Before I left on vacation, I was planning to do a post about the sexist aspects of Transformers 2. I enjoyed the movie, but it has some seriously problematic aspects, from our opening shot of Megan Fox on the motorcycle to the Decepticon pantybot* to the Infinite Dorm of Gorgeous Girls.
But as I was reading other reviews and commentary, I kept coming across the same reactions. “It’s just a summer action flick. What did you expect from a Michael Bay movie? Stop analyzing and just have fun! Why do you have to suck the fun out of everything with this P.C. garbage?”
I find it interesting which stories people believe are worthy of literary analysis and critique. The attitude seems to be that critical analysis is best left for dusty old tomes in the ivory tower. Joyce, Melville, Shakespeare, and so on. If we’re going to think about movies, we’re supposed to limit it to the highbrow art-house films.
Maybe I’m crazy, but that seems backwards to me. How many people actually read Joyce these days? Compare that to the number of people who went out to see Transformers. So wait, we’re saying discussions of racism, sexism, and so on are fine, so long as they’re not about the stories most people are actually reading or watching.
I don’t write deep literary fiction. My books have flaming spiders and nose-picking injuries and Sleeping Beauty & the Little Mermaid kicking the crap out of each other. Because my stories are “bubblegum fiction,” as one reviewer described them, does this mean I should be given a free pass on issues of race, sex, and so on? Because I find that a little insulting, to be honest. When I screw up–and we all do sometimes–I expect to be called on it.
I understand these discussions can be uncomfortable, especially if we’ve enjoyed the story in question. I’m still struggling with major dissonance over Transformers. I have serious problems with the stereotypes and clichés in this thing. I also had a lot of fun watching it. What does it say about me if I enjoyed a movie while at the same time finding it problematic on so many levels?
Personally, I believe it’s important to examine and challenge popular culture, whether that’s movies, TV, books, music, or whatever**. It’s important because it’s popular. Because racism and sexism have survived and thrived in large part because we make excuses and turn a blind eye.
*Decepticons can create perfect human doubles, and the best plan they can come up with is to send her to hop into bed with Sam?
**I say this as a man who wrote about Darth Vader in my Master’s thesis.