While on vacation, I went to see the Fantastic Four movie (the only reason it was worth it was because it was the first move I had seen in theatres in over a year) and had the dubious pleasure to see a preview for the Transformers movie. Now, despite the pretty CG, I knew I wasn’t going to want to see it because the only woman I saw was The Hot Love Interest, and really that’s an archetype that has been done to death and then some.
But I didn’t know how bad it was until reviews started popping up.
So the nostalgia in this version of Transformers seems to have also resurrected some old-school not-so-hidden messages: black women are nagging mammies who deserve the label bitch; black men are thugs, rappers, cowards, or crooks, and are stupid even when they’re supposed to be smart; Latino men are effete idiots; and even alien robots aren’t safe from token black guy syndrome. Oh, and I almost forgot the moronic Indian customer support guy who symbolizes the real dangers of outsourcing — it’s not only bad for our economy, it’s bad for our troops in wartime — and the Arab villagers whose sole purpose in the film is to be rescued by the tough-talking American soldiers. (Also see discussion on the Wiscon panel “What These People Need is a Honky”.)
After finding out that Arcee wasn’t in the movie because they would have to “explain” her apparent female-ness and they were afraid of being seen as “trying to appease women with a pink Transformer”, Ragnell wrote In case you forgot, I hate everyone.:
Why is being a girl so fucking special? Why is it that every other fucking robot has a male fucking voice and no one questions why they have gender coding but the fucking second you bring in a female voice and god forbid you put it in a feminine color you have to suddenly explain why everyone has gender?
Oh, I know. We automatically assume everything is male. Male is the default. Male is neutral and being a girl is some sort of freakishness that can only be explained as thrown in their to try and appease the women.
Ariel wrote about the problematic handling of The Hot Love Interest, Mikaela, in the post Transformers: Sexism in Disguise:
I started off with a sour taste for Mikaela. During the first hour, she does two cool things: she knows how to fix Sam’s car and she walks away from her boyfriend (for good) when he calls her his little bunny. But also within that hour, the film establishes that Mikaela is oblivious to Sam is despite being his schoolmate for years, dates jerks because she likes guys with big arms and tight abs, admits she hides her knowledge about cars from guys so they’ll like her, with a vacant facial expression asks Sam if he thinks she is shallow, and is called a jock concubine and hoe by Sam’s friend. It’s a nice guy trope: nerdy but deserving Sam is overlooked because girls are shallow. The traits don’t especially set her up sympathetically unless we’re supposed to desire her for her body and Sam’s unsettling infatuation.
And in Transformers Skye wrote about her decidedly mixed feelings regarding the character:
I’d also rather see a movie where we don’t have to go through the “I’d do her” phase with a female character before accepting her as a person. Granted, this was from the point of view of the horny boy who saves the world and may have been correct characterization for him, but I don’t give out stars for that. Finally, I’d like to have seen more women in speaking roles. We get one who’s beautiful and one who’s brainy (but also beautiful), and that’s it.
So, yeah. Not planning on seeing that movie, unless it’s on cable TV when I happen to be in North America and I have an urge to write a scathing movie review. I can’t say I’m surprised that the movie seems to have exceeded even my expectations of awfulness, as I agree with Nora’s assessment of Hollywood in the second to last paragraph of her post (you did read it, right?), although I would add that it obviously extends to gender issues and other anti-oppression issues as well.
But, still, as my standards for entertainment go up and the quality of available entertainment goes down, it’s becoming harder and harder to find ways to escape from the hurts, injustices, and annoyances of real life. As hard as it might be for some people to grasp, there are times when I just want to watch mechs destroy each other without having to sit through “plot” that reminds me of how bigoted the world really is.
Sigh. I just know that at the ripe old age of 25 (my birthday is only 9 days away! well, 9 days if you live in Japan, anyway) I’m going to become one of those crotchety old people whose sole entertainment is reading books and complains about how these newfangled inventions like the tee-vee are ruining civilization…