Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Women, guns, and Hollywood

Have you ever noticed that in the long tradition of film and television men handle pistols competently, even lethally, but women handle them, if at all, awkwardly and inexactly? In Doctor Zhivago (1965), Lara (Julie Christie) bravely marches into a Christmas party to shoot Komarovsky, her despoiler and bane of her existence, but in the moment of truth she trembles and wounds Komarovsky superficially in the arm. (In a TV version, in which Keira Knightly plays Lara, she misses altogether and hits an innocent bystander instead.) The gender-related heat of a gun logically follows from its value as a Freudian symbol.

Julie Christie as Lara in Doctor Zhivago (1965).
I'm not talking about the real world, where statistics reveal that, yes, guns are far more lethal in the hands of men than of women. That might be because women are far less likely to pick up a gun in the first place, not because, like in the movies they tremble and cry in moments when they should act decisively. I'm talking about a world I choose. Just as Hollywood could make women even stronger in its films if it chose to do so, in the real world I could make women stronger in ordinary life. I can improve the entire condition of our society if I resolve to do so.

Now Hollywood has come out with a plethora of strong women characters in recent years, but perhaps not enough considering how pleasing those strong women are to half of their audience. So it's too soon to pat Hollywood on the back and say, "You've come a long way, baby."

Keira Knightley as Lara in Doctor Zhivago (2002).
Both the violence of Hollywood and the simpering of its women are not absolute realities to which Hollywood is obligated to stay faithful for the sake of verisimilitude, but they are products of how in this culture I think in general and how I think about women in particular.

For example, there is an ongoing tendency in the US to say that violent films make Americans into a violent people. This is an irresponsible lie, a cover-up. The reverse is true: Hollywood makes violent movies because Americans are a violent people. Television is made in America, but it is exported and watched globally by even countries that have crime and incarceration rates that are a tiny fraction of those in the US, and their quality of living as expressed by various objective statistics like education and healthcare are positively Utopian compared to the US. Yet they watch tons of American television, and in doing so disprove the premise that violent TV makes violent people. They watch yet don't become pistol-slinging street punks because of it. (They do learn a great deal about the cowboy philosophy underlying American foreign policy.)

What the sociologists have finally figured out (150 years after Marx) is that the health of a society is determined by how well it distributes its wealth. A society that demands that 99% of its people toil for the benefit of an idle but powerful 1% is a slave state. A society that pools much of its resources for the benefit of everyone is healthier and safer. Every country in the world fits somewhere on a spectrum between Utopia and police state concentration camp, and where it fits on that spectrum is a matter freely chosen by the leadership and tolerated by the citizenry.

Utopia is freely chosen. How society creates a caste system, and how it treats members of lower castes are also freely chosen. The decisions rest in two levels: those with the power to make a policy decision, and those affected by the policy. "I'm going to yield this policy decision to the people," said no politician ever: this is why democratic processes are inevitably farces with increasing transparency: Wikileaks revealed Clinton defeated Sanders not at the polls but in the DNC's board room, and most people seem undisturbed by that abortion of democracy. 

This is why if women want equal wages or just to silence the bullies in their lives, they must make it so. They will have support, but they alone must make it so because power is never given but always taken. This is why if America really wants freedom, it must be taken from a slickly manipulative mind-controlling wealthy bastion (not the politicians but the politicians' employers). Hollywood could make some beautiful movies about it.