There was a time when films of adventure, crime, or science fiction guaranteed the audience that he would save her, he would find the solution to the crime, he would know what the nasty alien is thinking. The ghost of Ibsen’s Helmer in A Doll’s House condescendingly whispered to women in the darkened theater, “Don’t bother your pretty little head about it.” There were exceptions, of course, but most films safely stuck to the predictable male and female formula.
Now, she saves him, she finds the solution to the crime, she knows what the nasty alien is thinking. Condescension is delegated to the assumption that the male characters need not bother their empty little heads as long as she is in charge.
Most of today’s films replace one stereotype with another. Scripts, roles, and plots are designed to reverse the ‘traditional’ male and female formulas. This is especially visible in action films. Most of them are at least as far removed from reality as their predecessors had been.
Back then, she would become part of a space adventure by sheer chance. She might have lingered on the spaceship a bit too long and suddenly found herself zooming into space with an all-male crew. That scenario served three purposes: a) it provided the film with ‘love interest’, b) it provided her lover any number of opportunities to protect her on a hostile planet, and c) it provided an intermediary between men of science and the audience: she’d ask questions so that the audience might be enlightened by their responses to her questions.
Now, she is a crucial member on the team because she is a specialist in extra-terrestrial life. In effect, the action of the film is based on her authority and leadership. She is the only scientist in the world who can find a way to halt the proliferation of the alien monster loose onboard the spaceship. By and large, the men still do most of the grunt work but not much thinking. Of course women in real life are every bit as competent as men in all science disciplines. But do we really need to have women depicted as their answer to Einstein in virtually every science fiction film?
Now, she not only knows that the earth is about to belch a volcano in the middle of Manhattan, but she also knows how to divert its lava flow out to sea. She is the first to recognize a pattern of earthquakes that can split the earth in two. She isolates and finds a way to destroy a virus that threatens mass extinction.
There was no reason why that role would be played only by males for decades. That is, no reason except the reciprocal fantasies of Hollywood and audiences. A reversal of roles is disingenuous at best. It distorts reality and is offensive to objective men and women. In some ways, the offence is greater against women who are looking through the glass ceiling when they are not in a movie theater.
Then and now, darkened theaters are powerful hosts to films that secretly brainwash their viewers with subliminal opinions. But something new has been added to current crime and political films. In contrast to the simple reversal of gender, a variety of techniques are deeply imbedded in the plots and characters of those films.
Then, crime films focused on historic or fictitious criminals and their crimes, not on the lawmen who played a part in the advancement of plot. The lawmen had character but were not characterized as necessarily evil because of their occupation. Now and then, we witnessed a ‘bad apple’ in the ranks of lawmen, but almost always a lawman’s function was to solve crimes and bring criminals to justice.
Then, the pattern for political comedies focused on characters, not ideologies. They were not biased except for an occasional pun–sometimes good-natured, other times not–at the expense of Republicans.
Now, there is a plethora of films, usually in the guise of action films, that are engaged in brainwashing. More often than not they are as exciting as the best adventure films. They are often so well made that I watch them despite their thinly veiled bias against American institutions. Totally unaware of a film’s context, I turn on TV and within a few moments I know who the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys are. Just a few words of dialogue tip me off. Sometimes an image conveys bias instantly.
For example, I got my first image of Avatar when I turned on my TV and the film happened to be near its end. I needed only an instant to see that the American Army was engaged in genocide. If the mission depicted had been an international one, the film’s message would have been objective in so far as it would indict humankind, not just Americans.
Another example of bias is Edge of Darkness. This film reeks with bias. Its predictable villains are an American corporation, senator, and the Defense Department. Bias doesn’t get much thicker than that. Like 99.9% of other politically biased films, the film lacks the element of surprise. However diligently the film’s writer, director, and actors worked to keep viewers from knowing who the bad guys would turn out to be, its senator, corporate moguls, and the Defense Department are dead giveaways by definition. The same is true for major CIA characters. I invariably spot them as prime suspects of crime or worse the instant they are introduced. Many of our major movie stars score some of their biggest hits when their characters fight the inherently evil CIA.
It’s interesting to note that when I checked the date for the Edge of Night on the Internet, I paused to read a review of the film. The critic claimed the film had ‘no politics.’! He is either incompetent or (more likely) so politically in agreement with the underlying politics of the film, that he saw nothing political about it.
He is not alone. Filmgoers, including critics, are anesthetized by a film’s action and are susceptible to being brainwashed in the dark.
There are a handful of political films that are not biased, notably Advise and Consent. That film objectively reveals unethical activities of some members of congress, but it is neither explicitly nor implicitly Anti-American. On the contrary, this 1962 film (based on Allen Drury’s book) depicts the American way as I experienced it when I was a young man. Am I biased? Certainly not when that America, whatever its faults, is compared to the America of today.
But I remain hopeful.