Critique of Sociological Images post ‘The Hunger Games, Hollywood, & Fighting Fuck Toys’
Today, Dr. Caroline Heldman writes for Sociological Images that Hollywood execs are missing out on revenues because Hollywood continues to depict female action heroes as “Fighting Fuck Toys” (FFT) which are not believable or compelling protagonists. She notes that the recent blockbuster “The Hunger Games” has been a box office success, despite its heroine being a “believable, reluctant hero” who “isn’t objectified once.” Heldman, who is a regular political commentator for Fox News, Fox Business News, RT America, and Al Jazeera English, seems genuinely confused as to why Hollywood so routinely spits out box office flops like Elektra, Catwoman, and Sucker Punch portraying hypersexualized female protagonists when the FFT action heroine-genre doesn’t seem to be particularly lucrative.
Could it be that money really isn’t the point? And, are we completely sure that the female protagonist in “The Hunger Games” is not objectified?
Heldman writes that The Hunger Games‘s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen
succeeds with audiences where other women heroes have failed because she isn’t an FFT. Fighting fuck toys are hyper-sexualized women protagonists who are able to “kick ass” (and kill) with the best of them — and look good doing it. The FFT appears empowered, but her very existence serves the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. In short, the FFT takes female agency and appropriates it for the male gaze.
First of all, media analyses centering “the male gaze” are just completely misguided generally, not to mention an utter bore. There is no analysis of what is meant by “the male gaze” because it is a “Feminism 101” concept; we are directed to educate ourselves about the “Male gaze” on the “Finally, a feminism 101 blog”. There we fall asleep reading about how, although the concepts of the gaze and the male gaze were first
introduced as part of film theory, the term can and is often applied to other kinds of media. It is often used in critiques of advertisements, television, and the fine arts.
The male gaze in advertising is actually a fairly well-studied topic, and it — rather than film — is often what comes to mind when the term is invoked. This is because, more than just being an object of a gaze, the woman in the advertisement becomes what’s being bought and sold: “The message though was always the same: buy the product, get the girl; or buy the product to get to be like the girl so you can get your man” in other words, “‘Buy’ the image, ‘get’ the woman” (Wykes, p. 41). In this way, the male gaze enables women to be a commodity that helps the products to get sold (the “sex sells” adage that comes up whenever we talk about modern marketing). Even advertising aimed at women is not exempt: it engages in the mirror effect described above, wherein women are encouraged to view themselves as the photographer views the model, therefore buying the product in order to become more like the model advertising it.
Okay, but since liberal analysts generally agree, being liberals, that the commodification of women’s sexuality is okay, and that prostitution and pornography themselves are okay, why do they continuously take issue with women in advertising images becoming what’s bought and sold? Literally selling women’s sex, including their sexual labor and their very bodies is not a problem for liberals ethically or politically, so why can’t they stop talking about it?
It gives them something to say, and supports the patriarchal institution of the academy by giving film-school students something to wank about, but this criticism does not provide any meaningful analysis of patriarchal power structures, or get to the root of women’s oppression by men. If liberal analysts actually had a problem with porn and prostitution in real life, they might then point out that commodifying female sexuality and bodies in advertising normalizes porn and prostitution — which it does — and that observation would be based in an actual political theory and be relevant to sexual politics; alas, it does not and it is not.
Seriously, what the hell? Liberal media analysis is so boring, but the real problem with it is that it’s a theoretical dead-end. As is this:
Heldman seems genuinely confused as to why Hollywood generally refuses to produce content that does not very obviously, overtly and gratuitously objectify women, when there might be money to be made there, and she uses the commercial success of “The Hunger Games” as evidence that this is true. She seems completely unaware — or rejects the idea — that the patriarchal media is a propaganda machine that deliberately turns out anti-woman, pro-patriarchal political propaganda first and foremost; and that money is important, because money and the money system supports male power, but money in and of itself is not the whole purpose of Hollywood filmmaking or of any media imagery or of anything. Supporting male power is the point.
But interestingly, at the same time Heldman seems to believe that the female protagonist is not objectified, she notes this:
While the movie arguably plays up the romance angle more than the books, The Hunger Games is still squarely an action thriller, set in a dystopic future world where teens fight to the death in a reality show.
It plays up the romance. The heterosexual romance between our heroine Katniss Everdeen and not one but two male hunters, Peeta and Gale. Where heterosexual romance centers PIV and the domestic, sexual and reproductive servitude of women to men, and where women are mere “useful objects” to men, serving male interests and male power literally until the women are used up, and then tossed out like so much garbage.
I have news for Dr. Caroline Heldman: Katniss Everdeen is objectified in “The Hunger Games.” The Fighting Fuck Toy is not the only way female heroines are objectified, and it’s not the most insidious either.
And “The Hunger Games” can easily be read as supportive of male institutions and male power because it is supportive of male institutions and male power. Being a product of the patriarchal propaganda machine, it is that by definition, but how it is supportive of male power is readily ascertained if one only performs an honest critical analysis of it. In other words: that this image and all media images support male power is demonstrable. But you do need a theoretical foundation from which to start, meaning that one must first articulate the mechanisms of women’s real-life oppression and the foundations of male power, and then plug in the facts, to see which male-power-supportive themes are represented in any particular image, film, or genre. And that is precisely where liberal media criticism falls flat.