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Paddington the Movie

20 Apr

paddington_posterAt my house, we tend to decide which movies to watch based on the score it gets on metacritic.com. The thinking is that, while you can’t trust a critic, surely you can trust all of the critics bundled together. This should work, but it frequently doesn’t. Metacritic told us that Before the Devil knows you’re Dead should have been a masterpiece (84%), and that Captain America: Winter Soldier would be a treat (70%). Nearly every one of them loves insufferable Mike Leigh movies for no reason I can work out.

And that brings me to Paddington–allegedly a charming British film that the whole family would love, starring the dad from Downton and that lady from Mike Leigh’s Happy-go-lucky. From 38 reviews, metacritic gave it an average score of 77%.

My eldest daughter begged me to let her leave the cinema (though mostly because Nicole Kidman is in it–an impulse I often have in Nicole Kidman movies–and she was a bit scary and was trying to kill the beloved bear). So I happily put my cellphone away and waited outside for the rest of the family to finish watching.

Now, it wasn’t without merit–if you like those films in which blundering, clueless characters keep embarrassingly screwing everything up (the Jar-Jar approach to comedy), it’s great, and it has some social commentary about London and xenophobia that makes it ‘deep’ etc.

But it’s also annoying (sorry Sally Hawkins) and completely self-contradictory.

I have psychological problems of a sort, but I really struggle when a film creates the rules of its universe and then utterly violates them, and Paddington is a chief violator of this sort.

The idea is that an explorer discovers these bears, and finds that they are intelligent, can talk and learn, and are essentially human, so he refuses to shoot one in order to bring a sample back to his funding body. In other words they are so extraordinarily unique and so unlike any other animal that he breaks the usual ‘shoot one’ rule of his society.

Then later, one of these bears turns up in London to find the explorer again, and… everyone treats it like it is a workaday immigrant, as though talking animals are commonplace. The entire film depends on both of these things being true at the same time, when of course they cannot be.

Ah, but it’s a kids’ movie, you may protest. But should our children really be subjected to incomprehensible plot-lines? Should our children be forced to digest Jar-Jar humour? Won’t you think about the children?

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3 articles that set feminism back ages

22 Jul

While it’s hardly going to make me any feminist friends, allow me to preface this article by saying that I am strongly in favour of much of what the women’s liberation movements are trying to achieve. That said, I have recently come across three articles in quick succession that seem to me to undermine the credibility of the feminist movements, and are much more of a hindrance than a help. Even if your intention is just to rock the boat and raise awareness, you’ve got to do better than…

1. Misunderstanding everything about male sexuality

In this article from The Huffington Post, the author warns that if you go down to the beach today, “women may very well be sporting the new TaTa Top – a bikini top with two pink nipples emblazoned onto the cups”. The fleshy bikini is intended to give the appearance that the wearer is topless, and is a part of the ‘Free the Nipple’ protest, which is apparently a thing. The ‘feminist agenda’ behind the TaTa Top concerns the discriminatory practice of requiring (often by law) that women conceal their nipples, while men are allowed to bare theirs without constraint.

Whether dress and modesty conventions are examples of inequality or merely difference is an open question. The problem I have lies with this quote:

On their website the makers of the bikini, Robyn Graves and Michelle Lytle, write: “Why can’t girls be topless? If you really think about it, what’s the difference between a man’s nipples and a woman’s? Is it really just the extra breast tissue? Is it the fact that women’s nipples are paired with a vagina? Is it the presence of a real and true female nipple bare to the world that is so offensive, that is so horrid that it must be kept covered?

“Who is this law protecting and what are they protecting them from? What message does it send to young women about their bodies? That they should be ashamed and keep them covered?”

In this startling piece of analysis, these women have come to the conclusion that men are repulsed by breasts, and wish for women to cover up their awful erogenous areas so that we men can be less grossed out on our otherwise disgust-free beach visits.

I don’t think much research is required to understand the typical male relationship with breasts. I think I can say with confidence that men generally quite like them. The internet is, after all, more or less one big homage to the female form.

The reason why we might like them covered up is the opposite of disgust: breasts make us think of sex. As women know, breasts develop during puberty, which associates them pretty unequivocally with sexual maturing, and the female type go through changes that ours as men do not, which adds to their ‘otherness’ and sexual allure. Males seem to be more easily aroused sexually by visual stimulus, and breasts seem to do the trick for most guys. Perhaps the feminist might wish that male sexual appetites were gender-equal–I won’t speak on your behalf there–but they’re not. And it makes no sense to pretend that they’re not.

Now perhaps over time and with repetitive exposure, sexual associations with breasts would fade from our culture, but for now they have erotic associations. When I’m on the beach with my wife and kids, it’s not really a time at which I want to be made to think about strangers in that way. Amplify that by a million if I’m at the beach with my friends’ wives, or my female students, or my sister.

As much as I sympathise with those who like the feeling of the wind through their nipples (OK, actually I don’t–I feel exposed even as a guy), it’s no use insisting that aversion to public nudity is a matter of misogyny.

Not this. Honest.

Not this. Really.

 

If there is an argument to be made that there are double standards to do with male modesty, then so be it; let’s tighten up on those things that men do to make the beach an awkward, sexualised environment for women. I will vocally support anyone who moves to ban the banana hammock from our beaches too. But let’s not pretend that breasts are just ‘extra tissue’ to men. Mis-analysis (seemingly intentional in this case) surely only ruins the credibility of a movement.

2. Muddying waters to shoehorn feminism in

This article from the Guardian appeared recently complaining about the removal of a painting from a gallery on the grounds that it is ‘disgusting’ and ‘pornographic’ (in the wronged artist’s words).

Partial image...

Partial image (Source: Guardian)

The painting, ‘Portrait of Ms Ruby Standing’, has caused upset, because,

the sitter’s short waistcoat and undone breeches framed a luxuriant dark V of pubic hair – not to mention, the “Come hither, if you dare!” expression on May’s face.

The journalist again claimed that the reason for the censure was disgust and the inability of our male-dominated culture to cope with a woman who is provocatively sexual. As the article says,

The implication’s clear: the minute a woman is alive and free to move, an active agent of her own sexuality, she is a menace to society.

While the painting is definitely sexual in nature, describing it as ‘disgusting and pornographic’ is unfairly hyperbolical; on that I agree (though again, no one but the artist is on record saying this, from what I can tell). Feminists might again fairly complain that there is a double standard at play: there are all kinds of artworks that contain nudity or are sexual in nature, but which receive no censure (usually because they’re very old), and indeed, some are arguably more explicit than this one, but remain on display.

Yet even so, is it really so clear that the motivation for ‘discrimination’ in this case is gender related and anti-woman? The painting is clearly sexual, not merely a depiction of a nude form, and the article says plainly that it was removed from its place in the exhibit because it was a thoroughfare for children and had garnered several complaints for that reason.  Would the complaints have been fewer if the exposed genitalia were male? That the author thinks children will be equally assaulted by certain other artworks is irrelevant.

At this point, the article veers off in an even more unhelpful direction.

When considering that the offending work was replaced by another nude, the journalist then says,

It seems the Mall Galleries’ clientele can cope with nudes, so long as the model is a more passive and unthreatening recipient of the wandering viewer’s gaze. Which all seems a desperately outmoded form of prudishness…

So now the problem is prudishness–not only is the public inconsistent, but apparently we should also be more welcoming of aggressive sexuality. She calls the more conservative outlook puritanical and ‘insane’. As far as I can tell, the public is pretty protective of children in general–if a man exposes himself to a child, he gets jail time and put on a sex-offenders’ list–and the sexualisation of children is hardly an unwarranted concern. Why is it ‘prudishness’ to think that children should be sheltered from affronting sexualisation–whether it’s male genitals or female–until they’re mature enough to deal with it?

Political grandstanding aside, the issue that got this painting removed was neither whether society is more comfortable with male sexual aggression or female, nor whether this painting is porn or beauty, nor whether it is good art or bad. It’s removal was entirely a matter of whether it’s your choice or mine to stick it in my kid’s face.

If I’m going to campaign alongside the feminist for gender equality, we at least need to avoid muddling the issues. Otherwise protecting my children from unwanted exposure to adult themes gets idiotically interpreted as misogyny.

3. Mansplaining

This third article is again from the Guardian, and it is catchily entitled ‘Older women don’t need mansplaining boner prose in praise of their sexiness’. As one reader quipped in response, “Older men like me need that to be re-expressed in English.” It is an unaccountably odd headline.

The journalist complains in this piece that a men’s magazine recently declared it OK to find women in their 40s attractive.

The first thing that sets feminism back here is the research. Most magazines amount to hastily compiled filler articles to make it seem less like you just paid fifty bucks for 100 pages of advertisements. Taking an opinion seriously from any magazine would usually call your credibility into question. Taking an opinion from a men’s magazine seriously is like arguing with the guy who talks to himself on the train. It’s like trying to disprove the existence of fairies. It’s like hosting a talk show about whether cats or dogs are better. You can’t help getting some of the crazy on you.

But perhaps I should applaud the author for trying. Men’s magazines are a traditional cesspool of sexism, so maybe someone needs to take a regular go at it. Whether this headline is going to find its audience is another matter.

The thing that really sets feminism back is the word ‘mansplaining’. ‘Mansplaining’ refers to the tendency of men to think that they need to condescendingly explain things to women, as though women are incapable of knowing complicated things on their own. (So in the first instance, this is not even an example of ‘mansplaining’.)

Condescension is of course a revolting thing (although hardly specifically a gender problem–even if men are more frequent offenders). But this word! Mansplaining. I know it’s probably supposed to be one of those consciousness-raising words, but it is such an impossibly daft and awkward and unclever attempt at it that I can’t help but feeling pity whenever I see it used. It’s a bit like my little kids’ jokes: you can see what they’re trying to do, but it’s really not funny and you kind of have to laugh along so that they don’t feel bad.

‘Mansplaining’ gives me the same sort of cringey feelings as when I watch those videos on the internet of reporters publicly soiling themselves. Or geeky white teenagers trying to rap.

Feminism is presumably trying to stop men from patronising women, but when somebody says ‘mansplaining’ I just want to pat them on the head and cluck my tongue in a pitying ‘ah didums’ kind of way. You’re turning me into a chauvinist monster, mansplaining! Is that your game?

Honestly, I don’t know how that word ever caught on, but if anything can manufacture feelings of superiority and a sense of ‘us and them’ it’s twee catch-phrases.

What’s a boy to do?

And finally, what is the message here? How are women to be treated then?

  • In the first article, the feminists’ message seemed to be, ‘It’s just me and my non-sexual, human body over here.’
  • In the second article, the author is saying, ‘I’m a sexual agent; why won’t you let me flaunt my sexuality?’
  • In the third article, the author is saying, ‘Stop objectifying women; we don’t need you to treat us as sex objects!”

It’s more than a little confusing.

Crazy Fruit Juice Ad

7 Apr

Liquifruit has insisted for years that their product contains nothing but fruit. On the evidence of this ad, they’re putting a little something-something in there too. [Explanatory subtitles version]

Liquifruit Video Mock