Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Skin City

Frank Miller is a comic genius. Few readers of the comic world have not read Miller's groundbreaking work, in which he practically re-defined the boundaries of what could be done with the comic genre. Though he is probably beset known for his dark, dystopic imagining of the Batman of the future in Dark Night Returns (not to be confused with the spectacular let down of DK2), Miller also penned the RoboCop movie sequels (a tamed down version of what he had originally intended to be an extremely graphic and disturbing series of futuristic tales -- to see what Miller had always wanted, check out the current RoboCop comic title). But, Miller's piece de resistance was always Sin City. This was where Miller made a name for being a truly grotesque and brilliant writer and illustrator of the grime, greed, and dirt of human nature. As a comic geek, I'm sorry to say I've never read Sin City, but I was excited to see the film adaptation. The main appeal of Rodriguez's new big-screen adaptation is that it is translated scene-by-scene from the Sin City graphic novels, and, a big-screen first, almost completely approved by Miller himself. Obviously, therefore, I loved Sin City when I saw it on Saturday. However, there were a couple things about the movie that got me thinking. Primarily, I started to wonder about (extremely gorgeous) Rosario Dawson's character, Gail, the leader of a group of deadly 'feminist' prostitutes who run Old Town. (I'm not going to get into Devon Aoki and her silent, deadly assassin character, Miho. Let's just say she's The Mysterious Woman, Redux.) Gail and her feminista followers are a quintessential Miller creation -- they denounce male control, and even deride men, having taken the sex industry into their own hands and driven out all the pimps and mafiamen from Old Town. Now, they have an instinctive distrust of men, and are the powerful and intimidating rulers of Old Town where even the police are scared to take them on. On the surface, this would be woman power at its finest. And yet, Gail is still a prostitute. She wears the clothes of a sex object, and she encourages her women to 'take control' by bringing them into an industry of objectification. She still relies on men and the hypersexualization of her gender to survive. She still needs to be rescued by Clive Owen's anti-hero, Dwight, in her hour of need. I guess what I find fascinating about Gail and her cohorts is the inherent inconsistency in her character -- can a prostitute really be a feminist? Can pornography really be empowering? Can one use a medium that has been a traditional symbol of gender subjugation and actually reclaim it for political empowerment? Did Sex And The City break more gender stereotypes than it fostered? Clouding the issue is the question of a man writing these feminist roles for a cadre of women. Is Gail really a feminist or are we seeing a soft-core nigh-pornographic representation of men subjugating feminism for their own sexual fantasies? Miller, after all, is characterized by his treatment of women in his comics -- they are distinctively sexual and almost always naked, and one always gets the sense when reading his comics that the visuals of the feminine form in his comics are designed more to arouse his male readers than to make any real societal point (though to his credit, he usually does end up doing both). Still, sometimes I have to wonder if part of the reaction to the bra-burning, girl power of the feminist movement was a push by men to regain control by sexualizing that dominant woman, bringing her back to a position of fulfilling male lust. I'm curious to know how many other male interpretations of feminism in male-dominated Hollywood have been little more than thinly-veiled attempts to hyper-sexualize and de-validate the feminist ideal. Not to say that feminists shouldn't strive to make themselves attractive. Not to say that feminists can't love or be in love with men, or even need a guy every once in awhile. Not to say even that there was something wrong with Gail. But, at what point does reclaiming female sexuality become an act of buying into a whole other form of female subjugation? Personally, Carrie Bradshaw did nothing for me or my feminism.


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