Mulan Takes The Bechdel Test

Did I love Disney princesses? Of course I did. We all did. Don’t even try to lie. Everyone is an 8-year-old at some point in their lives.

It probably would have been a healthy obsession in my case—stopping after a few cute Halloween costumes, some fairly awkward conversations with animals, and an assortment of charming husbands—had it not been for Mulan.

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Image from http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/

Fa Mulan.

Sigh…

I knew there was no going back from the moment I first watched it. I went from wearing plastic tiaras to whacking my brothers with sticks faster than you can say, “The Huns have invaded China.” Maybe it was the lucky cricket. Maybe it was the silly grandmother. It was probably Mushu. But I like to think that it was watching Mulan discover herself with a sword in hand, rather than in ballroom slippers.

Let’s fast-forward (a shamefully small amount of time) to the present.

Now that I am much older and think about things (before hitting them with sticks), I have long since come to the conclusion that I was merely drawn to a strong, empowered female character. Done. That was easy.

Events transpired, however.

I recently stumbled upon something called the Bechdel Test, which is an unofficial measure of female portrayal in films.

Here is a 20-second history to get you up to speed:

The Bechdel Test was invented by Alison Bechdel and came from a comic titled “The Rule” in her series Dykes to Watch Out For (pictured here).

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Image from http://dykestowatchoutfor.com

A movie must meet three very simple criteria in order to pass:

  1. It must have two female characters (with names)
  2. They must have a conversation with each other
  3. That conversation must be about something other than a man

It sounds laughably easy to pass, but it turns out that 69% of IMDB’s top films fail that simple little test.

I’ll admit I was doubtful. I read through page after page about it.

I bet you have a favourite movie, they said. Look it up, they said. YOU WILL BE SUPPRISED BY WHAT DOESN’T PASS, they said.

So I looked it up. I saw a little green check mark next to Mulan. Hah, thought I, and gave my laptop a smug little smile. I was confident in my superior judgement. I was about to move on when the words “although dubious” caught my eye.

Dubious? DUBIOUS?!

How could Mulan be dubious? She was the pinnacle of female kickassery, the definition of feisty and unafraid, a raw, unadulterated shock of battle tactics and brute force with some kooky chicken feeding methods to boot. What could possibly be lacking?

Well, it seems that the female conversation was very scant in Mulan. Yes, there was some chit-chat between female ancestors, but they were unnamed. Yes, there was some mother/daughter/grandmother musical numbers, but those all circled around getting ready for the matchmaker to find a good husband. And yes, the protagonist was FEMALE but get this: Mushu had more lines in the film than Mulan did.

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Image from https://metrouk2.files.wordpress.com

Here’s how the movie scraped by:

Fa Li: I should have prayed to the ancestors for luck.
Grandmother Fa: How lucky can they be? They’re dead. Besides, I’ve got all the luck we’ll need.
Fa Li: Grandma, no!
Grandmother Fa: Yep! This cricket’s a lucky one! 

How progressive for the dark ages of 1998.

So I re-watched Mulan and came to the conclusion that in terms of women’s representation, it’s far from perfect. But then again, so is the Bechdel Test.

Although there was an utter lack of meaningful, non-male-related conversations between women in the movie, it’s not a stretch to attribute some of that to the largely (and in this case logically) male cast. Not to mention that this test doesn’t take into account the historical context, in which Mulan shows considerable independence and strength of character compared to the rest of the female cast as well as her fellow warriors. So perhaps this test is superficial, but it’s not entirely wrong.

Re-watching Mulan, I realized it wasn’t the perfect embodiment of female power I once believed it to be. Mulan says very few noteworthy things over the course of the movie, and the speaking parts are all largely male. Mulan is fighting for the greater glory of China, but the victory of the movie is more about winning the Emperor’s and her father’s approval, and Li Shang’s admiration.

I’m sad to say that I could summarize Mulan by saying, “Girl pretends to be a man, girl successfully blends in and is a very good man, girl wins huge victory for China and is offered a place as a woman in a man’s world but rejects it to return to domesticity. Then girl gets boy.”

That being said, for me, this movie will always be full of important victories: the cross-dressing imperial army, a Disney princess in armour, the most flattering of compliments (“Um… you… fight good.”), and an unlikely girl showing up all the boys.

But maybe I’ll make room for new heroes.

-Contributed by Katie Schmidt

Anna Biller’s The Love Witch: A Feminist Approach to the Alternative Horror Genre

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Anna Biller’s faux-1960s alternative horror film, The Love Witch (2016), follows the narcissistic and eyeshadow obsessed Elaine in her search for the perfect fairy-tale romance. The self-proclaimed “Love Witch”, Elaine (played by Samantha Robinson) is a woman who uses home-made love potions, sex spells, and her own mysterious allure to seduce men until, of course, it takes an unexpected turn for the worse.

Aesthetics and visuals are central to the film. The costumes, scenery, cinematography, and soundtrack are all carefully directed and consulted on by Biller herself, a Cal Arts graduate. The sequences seem spontaneous, taking on a life of their own beyond the linear plot of the picture. These vivacious, colourful, and intrusive statements guide the film from the tropes of a mainstream horror flick to the unconventional features of an independent art film.

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In the director’s statement for The Love Witch, Biller mentions, “While I am quoting genres, I am using them not as a pastiche, but to create a sense of aesthetic arrest and to insert a female point of view.” Although Biller takes influence from aspects of the alternative horror/thriller genre, she uses a perspective that twists the typical male gaze of that genre, and brings about a sense of female empowerment. By using her knowledge of what men want, Elaine controls her own sexual agency.

This feminist concept is intermingled with the rules of witchery and the occult within the film. This is evident when the members of Elaine’s cult discuss how the strength of a woman’s sexuality both excites and challenges men’s patriarchal position in society, and how this makes men feel inclined to “put women in their place.” It is the figures of magic who bring attention to this, and the concept is juxtaposed with Elaine’s controversial behaviour regarding her lovers. Elaine uses her attractive persona to seduce men, but with her potions and her high expectations of romance, she “loves them to death.”

In a twist, Biller presents the dichotomy of Elaine’s lack of concern regarding her lovers with their increasing emotional attachment and eventual toxic separation from her affection. Elaine lacks any moral conflict in her actions, believing that the tragedies that result are simply a shame.

Biller borrows from the trope of the 1960s femme fatale, utilizing their hatred of betrayal by former lovers and twisting it so the woman gives the man what he wants physically but uses magic to separate herself from the emotional response he desires. Here, Biller references the social ideology in which men are thought to lack an emotional response in relationships. The moment Elaine denies her lover an emotional response is the moment that he starts to long for her love and support.

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Another vital aspect of the plot is Elaine’s obsession with fairy-tale romance. Despite the contrary ways she exhibits this, she greatly desires a relationship in which her love is fully requited and without complications. While Elaine presents herself as imposingly stern and careless, she fantasizes about a pseudo-medieval scene in which she rides off with her prince charming, away from the difficulties of a mundane life.

When Elaine’s curious landlord Trish (played by Laura Waddell) snoops around in her apartment, we are exposed to the hyper-erotic drawings and paintings that cover the room. These depict explicit scenes in an artistic style that is unexpectedly harmless and bubbly. This seems contrary to the darker erotic aspect of the film’s visuals, but its absurdity and spontaneity are central to the alternative rhythm of the plot, and play on the extreme paradoxes in Elaine’s character.

Overall, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch explores the rhetoric of the ill-fated search for a perfect love affair. In unison with the occult genre, this results in over-the-top dramatic sequences, stunning visuals, and a soap-operatic flair. Although the film is identified as a horror/thriller, it most definitely isn’t the type of film that has you at the edge of your seat in anticipation. Rather, the overly dramatic acting, quick-cut sequences, and flashy and comical costumes leave you with a smile plastered across your face.

-Contributed by Mia Carnevale

When the Living Are Dead

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Illustration by Margarita Gladkikh

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers.

The Others is a skillfully crafted horror movie that’s worth watching because of its ending. The film seems like it’s going to be your typical dose of contemporary horror: isolation, a large estate drowned in fog, religious themes, and children. Director and screenwriter Alejandro Amenábar keeps his piece expertly free of the cheap scares that we’ve come to expect from contemporary horror. He keeps his audience waiting in the dread of not knowing what’s going to happen. Why are the children kept away from light? Why are the servants so strange? Why does the gardener cover gravestones with leaves?

The movie swiftly develops an air of mystery through unnerving the audience with the dusty mansion, Grace’s nightmare, the disappearance of the old servants, and their peculiar replacements. The Stewarts believe that there are ghosts in their house because the piano plays itself and footsteps without attached bodies thunder around upstairs. However, the genius of the movie arises when the audience realizes the Stewarts are the ghosts, haunting the mansion that the new family occupies.

The Others is one of those movies that seemingly reveals the plot to the audience in the beginning. But the audience only realizes upon viewing the movie for a second time that the servants were in on the secret that the Stewarts are dead from the beginning of the movie. However, the audience is not aware of this and neither are the Stewarts. Clearly something is off throughout the film, but the audience struggles in putting together the subtle clues left behind by Amenábar: the servants disappearing after the deaths of the Stewarts, the absence of the postman, and the new family viewing the house.

It is rather tough for an audience to pinpoint a specific antagonist in this film. Could it be Grace, her devious daughter Anne, or the strange housekeeper Bertha Mills? For some time I wondered whether Grace was mentally stable because of her increasing frenzied behaviour, devoutness, and need for control.

The audience knows something happened “that day”, which was when Grace gave in to her mental instabilities, smothered her children, and shot herself. In the end, the audience is finally able to piece the clues together and we understand that Grace went insane from the grief of her husband’s death at war, which was exacerbated by the fog that kept them isolated from the rest of the world. Amenábar points out through Bertha that “grief over the death of a loved one can lead people to do the strangest things”. This is clearly aimed at Grace, who did what she did to escape from the bottomless pit of pain she was imprisoned in. But it also presents the effect that war has on families that were torn up by loved ones who went to fight and never returned.

Religion is a prominent aspect of the film, especially since the only thing the children do is read the Bible. However, in the end, the devout Grace is devastated by her broken faith because, to her, it is impossible for the dead and the living to exist in the same realm. The Stewarts are stuck in some sort of limbo or purgatory. Perhaps because they didn’t die naturally, their souls weren’t ready to ascend to heaven, thus leaving them trapped in the house.

Amenábar doesn’t overuse background music, but when it’s present, it’s the classic, bloodthirsty sound of violins in pain. The absence of background music emphasizes the isolation from the lack of sight to the lack of sound. Weather is used to reflect the mood of the film through the heavy fog that is prominent throughout the movie except for two scenes. One scene depicts Grace’s husband Charles return from war and the other scene at the end of the movie, when the family accepts their deaths.

The Others is an intelligent piece of cinematography that raises the bar for future supernatural/psychological horror movies. Amenábar twists everything we’ve come to expect from horror and delivers this masterpiece. This is the rare horror movie that genuinely shocks and impresses the skeptical, jaded viewer who has lost their faith in good scares. When the audience realizes that the Stewarts and the servants are ghosts, we’re horrified. The job is done. Granted, Amenábar fell short when it came to characterization, though he had great control when it came to building up to the twist. Overall, the pacing of the movie was well thought-out to maintain constant suspense. What really stands out about this movie is Amenábar’s talent for directing and storytelling, and the brilliance of the movie can only be appreciated when watching it for the second time.

-Contributed by Chindu Palakal

David Bowie and Alan Rickman in the Speculative World

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January 2016 saw the loss of two great figures in the speculative world when David Bowie and Alan Rickman passed away within days of each other. Throughout their careers, both influenced and contributed to science fiction and fantasy in their own ways.

David Bowie’s albums were generally highly conceptual, working with not only music but also stories and characters that he ‘became’ as part of the immersive art experience. Throughout his discography, space travel, extraterrestrials, and the grand, sometimes dystopian, themes common in science fiction have majorly influenced his work.

Space Oddity, a 1969 mega-hit, is about the death of Major Tom, an astronaut persona whose spaceship crashes. Bowie would revisit the Major Tom character in subsequent pieces. Recently the song gained even more fame when in 2013 astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded a cover of it aboard the International Space Station.

Blackstar, the album released just days before Bowie’s death on January 10, is also the name of a type of spacecraft, and the music video for the titular track continues with the themes of astronauts and stranded aliens that have been recurring motifs throughout his career. Bowie is also the only musician to be inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame at the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum, a museum dedicated to popular culture.

Bowie’s career took off at a point when space exploration was a new and exciting reality, making science fiction more relevant than ever. Unlike the grand and feel-good space operas of the time, like the original Star Trek and, a few years later, Star Wars, Bowie’s work was often weird, anxious, and uncomfortable. His The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars follows Ziggy, Bowie’s self-insert persona, a rock star alien attempting to bring a message of peace to an ailing Earth who is eventually consumed in the final number, Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide. He captured the anxiety that space travel brought to humanity alongside the wonder, in terms less black and white than the good versus evil morality science fiction often offers.

As well as bringing science fiction into his music, Bowie is well-known for his portrayal of Jareth, the goblin king, in Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth. A cult classic, the plot follows a girl named Sarah, played by Jennifer Connelly, who has to make her way through a labyrinth full of fantastical creatures to save her baby brother after he’s kidnapped by the goblins. Labyrinth is a wonderful work of fantasy, brought to life by Jim Henson’s puppets. Bowie’s character is a powerful monarch with powers of illusion and transformation. Labyrinth is remembered to this day as a creepy, beautiful cautionary tale of what happens in fantasy when you get what you wish for.

Alan Rickman, who passed away on January 14, is also remembered for his roles in speculative movies, though he was also a very accomplished stage actor and starred in films ranging in genre from Die Hard to Love Actually.

Rickman provided the voice of Marvin, the paranoid android, in the 2005 film adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Rickman gave a great voice to one of the most famous robot characters, the bored and very depressed Marvin. While it was hardly the best or most notable book-to-film adaptation of a science fiction novel, as a media series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of the most influential, funny, and classic pieces of science fiction. As seen with this series, Adams’ love and use of technology—he was apparently the first European to own a Mac—fed in and out of his science fiction stories.

Rickman also ventured into space in 1999’s Galaxy Quest, a loving parody of Star Trek and other similar popular shows. He played a cast member of Galaxy Quest, a fictional television series about space travel. When aliens mistake the show for reality, they reach out to the cast for help.

Of course, Rickman’s most prominent speculative role, if not role in general, was as Severus Snape, the great villain-hero of Harry Potter. He played the character to great acclaim among both critics and fans, shaping Snape from the cold, unlikable bully he starts off as to the complex, tormented double-agent who sacrifices everything in the final installment. Bringing the character from harsh and cruel to a sympathetic hero over Snape’s whole character arc, Rickman brought real life and depth to one of the series’ most beloved characters.

Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling described him as “a magnificent actor and a wonderful man,” and Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the films, said, “I feel so lucky to have worked and spent time with such a special man and actor.”

-Contributed by Risa Ian de Rege

Star Wars: the Force Awakens—We’re Home

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It’s been nearly ten years since the release of the almost universally loathed Star Wars prequels, and over thirty since we first witnessed the Star Wars that generations know and love. When Disney revealed that they are making a new trilogy, with new filmmakers, of course we were nervous. But the release of The Force Awakens proved those nerves to be unfounded. J. J. Abrams and company have not only given us a return to form for the galaxy far, far away, but they have delivered a movie that in the Star Wars series might only be outshined by The Empire Strikes Back.

From the opening shot of the movie, Abrams reveals what kind of ride we are in for: one that reverently loves the original trilogy and is going to deliver a new twist on a familiar world.

Just to get it out of the way, yes the original cast are back. Carrie Fisher slips in as General Leia in what is more of an extended cameo, along with C-3P0 and R2-D2. Yes, Luke Skywalker is in the movie. That’s all I can say about that.

Harrison Ford is also back as Han Solo, alongside Chewbacca. Watching them feels like coming home. Ford is fantastic as a grizzled, older Han. At no point while watching do you think “look, it’s Harrison Ford in a costume” the way you did when watching the fourth Indiana Jones movie. He is Han Solo. He slips back into that role, and he owns it. That really is Han Solo strutting around the Millennium Falcon.

But this isn’t just two hours with the cast of A New Hope in their old age. The new characters of The Force Awakens are incredible, and I’m happy to admit that within the first half an hour I was sold on following the adventures of this new generation.

Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron is the first new character we meet. He’s described as the best pilot in the Resistance, and he knows it. Isaac brings a swagger and charm to the role so easily that if I look him up in the dictionary I’d expect the word “likeable” to be written next to his name. His is a character we don’t get enough of, and I hope that he makes a bigger return in episode VIII.

The real stars (pun intended) of the show, are John Boyega as Finn and Daisy Ridley as Rey. A Stormtrooper with a conscience, Finn is a dorky, lovable guy just trying to get along in the universe and escape the villainous First Order. Finn is all-around just a good guy. His chemistry with Rey, Poe, Han Solo, and even Chewbacca will make you smile, and it’s worth mentioning that Finn is funny. Many of the films best laughs come from him, and it’s hard not to love how much John Boyega clearly enjoys being in Star Wars. But Finn is not alone; a lot of his best material comes from the chemistry and clear friendship between him and Rey.

Simply put, Rey is amazing. Between her, Jessica Jones, and Mad Max’s Furiosa, it is a refreshing year to be a fan of great female leads in science fiction movies. A scavenger on the planet Jakku, Rey is both fierce and kind. She charges through the movie with an emotional and physical fervor that the Luke Skywalker of yesteryear never quite managed. A silent introduction of her sliding down a desert sand dune, buzzing around on a speeder, and watching the sun set through a dusty rebel pilot’s helmet sets the tone for the character without a word. Her reaction to seeing a forest after spending her whole life in the desert pulls at heartstrings, her friendships with Finn and Han Solo make you cheer, and when Rey gets down to battle, you’re on the edge of your seat. Without the friendship and capability of Finn and Rey this movie would have been great, but with them it’s damn near perfect.

Also, the new droid of the film BB-8 is surprisingly lovable. I was ready to find him just as annoying as the infamous Jar Jar, but no. BB-8 is great. He bleeps and bloops lovably and capably along. I’d happily accept a BB-8 of my own. I’d call him buddy.

Of course, you can’t talk about Star Wars without talking about villains. The shiny Captain Phasma does far less to deserve her spotlight than Boba Fett ever did, First Order General Hux is appropriately Naziesque, and Supreme Leader Snoke isn’t really enough of a presence to justify a real opinion.

This leaves the weight of villainy on the shoulders of Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. There was always a threat of delivering a villain who was just not as good as Darth Vader (something Lucas’s prequels fell prey to each time), but The Force Awakens cleverly circumvents the issue. In fact, the long shadow cast by Vader’s image is one of Kylo’s principle motivations. Kylo Ren is different kind of villain, and it works. When he meets our heroes for the climactic lightsaber duel (I don’t consider saying there is a lightsaber fight a spoiler), he delivers the dynamic exciting clash between the dark side and the light that Star Wars must always have.

It’s hard to say much about the plot without spoiling the movie, but I can talk about the structure. The plot of this movie is simple, coherent, and easy to follow. Yes, there are elements and beats we have seen before. This is a movie that needed to convince us that Star Wars is back, so there are certain things it needed to do. This is not a criticism, because while The Force Awakens is nostalgic for the original 1977 film, A New Hope was in turn nostalgic for Flash Gordon and the Westerns of the 1950/60s. Star Wars was always nostalgic for something, so the reverence shown in this film was rightly placed. I went into a movie theater to see Star Wars, and that is what I saw. I couldn’t be happier.

Yes, there are small problems, but hey, nothing is perfect! The fact that I only really find issues when I go in to nitpick (one interaction between Leia and Chewbacca didn’t ring true for me) means it was a pretty good ride.

One word of warning: if you walk into The Force Awakens expecting a completely original plot with nothing you’ve ever seen before, you’re going to be disappointed. J. J. Abrams has come on record to say that A New Hope is his favorite Star Wars movie, and it shows here. But for me, I went in to watch Star Wars, and by gods, Star Wars is what I got.

In fact, after two hours, if I’d walked out and been told the next one was playing right away, I would have happily walked right back in and taken my seat. Ladies and gentlemen and variations thereupon, here are my thoughts on The Force Awakens summed up: Star Wars is back. It’s the best it’s been since Empire.

May the Force be with us all!

-Contributed by Benjamin Ghan

“You Have Disturbed the Dirt!” Archaeological Issues in Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire

 

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Illustration by Michael Baptista

It’s unlikely that anyone would immediately think of Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire when asked to come up with an archaeology-related media piece. This science fiction, fantasy, and steampunk epic from 2001 centers on an expedition to discover the lost city of Atlantis. Through underwater exploration and spelunking through caverns and ruins, those on the expedition discover that the city exists deep beneath the Earth, and is kept alive by the magical Atlantean Crystal—although the monarchy has since purged the inhabitants of any memories of their heritage.

The historical inspiration for the expedition to Atlantis hearkens back to the early twentieth century “heroic” age of larger-than-life explorers as well as to the callous and patronizing attitudes they held towards local cultures (Francis Younghusband, Roy Chapman Andrews, and Sven Hedin are just a few examples). The overall design of Atlantis strongly recalls actual civilizations that lived, or still live, in the ruins of their fallen ancestors (Dark Age Rome, anyone?). These opposing settings—of an industrial world on the rise and a magical world on the decline—lay the groundwork for the very premise of modern archaeology: that we can use the scientific method to rescue a relatively idyllic past that is at risk of being swept away by modernity forever.

While most of the expedition consists of mercenaries, not archaeologists (though Milo Thatch, a linguist and cartographer, is descended from an old school, pith helmet-wearing explorer), this film does revolve around archaeological themes. This includes the plundering of the past and the effects on the site’s present inhabitants, cultural imperialism, how the past can be forgotten, and what this historical heritage means for the civilization’s inheritors. Indeed, much of the film’s second act explores how divorced the Atlanteans have become from their history and culture, and the efforts of Princess Kida to relearn and revive their history (by interpreting historic murals, Lovecraft-style).

In methodology, the film’s expedition is probably among the worst offenders of violating real-world archaeological professionalism, next to Indiana Jones and his Nazi foes. With glory and gold as the expedition’s primary objectives, the members of the expedition showed little to no interest in, if not wanton disregard for, the historical significance of their surroundings. They preferred a survival-oriented pragmatic approach to whatever they found. Case in point, in one scene, with the expedition blocked by a stories-high column towering over a crevasse, Milo could only marvel at the engineering, saying: “It must have taken hundreds—no, thousands of years to carve this thing.” Then, to his utter dismay, the demolitions expert dynamites the column, converting it into a bridge over the crevasse—all with a shrug and retort: “Hey, look, I made a bridge. It only took me like, what? Ten seconds? Eleven, tops.” It’s a hilarious gag for sure, but nowhere else during the exploration half of the movie does anyone bring up the ramifications of what they’re doing to the past, and that silence is deafening.

Halfway through the movie, it’s revealed that the expedition’s true purpose was to steal the Crystal and potentially sell it to one of the belligerent powers on the surface. Given that this Crystal sustains the Atlanteans’ lives, this is quite literally a metaphor for how the plundering of historical artifacts leads to cultural (and other forms of) death of local civilizations. Looking at real world issues, we can ask: does the removal of the Elgin Marbles critically damage Greek heritage? Even more recently, in light of ISIS’s destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq, some argue that what the militants are doing amounts to cultural genocide, depriving their targets of a tangible historical memory and leaving them on the verge of extinction as a distinct people. That the Crystal is being stolen and a nation is faced with annihilation relates to ISIS exploiting the black market of blood antiquities (in fact, blowing up ruins helps spike prices), investing that profit into slaughter. In hindsight, the parallels between these issues and Atlantis are frightening.

The expedition’s plan to auction the Crystal—likely as a superweapon given the WWI context of the story—also echoes ethical issues of archaeology: what is revealed from the past could be harnessed for personal, ahistorical, and possibly destructive means. Of course, we have yet to unearth a doomsday device in any ancient ruins, but Atlantis suggests that current interpretations of the past, as well as future-oriented use of it, are not value-neutral. The past can sustain a nation, figuratively and literally, but it can also be used to destroy it. One needs to look no further than the Nazi Ahnenerbe’s efforts to associate archaeological discoveries with justifications for German expansion into Eastern Europe, with cataclysmic results.

However, the expedition plunders not out of malice, but out of greed and indifference towards others. As Vinny, the demolitions expert, revealingly puts it, the expedition team “[did] a lot of things we’re not proud of. Robbing graves, eh, plundering tombs, double parking. But, nobody got hurt. Well, maybe somebody got hurt, but nobody we knew.” Perhaps this quote puts their actions in a new light: they were unaware that their plans were unleashing genocide on the Atlanteans.

Of course, none of this was running through my mind when I watched it, and ISIS didn’t exist back then. When Atlantis first came out, it shaped my interest in pulpy adventure and steampunk for years. Artistically, I think the movie is quite decent, with lavish animation (designed by Mike Mignola, no less!) and a brilliant visual and thematic juxtaposition of steampunk and fantasy. And yet, the plot’s basically a rehash of the Pocahontas legend, and there are enough plot holes to keep any adventurer-archaeologist curious (for instance, just how did Atlanteans learn to speak modern English?). Whatever. The world building and design were enough to fire up my imagination.

But for all of Atlantis’s faults, I believe it is at least an interesting introduction for younger audiences to the appeal of the past and ethical issues arising from that. Disney didn’t make this movie to appeal to archaeologists, or to seriously explore archaeological issues. Nevertheless, I recommend it to anyone who would like to experience the excitement of adventure and of finding the past, and as a case study for ethical issues in adventurism. After watching you should read up on real early twentieth century explorers and some of the kookier, obsolete historical theories of the time, to further enhance your experience of the movie. Then you can connect the themes with current events. Perhaps this will give Atlantis: The Lost Empire a second life.

 

-Contributed by Benson Cheung

 

 

Hypermasculinity in the Jedi Order, or Why the Prequels Don’t Actually Suck All That Much

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I’d like to preface this by saying that a large majority of this analysis is just my interpretation. I frankly doubt that George Lucas, paragon of feminism (heavy sarcasm), actually considered feminist discourse while writing the Star Wars prequels, but it’s nice to imagine that he did.

Let’s take a look at the most iconic tragic hero of our age, often referenced in high school English classes in a futile attempt to relate to the Millennials: Anakin Skywalker. What was his fatal flaw—hubris? Jealousy? A lust for power? These ideas have all been looked at extensively, so let’s look instead at what pushed him over the edge: the Jedi Code. We constantly see Anakin agonizing over the rules that he is expected to follow—“I’m not the Jedi I should be,” he says.

Jedi are taught to control their feelings; they are taught that emotional bonds make you weak. They are forbidden to fall in love, and they are forbidden to feel anger or grief. And Anakin, the Chosen One, is expected to embody this philosophy. The inner angst that consumes Anakin is the fear that he’s not a good enough Jedi simply because he doesn’t reach these ridiculously high standards. He’s human! He can’t be expected not to feel emotions, to never feel anger or grief or love—no one can. It is clear how toxic it is for him to suppress these emotions—how it culminates in brash fits of rage and violence, and how it begins his descent into darkness. Really, it’s the Jedi Code’s narrow set of expectations that push Anakin over the edge.

When I think of these unattainable standards, this suppression of emotions that the Jedi are expected to achieve, the first things that come to mind are: “Be a man.” “Real men don’t cry.”  The similarities between the expectations of the Jedi Code and the standards that societal gender norms place on men are alarming.

There’s this toxic notion that a man isn’t supposed to be emotional, that he’s supposed to be strong and solid while a weepy woman cries on his shoulder. As if crying and being emotionally vulnerable make you “less of a man.” Hypermasculinity imposes a strict definition of how men should behave; this can result in pent-up anger and violence, and has a real effect on the mental health of men.

I would argue that hypermasculinity plays a role in the reception of the Star Wars prequels as a whole. These films are notorious for their bad reception, and are considered a bit of a joke among hardcore Star Wars fans.  But I would say that part of this negative view is due to the fact that they’re films in a genre that is traditionally considered a “man’s world,” and yet they focus on traditionally feminine ideas and themes.

Compared to the original trilogy, there is a clear narrative difference in the prequels. The original trilogy is very much centered on friendship and adventure, and revolves around interpersonal relationships—the most prominent being a father-son relationship. The conflict is external, with a force of evil that is eventually defeated by the hero. These are traditionally “masculine” themes.

In contrast, the prequels are much more focused on internal conflict. The main character frequently shows emotional vulnerability, which is a rare sight in male protagonists. Compared to Han Solo, that personification of bravado and manliness, Anakin’s character really does challenge gender norms. How often do you see the male character in a sci-fi being the romantic and sensitive one in a relationship? And yet Anakin is often interpreted as whiny and overdramatic.

The original trilogy is about adventure and comradery—this belongs to men. The prequels are about romance and heartbreak and vulnerability—this belongs to women. According to society, at least.

For a man to admit that he enjoys these types of films would be to admit to being “unmanly.” This is the same perception of masculinity that has categorized an entire genre of movies as “chick-flicks”—as if movies have genders. So men are more inclined to scoff at the prequels. People laugh at the mushy dialogue (I wouldn’t disagree with you there, but let’s look at the bigger picture) because that’s not what they expect from a male protagonist. It doesn’t help that, on top of this, a huge demographic of the prequel fandom is teenage girls. Of course anything that teenage girls enjoy is automatically looked down upon. There’s that wonderful fragile masculinity again.

So people are just inclined to hate the prequels. And I will admit that there are honest and valid critiques of the prequel trilogy. However, say what you will about the cringe-inducing dialogue, Hayden Christensen’s acting, or the entirety of Jar-Jar Binks, the prequels did one thing right. Returning to the Jedi Code’s black-and-white views, the prequel trilogy is interesting because it introduces complexity into the Star Wars universe. Is the world really split between good Jedi and evil Sith, as the original trilogy would have us believe? If the Jedi are enforcing a toxic philosophy allegorical to sexist gender norms in our world, if they are what push Anakin to the Dark Side, are they truly the perfect force of benevolence? Whether George Lucas intended it or not, the prequels call into question just how good the Jedi really are.

 

 

 

-Contributed by Komal Adeel