up etc, but films are art (diluted in some cases, but art all the same). Is it fair to restrict a creative message by branding it in this way?

    I see the argument that the majority of society won't see the message I'm suggesting, but perhaps the majority of society are not going to be changed by a movie advert. They might be changed by seeing the movie, or looking closer into the context, but glancing at a billboard poster won't change their opinions. In fact, if such people are attracted to the movie through the advert, won't it have done its job? (This is bearing in mind the hypothetical version of the movie we're holding out for!)

    I do see your point that all advertising should be fair and equal, but saying that every case of advertising that *isn't* fair and equal is harmful feels a bit deterministic to me.

    I personally find the adverts challenging, perhaps other people will?