Before I left on vacation, I was planning to do a post about the sexist aspects of Transformers 2. ... I kept coming across the same reactions. “It’s just a summer action flick. What did you expect from a Michael Bay movie? Stop analyzing and just have fun! Why do you have to suck the fun out of everything with this P.C. garbage?” I find it interesting which stories people believe are worthy of literary analysis and critique.... Because my stories are “bubblegum fiction,” as one reviewer described them, does this mean I should be given a free pass on issues of race, sex, and so on? Because I find that a little insulting, to be honest. When I screw up–and we all do sometimes–I expect to be called on it..... I believe it’s important to examine and challenge popular culture, whether that’s movies, TV, books, music, or whatever**. It’s important because it’s popular. Because racism and sexism have survived and thrived in large part because we make excuses and turn a blind eye.
I think a lot of what bothers people about a given story sporting ugly stereotypes (women are built to look cute and nothing more; the behavior of anyone who doesn't look like us is in inherently funny) is when the story hits other sweet spots. People enjoyed the heck out of Transformers because it gave them what they wanted, but that just makes me wonder (as Jim did) if they were also enjoying the confirmation of other prejudices they don't talk about.
Most of the truly ugly sexism and racism I see is, in my opinion, material crafted for the very audience it sees in such a poor light. The most sexist films I've seen are not macho-action vehicles where women cringe behind men as stuff blows up; half the time in movies like that the women at least gets some token empowerment. The big offenders for me are, get this, the chick flicks and girly-date movies, where women are seen — and see themselves — entirely in terms of what guys think of them. I can't watch such movies without asking myself, what sane woman would not run from this gagging? Because the audience is that much closer to the material, it's harder for them to see just how insulting it is to them. (I recall having a similar discussion with a friend who opined that the most unforgivably sexist film he'd ever seen was The Devil Wear Prada.)
Another question. What's worse, a story that revels in such offensiveness or one that includes it in a more innocuous way? I'm not sure the two are really comparable: they're both bad for different reasons. What they have in common is an audience that accepts them uncritically. You don't have to aid and abet such things if you don't want to. But on top of that, you raise your kids right and think twice on your own about whether a given behavior is a group behavior or an individual behavior. That's the kind of thing that I think has infinitely more impact than the contents of a movie.
But it wouldn't hurt to have a few smarter flicks.