The Non-Utility of the Bechdel Test

Hmm what’s this I see? A hornet’s nest? Let me get a stick surely nothing bad will come from probing it, right?

There has grown in popularity a test for sexist bias in film and other media known as The Bechdel Test. This test simple, composed of three elements, and if a film or piece of writing passes all three elements it is considered to have passed. Passing is good because that means your work is less sexist than the works that fail.

I think the Bechdel Test is far too blunt an instrument to be used in anything other than a light conversational manner.

Before I continue let me state without equivocation that I want strong well-realized characters of all genders, orientations, ethnicities, creeds, and all the other bewildering array of conditions that humans inhabit.  In now manner am I defending works where women are seriously presented in lazy, sexist stereotypes.

That said, sexism is far too broad a thing to be tested so simply.  The Bechdel test has three elements:

1)   The Film must have more than one named female character.

2)   The Female characters must talk to each other.

3)   Their conversation must not be about a man.

This has a witty simplicity and certainly there are scads of films where the female characters exist solely as wives/girlfriends with no other dimension to their character. However I contend that is the Test fails by producing both false positives – scoring a film as good when it’s depiction of women is sexist and stereotypical –and also false negatives – scoring a film as a failure when it’s females characters have real depth and characterization beyond a simple love interest – then the test has no real utility.

So here’s an example of a false positive: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

Element 1

Named female characters 2 or 3, Betty Armstrong, Lattice, and it’s debatable if we should could Animala/Pammy. After all she’s not a real woman, but a construct of one from 4 Forrest animals.

Score – Passed

Element 2

Betty and Lattice have more than one conversation together.

Score – Passed

Element 3

The conversations are about shopping, cooking, their loves of dresses, and who cleans up in the kitchen. They do not in fact discuss their husbands.

Score – Passed

Now if you have seen this film you know that these two women are presented deliberately as bad stereotypes of wives. They have little self-direction, are subservient to their husbands, and in the words of the director/writer set back man/female relations half a century. While this film presented it as comedy and satire, any number of films earnestly presenting the same material would have passed the test, despite having horrid sexist tones throughout.

Now for the False Negative: Marvel’s: The Avengers

Element 1

Named female characters, 3. Natasha Romanoff, Pepper Potts, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill.

Score – Passed

Element 2

None of these characters have a conversation with each other. All their conversations are with men.

Score – Failed.

Element 3

Since they did not have conversations, this too is a fail, but I suspect if they had engaged in conversation they would have still failed as it would have been likely that the subject of their discussion would have been the film’s antagonist, Loki, a man.

So Joss Whedon’s screenplay and film fails the Bechdel test. It must be sexist, right?

Of course this film has three very smart, capable women who hold their own against the male characters and prove repeatedly that there is far more to them than just a pretty face. Pepper maintains her own way in the headwind that is Tony Stark – not a minor feat, Hill has the spine to buck Nick Fury something even Coulson doesn’t do, and of course Romanoff is so talented she outwits Loki the god of trickery, winning valuable intelligence while the men uselessly debate torturing the captive deity.

 

The Bechdel tests is capable of both false positive and negatives, making it for me a tool not to be trusted. Ferreting out sexism in a piece of art can require a subtle eye, it is not achieved by a test less complex than Buzzfeed’s which Game of Thrones House are you?

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Sunday Night Movie: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

Originally I had planned on making my Sunday Night Feature this week something with a more serious tone, after all last weekend had been a light and feel–good movie experience, however when it came time to select a film, I decided to continue with the whimsical tone that had pervaded my evening. (Earlier in my sweetie-wife and I had watched a French Comedic Fantasy The Extraordinary  Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec. If you enjoy silly fun this is worth a look, but be warned it is subtitled.)

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is an early 2000’s independent film spoofing the dreadful SFThe_Lost_Skeleton_Of_Cadavra_by_KronicXfilms of the later 50’s and early 60’s. It was filmed in black-and white, with highly restricted locales to capture that low budget sensation so prevalent in the films it lovingly mocks. The film’s charm works best if you have, like myself, instead of developing normal social skills, wasted your youth watching SF and horror movies late night on the weekends. The special effects are absolutely non-special, the acting is so deliberately bad that it makes most local high school productions appear to be the Royal Shakespearean, (Though it must be said it is not easy to act bad and let everyone in on the joke. ) and the dialog sets back the cause of intelligence and sexual equality. All of this make the film funny and in my opinion well worth the time.

The story is simple; Dr. Paul Armstrong and his wife Betty have come to an isolated cabin is search of a recently fallen meteorite which Paul believes is made of Atmospherium, a rare and powerful radiative element. Dr. Roger Flemming has come to the same area searching to the lost caves of Cadavra, coves so lost to memory that he’s forced to ask a forest ranger for their location.  As a dedicated Mad Scientist, Flemming is searching for the Lost Skeleton which he hopes will not hate him as other skeletons has and will make Flemming the most powerful man in the world. To do this he needs Atmospherium.  In addition to the two scientists we have an alien married couple, Kro-bar and Lattice, who have become stranded on Earth unless they can refuel their ship with Atmospherium.

The film has mutants, mind control, rock dances, raor, and the ever famous Amish Terrariums. I had the good fortune to see this on the big screen, but big or little this humor works and this is my sort of art house movie.

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A Brief Return to Politics

After a couple of film related posts, here’s a bit of politics for those who are inclined to hear my thoughts on the matter. This time I not interested in a particular  event or controversy , but rather an element of modern political life that had me feeling like an outsider.

Conflicted support.

It seems from most of people I have as friends on my Facebook page, or follow along on Twitter, or know in real life have a fairly easy time deciding who is right and who is wrong on any political issue. Naturally the right/wrong axis matches pretty closely to their side and the other side. I rarely feel so certain that one philosophy or strain of through has got it all worked out.

Worse yet for me I happen to have a number of positions that end up being mutually exclusive in our crude national political culture. For example I fully support marriage equality and I also support Second Amendment rights. It’s fairly difficult to find a person to vote of that fits both those bills. (yes I know about the Libertarians  but there are aspects of modern life that requires modern governance and you can have my FDA when you are my personal Guinea pig.) This of course is not my only internal political conflict, I do not believe in progressive taxation and I do support the ACA (‘Obamacare’ for the rest of you.)

I am forced in each election to put my beliefs through a grueling grinder to produce a hierarchy  and I am always for to sacrifice some to advance others. This doesn’t make me a terribly happy person with the votes I must cast, but it the reality of the universe. You cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and some progress is better than a principled stand to yields nothing.

However when I look around it seems to me that my relatives and friends and associates hardly seem to suffer this sort of conflict at all. Left is the way! Right is the Way!

I know that there is n end in sight for me. I will forever be balancing the times, my priorities, and what can be achieved, but  I dream of a day with more people will be open to their own conflicts and less religious in the certitude.

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Sunday Night Movie: The Last Starfighter

So I continued my movie thick weekend with a bit of pop fun from 1984, and one of the first films to attempt photo-realistic CGI, The Last Starfighter.

The story is about a young man, Alex Rogan ,on the edge of college age, who lives with hisTheLastStarfighter_quad-1-500x376 mother and brother in a trailer park in the boonies of California.  The location is so isolated and so very little happens that even an event so minor such as Alex breaking the record on an arcade video game will draw a crowd.

Alex dreams of bigger and brighter things than living life in a place filled with senior citizens and endless chores. However being poor and unable to secure a loan for college his dreams seems as barren as the trailer park’s nights. Continue reading

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Movie Review Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This morning my sweetie-wife, a friend, and I went and caught an early show of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the most recent addition to the ever growing franchise that is the Marvel Cinematic universe.

Starting with Iron Man, Marvel Studios has been building a shared universe setting for captain_america__the_winter_soldier_poster_by_timetravel6000v2-d6il80isome of their hero properties which culminated with the end of ‘phase one’ The Avengers. Last year saw the start of ‘phase two’ with Iron Man 3, and that phase continued with Thor: The Dark World and now Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

If you are one of those people who have seen all the cinematic universe films to date, then you will likely be pleased with this film. It builds nicely on the material established before hand and extends and reshapes the direction of the cinematic universe. If you have not seen the preceding movies, then this one may have a couple of section that feel overly expository, but you will still be up to speed on critical backstory.

Captain America: The Winter Solider continues the evolving story of Steve Rodgers, 5’4” 95lb 4-F war volunteer transformed into the world’s first super hero by the serum/process that made him a 6’3”, 210 lbs epitome of human ability, Displaced from his own culture and time by a prolonged ice-nap, and now having found a place in the world after the alien invasion of New York City, Steve is a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. specializing in hostage rescues and other heroic feats. A man with a simple worldview and believing that things can still be classified into right and wrong, he’s out of place amongst spies and assassins.

The film is a success in that it manages to be two sequels in a single story. It is a sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger, the elements of that movie are critical background to the plots and obstacles  Steve faces, both physical and emotional, while the story is also a worthy continuation of the alien invasion from The Avengers and the after-effects of that disaster on S.H.I.E.L.D. and the World Security Council. This balancing act of simultaneously serving two masters is admiralty well done, something the other films of phase two have not done as competently.

In addition to Cap, The Black Widow, and Nick Fury,  this film also introduces a number of new characters to the cinematic universe, including The Falcon, a high flying war veteran.

The movie moves quickly, the two hours and fifteen minutes speeding right on by as one set piece action scene leads into another. However there is enough plot and character to carry a real story, so in my opinion this film avoided the dread, “we fight, then we fight some more, and we end it with a bigger fight.’ There are a few fairly predictable turns to the plot, and I for one would like to see a little more originality in the idea of politicians both good and bad, but I suppose that will have to wait for my own material.

The films small faults and missteps are far from serious and I would recommend seeing this one in the theater, though nothing in the visual work screamed a need for 3D.

p.s.

I have no idea how the television show ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is going to deal with the fall out of this chapter in the cinematic universe. It’s really big. I mean like blowing up Vulcan big.

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Our Democracy is for Sale!

Well, following the recent Supreme Court decision, that’s the cry I keep seeing from the left side of my Facebook and Twitter feeds. As I understand it the Court found that it was unconstitutional to place limits on individuals when they contribute fund to political action groups and committees and the like. I am not terribly upset by the decision.  Of course there are great many others who are, however I am not swayed by their arguments.

On hand they seems to be saying that money buys politicians. Of course I think what they mean is that money buys the other dies’ politicians. I doubt that there is any level of campaign contribution that would induce Diane Feinstein to become pro-gun, for Elizabeth Warren to go lax on big finance.  There is  a tendency, which I try not to share, to believe that the politicians you support are good and virtuous people and those you oppose are corrupt scamps selling out their country, Virtue and vice exist across the spectrum.

A more substantial argument is that with massive amounts of money, an interest group can get ‘their man’ into office to bent the process to their will. On one level this is true, but it is equally true when you raise money for liberals or conservatives, you are using your money to influence the election to bring about the result you desire. The question seems to be is big money an overwhelming factor and determining who wins an election?

Well that depends on the election. Local city races, state reps, here where fewer people are engaged, the news is far less interested, money can be a big factor, but as the races get more national money is important for getting the message out it is far from determinative in respect as to who winds.

In 2012 Obama spent 683 million to Romney’s 433 million, so you might think Obama bought the election, but that just the candidate’s spending. The national parties also took part; Democratic spending was 292 million and the Republicans spent 386 million.  Outside group also threw money at the presidential race (these figure are just for the presidential contest, not the whole election cycle.) Liberal interests groups spent 131 mill massive outspent by conservative who threw 418 million trying to get their man into office and failed.

I believe that as long as the money flow is transparent, particularly in this age of information, it is far less corrupting than it used to be. This court decision isn’t costing me any sleep, but here’s some advice for those on the left.

You want more out of government? You want to see the obstruction stop? Four words are key, but I suspect the challenge will be to great for your team.

Get. Out. The. Vote.

Too often your team only fields a full force during Presidential elections, while on the right that have managed to energize and motivate their base to show up. And before you gripe that they do it with lies and distortions and slanderous personal attack, that does not matter. They get the warm bodies to the polls in off year elections. You gave them 2010, a redistricting year,  and you’ll feel that sting until 2020 and perhaps beyond.

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Been quite the busy bee

Last weekend was Condor XXI, so now one of our local SF conventions is older enough to drink. I, of course, attended the convention as I have for quite a few years now.

Our guest of honor was steampunk author Gail Carriger. I’ve personally know Gail since before her fabulous writing career took off. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching her books sell lots of copes and gather up a fandom fairly unique in its nature. (She’s fond of saying her has the best fan I will not debate her wisodom here.)

Friday I was on no panels myself so I got to play around and be totally relaxed. I reconnected with a few friends I see mostly at conventions, and enjoyed the rarest of treats, sleeping in.

The secret masters of programming put me on all media panels this year, but since I ma huge media fan as well as a lit fan and aspiring author, I found not trouble with that.

We discussed the enduring popularity of  Doctor Who, and I put forth the ideas that part of the popularity may rest on two aspects of the show. First, they are not tied to a particular kind of story. They can go dark one week, and silly comedic the next. This gives them a wide range of stories to tell and if you didn’t like what you saw this week, wait it will change. Second, the regenerations, first invented to replace an ailing actor, has created a unique possibility for the show. Each new actor playing the Doctor brings their own spin on it and so the Doctor slightly changes as the actors change. This allows the Doctor to always be a  reflection of the times when it was produced, keep it fresh and connected to the audience.

On Sunday evening my sweetie-wife and I had dinner with Gail and her adorable boyfriend. It was a very pleasant time of good food, good company, and good conversation. The weekend was a rejuvenating experience for your humble host and improved my mood considerably.

I also finished the draft for my current novel in progress. I landed at 116,000 words and I have begun the process of cleaning up the copy before turning it over to afore mentioned sweetie-wife for her eagle eyed proofing.

In addition to all that I have been back working my overtime hours at the day job, and getting a submission ready for rejection at Writers of the Future. It has been a busy busy week, but a good one.

 

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A writing and appearance update

My current WIP novel is nearing completion. I have started drafting the final chapter, having passed 111,000 words  and I expect to land somewhere in the area of 115,000.

Then there will be polishing, and proofing. After that I will need beta readers to tell me how and how badly it sucks.

This weekend in San Diego is Condor 21, one of our local SF/Fantasy conventions. The Guest of Honor this year is the incomparable Gail Carriger a very talented writer of steampunk. (And a dear friend.)

I will be participating as a panelist, stop by and see our local wildlife. J

Here are the panels I will be on:

Saturday 11:00 AM – The Enduring Popularity of Dr Who.

Saturday   2:00 PM – Big Bang Theory: Love it or Hate it?

Saturday   5:00 PM – The Evolution of Zombies on Screen, and in literature and comics.

Sunday     10:00 AM – Buffy: 10 Years later.

 

Should be a fun weekend.

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Sunday Night Movie: Marathon Man

In all honesty this is the late Saturday night/early Sunday morning movie, as I watched with a couple of friends during that period. Sunday night rolled around and I found myself, afterMarathonMan_Poster_300dpi an early rise and a busy day, far too tired for a feature film.

Hailing from 1976, this is a wonderful film that if you have not seen it, you really should. It stars Dustin Hoffmann, Lawrence Olivier, and  Roy Scheider. Scheider and Hoffman are brothers, though they are polar opposites. Scheider is a successful business man, with refined tastes and works in the global oil business, while Hoffmann is a graduate student pursuing his doctorate in history, wikth a side quest of proving his father innocent of charges thrown against him during the McCarthy era.

Everything I’ve told you about Scheider is what Hoffman’s character believes to be true and none of it is. This is really a story about family, about haunted pasts, and Nazi dentistry. It has one of the most chilling and terrifying torture scenes ever put to the screen, and it is done without blood and gore. After seeing this film the phrase ‘Is it safe’ will never have the same meaning for you again.

The Screenplay was written by William Goldman, based on his book, and it is stellar. Goldman is responsible for a number of truly terrific screenplays, including Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, and The Princess Bride to name just two.

I can’t praise this film enough and I can’t talk too much if you have not seen it. The film has twists and turns, and I will not be one to spoil them for you.

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The usefulness of a character study

In my writing I often employ a character study as a tool to help me out when I am stuck or confused about a character in one of my pieces. I try to dissect the motivations ad the perception of my character and from that I can usually see the event of the plot in a fresh way.

The thing is I will also turn this critical eye upon myself from time to time. All humans are composed of conflicting ideas, perception, beliefs, and morals. We like to believe that our values spring from a consistent worldview, held in a just and reasonable manner. In reality our views are a collection of odd bits picked up here and there like an indecisive shopper at the worlds largest swap-meet.

Know this I like to try to root out my inconsistencies and/or find the deeper values that are driving my surface reactions. In short do a character study on myself.

I have long maintained that I have libertarian political leanings. I do support the general principle that the government that governs best is the one that governs least. I do not like, nor do I approved of that state directing or attempting to direct the actions of individuals. I am passionate in the my support for the concept of equality, and try to live up to that lofty concept and not just pay it lip service.

Consequently for many years I registered and identified with the Republican Party in this country, the Party that pays the most verbal service to libertarian thought. But years ago I broke with them and more and more I have had a gut reaction that their view of libertinism and mine were somehow at odds. I could not simply walk off though, I need to know for my own sake what is at the root of the divergence. Why do I feel this way? Continue reading

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