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Monthly Archives: September 2013

“He doesn’t act gay enough”- The portrayal of LGBT characters in films.

In the 21st century, it’s pretty much a given that stereotypes are an issue that every culture faces. When it comes to films, the LGBT stereotypes are almost always utilized. The movies that are meant to spread awareness and acceptance by focusing on LGBT characters often end up perpetuating negative stereotypes about gay culture that are more detrimental than anything. Among these stereotypes are the ‘tragically gay’, the ‘fierce, fashionable, and flamboyant’, the ‘religiousness corrupt’, and the ‘promiscuous and proud’ gay character.

Case in point,

Brokeback Mountain

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What is often considered one of the most ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘moving’ LGBT films of all times – and is certainly the most decorated with it’s 97 awards – is one big ‘ol stereotype.

If you somehow missed all of 2005 and don’t know what Brokeback Mountain is, it’s the story of two cowboys who fall in love one summer while out herding sheep just the two of them up on a mountain. It follows them throughout their lives as they go get married, have lives and families, and secretly meet up to get it on occasionally.

My personal opinion aside, (Oh God it’s the most boring movie I’ve ever seen and I refuse to believe it is only 134 minutes, it feels like about 4 hours) this movie is literally just one big cautionary tale about what happened to gay men in that part of history. Yes, it has great acting and wonderful cinematography, but it is basically 2 hours of ‘life sucks when you’re gay’. This is a very common stereotype in LGBT films all the way from Victim in the 60s, to Clapham Junction in 2007, and sadly I don’t see it going out of style anytime soon.

A good counter-film to this would be Maurice, based on the book by E.M. Forster, in which the story takes place in the early 1900s, has a bit of the ‘cautionary’ element, but then goes on to defy the presumed tragic ending.

Speaking of presumed tragic ending…  the next favorite tragic stereotype is almost ALWAYS the corrupted religious boy. The idea goes either ‘Gay boy is beaten and abused by insanely religious family’ or ‘Religiously oppressed individual comes to terms with their sexuality in defiance of their religion’. Almost all of these movies ends either in murder, suicide, or attempted suicide.

A good example of this is, Latter DaysImage

Admittedly, I have a guilty pleasure relationship with this movie, but nonetheless, it embodies two of our main stereotypes. The ‘breaking religion’ and the ‘promiscuous and proud’ stereotype. (That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with liking sex and having however much you want, it’s just that gay stereotypes have this ‘one partner is a straight person thing’ idea going on in films). In this movie, a Mormon on his mission meets a party-loving young man whose only goal in life, it seems, is to party and get laid all the time. Long story short- they develop ‘feelings’, Mormon boy gets caught kissing another guy, gets sent home (but not before one night together) and is then excommunicated. And obviously, he tries kill himself. Because that’s how this stereotype works.Sure, this movie has the tragic heartbreak of party dude thinking Mormon boy killed himself and being heartbroken and then Mormon boy comes back and it’s all happy, but the stereotype is still there laid out step by step.

‘Token Gay’…

Also laid out step by step, is the ‘fierce, fashionable, and flamboyant’ stereotype. There isn’t even one movie to pick to exemplify this one so you can probably just check out every singletoken gay characterin any movie/TV show in the last 20 years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of these movies, it’s just that it has to be pointed out they’re full of the ‘token gay guy’.

However, if you want a movie that throws out almost all of the stereotypes, ShelterImage

Shelter is without a doubt THE best gay film ever. (And don’t just take my word for it, check out This Viewer Poll).

While it could be argued that ‘normalizing’ gay relationships in film and TV isn’t a good thing either, this film does just that but in a new way. Instead of the ‘normalized’ version of ‘masculine breadwinner and feminine homemaker’ that basically just injects gay into stereotypical gender rolls, Shelter takes a story that is NOT based purely on the fact that the two characters falling in love are of the same gender. Shelter is a story about a young artist who gave up his dreams of art school to take care of his family. He finds solace from his life of working multiple jobs and caring for his nephew when his sister puts her life above her son’s care by surfing with his best friend’s brother, who has moved back from LA for the summer. As you would expect, Zach and Shaun fall in love, but here is what sets this movie apart: The main plot and points of contention in this film have little to do with Zach and Shaun being two men, but rather Shaun pushing Zach to go for his dreams when Zach is too stuck in wanting to provide for his family.

This movie is a beautiful film that shows the difficulties in understanding poverty from an outsider’s perspective, the struggles of balancing family and your dreams, and the difficulties of trying to rise above a bad set of circumstances to find happiness.While it is a love story, Shelter would work just as well if either Zach or Shaun were a woman and, ultimately, this film is about family and achieving one’s dreams. There are no ‘token gay guys’, no ‘breaking religion’ themes, no ‘promiscuous and proud’ issues, and absolutely no suggestions of the ‘tragic gay’ character. It’s simply a great film that happens to involve two men as the protagonist.

 

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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Modern Anti-hero: What IS an anti-hero?

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary entry, the definition of an anti-hero is

Antihero- a main character in a book, play, movie, etc., who does not have the usual good qualities that are expected in a hero;

a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities

In literary circles, there is much debate over what exactly an anti-hero is. Some believe any hero without heroic qualities (he lies, cheats, steals, etc.) is an anti-hero (think of Robin Hood). Others believe any ‘dark’ character would be an anti-hero (think Sirius Black post Prisoner of Azkaban). It is even argued that a non-protagonist-or-antagonist villain is an anti-hero (think Gollum). There are debates between what the actual characteristics of an anti-hero are. Is it a dark, gritty hero? Is it a selfishly motivated hero? Is it a villain with good intentions? All of these are debated ideas of what the anti-hero is in literature. The fatal flaw in these examples, I find, is that there seems to be a hard-line of choices between Heroic protagonist, anti-heroic protagonist, and villainous antagonist.

In “Exploring The Dark Side: The Anti-Hero’s Journey”, James Bonnet says,

“Villains become anti-heroes when the story is about them; when we see the process they undergo to become villains.” 

However, in modern media and pop culture, it’s easier to see beyond this solid three-part spectrum and allow for a more flexible way of identifying a character in the story.  I would argue that the best way to clearly identify characters is a five-part spectrum:  Hero, Dark Hero, Anti-hero, Sympathetic Villain, and Villain.

Hero: The hero is your clear and true ‘good guy’. I don’t agree with the idea of ‘absolutely heroic traits only’ because unless we’re talking about Jesus or Captain America, almost every hero has his or her flaws. However, a true Hero is the clear and obvious ‘good guy’. Usually this person is the protagonist of the story who swoops in and saves the day.

A good example of the hero in modern media and pop culture: Image

Harry Potter, the eponymous protagonist of J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter series, is a great example of a pure, unadulterated hero. From the very beginning, the reader/viewer (depending on whether you’re talking about the book or the film) knows that Harry Potter is the ‘good guy’. He’s the protagonist who constantly saves the day, saves his friends, and saves the world in general. There are flaws, sure, but they are minor compared to his large heart and refusal to give up. You are left without a single doubt that he is a hero.

Dark Hero: The Dark Hero is one of the gray areas that usually ends up being called an ‘anti-hero’ incorrectly. A dark hero is a character who has flaws of character that make them harder to like. They may even come across as a not very good person only to grow and change into a better person because of the events of the story. The Dark Hero often doesn’t want to be a hero at first but finds himself or herself unable to stand by and not intervene.

A good example of a Dark Hero in modern media and pop culture:

Image

Oliver Queen, the vigilante superhero from the Green Arrow comic series and, most recently (and pictured above) from the CW’s Arrow, is a perfect example of where Dark Hero diverges from ‘anti-hero’. Sticking with Arrow for this example, Oliver Queen begins in his back story as a pretty unlikable character. He’s the type of trust fund kid who is a bad son, a bad boyfriend, a bad brother, and an all around bad person. His story changes when tragedy strikes. He becomes a better person through a series of dark events and terrible situations and he comes out the other side as a vigilante who seeks justice. Many would perceive his former ‘bad guy’ traits combined with his vigilante justice as an anti-hero. Where he diverges from the ‘anti-hero’ spectrum is that his motivations go from ‘right the wrongs of his family’ to ‘save the city’. Like any hero, he sees injustice and wants to fix it. His methods may be rather dark (what with his method of ordering the bad people to ‘fix it or die’ often leaving behind the bodies of the bad guys) but he is still, at the core, a hero saving the day for non-selfish motivations.

Anti-Hero:  The Anti-Hero, when consulting the five-part spectrum of characteristics, is more closely defined than the dictionary definition. An Anti-Hero is, in it’s most simplest form, neither a villain or a hero. The Anti-Hero is selfishly motivated in his ‘heroic’ actions. It isn’t a villain who does ‘evil’ things, but rather a person who does heroic things almost incidentally while doing stuff for only their own gains.

A good example of an Anti-Hero in modern media and pop culture:

Image

Sherlock Holmes, from Sherlock, is a great example of an Anti-Hero. As a consulting detective, he obviously does ‘good’ things since he helps the police catch criminals. Unlike a hero, though, Sherlock Holmes is a cocky, arrogant, rude character. His main motivation for helping people is to prove that he’s smart enough to do it. He isn’t completely cold and he isn’t a villain, but he doesn’t have any characteristics of a hero. Even when he is self-sacrificing for various reasons, Sherlock Holmes only does so for the people he cares about for his own reasons. An Anti-Hero is almost precisely that: a character who mostly does heroic deeds for selfish reasons. An Anti-Hero often has shining moments of heroism before returning to their selfish state. The emphasis on selfish nature is pretty much what sets apart the Anti-Hero from the Dark Hero.

Sympathetic Villain: The line between Anti-Hero and Sympathetic Villain is a little more concrete compared to the line between Sympathetic Villain and Villain. Still, it is an important distinction when searching for the motivations of a character’s actions. The Sympathetic Villain is one that is popular in many forms of modern media and pop culture. The characteristics of a Sympathetic Villain are almost the opposite of the characteristics of a Dark Hero. The Sympathetic Villain most often starts out as a good or at least neutral character who, when something bad happens, becomes villainous. Often, a personal traumatic event or a history of emotional trauma is present before the Sympathetic Villain slips over the edge into villainous territory. The character is still a villain, still commits villainous acts, and is still viewed as the ‘bad guy’, but often the audience feels bad for the character even as they wish for their defeat.

A good example of a Sympathetic Villain in modern media and pop culture:

Image

Loki of Asgard, the Marvel character, is a good example of a Sympathetic Villain, especially for a film based on comic books where your villains are usually cold, hard villains. Loki is a Sympathetic Villain because his actions throughout his storyline in Marvel films are able to be understood with a level of empathy from the audience. His original villainous actions are more devious with the intentions of making things right than ‘evil’ until emotional traumas send him overboard. In a later film when he is closer to a ‘pure’ Villain in his actions, it is hinted that he has been tortured to insanity so the audience still feels sorry for him, even though he is the bad guy of the story. The Sympathetic Villain is often used to engage the audience so that they are able to identify and empathize with both sides of the story being presented in an attempt to draw them in and create emotional attachments with the characters. The same way the Dark Hero draws the viewers emotions in, the Sympathetic Villain is responsible for the same thing.

Villain: The Villain is exactly what you think: the bad guy. However, the difference between a Sympathetic Villain and the pure, honest Villain is that the Villain has very few or even NO redeeming qualities. There is nothing to really draw sympathy from the audience. There is nothing to excuse their actions in any manner. The Villain does bad things and has no justification, perceived or realistic, for said actions. In most cases, the Villain is the one character that exists to play antagonist opposite of the ‘good guy’ and will eventually be defeated most of the time.

A good example of a Villain in modern media and pop culture:

Image

Kate Argent from Teen Wolf, while probably less known than many Villains, is a good example of a Villain because she embodies the traits of having no redeeming qualities, earning no sympathy from the audience, and having no real excuses for her actions. Kate Argent’s penchant for torturing her victims, her history of horrific acts (for example, burning down a house with a family with children inside), and multiple references to pedophilia and past statutory rape make her a character so ‘evil’ that she rouses absolutely no sympathy from the audience. Therefore, she is just a Villain. A GOOD villain that audiences love to hate, but still a non-sympathetic villain.

While there are many opinions on what is and isn’t an Anti-Hero, the five-part spectrum of characterization definitely makes it easier to identify what isn’t an Anti-Hero. By following the motivations, it becomes easier to understand where a character falls in this spectrum, and knowing the type of character you are dealing with makes understanding and appreciating their actions and reactions so much easier. When you better understand what motivates the character, what the character’s goal is, what means the character is willing to go to to achieve those goals, and what the outcome of those actions will be you become a more active participant in whatever media you are presented. This in turn makes the experience of these works that much more enjoyable.

And in the end, enjoying the work you’ve immersed yourself in is the whole point.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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