Fur and Feminism: The Portrayal of Female Characters in ‘G-Force’

For those of you who weren’t previously aware, G-Force (2009) is an animated film about extra-ordinary FBI Agents: specially-trained and technologically-enhanced guinea pigs. As IMDB puts it:

“The story is about a team of trained secret agent guinea pigs that takes on a mission for the US government. A specially trained squad of guinea pigs is dispatched to stop a diabolical billionaire, who plans to taking over the world with household appliances.”

And no, I’m not joking.

The G-Force Team consists of three main guinea-pigs, and two ‘sidekicks’: the technological whizz Speckles (a mole), and a camera-laden fly (or bug) whose name I didn’t catch. All of the animals were trained and developed by two human scientists: Ben and Marcie.

The guinea pigs (from left to right): Juarez, Darwin, and Blaster. Also, Hurley, an extra addition to the team. It’s probably not obvious from the picture, but Juarez is a female guinea pig. A sassy Spanish female guinea pig voiced by Penelope Cruz, no less.

I’m still not joking when I say this post will be a consideration of the character of Juarez and the message it sends to the main audience of this film: children.

Using OverthinkingIt‘s Female Character Flowchart (the best test of a woman that I know of) you can take Juarez two ways. It depends on whether you think she can handle her own story. I’m going to go with yes. Partly because she gets a lot of screentime on her own and her own backstory (but also because this would be pretty pointless if I didn’t think so). In addition, she’s three-dimensional (she shares opinions and challenges others), she’s not just a metaphor (what she’d be a metaphor for I can’t tell you), she has flaws (she’s a flirt, and she’s rude) and she doesn’t get killed off before the third act. Voila! A Strong Female Character.

Alternatively, if you decide that she isn’t any of the above, and follow the flowchart to its conclusion, she’s either a Useless Girl (you cynic), or a Lady of War (the example given is Zoe from Firefly, so almost there!).

Juarez is, throughout, as tough as the boys. There is nothing that she doesn’t take part in, she’s not behind the scenes or merely supervising; and she makes it quite clear that she can stand up for herself. At one point, she is purchased from a pet store and ‘taken hostage’ by a little girl intent on using her as a plaything. Juarez is put in a pink dress and tiara, given an earring, pink nail polish and pink lipstick. On being waved in front of a mirror to see “how pretty” she looks, her reaction is: “Not pink! I look like Paris Hilton’s chihuahua.” The first thing she does on engineering her escape (stealing a toy jeep) is throw off the tiara and dress: Juarez has no need for dressing up or changing her appearance to form her character, she does that by standing by her friends/teammates and working at her special agent training, putting in hundreds of thousands of hours to be as good as she can be. Aside from the hourglass-shaped fur on her abdomen and the long eyelashes, you wouldn’t really be able to tell that Juarez is female: she has similar hair to the male character Hurley, a kind of short mohawk. This shows that while she’s conscious of her appearance, she’s not forever lamenting the lack of hair-styling products or scared of breaking her claws. Think about it, how easy would it have been to cast a long-haired guinea pig as the female?

But this is not to say that she isn’t feminine. For one, she keeps the earring as she likes the way she looks with it. But it’s as an enhancement, not a pandering to femininity. Another giveaway is the fact that both male guinea pigs, Darwin and Blaster, argue over her affections and confront her more than once about which one of them she is “interested in”. Rather than the conventional ending of Boy Gets Girl, the film ends with Juarez denying the obvious assumption that she has to be interested in one of them: in fact she’d rather they both wanted her and she played hard to get. Now, I’m not saying that teasing boys is a mark of a strong woman, but you can’t deny her her independence here. Juarez is challenging the assumption that she will end up with one of the boys because of mere proximity, instead she is confident and independent – and it’s this that makes her, for want of a better word, sexy. They want her because she’s not waiting for them, and she says as much. “If she acts as though she’s interested in you, it’s to make me think that she’s really interested in me,” to paraphrase Darwin. It could be argued that she’s trying not to complicate matters, there is no animosity between the boys, no awkwardness between the team: she’s responsible. I’m sticking with sassy and independent, to be honest. But that fact that she’s a single woman not waiting for a man to sweep her off her feet is what I’m struck by here.

In fact, so much so is she not waiting to be rescued that she’s the saving grace at the climax of the film. I hope I’m not spoiling things here, but Speckles and Darwin fight and Darwin loses his parachute but they need to jump from the enormous violent appliance-cum-robot before it explodes thanks to a computer virus. Did you get that? In any case, when they jump – free-fall – Juarez is the one who appears above them, grabs them both and says “I’ve got you” while opening her parachute.

In this film, the girl literally saves the day. Or at least the hero.

Am I wrong in assuming that this is quite rare in movies about humans?

It’s also important to point out that Juarez asks for help from the boys: she’s not an artificial StrongWoman who’s stubborn and gets everything right. During a car chase she calls to both Darwin and Blaster to help her escape from the FBI agents – exposing her flaws, if you like, and also showing that she is equal to them. She needs help, but she can also save the day when necessary. And all without the validation of a romance at the end of it.

Not that romance is bad, guys! Just that I think it’s rare for a female character to be portrayed as sexy, appealing, smart, strong and also ‘human’, as it were. The fact that she’s a guinea pig, and that now this whole post makes me sound mental, is beside the point really. (Unless you want to get into an argument about why human females aren’t portrayed this way… I’ll pass for now.)

So: perhaps the Christmas port has got to me. But if not, I’m impressed with the decision taken by filmmakers not to just include a female character because they had to – or if they did, not take the obvious decision to include her as a love interest. And let her have a vital role in the survival of the male protagonist. And make her funny, pretty and independent also.

I don’t even know what to ask you anymore. Ask me things. I can barely believe I just wrote that with a straight face. Happy Christmas!

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Watching “Falling Skies”

Falling Skies at Comic-Con 2010

Image by starbright31 via Flickr

WARNING: SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN UP TO EPISODE SIX OF FALLING SKIES AND WANT TO; DO NOT READ ON!

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Earth has been invaded by strange, six-legged creatures from outer space. Everything that we rely on has been destroyed and mankind is forced to flee the cities we knew and learn to work togther again in order to survive. Not only are we homeless, hungry, and confused; but to make matters worse our alien colonisers are capturing our children and using them as zombie slaves to do their bidding.

The premise of Steven Spielberg’s new sci-fi drama Falling Skies is intriguing and thought-provoking, but unfortunately its execution leaves something to be desired. While the sets and costumes are all recognisable and realistic, the characters themselves are not.

Now I’m not sure if their incompetence, short-sightedness and inconsistency is supposed to be an intentional comment on the dysfunctional collaborative nature of our blinkered society (and it is true that lots of humans working together are often Very Stupid) but in this case they just don’t make sense. Why wouldn’t you capture an alien as soon as you could in order to interrogate/dissect it? Why would you only collect heavy, inflexible, tinned food instead of something versatile like maize (or, perhaps, grow your own)? How long did it take you to work out that if you disable a creature with six legs it will then stay still long enough for you to shoot it in the head? Why didn’t you talk to the alien when you had the chance? In short, didn’t any of you watch science fiction programmes before this happened??

What doesn’t help is the episodic nature of the series – and yes, I am aware that a series consists of episodes. What I feel is a let-down is the lack of continuity between episodes. Events occur in one which have no bearing on the next. In Episode 4, for example, the refugee camp’s surgeon dies and the pediatrician working with him stabs an alien to death. In Episode 5, nobody mentions the death or the surgeon, not even to say what a bugger it is that they lost someone so useful; and the pediatrician is unable to defend herself against a human. Hell, the progatonist’s son’s girlfriend was kidnapped by aliens in the second or third episode and he hasn’t mentioned her since! What happened? Did they just forget?

It is as though the status quo is reset at the end of every episode so that the characters can deal with new events without having to acknowledge what went before. This gives the overall impression that they are not learning or experiencing anything and so the series trajectory feels very slow and flat.

The events do not have further-reaching consequences and the characters merely react to what is happening to them this week rather than growing on their own as a result of what happened last week. I can see how in certain dramas – Stargate being the obvious example – that the episodic approach works. It keeps things fresh, there is always something new to deal with, and there are no major twists to our characters’ statuses – we know they will be back to fight another day. But that is because the characters in Stargate do reset the status quo each episode: they return to Earth. And their time dealing with events is limited, as they only have so much time to spend on alien worlds before they need to go back home. That’s the deal: they travel on short trips to other planets but they always have to come back to what they know.

The problem with Falling Skies is that this is not the case. The entire world has changed as a result of alien invasion and so have everyone’s roles. So this inability to learn from their mistakes, or acknowledge past events makes the viewer feel as though they are merely watching something unfold from a distance and that they are disconnected from the characters. We have not had time, as yet, to see them not reacting, but simply acting.

I think the writers have missed a trick here, as this could be a brilliant thought-experiment: what would we, the urban masses, do if all our electronic comforts were taken away and life became a fight for survival? How would we go about organising ourselves? But these decisions have been taken away from us as viewers. Six months have already passed since the invasion and, predicatably, the military have taken control; shipping civilians from safe place to safe place and on the way gathering as much ammunition as possible for the frequent firefights that take place. There is very little concern for character development, personal reactions (save that of “Bring me back my children”) or societal changes. Women (mostly, apart from the edgy one – and there is only one) do the cooking and the healing; men (even the professors) do the fighting, and the civilians do what civilians do best: stay anonymous and take up all the space.

This is not to say that there haven’t been some lovely Life After Invasion moments, but just that there have been too few so far. The children’s schooling takes place in abandoned classrooms, with the world’s previous high-flying scientists and professors extolling the virtues of learning and exploration to dislocated teen and tweens. It’s lovely to see what the writers think we should teach: how important science and exploration are, how we can rebuild ourselves using education and ingenuity, not merely facts with no bearing on the real world. Baby showers and birthday parties are thrown, and communities are still seen to be thriving – although the how of this is unknown. These are all well and good, and nice to see, but in such short bursts feel a little cliche and easy. The few moments of civilian conflict are solved by military types shouting a lot, and those who do break the rules have so far had their comeuppance. There has been no room to really consider what could happen, and in place of this complex society we could be seeing, we are shown mostly action scenes; shooting and fighting aliens without much thought as to what to do next.

I can see that there has been some attempt to reinstate the human aspect, and the action scenes are punctuated by moments among families. But due to the static nature of the series so far, these family scenes seem schmaltzy and overall they mostly detract from what could otherwise have been an excellent, modern-day War of the Worlds.

Other reviews/comments:

As I sit here in my stocking and suspenders…

Burlesque Bustier Cupcake

Image by clevercupcakes via Flickr

Last night my boyfriend and I went to see the wonderfully entertaining (and occasionally outrageous) Hurly Burly Show. Although this was my idea, having never been to a burlesque show before I didn’t know what to expect and was a little apprehensive. My apprehension was aided in part by the train we caught, which took just too long to get into London, causing us to run like morons to the tube station (my heels clattering away like gunfire on the slippery floor) and out again hoping to god I had remembered correctly where the Garrick Theatre was.

I had.

We had just enough time to purchase the alcoholic beverage necessary after a stressful journey and sat down with literally a minute to spare. As in, we toasted our impressive legging-it-across-London and the lights went down.

As you can imagine, my apprehension was short-lived and pointless – for the simple reason that I had forgotten how integral comedy is to burlesque. As Miss Polly Rae herself says (somewhat paraphrased by me) “it’s not about the tits, it’s the eyes” i.e. the attitude. The show was – obviously – of a sexual nature, but it was funny, it sent itself up by placing the sex in the midst of something completely different; the French Revolution for example (“Let them eat cock!”, indeed). The show was less about the strip, more about the tease – including the laughter that can go along with it. Discussing this with my partner in crime, I detected only slight disappointment at the revelation that the show was not as ‘sexualised’ as expected. Instead, it was bloody hilarious. And therefore incredibly entertaining. Later on, walking home, we decided that it had been a lot like actual ‘sexual things’ are – good fun, sexy and funny.

And that was kind of the beauty of it. As you can see from the reviews, the Hurly Burly Show has been described as a ‘celebration of the female form’ – which now I’ve seen, I believe. One memorable moment was a number in which Miss Polly Rae had the (willing) audience members stand up and shimmy or gyrate, calling out “this is what burlesque is all about!”. It was very clear that burlesque is not just for the girls on stage (all of whom were different in shape, size, colour – although all remarkably talented), but for any woman or man who wants to take part in the great tease. The emphasis was on inclusion, the audience were constantly being addressed, be it through winks and exaggerated nudges or direct address to individuals themselves. I, and I’d like to think all of us there, felt included in the joke and that we were taking part now and – godammit! – could take part at home whenever we liked.

This is something I have to say I feel lacking in a lot of celebrity culture. While we have shows like The X Factor and American Idol suggesting that Joe Public can take part in the fame game and showcase his or her talent, that’s not really what these things are about. They emphasis eccentricity and individuality, sure, but the majority of the time the only showcasing of such uniqueness is the light relief in each show, the “comedy gold” of some overweight no-hoper screeching her heart out and truly believing she sounds like Christina Aguilera. We laugh at these people, and we idolise the special ones, the winners – for they have been touched and gilted by God and Simon Cowell and we lowly audience members can only marvel at their talent. They were that one in a million lucky enough to have been discovered and rescued from where the rest of us reside – reality.
Burlesque isn’t like that. There was something there we could all take home, we could all join in with. There wasn’t any idolisation of the women on stage as remarkable specimens that we could all aspire to if only we were all a six 6 or 8 with a history of dancing lessons since the age of 3. Because I’m under no illusion that the women there weren’t special, weren’t talented – they were amazing! But they makde us feel included, and special too, and that was the real celebration. We were in on the joke, not just to laugh at the non-achievers, but to identify with the success stories.

Having got on my soapbox, I want to take things down few notches and share with you some of the other more memorable parts of the evening:

  • performer Kitty Bang Bang emerging from a wheelie bin almost nude to dance en pointe and eat fire at the same time before setting alight her nipple tassles. The mind boggles. A very hard act to follow. All set to my new-favourite-song “If You Don’t Want to Fuck Me, Baby, Fuck Off” – why won’t itunes let me buy it?
  • Mother Superior Miss Polly Rae wearing a glittery wimple singing about sin while stripping and spanking the other Hurly Burly girls. Especially memorable as this was an Easter Sunday performance. Family entertainment.
  • A bourgeoise-perspective, French Revolution-inspired striptease incorporating Lady Gaga, beheadings and the classic song “Rock Me Amadeus” which more or less had me in stitches.

And with that, wordpress tells me I have reached over 800 words. Enough is enough. Moral of the story: I love burlesque for its potential to make anyone feel special, in spite of first appearances. And I want to wear everything in the show. Just once.

PS. Incase you wanted to read a more comprehensive and less “profound” review, please go here.

Thoughts on “American Psycho” (the film liveblogged)

bateman-4
  • beautiful colours
  • nice scene setting, subverting expectations to the banal
  • they are all the same, their cards are all the same 🙂
  • set up immediately as being a fantasy: “You’re a fucking ugly bitch” to the woman at the bar
  • clinical white room
  • he is more charismatic than I imagined: the Routine is more exciting when he narrates it than the large blocks of text in the novel
  • (not complaining about the shower scene)
  • Continue reading