Jurassic World as Some Seriously Anti-Woman Bullshit

I finally got around to seeing Jurassic World. I was initially reluctant to see the movie, as I was highly skeptical about the quality of a fourth installment in a franchise that probably should have ended with the first movie, and definitely should have ended with the second. Nevertheless, the idea of Christ Pratt as the velociraptor-whisperer was too good to pass up; unfortunately, that was the best part of the movie, and was only tangentially significant to the plot as a whole, useful for a an all-too-obvious plot twist as well as the poorly motivated death of an Evil Military-Industrial-Complex Henchman. All in all, however, Jurassic World wouldn’t have been much different from any other profit-oriented summer blockbuster if it wasn’t for the fact that it is a fucking piece of fucking misogynistic. To be sure, the preceding sentence is a strong claim, and strong claims require strong evidence; fortunately for my argument, the movie provides such evidence in spades large enough to swallow Indominus Rex herself. (Obviously, spoilers abound, so read on at your own peril; or better yet, do read on, so you know not to waste your money on this piece of cinematic shit).

As a general point of narrative theory, the moment at which a major character is introduced holds a special point of privilege over the future development of that character, for much the same reason that someone should (almost) always wear a suit to a job interview: first impressions are important, and how one initially perceives the other (whether as a physically embodied presence across a table or as linguistically absent simulacrum on the silver screen) will inevitably color one’s overall impression of the other. So let’s consider the introductions of the movie’s major characters, namely Owen Grady as portrayed by Chris Pratt and Claire Dearing as portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard.

Dearing is the first of the two characters to be introduced to the audience. The camera reveals her in a moment of privacy, expressing anxiety over a looming meeting she is about to have with a handful of high-profile potential investors for the park. Her makeup is immaculate, her hairstyle is flawless, and nevertheless her insecurity is paramount. Even though she puts on a ‘game-face’ and projects authority and confidence when actually meeting with the investors, we the audience have seen her ‘true’ personality, as someone who is by and large ‘faking it,’ calm, cool, collected on the outside, but fucking terrified on the inside. As character portrayals go, Claire Dearing’s portrayal is certainly plausible: all of us have experienced the need to put on a ‘game-face,’ or less euphemistically to ‘bullshit,’ at some point or another, and her anxiety is entirely understandable.

The problematic nature of Dearing’s initial portrayal comes into clear focus, however, when contrasted when the portrayal of Grady when he is first introduced to the audience. Crucially, we see Dearing’s face up close from the very first moment, in which anxious micro-expressions abound; the complete opposite occurs in the case of Grady when we don’t see his face until the very end of the opening shot, shrouded as it is the overpowering glare of the sun. Grady’s body language undeniably communicates strength and confidence, and the luminescence which seems to naturally radiate from Grady himself recalls conventionally hagiographic portrayals of the Christian saints. Although Dearing projects this same atmosphere of authority upon meeting the potential investors, we the audience know the truth: Dearing is bullshitting it, but Grady is the nonetheless the real deal. In psychoanalytic terms: the man wields the phallus (i.e. stands at the center of the production of abjective meaning) by virtue of his innate masculinity; the woman only wields the phallus whenever she performatively assumes it for herself. The man can never not wield the phallus; the woman can only ever wield the phallus for a short period of time, and only then in the absence of the ‘true’ masculine phallus.

Nowhere is this gendered dynamic of strength vs. weakness, of ontology vs. ephemerality, of presence vs. absence made more clear, ironically, than in the one scene where Dearing takes on agency for herself. While Grady fearlessly fights back against a horde of actually-pretty-cute-looking flying bat-dinosaurs, Dearing cowers behind his back; it is only when Grady is momentarily overwhelmed by the bat-dinosaurs that that Dearing picks up his gun and fights off for herself the bird-dinosaurs which are attacking Grady. Nonetheless, she immediately returns the gun to Grady once he has sufficiently recovered, and returns to her position of dependence upon Grady’s masculine strength. The message is clear: the woman can wield the phallus (and the shape of the gun in question is itself literally and excessively phallic) when and only when the man fails in his possession of the phallus, but under the condition that she use the phallus strictly to return to return to the man the possession thereof. If I were Dearing in that situation, I would’ve told Grady to find his own goddamn gun, of which it should be pointed out there were plenty around him at that moment.

Other examples of this dynamic between Grady and Dearing abound throughout the movie: take Grady’s aggressively primal sexuality vs. Dearing’s purported disgust-which-turns-out-actually-to-be-deep-rooted-attraction; take Grady’s unquestioned leadership despite being a newbie to the park vs. Dearing’s unquestioning submission to Grady’s leadership even though she runs the entire fucking park; take Grady’s situation-appropriate clothing and compare it to the fact that Dearing is running around in fucking high-heels which for some miraculous reason never break once through all the running she does through mud and over rocks. (NB: I’d be a lot less angry about the high-heels if they featured directly into the plot; had Dearing used a stiletto point to say, puncture the skull of an attacking velociraptor, that would’ve been pretty cool. But the high-heels only serve to make her ‘look pretty’ and further the misogynistic, anti-woman binary that fuels the entire film).

There are even more examples which could be analyzed in considerable depth, but additional discussion of them would only be an exercise in close-reading skills and wouldn’t further my argument to any considerable degree. However, the remains one point still to be discussed, namely the horrific death sequence inflicted upon Dearing’s personal assistant Zara (whose last name is significantly absent, apparently because a woman with character depth constitutes a threat to the fragile masculine ego) as portrayed by Katie McGrath. Nor am I the only one in the blogosphere to notice just how problematic (to put it nicely) this death sequence really is. Devin Faraci of birthmoviesdeath.com notes the inappropriateness of the sequence, but merely attributes it to an inexperience with the ‘language of film’ on the part of director Colin Trevorrow without correctly identifying the underlying misogynistic impulses. Nonetheless, Faraci’s observation that the sequence shifts the genre from action-adventure to horror is on the mark, and unbeknownst to Faraci, recalls the extremely large body of literature on the innately misogynistic structures of the horror genre as a whole.

Since she is an undeveloped character, there is no motivation for the grotesqueness of Zara’s death sequence, which is more appropriate to the death of an unquestionably evil bad guy. Consequently, Zara functions not as an object lesson for the importance of moral goodness, but simply as a piece of entertainment which invites the audience to revel in the systematic torture of the female body. I simply could not put the point better than Molly Fitzpatrick of fusion.net, who points out that “Zara’s death is depicted with relish, like it’s a deserved retribution,” even though Zara’s death is clearly far, far from being deserved, as her only sin (apparently) is that of being born with a vagina.

I’ll cut this post short of being a rant, even though it is admittedly already somewhat ranty in nature. If I sound angry about Jurassic World, it’s because I’m fucking angry. The movie as pure narrative is disappointing; however, the gender politics of the movie are simply disgusting. Shame on Trevorrow for directing, and shame on Universal Pictures for disseminating, such a morally reprehensible film.

Advertisements

Phallacy

Fear: this is the essence of porn. Fear of the woman, fear of the Other, fear of the vagina. Fear of she who does not wield the phallus, she who does not need to wield the phallus, she who has no desire to wield the phallus, because she is complete in herself. Freud spoke of the anxiety of castration, of the man who fears the loss of the phallus. Perhaps Freud had anxiety of castration. How else could one explain his irrational insistence that the woman desire the phallus? It need not be the case that the phallus is presence, is fullness, is being; it need not be the case that the vagina is absence, is emptiness, is nothingness. The phallus is excess, a gross putrescence, casting itself beyond the divinely limiting boundaries of the self. The woman is complete with respect to herself: it is the man who must do something, who must rid himself of this excess which makes him a man, who must plunge this excess deep within the body of the woman to assure himself that this excess is the norm, is normal, that this excess is Beautiful, Good, and True. Truth: the greatest lie of them all. But the woman knows better.

She has no need of Truth. She is content with truths. But the man wants Truth, desires Truth, needs Truth, a Truth which ensures that his way is the right way, the only way. Truth is a fantasy; only truths are real. The man does not know this, but the woman does. Freud called the vagina a Gorgon’s Head, a swirling mass of snakes and rage, the sight of which makes a man grow stiff with fear. But Medusa does not scream: she laughs, and her laugh is the laugh of joy, an exuberant joy, of jouissance feminine, which fills the man with the terror of his own irrelevance.

She wants it, he says. Oh does she ever want it. To be filled with the phallus, to be dominated by the Other, that is the true end of woman. Aí papí, dámelo, dámelo, así en el culo. She must be hot. She must be smooth. She must be Barbie. Gone with the hair, gone with the clitoris, gone with the mark of the feminine. Replace it all with the mark of the absent. She must not be she, but must be as he wishes She to be. See, it’s not so frightening. She wants it, she needs it, and above all else, she must never refuse it. Thus the man is saved in his own masculinity, a phallic masculinity, a masculinity which needs the Other to be the Self. What he does not understand, what he cannot understand, what he absolutely does not wish to understand, is that the phallus is not power. The phallus as phallus (and not as penis) is the mark of the slave, the mark of that who has no choice but to wield the power. To relinquish the phallus, to relinquish the fear, to relinquish the Truth: this is what we must learn to do.

Political Ideology

Today, let’s talk about political ideology. For the purposes of this essay, the phrase ‘political ideology’ signifies deeply held beliefs about universal ethical propositions, and the duty of government to see that these propositions are fulfilled. The relationship between political ideology and the surrounding material environment is not of concern for this argument; one’s political beliefs may or may not be ‘correct,’ or at the very least positive and healthy in general for a given society; what determines whether or not a set of political beliefs constitutes a ‘political ideology’ lies in the epistemic relationship between the believer and the set of beliefs in question.

In particular, political ideology is characterized by a categorical affirmation of these beliefs: although those who adhere to a political ideology often are of the opinion that their beliefs are obviously correct, and the only way in which a clear thinking person can possibly view the world, the very certainty of these beliefs undercuts the purported rationality upon which they are based. The things of which we are most logically sure are often very confusing, and the things of which we are most emotionally sure are often deeply irrational at their core. Indeed, it frequently happens that the belief the question is determined by the believer ahead of time, and it is only in a retrospective effort to justify this belief that evidence is collected and developed which purportedly supports the belief. All of this is a strong indicator of the mechanisms of political ideology

I bring up the preceding theoretical apparatus in an effort to understand what is happening in much of American politics today. Currently, we are seeing a massive split in our two-party system between Republicans and Democrats, with members of both parties believing members of the opposite party to be hell-bent on destroying the nation in which every single one of us lives. Adherents to the Republican party tend to view Democrats as ‘bleeding heart liberals,’ as people who would rather live in the present moment and give away the hard-earned money of the American rich (read ‘hard workers’) to the American poor (read ‘lazy good-for-nothing bums’) for free, with no regard for the autonomy of private property, or the future, long-term economic security of the nation. Adherents to the point of view of the Democratic party, on the other hand, tend to view members of the Republican party as privilege-blind money-grubbers, who would rather selfishly pursue their own profit at the expense of the exploitation of the American working classes; Democrats also tend to view Republican policies as being bad for the long-term economic health of the nation, just as Republicans believe Democratic policies to be bad for the economic health of the nation as well.

While there have certainly been periods in Anglo-American history in which political tensions have been even worse than they are today – one recalls the “Popish Plot” of England between the years 1678 and 1681, or the mass hysteria of the American public under McCarthyism between the years 1950 and 1954 – the current political crisis is certainly beginning to approach one of major historical significance. Members of each party, who often hold deeply entrenched beliefs about the universal validity of their own perspective, and who consequently approach, and even commit, to political ideology, tend to be discursively closed off to the possibility of communication, and insist on a one-way flow of thought from themselves to the other side.

Indeed, each party tends to speak condescendingly to the other party, which the result that both sides tend to view the other side as reality-blind bigots, who are bent on pursuing their own agenda, without any reference to the problems and situations facing the real world today. Ideology is always what the ‘other’ person believes; without considerable self-reflection and epistemic humility, one is rarely willing to admit that one falls within the realm of political ideology. Again, the validity of one’s beliefs while under political ideology, or their factual correspondence with the surrounding ‘real world,’ do not in any way determine whether or not one is one political ideology: the sole determining factor is whether one moves from belief to evidence, or from evidence to belief.

The precipitating event inspiring me to write about this particular issue for this particular blog post are the conspiracy theories in wide circulation throughout Texas at the moment. The Washington Post recently did a reasonably well-researched about a particular county in Texas which at the moment is expressing extreme anxiety over a planned series of military exercises which will be taking place in and around the county of Bastrop, Texas. Known as Jade Helm, the operation consists of 1,200 troops, which is admittedly the largest military exercise to have ever taken place on American soil.

As a result, many residents of Bastrop – as well as numerous others spread throughout the whole of Texas – hold a deeply entrenched suspicion that the secret purpose of this exercise is to invade Texas, with the end goal of spying on the Texas public, confiscating their firearms and other weapons, and generally establishing martial law. This is all held, despite the fact that only 60 troops will enter Bastrop, and even then they will remained stationed on military bases without any intent to leave them and enter civilian space. Nevertheless, the rumors abound, and hostility is rising against the Obama administration, which is largely perceived as being strictly interested in providing welfare for the unemployed (read ‘lazy bums’), while promulgating a race war on the parts of African-Americans against European-Americans. No matter the overwhelming evidence against any intent on the part of the American military to invade Texas, this belief of the military’s hostility is held categorically ahead of time, and no appeals to evidence can possibly shake this structure of master signification.

Of course, Democrats are often just as guilty of political ideology as conservative Republicans – their naïve belief in the inevitability of progress, and their general feelings of moral superiority – are doing nothing to help the climate of hostility and suspicion that currently characterizes inter-party political dialogue. Political ideology produces and reproduces itself whenever a given discourse community cuts itself off from the discourse going on in broader society: as each member of the community expresses a particular belief, other members of the community mirror that belief and express it back both towards the original thinker, as well as towards the rest of the community. As members of the community engage in this cycle more and more, the vehemence with which they adhere to the political beliefs of their ideology increases more and more, until all hope for communication and cooperation disappears, and political discourse is instead replaced by rhetorical violence, and even sometimes physical violence, as evidenced by the recent domestic terrorist attacks against prominent Black churches and other religious societies.

I’m not actually sure what to do about this situation, and I certainly don’t have any answers to recommend at this point of time. Nevertheless, this is an issue I will be thinking about for a good long while, especially as we begin to approach the primary elections for the 2016 Presidential campaign race. We’ll see what I come up with: hopefully I’m not the only one working on this thought project, but I’m the only person I know of who is working on it. If you have any ideas on how to solve the current problem of political ideology, my dear readers, I would be more than enthusiastic to dialogue about them. In the meantime, all we can do is love the other side, and listen patiently to their beliefs, regardless of whether or agree with them or not.

Abjectivity

By the word ‘abjective,’ I mean something that exists somewhere in between the words ‘subjective’ and ‘objective.’ The meanings of these latter two words are something with which virtually everyone is familiar. The word ‘subjective’ denotes truth claims that are contingent on the speaker for their validity; the word ‘objective’ denotes truth claims that are not contingent on the speaker for their validity. The former is an opinion; the latter is a fact. The former is true only for some people at some times and at some places; the latter is true for all people at all times and at all places.

Insofar as these characterizations go, I have no objections to the validity of either of these terms when it comes to understanding the phenomenon of human knowledge. What I object to, however, is the widespread tendency to assume that not only are these two modes of knowledge in opposition to each other – which they are to a certain extent – but that these are the only two modes of knowledge available to the human condition. Not only are the subjective and objective registers of thought held to be mutually exclusive, it is also widely held that these two registers are jointly exhaustive when it comes to the whole breadth of human thought.

According to this line of thinking, if a truth claim is not subjective, then it must be objective; likewise, if a truth claim is not objective, then it must be subjective. This is not the case, and it is here that I would like to introduce the notion of the ‘abjective’ as a means of illuminating the middle ground of knowledge that we have lost conscious awareness of in our insistence that all knowledge can be split up between the subjective and the objective registers of cognition.

In a nutshell, the word ‘abjective’ as I use it designates that area of thought which is functionally objective with respect to the individual, but at the same time functionally subjective with respect to broader society. The example par excellence of the abjective, I would suggest, is language itself, and a brief analysis of the economy of the sign should suffice to indicate what I mean by the word ‘abjective.’ Language as a means of communication is at heart a series of signs, and any given sign can be split up into a duality of signifier and signified. ‘Signifier’ denotes the materiality of the sign itself; ‘signified’ denotes that to which the signifier refers.

Consider the sign ‘dog.’ Insofar as this sign is a signifier, it is either a single syllable in the realm of possible sounds, or a string of three characters in the realm of possible texts, depending on whether we are emphasizing language as something which is written or something which is spoken (the distinction is largely irrelevant for our purposes here). Insofar as this sign is a signified, it refers to the general concept of ‘dogness,’ with all its related connotations, such as ‘four-legged mammal,’ ‘common household pet,’ ‘man’s best friend,’ and so on. Signs succeed as signs only insofar as they successfully juxtapose a signifier and a signified together, with each naturally flowing into and out of the other. The word ‘dog’ conjures up dog-like connotations in the mind, and these connotations in turn conjure up the word ‘dog’, back and forth in an endless cycle of semiotic seepage.

However, this juxtaposition can work if and only if the relationship between the signifier and the signified is an arbitrary one. There is no natural or direct correlation between the materiality of the word ‘dog’, and the reference of the word ‘dog’: the one is an animal, the other is a sound or a text. The tendency for one to lead into the other derives not from any innate qualities in either the sound ‘dog’ or the idea of a four-legged mammal, but derives simply from the fact that we as human beings have decided to treat these two unlike things as though they were alike.

To see how language problematizes the naïve binary between ‘subjective’ and ‘objective,’ we simply have to ask what kind of truth claim is being made when we say “the word ‘dog’ means a four-legged mammal.” Clearly, the truth claim being made here is not a subjective one: if someone were to come along and start using the word ‘dog’ as though it referred to a ‘panda bear,’ we would be perfectly justified in saying that that person is wrong in his use of the word, since the meaning of ‘dog’ does not vary dependent on who is speaking.

Under the assumption that subjectivity and objectivity are jointly exhaustive of the continuum of human thought, we would naturally conclude that the meaning of ‘dog’ belongs to the objective register of thought. But closer inspection indicates that this is not quite the case either, because the original motivation for combining the signifier ‘dog’ and the signified ‘dogness’ together into a single sign was a completely arbitrary one: while the word ‘dog’ must necessarily signify ‘dogness’ for a given speaker, it is entirely possible to imagine an alternate universe in which the history of the English language evolved so that either ‘dog’ could signify something other than ‘dogness,’ something other than ‘dog’ could signify ‘dogness,’ or possibly both together.

The meaning of the word ‘dog’ in particular (and by extension the meaning of all words in general) is absolute for the individual speaker in a given society, but is nevertheless arbitrary across the given society as a whole. Since the meaning of words seems to lie somewhere in between the ‘subjective’ and the ‘objective’ registers, I feel justified in suggesting the existence of a third register in between these two registers, which I have referred to as the ‘abjective’ register.

While I readily concede that the preceding discussion may appear to be little more than an intellectual exercise in semiotic categorization, bearing little interest to anyone outside of speculative philosophy, I nevertheless contend that there is in fact an enormous degree of political theory at stake in breaking down the isolated binary between the ‘subjective’ and the ‘objective,’ and that a considerable number of long-standing political debates can be productively resolved by introducing this third notion of ‘abjectivity’ to the descriptors of human thought. The nature of these debates, and the ways in which the notion of ‘ajbectivity’ can resolve them, will be the subject of many future posts.