My deal with “Her”

I want to start this post by very clearly stating that I like Scarlett Johansson. A lot. I appreciate her immensely as an actor, and she has hardly ever been in a movie that I didn’t like (Match Point and Ghost World are favorites, though).

I saw Spike Jonze’s new movie “Her” last week, and there is no doubt that the movie has stuck with me. It isn’t often that you see a movie that is essentially a love story, where the attention to scenographic detail is so large you feel like you could watch the sets and the outfits by themselves just for the sheer inventiveness. The something or other post 2020 setting is impeccable, and it brings an incredible amount of depth to the movie, because it makes us realize that since this isn’t exactly contemporary, it can also be slightly different in other way, for example the way people relate to each other.

Unless you’ve been living under a cultural rock, you know what this movie is about, and this post won’t contain massive spoilers. A guy falls in love with his new operating system (OS). What sets this new system apart is that it is able to learn very quickly from experience things like what is funny, what is socially acceptable etc. This is an extremely interesting idea with enormous subversive potential. Can you imagine that? Falling in love with a voice. It is then, a “person” that exists in your mind and has no physical manifestation meaning no gender identifiers, no race, no clothing to signal wealth or poverty, no body that is fat or skinny.

Her2013PosterJohansson has a very characteristic voice, and it has definitely been no secret to audiences that she was voicing the OS. Thus I knew that she would be the voice when I went to the theatre, but my somewhat non-internet savvy friend did not, but still recognized it immediately (which, if you knew her, you would know was a testament to how memorable it is). It is somewhat raspy, definitely very sexy and intimate.

All these things are fine except for the fact that it made a great-ish movie out of something that could have been fantastic (yet probably more difficult).

Let me explain: Scarlett Johansson has a body. Maybe you can go so far as to say that she has one of the most famous bodies in the world. This lessened my experience, seeing as I did not fully understand what was actually going on in the protagonist’s mind, how staggering it must be, how groundbreaking, to actually fall in love with something that cannot be grasped. Because to me, the OS was just Scarlett Johansson inside a box. I would never “spend” imagination on imagining her as looking different than I already know she does, so I didn’t get to join Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix) in using his imagination to create this person in his mind. A task which to me is the most revolutionizing in the movie. People have phonesex, skypesex, sexting etc, but it is all rounded out by the fact that they know that somewhere, out there, there is a flesh and blood body. Actually, a person having online sex with a stranger somehow knows less than we did; they have to imagine a vision of the person themselves. I didn’t have to do that in Her. Every time I heard her voice, I saw Johansson in front of me, vividly. Theodore didn’t.

It took away from the movie for me. It made it less different, less imaginatively demanding from the audience. It made what could have been a female protagonist that stepped outside borders of normative beauty ideals as, well, just another movie where a guy falls in love with Scarlett Johansson (I’m being harsh now, it retains its edge but why so much sugar on the spoon with the medicine?)

 

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Why Lena Dunham’s nudity matters

 When I get up in the morning the first thing I do is get dressed. Right now, I’m living in a kind of dorm, and when I get out of my room, there is a possibility that I might meet someone. Getting dressed seems natural. Being naked seems to be a conscious and provocative choice (even though it’s how I sleep over here. NY heating is a mess). My getting dressed is in a way an invisible act. I do it alone, before my day has started properly. I don’t interact with anyone, might put on some music.

When a boyfriend is sleeping beside you, those few minutes of non-time suddenly become actual time. A time for planning the day, talking, getting ready together. Either way though, if you’ve slept naked you’re naked at a point, out of bed.

In an episode of Girls (Dead Inside, s. 3 ep. 4), we witnessed exactly this. Hannah getting out of bed, bare breasted, getting dressed. The scene was entirely asexual. And although there have been a lot of scenes like it in Girls before, it really got me thinking about how entrenched we are in the thought that the naked body is sexual, and how tired and potentially dangerous this trope is.

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When looking at the scene in Girls, it would be hugely inappropriate to have an “Oh yeah, tits!!!” reaction. It would be sexualizing a person who is not ‘in on it’. Not participating in a sexual act. It would mean that there was no way for a woman to be naked without being sexual, that the female body in and of itself, has sexual connotations even when her mind does not.

Seth McFarlane’s atrocious song at last year’s Oscars “We saw your boobs”, also engenders this. [watch if you want to get in a bad mood]

It is the idea that a body is a reservoir of sexual potential decided outside it, by people looking at it. That, in effect, what I want to do or what I am thinking about at that particular point in time really doesn’t matter, because boobs.

This is rape culture.

Let me state this plainly. This is not a handy little pamphlet about how you should not be attracted or want to have sex with people. You should. Sex is terrific. However, you should make yourself a mental note that the object of your desire is not a part of it. This is your thing. This exists in your brain, and if you want to externalize it, it will require conversation in order to find out if the other person wants to be part of it. If they don’t, that might be hurtful and a disappointment to you. But they do not belong to you just because they fostered sexual thoughts in your mind.

This idea of fostering by nudity or just possessing a body leads me back to the Girls example. If I am able to foster a sexual idea in a person’s mind by just existing, just standing there, the way I was born – thinking about something boring like a gif or why I can never seem to manage to cook fucking pasta – we have a problem.

It is of the outmost essence that we desexualize the female (and male) body. Sex is a thing of the mind that manifests itself with the body (mostly), simply because that is how everything I do manifests itself in this world. Attraction is in the mind. Love is in the mind.

Casting the body in itself as possessing revelatory secrets about a person means that I everyday, by just dressing in my room, send out sentiments. And I don’t. I also have boobs when I cry. I am also naked when I take a shower at the gym. My body doesn’t mean a thing. It is a shell. I look at it everyday and I can assure you that it is boring as hell.

Parts of life that contain nudity but are asexual have a strong and important signal value, because they diversify the meaning of the naked body (or, ideally, empties it of meaning).
And holy shit do we need that.

Sex and the pissed off feminists

This girls in the first season, ready to show us what our lives were, and how we could deal with it.

I’ll start off with the: “yadda yadda, I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a long time, I’ve been a) busy, b) drunk, c) lazy, d) hating the entire internet and everything that it stands for, e) all of the above” But now, finally, something has angered me for the last goddamn time: Women who complain that sex and the city projects the female sex as only existing for the purpose of meeting men, and that the women in the show come off as superficial.

I’ve had it up to here with these same complaints over and over, and I am time and time again shocked at how they always seem to come from

other women. Because the thing is: this is a TV-show about women’s relationships with men. That’s what it’s about, no more no less.

Just because we are not shown every single second of Mirandas court proceedings, or every literary edit Carrie does to her column, doesn’t mean that the writers are suggesting that these women are incapable of doing this. It’s just simply not the theme of the show. Is there a deficit in the amount of shows portraying women doing serious work, taking law degrees etc? Probably, I don’t know. But the name of this show isn’t A well-rounded picture of the 21st century emancipated female and the city. This is about sex, and halleluja for that.

What pisses me off most, though, is the fact that I think the women making these complaints know all this. They just find that a woman who cares a lot about sex and her relations to men by default is unable to do any meaningful work, and be emancipated, happy and calm in her sexuality. This is of course a relay of the constant and dominant male plot that female sexuality and female professionalism and intelligence are reversely correlated. This world view has taken so firm a hold on our society that now women who proclaim themselves feminists denounce women who do any job that relates to sexuality (it doesn’t even have to be a job, the private sphere is enough to get you judged, I’ll tell you that). This is wrong. I can’t even tell you how wrong it is.

I have a right to discuss a man’s penis at a coffee table, just as much as I have a right to get a PhD. I can take part in every crazy-ass fetich in the world, and still go to work every morning and do my job to a tee. The slut-shaming must end.

And now to the complaint that these women are superficial. It is completely true, but listing this as a complaint towards the show makes absolutely now sense. This is not a character driven show. All the girls (and yes, Carrie, too!), and especially the men, are all painful stereotypes. But there is a quaint narrative point to this: this show’s main point is that you are supposed to be able to identify with it. These characters aren’t Dostoevsky-like creations, multilayer masterpieces. And that is the shows great force: that everyone is a little bit Charlotte, a little bit Miranda, a little bit Samantha and finally a sprinkle of Carrie. The discussions these women have over breakfast could just as easily be monologues (actually the narrative tool of Carrie asking a question like “Are we sluts?”, and then discussing it with her friends bears a lot of similarity to a monologue).

You are supposed to squeal that “I’ve been with a guy who did that too!”. But everyone knows that what we see of the brief sexual or culinary encounters with men doesn’t necessarily tell us everything about them. We would never deny that. But this is entertainment, with a splash of social commentary. These aren’t well-rounded characters, but characters created to make a point in a certain situation, be it Charlotte’s right to quit her job, or Samantha’s right to blow her World-Wide Express guy.

Last but not least: of course, there are scenes in the series where these characters show emotional depth and inner conflict. One example would be Mirandas case of “yuppie-guilt” when her success becomes too much for the bartender she is dating. But this, too, I will argue, is a tool to show us the issues of being a person with a difficult and demanding job, and balancing that with relationships. You don’t recognise the character Miranda in this: you recognise yourself.