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The Bechdel Test: 30 Days of Entertainment Recap

Sorry this is a few days late – had to put my Eclipse thoughts down in print (well, as close to print as the internet gets), and my brother arrived home from the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday. Then last night I suffered the indignity of The Last Airbender. Oh you can bet a review of that is forthcoming as well. Anyways, was busy but not busy enough to forget about the recap of the last month’s efforts. So, without further adieu…

WHAT WAS REVIEWED

Comic Books, Regular Books, Television Shows and Movies. I tried to pick a variety of items to test over the month, but you can rest assured that I wasn’t merely selecting things on the basis of them being “worthy.” What was read or watched is really stuff that I would normally consume and didn’t vary from my routine. Except for a few exceptions.

After submitting three episodes of Justified and  having them fail the women and race test, I determined that I could leave off including that show in the future. I still finished up the first season, but have now realized that it doesn’t nearly hold a candle to the awesomeness that was Deadwood. That show was simply too good, and Justified will never be anything like it. Damn, damn, double damn.

There was also a point that I tried to read Ex Machina and realized intuitively it wasn’t going to pass, so was unable to trudge through it. It also started getting super meta by including the author, and that is a gigantic turn-off to me. No one has ever done it well and it completely ruins the story. Sorry writers. We don’t want to SEE YOU in the story. We want the story. You are not welcome there.

I also left off The Road as well. It was a book club requirement and did not pass the women and race test either.

It feels important to disclose what I didn’t even bother putting to the test, because  it still matters to the test. So there you have it – at least three more items that do not pass the test which were not included in the posts for various reasons.

HOW HAS IT IMPACTED PRESENT AND FUTURE ENTERTAINMENT CHOICES?

It’s certainly made me more conscious on a basic level of inclusion. Having to be so meticulous about scouting it out in books, comic books and movies has definitely led to it becoming something of a second nature. It’s kind of a habit now, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever really be able to turn my brain off to examining the nuances. This makes my brain quite happy, as its natural state is to over-think everything.

The Bechdel Test hasn’t necessarily inspired me to give up all entertainment that is dominated by white men, because then I would be giving up some of the franchises and pieces of entertainment that I love. But I’m not going to forget that they only include men and what that says to me as a female reader and someone who feels inclusion is imperative in order to properly reflect humanity and society.

It seems important to mention that even if something passed the test, that didn’t automatically give it a stamp of feminist approval, or mean it was not stereotypically depicting people of color.

Who would have thought that Eclipse and Bree Tanner would have passed the tests? I still firmly believe the Twilight saga is deviously misogynistic and paints a deeply troublesome portrait of romantic love to teen girls that is not achievable in reality. Bella is a disturbing heroine for a younger generation of women.

Another way Twilight passed is through the inclusion of Native Americans; the Quileute characters and use of legends. Outside of the wolf related folklore, there isn’t much mentioned about the current culture and life on the reservation. This is a subject area I would need to do a bit more research on, but the inclusion of Native American characters in the Twilight Saga has clearly been a mixed blessing.

– The real Quileutes in La Push have benefited financially from the exposure and seem pleased to have contemporary depictions of Natives shown in Hollywood (rather than “leather and feather” versions from the 1800s)

– The heritage of actors and actresses depicting the role has been a crucial part of the casting process. Not all of the cast members are full-blooded Native American, and this presents a problem.

– A more in-depth analysis of First Nation representation in the franchise is provided here.

– Actual quotes from Chaske Spencer, the Native American who plays Sam Uley.

This seems like enough material for an entirely different post. Regardless, I guess you could give Stephenie Meyer props for actually including Native Americans in a huge Hollywood blockbuster franchise with all the usual stereotypes stripped away.

Non-Twilight Related Business. Another surprise for me was seeing that Push passed the test. I didn’t have any expectations one way or the other going into it, and so when I started tallying up, I was impressed. It’s been a quiet favorite of mine, an under-rated screen gem which was set up for a sequel it will never receive, much to my dismay. So, even happier to note that it passed both tests, though the Race test only marginally. And perhaps only then because it took place in Hong Kong. But yay for that right? Kudos to films set in foreign countries for no real reason without disrespecting the country and culture.

It also seems strange to me that many of the books, movies, TV shows included women and minority characters, yet left off the need for them to interact with one another. Glee is a great example of a show that purports to be inclusive, but rarely utilizes the characters of color and hardly ever has them converse together. There are still characters of color in the background who haven’t had speaking roles, yet have appeared every episode. That’s hugely disturbing. Sometimes – and I’m sure folks will hate hearing this – I feel like minority or disabled characters are included simply in the series so they can get away with an ethnic joke or a joke about people in wheelchairs that otherwise would be inappropriate if uttered by a white or able-bodied character. For reals.

True Blood sort of personifies that a bit, but I feel like it does much better at developing characters of color into real human beings (while still garnering small boos for some stereotyping).

It was really difficult to see these kinds of programs and books pass the test but not be able to qualify them with my own commentary. I was really aiming to be objective and hope that was successful. Rest assured those contemplations were taking place. I never once believed that Glee or Twilight were superior pieces of anything simply because they passed a test once or twice.

And as to how it will change my entertainment choices in the future, I’m not sure yet. I’m not sure if only 30 days is enough. I think examining entertainment is a life-long process, and I don’t think, for me, it will end here. Will I stop or boycott watching movies and programs or reading books because of the results? I already have. It’s been impossible for me to watch many of the new films being released this last month because of this Test.

Especially the one I viewed last night, which leads me to…

PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS

The biggest challenge for me in this test ended up being the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. I watched the film version last night and will be posting about that experience tomorrow, but I wanted to talk more about my experience with the cartoon in relation to the Bechdel Test.

This was literally one of the only Bechdel entries that someone commented on, and it was from someone stating that white people were in the minority because they were not featured at all in Avatar: The Last Airbender and there should have been a “white” test similar to the male test to make the process that much more scientific.

My first assumption was that – of course this person is only pointing it out when white people aren’t present – rather than insisting it should have been done initially. And what is the goal in pointing that out?

Secondly, determining race in this particular American Anime was/is problematic at best, nearly impossible at worst. How do you determine what is considered race? The color of their skin? The color of their eyes? The accent of their speaking voice? Their culture of origin? Too many factors quickly led to my dismissing race determination as a valid idea. No one discusses race in the cartoon series or perhaps race is substituted for the various tribes – water, fire, earth, air. Anime itself is burdened with the problem of racebending on many levels. So yes, the comment thread devolved quickly, and actually led to me creating my first ever comment policy. Which is now available for all to view.

It certainly felt like a right of passage to deal with what I would consider my first real troll.

SO, WHAT NOW?

I mentioned that I wouldn’t necessarily be giving up books, movies, etc  just because they don’t pass the test. That is true, up to a certain point. It would be hard for me to enjoy some of the things I love if everything had to pass the Women and Race test, but that doesn’t excuse or indicate that I can’t criticize those things.

In fact, one of the best things we can do with pieces of art or work that we love is criticize them. Pick them apart and show that we are willing to open up those things to scrutiny.

Or maybe, in discovering how white male centric they are, I will fall out of love with them. That was mostly the case in Justified. I can forgive it not passing a test most of the time, but having it fail all of the time has changed my opinion of how stellar a show it is and curbed my enjoyment of it immensely.

THE FUTURE OF THE BECHDEL TEST ON TINY HEROES

I’m happy to report, the Bechdel Test for Women and Race isn’t going anywhere soon. While it will not be as thorough an analysis of everything I read and watch, I decided to take it on at the end of every review written up in this blog from here on out. And perhaps every six months (let’s say – June and January) I will devote this blog to a 30 Day Test of Entertainment to see how my entertainment and society in general holds up to the scrutiny.

Thanks for those of you compelled to follow along with me on this journey. I hope you’ll be as pleased as I am that the ride isn’t over. There is so much more entertainment to tackle. And you can find it here. 🙂

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About tinyheroes

Mindy Crouchley is a 33 year old woman with a degree in English and Technical Writing from Portland State University. She has accumulated three+ years experience in the Marketing and Communications field - with an emphasis on creating digital media content. She has been reading comic books since she was 10 years old. She currently lives in outer southeast Portland with her spouse Dan Robertson, her baby girl, and their dog - Jabba the pug. She spends her free time devouring books, crafting cosplay, video gaming, attending comic cons, writing stories/screenplays, attending book to film adaptation club meetings, volunteering, and watching copious amounts of TV and movies.

6 responses to “The Bechdel Test: 30 Days of Entertainment Recap”

  1. HIsham says :

    I tend to agree with your observation about ethnic characters being included for ethnic humor.

    It also seems that it is possible to get away with jokes that might have once been considered racist if it is assumed they’re meant to be ironic. My own default assumption (naive as it may sound) is that any contemporary ethnic joke can’t possibly be racist because I don’t believe the teller expects to be taken literally. Sadly, that may not always be the case.

    • tinyheroes says :

      I don’t think that sounds naive, I think we’ve been conditioned in this era of “ironic” humor to assume that no one really believes the racist thing they’re saying. I think there are times which are more obvious than others when a joke is occurring, but for the most part I feel skeptical about that thin line and it’s hard for me to appreciate humor in the veins of Sarah Silverman or The Family Guy.

      Glee is the only show I really watch that is mainstream comedy, and so it’s really noticeable to me there – jokes being cracked about Jews and homosexuals most often, with women and people of color coming up less often, but still present. It definitely subverts my overall enjoyment of a show when that kind of crap is supposed to pass for humor. And the tokenism which allows it to exist. Yikes. Glee is a tough one to love for other reasons, but I find my enthusiasm for the show waning with each ethnic or cultural joke that slides through.

  2. Addie says :

    This was a really well-done recap of the entire month – I for one am glad you’ve come over to the dark side with cultural criticism even if it means that choosing your entertainment becomes a lot more painful.

    re: the phenomenon just discussed in the comments: google the term “hipster racism”; there’s a wealth of material, and the consensus is that Glee is definitely guilty of it (and the other -isms it wants to throw in). I defer to s.e. smith’s (meloukhia.net) many writings about the show for this; it’s dangerous because it purports to be progressive and people take it at its word, but in reality it’s just stereotypical and derivative for all but the white, able, hetero characters.

    As for the problem of the material passing the test still being problematic – I feel like this says a lot, that although the test is good at filtering out the really non-inclusive material, it doesn’t mean those who make it through the filter aren’t rife with their own issues.

    The night before I read this post, I watched “Jennifer’s Body” for the first time, which did some things that modern movies just don’t do with regards to women and relationships. Unfortunately, I think Diablo Cody’s carte blanche (at least with movies – I know she writes for Untied States of Tara for Showtime, and it’s a refreshing take on suburban life) for screenwriting from a female perspective expired with this movie, because it was pretty bad, and the movie industry is fickle about giving women a second chance (although certainly not M. Night Shamalyan – just read your Airbender review). I was hoping that it wouldn’t be as bad as it had been reviewed, given that many of the reviewers had clearly written expecting the film to be chock full of the male gaze, especially with its titillating title – but no, even going into it not expecting the titillation, it played awkwardly and dischordant. Too bad, but it made me wonder about these few times that women are allowed to tell the story, and how the stakes are so much higher for them to do well on the first try.

    • tinyheroes says :

      Hhhmm – kinda want to check out “Jennifer’s Body” now. Is it wrong that I have an irrational distaste for Megan Fox, to the point where I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to watch a movie with her in it?

      I’m not trying to be a hater, but between her and Angelina Jolie…yegh.

      And the male gaze is such a strong fixation in Hollywood, it’s hard to watch a film where it’s not present. I mean, damn, is there a film where it’s not present? This article makes an interesting and bold assertion that some of society’s being uncomfortable with the Twilight-mobile (and similar ilk) is it’s use of the Female Gaze: http://hubpages.com/hub/The-Female-Gaze

  3. Addie says :

    Mindy, watch it despite your hatred of Megan Fox. I’m not too keen on her either, but I need someone to discuss it with. I feel so torn because it was such a bad movie but it was doing such unfamiliar things at the same time. Insights on female friendship (especially growing up) that are really spot on.

    Going to read the Female Gaze link now! My problem with Twilight and the like is that it’s the Female Gaze as has been shaped by a society that tells women their happiness lies in a man. (Hopefully the article addresses this?) So of course women eat it up, but is it authentic? The backlash is, of course, not that nuanced, and is coming from another place entirely.

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