Week 3: AKA Questions of Representation Across Identities
Back when I wrote a post about seeing Ghost in the Shell during week one, I made this comment about how I don’t watch movies and a lot of TV. There are many reasons for that. One, Jackson and I don’t have cable, wifi is already expensive. Two) I’m a full time student, part time worker at the school and even when there is time I barely have enough to keep up with the only TV show I watch, Days of our Lives. Thankfully I can watch it online.) Three I’ve spent all the formative years of my life watching TV and have absorbed (and internalized) all the oppressive (most specifically, sexist) language and messages fed to me that I can’t take it anymore. I firmly believe a lot of the reasons why I’m insecure in a couple areas of my life have to do with how women are represented in the media. It really bothers me to hear a sexist joke or a scene where a woman gets r*ped or assaulted or harassed or killed, not just on TV but everywhere. There is a part of me that is numb to it all because this happens everywhere every single day and there’s not getting away from it but that doesn’t mean I can’t pick and choose what types of media to consume and spend my time on.
Watching Better Luck Tomorrow didn’t shock me with any of its language or violence. But how the male characters treated and talked about the female characters bothered me straight from the beginning and I hinged on that when I could have focused more on other ways to critically think about the film. The way I’ve come to understand systems of oppression is through gender oppression. If I were younger me watching this, I would have only seen the blatant offensiveness towards women like Virgil staring at the woman’s chest while she puts away her shopping bags or how Ben and Virgil are so excited to see this porn they think a classmate is in. Back then I wouldn’t have caught all the things Virgil said about women, how Han called them women and even the scene where Ben sits on Stephanie’s bed and looks through her things. What is seemingly small by other people’s standards, I can point out and say that’s messed up. And I know a common retort is to say “boys will be boys” and “that’s just how men are” and “you’re making a big deal out of nothing” blah blah blah. I say “whatever” to that because all those says are just tools to diminish our voice and to exempt men from the awful garbage they do to us.
I started writing about the toxic masculinity of the film but that’s taking so much out of me mentally so I’m not going to go forward with it. What I would rather write about instead is the subheading of this post, which is something I wrote to myself while I was watching: Questions of Representation Across Identities. This came up because I was thinking about the not-so-casual casual sexism and then having it tamper my whole viewing experience by not laughing with other students in the class at the “funny” parts and I didn’t even have any sympathy for the characters when things went wrong. Like seriously, the character of Ben is that stereotypical “nice guy” who wants a girl he can’t have (yet) and he has a friend who says offensive things but excuses them because they’re friends. Sarcastically I ask into the air “am I supposed to excuse the casual sexism because the cast and director are Asian?” Generally, what good is it to have a cast and write and director and producer who are POC if they are offensive towards other marginalized identities? In addition to the sexism, this film also used the n word, said something about going “Jihad” after an action scene or something, and my memory isn’t too sharp since I watched this three days ago but I’m sure there was ableist language in there too. If this is supposed to be a reflection (though a sensationalized, exaggerated one) of the lives of Asian teenage boys or even any teenage boy of any ethnicity or even in older and younger age brackets – of course they all say offensive stuff. No one is exempt from that BECAUSE that is the world we live in. No one is going to watch a movie where everyone is nice and respectable to each other, where no one gets hurts emotionally or physically, where the right people fall in love and be friends and everyone gets what they want. That is NOT the world we live in, that kind of movie will not make any money. So moviemakers have to be controversial, they have to tap into how people talk and view the world and each other. This oppressive BS is normalized through how we treat people with marginalized identities through action, language and thought. There was a question that came up of “does the filmmaker have a responsibility to portray Asian characters responsibly?”
This may sound unbelievable because I’m not a filmmaker nor a creator of any kind of media but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway… it IS possible to portray Asian characters or any type of character responsibly (or complex and captivating) without resorting to jokes that are complicit in the oppression and discrimination of people with marginalized identities.
But I guess to that question, they were referring to the violence and drug use in the movie – especially the murder of the Steve character. This could be looked at as stereotypical representations, negative representations and filmmakers should be more responsible in portraying their characters more realistically – especially if they aren’t being represented well in the larger Hollywood scene. Asian people are not starring in box office movies or popular TV shows. The kind of representation we should get should be complex, realistic, non-stereotypical ones. We should be leading stars, love interests, action heroes and recipients of all the acting/directing/singing/performing awards. But seriously, To that question, there is not a simple answer. But there is a starting point, which I oh so clearly stated in the previous paragraph.
*takes a deep breath* alright, cool – I think I’m ready to step away from this post and never think about this film again.
Actually, on second thought, let me spray some positivity on this film so here are four (yes, FOUR) good things I can think of…
- The beginning of the movie shows a close up of Ben and Virgil’s faces as they relax under the sun. This is important because Asian features are not represented as attractive in the wider Hollywood lens (unless Asian women are being sexualized). The close up of the faces (and this happened throughout the film) was like a demand for the viewers to take a close look, as if to say this film’s appearance is undeniably unapologetically Asian.
- The boys beat up the white boys at the party. Look, I grew up watching wrestling and there’s that part of me that enjoys fight scenes in movies/TV. Plus it was cool to see the guys be fearless and take no shit from the ones who think they’re better. Although Daric taking it too far, Virgil jumping on the guy by kicking him after he was down and encouraging Ben to join in and then Ben actually giving into the pressure are all displays of that masculinity shit I was going to write about earlier. Anyways…
- The Stephanie character added brightness and it’s a shame her character story was what it ended up being. If the movie was centered on her, it’d be more interesting (although entirely different), tbh. I’d rather watch that one.
- The acting was great, super believable. While I didn’t like any of the main characters and was completely turned off in the beginning, the actors were committed and gave a great performance.
LOL I was going to do five but couldn’t think of a fifth one.
(NOTE: I mention that Days of our Lives the only show I watch and I just want to add that I’m not oblivious to the problems in that show. The issue I have with media isn’t black and white. There are a lot of shows I used to watch and would still watch if I ever get acquainted with a TV again. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be critical about the stuff I watch. I can enjoy things and still ask questions, be critical about it. I like Days and it’s my escape from the world.)