HOMENAJE A LAS MINISERIES

Ya es de noche, después de la cena, y toca relajarse: es la hora de elegir una película en cualquiera de las plataformas a la que una está suscrita. Esto significa emplear aproximadamente dos horas en absorber una historia, dejando de lado los quince minutos (o más) que puede llevar seleccionar una película mínimamente atractiva, a menos que se haya preseleccionado y colocado en la lista correspondiente. Si sabes de una película que realmente quieres ver, tanto mejor; si no, en este punto comienzas a preguntarte si tienes la resistencia para aguantar ciento veinte minutos de un guión posiblemente mediocre con una dirección y actuaciones superficiales, la típica película con una calificación de 6 a 6’5 en IMDB. Ahí es cuando te preguntas ¿por qué no ver un episodio de una serie? Sesenta minutos como máximo y luego temprano a la cama, tal vez para leer un rato; o quedarte en el sofá a disfrutar de un videojuego. Cuatro horas y cuatro episodios después, te preguntas a dónde se ha ido el tiempo y si te despertarás a tiempo cuando suene la alarma…

¿Por qué es más fácil ver cuatro episodios de una serie en lugar de un largometraje, que siempre será más breve? Por la misma razón que es más fácil leer sesenta páginas de una novela que un relato de veinte páginas. Todas las narraciones requieren un esfuerzo para dominar las reglas de su mundo ficticio, se trate de un micro cuento o de un serial inacabable de veinte temporadas. Aplicado a un texto corto este esfuerzo no es productivo porque se gasta en poco tiempo. Con un texto más largo, sucede lo contrario: una vez que se comprenden las reglas narrativas básicas, la narración en sí puede degustarse muchas páginas o muchas horas, sin esfuerzo adicional. Cuando elegimos una serie en lugar de una película, o una novela en lugar de un relato, estamos maximizando la utilidad del esfuerzo que hacemos para entrar en sus mundos imaginarios. Cuando la película de dos horas termina, tenemos que comenzar el proceso de nuevo con otra película. Con una serie, el mismo esfuerzo se extiende horas, días, semanas y más, sin inversión adicional. Además, ver una serie también resuelve el problema de qué ver los días siguientes, hasta que la serie termine o su atractivo disminuya para el espectador. En resumen, una persona que ve una película diferente todos los días, o que lee un cuento diferente a diario, debe estar dispuesta a gastar mucha energía imaginativa, mientras que alguien que usa dos horas al día para ver la misma serie durante un mes, o leer la misma novela, solo se involucra en una historia, sin importar cuán compleja sea la trama y las subtramas.

No me gustan las series por la misma razón que no me gustan las novelas de más de 400 páginas: debe haber un límite, creo, al tiempo que estoy dispuesta a invertir en una sola historia. Por las razones que he explicado, no me gustan demasiado los cuentos, que generalmente me impacientan incluso cuando tienen solo unas pocas páginas. Me gustan las películas, pero cada vez me resulta más difícil encontrar guiones que me interesen y, por ello raras veces estoy dispuesta a invertir dos horas de mi tiempo en ver un largometraje, especialmente si estoy leyendo un libro atractivo. A menos que viaje en un tren, avión o autocar, o que lea por trabajo, no leo más de dos horas seguidas por placer, lo que significa que para mí la película de la noche está en competencia directa con cualquier libro que pueda estar leyendo. Por lo general, el libro gana.

Una solución para aquellos a quienes, como a mí, no les gustan las series y están empezando a odiar las películas es ver miniseries. La diferencia entre una serie y una miniserie no es tan fácil de establecer. En principio, una miniserie está limitada a una temporada; de hecho, la palabra ‘temporada’ ni siquiera debería aplicarse a este tipo de narración, ya que una serie solo tiene ‘temporadas’ si es propiamente una serie, no una miniserie. Para confundir aún más las cosas, no es fácil distinguir entre miniserie y serie por número de episodios: por poner un ejemplo, la brillante miniserie Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) consta de catorce episodios, mientras que la no menos brillante serie Sherlock (2010-2017) consta de quince episodios distribuidos en cuatro temporadas. Tal vez en lugar de ‘miniserie’, deberíamos usar la etiqueta de ‘serie de una temporada’, aunque esto contradiga mi argumentación anterior. La Academia de Artes y Ciencias de la Televisión de los Estados Unidos, que otorga los Emmy, prefiere la etiqueta ‘serie limitada’, y parece que en el Reino Unido la palabra serie se usa tanto para minis como para series más largas.

En cuanto a la duración de los episodios, hay miniseries de solo dos episodios que son más cortas que la magnífica película de Steven Spielberg Schindler’s List (1993), de 195 minutos. El límite superior está marcado por el máximo que puede durar una temporada, aunque diría que quince episodios son suficientes. Los episodios pueden durar de veinte a noventa minutos, si bien la mayoría dura de cuarenta y cinco a sesenta minutos, por lo que el número de episodios no es una indicación de la duración real de una miniserie. Se dice que War and Remembrance (1988-1989) es la miniserie más larga, con sus 27 horas (en 12 episodios); ¡su primer episodio dura 150 minutos! Para agregar más datos, las dos miniseries de ficción de mayor rango en IMDB calificadas con un 9,4 (dejando de lado las miniseries documentales) son muy diferentes en cuanto a duración: Band of Brothers (2001) dura 594 minutos, Chernobyl (2019) solo 330.

La miniserie nació mucho antes de la palabra en sí, que apareció a principios de la década de 1960 (1963, según el diccionario Merriam Webster), con la adaptación serializada de novelas. En The Classic Serial on Television and Radio (2001), Robert Giddings y Keith Selby atribuyen a John Reith, el inventor británico de la radiodifusión de servicio público, la idea de usar la cadena de radio de la BBC para representar obras de teatro en la década de 1930, hábito que generó una moda centrada en los clásicos literarios y populares del siglo XIX. Esta moda se trasladó más tarde a la televisión. Giddings y Selby señalan (p. 19) que la adaptación en 1951 por parte de BBC Television de la novela The Warden de Anthony Trollope en seis episodios fue la primera miniserie; fue seguida en 1952 por Pride and Prejudice. Según Francis Wheen’s Television (1985), el inmenso éxito en los Estados Unidos, en 1960-1970, del serial británico The Forsyte Saga (1967), basado en las novelas de John Galsworthy, “inspiró la miniserie estadounidense”, también a menudo basada en novelas, tanto clásicas como best-sellers.

Siento usar mis recuerdos personales, pero sucede que mi infancia y adolescencia se solapan con el período en el que las miniserie estadounidenses y las británicas florecieron. El año clave fue 1976. Fue entonces cuando la adaptación de la BBC de las novelas de Robert Graves I, Claudius (1934) y Claudius the God (1935) como I, Claudius, y la versión de ABC del best-seller de Irvin Shaw Rich Man, Poor Man (1969) llegó a la pantalla de televisión con una fuerza de huracán que recuerdo perfectamente. Tenía diez años cuando Hombre rico, hombre pobre fue emitida por TVE, en 1977, y doce cuando Yo, Claudio fue vista por fin en España en 1978, y sí recuerdo su impacto con toda claridad. No recuerdo haber visto la exitosa miniserie anglo-italiana Jesús de Nazaret (1977, dirigida por Franco Zefirelli), emitida por TVE en 1979, pero ciertamente recuerdo el enorme fenómeno en el que se convirtió Roots (1977), o Raíces, basada en la novela de Alex Hailey (1976), en ese mismo año de 1979. Luego vinieron otras adaptaciones de la BBC (me quedé impresionadísima con la versión de 1978 de la BBC de Wuthering Heights, que vi a los trece años, antes de leer la novela de Emily Brontë) y los éxitos de la década de 1980: Shōgun (1980), adaptación de la novela de James Clavell; The Thorn Birds (1983) basada en la novela romántica de Colleen McCullough; y la trilogía de miniseries North and South (1985, 1986, 1994), basada en las novelas de John Jakes.

La miniserie que posiblemente alteró más profundamente cómo se debía gestionar la adaptación literaria fue Brideshead Revisited (1981) de Granada Television/ITV, basada en la novela de 1945 de Evelyn Waugh. Esta serie de once episodios, que lanzó la carrera de Jeremy Irons, se emitió en España en 1983. Tenía yo dieciséis años entonces y recuerdo estar completamente encantada con todo lo que mostraba. Curiosamente, Televisión Española emitió originalmente Brideshead en su segundo canal, que solo llegaba a una minoría de espectadores y luego le dio una segunda oportunidad en su canal principal en 1984. Eran los tiempos previos a la aparición de los canales privados (en la década de 1990) y mucho antes de las plataformas de streaming, cuando todos veían la misma serie. Brideshead Revisited tiene poco que ver con todas las otras miniseries que he mencionado, siendo una exploración bastante sutil del desajuste entre Charles Ryder y la rica pero decadente familia de su amigo Sebastian Flyte. También es una crónica bastante nostálgica del final de las grandes casas aristocráticas británicas (el magnífico Castillo Howard fue la ubicación principal), y como tal un precursor de la novela mucho más crítica de Kazuo Ishiguro The Remains of the Day (1989). Era yo entonces una adolescente fácilmente impresionable y creí a pies juntillas que la cultura inglesa era tan fina y elegante como Brideshead mostraba, lo cual no era el caso. Tampoco capté el profundo clasismo, que vi con toda crudeza cuando enseñé la novela una década después a estudiantes de primer año que no le vieron la gracia.

Repasando estos días las listas de las mejores miniseries actuales, es decir, de los últimos diez años, concluyo que este tipo de narración está floreciendo de nuevo, aunque también está siendo sobrevalorada. Disfruté enormemente de The Queen’s Gambit (2020), según la novela de Walter Tevis (1983), pero encontré The Night Manager (2016), basada en la novela de John le Carré (1993), muy poco merecedora de su éxito. Un problema que afecta a las miniseries es que las plataformas no distinguen en sus menús entre ellas y las series de varias temporadas, con lo cual es fácil perderse las menos publicitadas. La imposibilidad de suscribirse a todos los servicios de streaming significa además que los espectadores se pierden constantemente las series de las que podrían disfrutar. Esta iba a ser originalmente una entrada con una lista de grandes miniseries recientes, pero yo misma tengo acceso a una selección muy limitada. Este es un tema para otro post, por supuesto, pero me pregunto si la proliferación de plataformas está haciendo que la piratería vuelva a crecer, una vez que los espectadores que se apañan bien con los ordenadores han llegado a la conclusión de que no hay forma de mantenerse al día con el flujo incesante de productos audiovisuales atractivos.

Terminaré sugiriendo que la miniserie podría acabar matando la adaptación cinematográfica de novelas para el cine, probablemente sea una buena noticia. Una película de dos horas nunca puede acomodar los eventos de una novela de extensión media y mucho menos los de cualquier novela de más de 400 páginas. La miniserie, que es siempre más flexible, parece ser, por lo tanto, un vehículo mucho más adecuado para adaptar novelas, como ya demostró la hermosa versión de Orgullo y prejuicio (1995) de la BBC. La mala noticia asociada a esta tendencia es la tentación de prolongar la miniserie para una segunda temporada y más allá, con la esperanza de convertirla en una serie propiamente dicha basada en el atractivo de un personaje o una trama. Un ejemplo es The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-) ya en su quinta temporada, mucho más allá de la novela original de Margaret Atwood. Los showrunners intentan explotar el atractivo de todas las series populares, pero es bueno saber cuándo hay que detenerse, y este es el rasgo que más aprecio de las miniseries.

Espero que vosotros también las disfrutéis.

Publico una entrada una vez a la semana (sígueme en @SaraMartinUAB). ¡Los comentarios son muy bienvenidos! Descárgate los volúmenes anuales de https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328 y visita mi sitio web https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/. La versión en inglés del blog está disponible en https://blogs.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

UBICACIÓN, UBICACIÓN, UBICACIÓN: ESCRIBIR DENTRO DE FRONTERAS AJENAS

NOTA: Redacté esta entrada el 20 de diciembre de 2021, pero la publico ahora a causa del ciberataque que la UAB sufrió entonces y que causó la suspensión temporal del blog

Estoy tomando prestada para esta entrada la famosa expresión «ubicación, ubicación, ubicación», acuñada por Harold Samuel para describir los tres factores que más importan en el mercado inmobiliario. Sin embargo, no trataré aquí de la propiedad de inmuebles, sino de los límites en la elección de los escenarios para la ficción, inspirada por una película y una novela. La película es El último duelo (2021) de Ridley Scott y la novela L’aigua que vols del autor catalán Víctor García Tur y también de 2021. Aunque muy diferentes, ambas obras son incursiones en una comunidad nacional por parte de un narrador extranjero del que se podría aducir que no estés cualificado para contar la historia narrada, precisamente por ser un extranjero. Cuestiono aquí la suposición de que los autores son libres de contar cualquier historia que deseen, independientemente de dónde se localice su trama, con algunas advertencias sobre el nacionalismo y la historia nacional.

Cuando hizo en 1992 la muy horrenda película 1492: La conquista del paraíso, con Gerard Depardieu interpretando a Cristóbal Colón, al director inglés Ridley Scott se le preguntó muchas veces por qué había querido hacer esta cinta en lugar de dejar el asunto a los españoles. El director inglés siempre respondía, cada vez más molesto, que ningún director español había mostrado ningún interés en conmemorar a Colón como héroe nacional en el 500 aniversario de su primer desembarco americano y, por lo tanto, él era libre de contar esta historia. Esto provoca dos reacciones contradictorias inmediatas: a)muy bien y de acuerdo, b) ¿Scott preguntó personalmente a todos los directores españoles sobre sus intenciones? En realidad tres reacciones, la tercera de consternación, ya que diversos directores españoles han contado la historia de Cristóbal Colón; sencillamente, Scott no estaba familiarizado con ellos ni le importaban.

El último duelo parece verse afectado por una situación similar: dado que ningún director francés se había molestado en contar esta notoria historia de venganza a causa de una violación, ambientada en la Francia del s. XIV, ¿por qué no habría de contarla Scott? La respuesta es que, como muchos críticos y espectadores han comentado, es posible que ya no estemos dispuestos a aceptar películas en las que los idiomas originales y las culturas nacionales sean reemplazados por el inglés y por un enfoque genéricamente angloamericano. Ha habido miles de películas anglófonas ambientadas en lugares no anglófonos, por supuesto, pero de alguna manera El último duelo hace que este artificio sea particularmente molesto. Imaginad una película francesa ambientada en el oeste americano en la que todos los personajes hablan francés simplemente porque ese es el idioma de los productores de la cinta, y rápidamente entenderéis lo incoherente que es la película de Scott. Agregad a esto la distancia sociocultural entre el siglo XIV y el siglo XXI, y entre el contexto post-#MeToo de Scott y su material histórico medieval, y se obtiene la explicación de por qué El úlitmo duelo ha fracasado en taquilla.

Sé que el razonamiento que estoy planteando es casi pura tontería si pensamos en la larga tradición de contar historias ambientadas en otras tierras que prolifera en las culturas anglófonas. Aunque italianos de nacimiento, Romeo y Julieta siempre han hablado inglés, incluso en la versión cinematográfica del director italiano Franco Zeffirelli. La descarada apropiación cultural de Shakespeare no suele ser debatida por los italianos, al igual que los daneses no se molestan en quejarse de que los personajes de Hamlet deberían hablar danés. Creo, sin embargo, que este tipo de colonialismo cultural es, como mínimo, sospechoso. Me imagino ahora cómo sería que Ridley Scott viniera a Cataluña a hacer una película sobre, por ejemplo, la ejecución de Lluís Companys –el presidente de la Generalitat asesinado por el franquismo en 1940 con la colaboración de la Gestapo– en la que no se escuchara ni una palabra de catalán porque todo el elenco hablaba en inglés (¿Edward Norton interpretaría a Companys?). No importa lo mucho que esta supuesta película pudiera ayudar a publicitar la tragedia de Companys a nivel internacional; aún así, me molestaría enormemente como catalana y hablante nativa de esta lengua. Si, suponiendo, Scott estuviera interesado en Companys (si lo pensamos, el tema de El último duelo es mucho más remoto), entonces lo mejor que podría hacer sería poner su maquinaria de producción al servicio de un director catalán, como Manuel Huerga que ya ha trabajado en una película sobre Companys; o ponerse al frente de un equipo catalán, incluyendo un elenco catalán, para que la credibilidad de la película se potenciara al máximo. En El último duelo la credibilidad que pueda tener la película queda completamente destruida por los acentos y el lenguaje corporal estadounidense de los actores (y guionistas de la cinta) Matt Damon y Ben Affleck, totalmente imposibles de aceptar como aristócratas franceses feudales.

¿Estoy diciendo que un enfoque ‘a cada uno lo suyo’ es la única posibilidad narrativa? Casi. Lo que estoy diciendo es que aunque en muchos casos tiene sentido aceptar el artificio y las convenciones de la cinematografía, la estructura sentimental que diría Raymond Williams con respecto a este asunto puede estar cambiando. Fue más fácil para Ridley Scott convencernos en 2000 de que el actor neozelandés-australiano Russell Crowe era un general romano que ahora proponer que aceptemos a Matt Damon como un guerrero francés medieval, y no solo porque la civilización romana ha desaparecido hace mucho tiempo, mientras que Francia está muy viva. El principio que Quentin Tarantino estableció en Malditos bastardos (2009) por el cual los personajes de una película deben hablar de manera realista en sus propios idiomas o con acento si hablan otro idioma nunca se ha popularizado, ni tampoco la idea de que las barreras culturales-lingüísticas deben ser reconocidas. Al ver la sobrevalorada Encanto esta Navidad, me horrorizó mucho la insistencia de Disney en la absurda idea de que usar un inglés con acento para personajes colombianos que lógicamente solo deberían hablar español tiene sentido. No lo tiene, y no debería.

La novela de Víctor García Tur, L’aigua que vols, es un texto escrito en catalán pero ambientado en Quebec. De nuevo, reconozco que estoy defendiendo una argumentación casi sin sentido si pienso que mi autor catalán favorito, Marc Pastor, ha ambientado algunas de sus novelas (como Bioko o Farishta) en localizaciones exóticas, utilizando solo el catalán como lengua para todos sus personajes; lo mismo ocurre con La pell freda de Albert Sánchez Piñol, en la que el protagonista es un joven irlandés. Eso sí me molestó (¿por qué no podía este tipo ser catalán, me he preguntado siempre?), pero menos de lo que me irrita la familia quebequense en la novela de García Tur, quizás porque Pastor y Piñol escriben en la tradición de la novela exótica heredada de las naciones anglófonas, mientras que García Tur escribe en la tradición realista que prevalece en catalán. Curiosamente, tuve una conversación con el autor en el momento en que estaba escribiendo L’aigua que vols, y le sorprendió mucho mi punto de vista. Aún más curiosamente, en el postfacio García Tur comenta que entiende los peligros de escribir sobre una comunidad extranjera que no conoce de primera mano, y promete no volver a hacerlo. Luego procede a anunciar que su próxima novela será ciencia ficción, un género en el que los escritores son mucho más libres de elegir sobre quién escriben.

L’aigua que vols cuenta la sencilla historia de una reunión familiar convocada por la matriarca, Marie, de 76 años, viuda y ex actriz de teatro. Los cuatro hermanos –JP, Helène, Laura, Anne-Sophie– visitan la dilapidada casa familiar junto al lago, comprada por su difunto padre, y se ponen al día sobre el estado de sus vidas. Hablan mucho, pero no se puede decir realmente que se comuniquen, y nada terriblemente dramático sucede hasta el final de la novela, aunque de una manera bastante moderada. Mientras leía el texto, escrito en un catalán bellamente fluido, pensaba en esas divertidas películas francesas, como Les petits mouchoirs (2010) de Guillaume Canet y su secuela, que siempre me hacen preguntarme por qué no tenemos ninguna película tan efectiva en castellano o catalán. Al mismo tiempo, me estuve preguntando con cada paso de página, por qué los personajes de García Tur no eran catalanes y por qué su destartalada casa no estaba ubicada junto a un lago catalán. Mientras leía, tuve siempre la incómoda impresión de que estaban doblados, complicada además por la nota del autor que presenta el texto catalán como una traducción de una novela quebequense en francés publicada en 1996. Qué pirueta tan complicada…

Me llevó un tiempo entender por qué L’aigua que vols no está ambientada en Cataluña, aunque al mismo tiempo espero estar totalmente equivocada. La novela está ambientada en 1995, fecha del segundo (fallido) referéndum de independencia en Quebec; el primero se celebró en 1980. Los hermanos discuten sus preferencias, con Laura muy a favor de la independencia e incluso tratando de comprar el voto de su hermano JP para la causa, aunque no se trate de una novela básicamente política. En un momento dado, sin embargo, JP da un discurso bastante largo sobre lo cansado que está de todo el debate sobre la independencia, y cómo envidia a los parisinos porque no se despiertan por la mañana pensando en su nación. Simplemente continúan con su vida. JP también argumenta que debe ser bueno que las personas en los países comunes y corrientes que no se vean afectados por cuestiones independentistas puedan quejarse de su nación. Por contra, dice, los quebequenses nunca pueden criticar a su nación porque se sienten desleales. Mi impresión es que es así como García Tur se siente respecto a la independencia catalana, y por ello eligió una ruta indirecta para expresarse, poniendo sus propios sentimientos y opiniones en boca de un personaje quebequense. Su novela es, así pues, una especie de roman-à-clef donde todo lo quebequense representa algo secretamente catalán. Ojalá no fuera así, y la novela fuera abiertamente sobre Cataluña. Simplemente parecería más auténtica.

Para concluir, lo que propongo es que cada narrador considere cuidadosamente su elección de ubicación, más allá de su primer impulso. Si se siente tentado a establecer una historia en otro lugar, dentro de fronteras ajenas, la pregunta que debería hacerse es por qué esto es necesario. ¿Puede un autor local contar mejor la historia? ¿Por qué es necesaria la ubicación extranjera si la historia puede ambientarse dentro de las propias fronteras? Y siempre hay que considerar la posibilidad opuesta: ¿estaría contento Ridley Scott con una película en francés sobre la reina Victoria?, ¿disfrutaría García Tur de una novela en francés quebequense con un elenco de personajes totalmente catalanes ambientada en Cataluña? Puedo estar limitando el alcance de mucha ficción, histórica o contemporánea, pero creo que estas son preguntas que deben abordarse. Ubicación, ubicación, ubicación…

Publico aquí una entrada semanal (me puedes seguir en @SaraMartinUAB). Los comentarios son muy bienvenidos. Los volúmenes anuales del blog están disponibles en https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Si te interesa echar un vistazo, mi web es https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

EL JUEGO DEL CALAMAR Y LOS PELIGROS DE LA TRADUCCIÓN AUTOMÁTICA: UNA ADVERTENCIA

NOTA: Redacté esta entrada el 1 de noviembre de 2021, pero la publico ahora a causa del ciberataque que la UAB sufrió entonces y que causó la suspensión temporal del blog

No estoy siguiendo el mega-éxito surcoreano de Netflix El juego del calamar, al estar actualmente sin subscripción a la plataforma, pero he notado que la serie ha generado mucha controversia sobre un tema que a poca gente le importa realmente: la calidad de los subtítulos. Lo que llama la atención es lo diferentes que son las controversias según el área lingüística. Para los angloparlantes el problema parece ser si los subtítulos son realmente precisos y cuánto se pierde en la traducción. Para los hispanohablantes ese era también el problema hasta que los traductores profesionales del sector audiovisual llamaron la atención, hace un par de semanas, sobre el uso de la traducción automática para los subtítulos. Me parece que el problema de la precisión es mucho menos urgente ahora mismo que el asunto de la traducción automática, tema que no se está abordando adecuadamente y que tendrá enormes consecuencias en un futuro próximo. Veamos cómo.

Como todos sabemos, el inglés es la lengua audiovisual dominante, pero la inmensa popularidad de algunas series en lengua extranjera en las plataformas de streaming, y la generalmente baja calidad del doblaje al inglés, ha obligado a muchos espectadores a usar subtítulos. Sigo aquí el artículo de CNET, “Still watching Squid Game on Netflix? Change this subtitle setting immediately” de Jennifer Bisset (https://www.cnet.com/news/watching-squid-game-on-netflix-change-this-subtitle-setting-asap/), como presentación del problema que afecta a los espectadores que utilizan subtítulos en inglés para seguir el diálogo original coreano de la serie. Todo iba más o menos bien hasta que los usuarios coreanos de Tik-Tok y Twitter empezaron a protestar por lo mucho que se perdía en los subtítulos en inglés, desde errores flagrantes hasta cuestiones de matiz. Bisset advierte, como han hecho otros, que aunque no se puede conseguir una precisión total, la opción de subtítulos en inglés funciona mucho mejor que la opción también en inglés con Closed Captions para sordos, que es la que utilizan la mayoría de los espectadores. Los subtítulos CC en inglés, explica, son “a menudo autogenerados” y, en El juego del calamar, aparentemente “más parecidos al doblaje al inglés que a los subtítulos en esa lengua”. Los subtítulos en inglés que ella recomienda no tienen que adaptar, a diferencia del doblaje en inglés, la traducción a la sincronización labial, y son, por tanto, más precisos, aunque no estén necesariamente libres de errores, como han señalado también muchos coreanos. Se trata, pues, de elegir entre lo malo y lo peor, si bien no es esta una experiencia exclusiva de esta serie o del mundo angloparlante. Como sé por haber visto miles de películas y series en inglés con subtítulos en español los errores son muchos. A menudo demuestran que este tipo de traducciones se hacen con prisas, y las llevan a cabo traductores mal pagados y sin la suficiente experiencia (disculpas a los que tienen experiencia pero igualmente están mal pagados).

Para el caso español, sigo el artículo de Héctor Llanos Martínez, “Los traductores españoles protestan por los ‘mediocres’ subtítulos de El juego del calamar, hechos por una máquina” para El País (https://elpais.com/television/2021-10-14/los-traductores-espanoles-protestan-por-los-mediocres-subtitulos-de-el-juego-del-calamar-hechos-por-una-maquina.html). Llanos informa de que ATRAE, la Asociación de Traducción y Adaptación Audiovisual de España, se ha quejado de que Netflix emplea a una empresa multinacional especializada en traducción automática, Iyuno (https://iyuno-sdi.com/), que produce subtítulos editados posteriormente por una persona que trabaja a un tercio de la tarifa habitual de los traductores. Esta técnica, denominada posedición, es la que todos utilizamos cuando traducimos automáticamente un texto que luego revisamos. Según ATRAE, un traductor recibe entre 60 y 100 euros por supervisar una película de 100 minutos, una tarea terriblemente mal pagada, aunque recibir 300 euros por traducir toda la película tampoco suena de maravilla. Los portavoces de ATRAE han señalado que las IAs que generan la traducción automática no entienden el contexto, el subtexto o los juegos de palabras y pasan por alto muchos matices que un traductor humano notaría (aunque, como he señalado, la subtitulación no es en absoluto el tipo de traducción más preciso). ATRAE sugiere que Netflix puede no haber sido consciente de los controvertidos métodos utilizados para traducir El juego del calamar, aparentemente la primera serie que utiliza la posedición, en vista del cuidado que puso en la correcta traducción de La casa de papel. Llanos comenta que Audiovisual Translators Europe (AVTE) ya había puesto a Iyuno en la lista negra en 2020. También señala que Netflix no ha querido hacer ningún comentario.

Precisamente, AVTE publicó el pasado mes de septiembre un Manifiesto sobre la Traducción Automática de 18 páginas en el que denunciaba esta práctica (https://avteurope.eu/2021/09/13/press-release-avte-manifesto-on-machine-translation/). Los 10 puntos del resumen incluyen las siguientes declaraciones “No creemos que los procesos de localización totalmente automatizados vayan a producirse pronto”, “Aunque los defensores de la MT [machine translation] afirman que el aumento de la eficiencia está garantizado, arreglar una mala traducción puede llevar más tiempo que traducir el mismo texto desde cero”, “Para reforzar la sostenibilidad, hay que mejorar las condiciones de trabajo de los traductores”, y “Los traductores a menudo no son conscientes de que su trabajo se utiliza para entrenar los motores de MT, ni se les remunera por ello”. Esto sólo demuestra lo desesperada que empieza a ser la situación de los traductores humanos profesionales. Todos sabemos, por la experiencia de utilizar Google Translate, la propia función de traducción de Word u otros traductores automáticos como DeepL, que la traducción automática ha mejorado enormemente en los últimos cinco años. De hecho, todos hemos contribuido a ello, ya que las IAs aprenden de los textos que les pedimos que traduzcan, mejorando constantemente con la práctica. No tengo ni idea de lo que estoy diciendo aquí, pero Google Translate, que se lanzó en 2006, cambió en 2016 a la Traducción Automática Neural de Google (GNMT), un tipo de traducción automática que utiliza un algoritmo neural impulsado por la IA capaz de procesar el significado contextual (mucho más cercano a un cerebro humano, entonces). Eso explica la espectacular mejora.

Mi propio uso de la traducción automática implica que lo que me llevaría 90 minutos traducir desde cero puede estar listo para subirlo online en 20 minutos, o menos, de revisión – una gran ventaja. Así que, lo siento ATRAE y AVTE pero en cinco años más, la traducción automática podría ser tan precisa como cualquier traductor humano, si no más, siendo ya increíblemente más rápida. “Arreglar una mala traducción” podría ser para entonces un concepto totalmente del pasado. No tengo nada en contra de los traductores, sino todo lo contrario: son profesionales a los que admiro profundamente. Sin embargo, sería ingenuo pensar que un manifiesto puede detener la marcha de la tecnología y, sobre todo, la marcha del capitalismo codicioso y mezquino en su búsqueda de la traducción (aceptable) más barata. Los métodos de posedición de El juego del calamar son sólo la primera señal de lo que pronto llegará. No estoy anunciando la muerte de la traducción profesional, sino siendo realista.

Para mi inmensa sorpresa, dos amigos que trabajan como traductores profesionales en instituciones públicas (no como traductores literarios o cinematográficos), me reconocieron hace poco que el uso de la traducción automática es habitual, y que su trabajo consiste ahora en revisar más que en traducir desde cero. Supongo que esto también sucede en muchos otros entornos profesionales y empresariales, y también supongo que muchos académicos con poco dinero para sus proyectos de investigación podrían optar por la traducción posedición en lugar de la traducción desde cero, mucho más cara. Una cosa que debemos tener clara es que la traducción automática no puede funcionar sin revisión: puedes emplear Google Translate y traducir tu artículo académico al chino mandarín creyendo que es preciso, pero sólo un hablante nativo de la lengua de destino puede determinar la precisión.

Podría ser, pues, que en el futuro se busque a los traductores principalmente como revisores. Esta es la parte que me asusta mucho, no sólo porque los sueldos de los traductores profesionales podrían reducirse drásticamente y socavarse su importantísima tarea, sino porque si la profesión se ve tan afectada que ningún joven quiere formarse como traductor, corremos el riesgo de que la traducción desaparezca por completo como actividad humana. La visión de un mundo en el que todos los traductores sean IAs es una distopía aterradora, ya que pondría una herramienta importantísima de la comunicación humana fuera del alcance del ser humano. Mucha gente cree que una persona nativa bilingüe, o alguien que aprende una segunda lengua, puede traducir fácilmente, pero convertirse en traductor requiere una seria formación profesional. Sin embargo, ¿a quién se le ocurriría invertir largos años en ese tipo de formación para competir con IAs súper eficientes? ¿Y cuánta gente entiende realmente el peligro a largo plazo de confiar toda la traducción a las IAs?

Por otro lado, la traducción automática abre nuevas posibilidades que merece la pena considerar y que podrían enriquecer el ámbito cultural. Supongamos que eres un autor que busca publicación internacional pero no encuentra editoriales extranjeras interesadas. Te dicen que el coste de la traducción y la revisión de tu libro es demasiado elevado y que las ventas previstas hacen que arriesgarse de esta manera sea una pura apuesta. Pues bien, puedes auto-traducirte usando traducción automática, pagar una revisión profesional y comercializar tu libro directamente en, digamos, cinco idiomas extranjeros, a través de Amazon, o plataformas similares, o de tu propio sitio web. Por poner un ejemplo, esta semana entrevistaré para el nuevo Festival 42 al autor británico Richard Morgan, un autor de CF relativamente conocido cuyas novelas Altered Carbon, Broken Angels y Woken Furies han sido adaptadas por Netflix utilizando el título del primer libro. Tanto Woken Furies como Black Man (conocida como Th3rteen en Estados Unidos), la novela favorita del propio Morgan entre toda su producción, siguen sin traducirse al español porque su editorial carece de recursos. ¿Por qué no debería Morgan pagar la traducción automática más la revisión (por un traductor profesional o una académica como una servidora) y publicar las novelas como él decida? Al fin y al cabo, los derechos de autor son suyos. Soy consciente de que esto puede sonar como un anatema entre los traductores profesionales, pero estoy contemplando el mismo proceso para traducir al español mi propio libro Masculinity and Patriarchal Villainy in British Fiction: From Hitler to Voldemort, a la vista de la docena de editoriales españolas que lo han rechazado. Y, sí, la TA tiene una desventaja para los autores, como podrás comprobar si consultas ‘traducción automática y derechos de autor’ en Google: la generación de traducciones ilegales de obras en idiomas extranjeros que no respetan los derechos de autor. Puede que encuentres tu propio libro en Amazon traducido a otro idioma, pero que sepas que esto es ilegal, ya que los derechos de autor siempre te pertenecen a ti. Por lo tanto, muévete antes de que lo hagan otros…

Una última cuestión me preocupa: si utilizo una herramienta de traducción para traducir esta entrada, los derechos de autor siguen siendo míos, del mismo modo que los derechos de autor del texto original me pertenecen a mí y no al programa Word de Microsoft, que utilizo para escribirlo. El software para escribir y traducir es una herramienta, y no una entidad que pueda poseer derechos de autor. Sin embargo, al ser una ávida lectora de ciencia ficción, estoy familiarizada con el tropo de la IA que se vuelve consciente y exige ser tratada como una persona de pleno. Si a las IAs se les concede finalmente un estatus legal como personas (como se les está concediendo ahora a algunos animales), esto significa que todo lo que hagan, incluyendo la traducción, estará sujeto a las leyes de derechos de autor (los traductores humanos conservan los derechos de autor sobre sus traducciones). La singularidad, tan anunciada, podría producirse en 2099 y no en 2022, pero sin duda ocurrirá, a no ser que, por supuesto, el cambio climático nos aniquile a todos. Así que prepárate para un mundo muy extraño en el que las traducciones literarias, por nombrar las más cercanas a mi corazón, serán firmadas por IAs con nombres personales. Un gran mundo nuevo… aunque no para los traductores profesionales y, por mucho que me guste la idea de las IAs, para la comunicación humana entre idiomas.

Publico aquí una entrada semanal (me puedes seguir en @SaraMartinUAB). Los comentarios son muy bienvenidos. Los volúmenes anuales del blog están disponibles en https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Si te interesa echar un vistazo, mi web es https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

PENSANDO DE NUEVO EN WILLY WONKA: EL VILLANO ‘DISFRUTABLE’

Mi brillante estudiante Pol Vinyeta ha escrito una excelente disertación de licenciatura sobre uno de los libros más populares de Roald Dahl con el título “Don’t Trust the Candy Man: A Reading of Willy Wonka’s Enjoyable Villainy in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Its Film Adaptations”. Pol eligió este tema porque parecía que Matilda (su elección inicial) había sido tratada en mucha bibliografía académica, pero había una mayor oportunidad de decir algo nuevo sobre Charlie. La idea era tomar mi propio trabajo sobre villanía, Masculinity and Patriarchal Villainy in British Fiction: From Hitler to Voldemort (2019), y ver de qué manera Willy Wonka es de hecho un villano, o no. Cuando empezamos a trabajar en la disertación no nos dimos cuenta de que Wonka sería noticia constante por el cincuentenario de la primera adaptación cinematográfica y el anuncio de una tercera versión en pantalla. Pura serendipia!

Mientras que en mi libro daba por sentado que los personajes masculinos en los que me centré eran puros villanos, sin rasgos redentores de ningún tipo, Pol concluyó en su análisis que Willy Wonka parece ser un caso de villanía parcial, definida por “ciertos rasgos típicos del villanos”. En caso de que seas un extraterrestre que acaba de aterrizar en la Tierra y nunca has oído hablar de Wonka, permíteme decir que en esta novela para niños Dahl cuenta la historia de cómo este hombre –el chocolatero más reconocido y solitario del mundo– elige un heredero para su negocio entre los niños seleccionados para visitar su colorista fábrica de cuento de hadas. El boleto de admisión dorado se encuentra en una de las innumerables barras de chocolate a la venta, lo que por supuesto hace que Wonka sea aún más rico cuando los niños de todo el planeta comienzan a comprar sus productos como locos. Charlie, un niño criado en una familia extremadamente pobre (de ubicación no revelada), tiene suerte y la novela narra cómo uno por uno los otros niños sufren accidentes que hacen que solo Charlie termine la visita. Solo entonces Wonka revela sus planes para el chico, a quien nombra su nuevo heredero. Entre los rasgos villanos que Pol describió están la crueldad despreocupada de Wonka hacia los otros niños, el trato explotador de sus trabajadores importados los Oompa Loompas, y el creerse con derecho sobre Charlie, a quien realmente no se le da la oportunidad de considerar cómo Wonka se apropia de su futuro. La tesis de Pol es que no vemos a Wonka como un villano directamente porque Dahl usa el humor para disfrazar sus peores fallos (y yo añadiría porque percibimos su rescate de Charlie de la pobreza como una acción positiva). Pol ha llamado a esta villanía que se sale con la suya “villanía disfrutable” y esta es una etiqueta que me intriga.

Cuando uno piensa en la literatura infantil está bastante claro que Lord Voldemort es el villano más potente que jamás ha amenazado a un niño. Hay algo de humor en la serie Harry Potter, generalmente asociado con los miembros de la familia Weasley, pero no hay nada humorístico en absoluto en Voldemort. El actor Ralph Fiennes, quien lo interpretó en la serie de películas, dijo una vez que si quitas todas la fantasía, Voldemort es un hombre adulto que abusa de un niño y así es como tenemos que verlo. No hay nada ‘disfrutable’, así pues, en el tratamiento que Rowling le da a este monstruo humano. Quizás, sin embargo, esto sea excepcional, ya que los villanos en las ficciones infantiles suelen ser personajes exagerados y por eso son fuentes de humor, aunque ellos mismos puedan ser personas carentes de humor. Pol mencionó como caso de villano agradable sin humor la Reina Roja en Alicia en el País de las Maravillas. En circunstancias menos fantasiosas, esta mujer autoritaria perpetuamente airada podría ser tema de pesadillas góticas, pero en el contexto de la fabulación hiperexcitada de Lewis Carroll es risible. Del mismo modo, en A Series of Unfortunate Events de Lemony Snicket (que recomiendo encarecidamente), el Conde Olaf es una fuente de diversión, a pesar de que su implacable persecución de los hermanos Baudelaire no es nada divertida para ellos. Si nos reímos de las ridículas travesuras de Olaf es solo porque esperamos que pierda y los Baudelaire se impongan, como sabemos que pasará.

La cuestión es que en comparación con la Reina Roja o el Conde Olaf, o cualquier otro villano de fantasía infantil que se te ocurra, Willy Wonka es un personaje muy extraño. No se parece en absoluto a Olaf en querer privar a un niño de sus medio de subsistencia, pero no está tan lejos de Olaf en su enfoque despreocupado sobre la seguridad de los niños que visitan la fábrica. El humor en la novela de Dahl se basa en la idea de que, con la excepción de Charlie, los otros niños (de 9 a 10 años) son mocosos insufribles: Augustus Gloop es un niño obeso que no puede dejar de comer; Violet Beauregarde es una chica terriblemente grosera, masticadora de chicles y vanidosa; Veruca Salt (seguramente el nombre más feo de la historia para una niña) es una terrible mocosa malcriada, y Mike Teavee es un ratón de sofá que solo piensa en ver la televisión. Sus finales indecorosos (si es que son finales, hay que decirlo) son presentados por el autor como castigos bien merecidos en los que Wonka se regodea para consternación de los padres. De hecho, el propósito final del libro parece ser atormentar a estos niños porque a) no hay ninguna razón por la que los boletos de oro no podrían haber caído en manos de mejores niños, b) Wonka podría haber seleccionado a su heredero de muchas otras maneras, c) la presencia de Charlie entre este grupo es la de la excepción que confirma la regla. Alguien aquí es un sádico que odia a cierto tipo de niño, y nunca he estado segura de si el sádico es Dahl o Wonka. De cualquier manera, el mensaje enviado no es muy alentador y parece apelar a los instintos más bajos de los jóvenes lectores en lugar de intentar cualquier reeducación de los insufribles visitantes.

Luego está el asunto de los Oompa Loompas. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fue publicado en 1964 cuando aún era aceptable, al parecer, presentar a los incansables trabajadores de Wonka como pequeños indígenas exóticos de una tierra sin nombre. En las primeras representaciones ilustradas los Oompa Loompas fueron representados como pigmeos africanos. En 1971, cuando se filmó la primera adaptación, esto era lo suficientemente problemático como para que fueran interpretados por actores con maquillaje naranja y pelucas verdes, aunque dichos actores eran enanos. En la versión de 2005 de Tim Burton, el actor indio-keniano Deep Roy, también enano, interpretó a todos los Oompa Loompas, como si fueran clones. Por qué los trabajadores esclavizados de Wonka son personas bajas y no blancas nunca se ha explicado satisfactoriamente, aunque parece haber una conexión con (por supuesto) los siete compañeros de Blancanieves y, más directamente, con los Munchkins en los libros sobre el Mago de Oz de L. Frank Baum. No puedo imaginar, sin embargo, cómo se va a tratar este aspecto inconfundiblemente racista de la novela de Dahl en la próxima tercera adaptación de Paul King. Irónicamente, Dahl quería que Charlie fuera originalmente un niño negro, pero sus editores le dijeron que nadie compraría un libro para niños con ese tipo de protagonista.

Debido a la disertación de Pol, recientemente he revisitado la versión de 1971 con Gene Wilder como Wonka y la encontré una película que pocos niños contemporáneos podrían disfrutar. Reseñándola recientemente en The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2021/jun/30/willy-wonka-chocolate-factory-roald-dahl-gene-wilder), Guy Lodge la llama “una película torpe que Roald Dahl odiaba con razón”. Al parecer, a pesar de que el autor aparece como único autor del guion, este pasó por muchos cambios de los que nunca fue informado. Dahl quería que Spike Milligan o Peter Sellers interpretaran a Wonka y, alineándose con él, Lodge anuncia en su subtítulo que “Los años no han sido amables con Gene Wilder y su actuación sobrevalorada como el sádico chocolatero en una adaptación barata y mal hecha”. Debo decir que aunque Wilder es algo inquietante, encontré el Wonka de 2005 de Johnny Depp aún más espeluznante, con su absurdo corte pelo al estilo paje y sus dientes ultrablancos. Pol afirma que los recientes escándalos de Depp han destruido su actuación a los ojos de espectadores adultos que posiblemente no compartirían esta película con sus hijos, y yo estaría de acuerdo. Incluso sin los escándalos, sin embargo, encuentro muy poco que disfrutar en la versión de Burton que, además, parece ser precursora de la deplorable tendencia actual a justificar la villanía con historias melodramáticas de abuso sufrido por los villanos en la infancia (aquí el padre de Wonka era un dentista que no permitía que su hijo comiera dulces). La nueva película anunciada, con el monísimo Timothée Chalamet como Wonka va en esa misma dirección.

Para mí, la prueba de que Dahl no estaba seguro de hacia dónde iba Charlie and the Chocolate Factory es el hecho de que la fallida secuela Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (1972) no trata en absoluto de cómo Charlie Bucket se enfrenta a su papel como heredero de Wonka, sino que es una aventura espacial bastante absurda a bordo del ascensor mágico. Aparentemente, la novela original se inspiró en la participación de Dahl siendo aún un colegial en las pruebas de nuevos productos de Cadbury en la década de 1930, y en su rivalidad con el otro gran fabricante de chocolate inglés, Rowntree. Creo que tiene mucho sentido que la fantasía del niño Dahl de poder visitar y tal vez ser dueño del lugar donde los chocolateros de Cadbury hacían sus productos en secreto se convirtiera en la fantasía del escritor adulto sobre la fábrica de Wonka. También creo que esto es lo que hizo que la novela fuera tan popular: no el propio Wonka, los Oompa Loompas o los destinos crueles de los mocosos, sino la idea de la fábrica (al igual que Harry Potter atrae a los niños principalmente debido a Hogwarts). Posiblemente, esta es la razón por la que tantos locales comerciales explotan ese espíritu (parece que diversas cadenas de cafeterías ofrecen cafés Willy Wonka para adultos). En mi opinión, sin embargo, Dahl no hizo el máximo provecho de su material: no supo establecer una relación entre Wonka y el buenazo de Charlie, y socavó la sensación de asombro creada por la fábrica con el maltrato que reciben los otros niños. Si me pongo en la piel de los padres de Charlie estaría lejos de estar encantada con las atenciones del Sr. Wonka hacia mi hijo, que son prácticamente las de un propietario y no están realmente claras en absoluto (solo hay que pensar en por qué Wonka no tiene hijos propios).

¿Equivale todo esto, no obstante, a un caso bueno y sólido de ‘villanía disfrutable’? Creo que sí, y agradezco a Pol que me haya enseñado que algunos villanos solo lo son parcialmente porque el humor hace que sus peores rasgos sean aceptables. En general, me habría gustado más una caracterización menos ambigua para Wonka, una en la que, por ejemplo, Charlie acepta el premio pero le echa en cara su horrible explotación de los Oompa Loompas, que luego reciben contratos adecuados. Por otro lado, aunque los niños disfrutan del humor negro, a menudo presente en las series de dibujos animados de televisión, me pregunto qué es exactamente lo que ‘disfrutan’ al leer Charlie. En Matilda los padres de esta niña son personas despreciables que deben ser castigadas y la lección aprendida es que quien descuida a un niño solo merece falta de respeto. La niña protagonista queda empoderada, así como los pequeños lectores. Willy Wonka encarna la noción de Dahl de que la mala educación es culpa de los niños mal criados, y por lo tanto los padres y sus mocosos son de una manera u otra castigados por él, pero esto se hace con gran crueldad y parece no tener ninguna relación con el empoderamiento pasivo de Charlie (excepto, por supuesto, que se trata de un chico naturalmente bueno recompensado por serlo). Simplemente podríamos decir que Wonka es demasiado extravagante y demasiado libre como para inclinarse ante cualquier cosa, y es por eso que es agradable a pesar de sus rasgos villanos. Aun así, creo que algo no funciona. El humor, me parece, oculta las deficiencias de la novela en lugar de ser una parte integral de la historia de cómo Charlie conoció a Wonka.

En cuanto a la nueva película, ¿realmente necesitamos más historias sobre los orígenes de los villanos? Diría que no. Necesitamos nuevas historias, y salir de este reciclaje constante de lo que los escritores talentosos (como Dahl) hicieron en el pasado, a medida que consideramos en mayor profundidad cómo sus obras sobreviven en nuestros días, y la apreciamos la disfrutabilidad de ciertos villanos. ¡Gracias Pol!

Publico un post una vez a la semana (sígueme en @SaraMartinUAB). ¡Los comentarios son muy bienvenidos! Descárgate los volúmenes anuales en https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visita mi web https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

RETHINKING THE PLACE OF DOCUMENTARY FILMS AND WONDERING ABOUT ACTING

I wrote my last post about a documentary film and I was not really thinking of continuing with the same topic but I came across a very interesting article by Carlos Lara, “¿Debería poder ganar un documental el Goya a Mejor Película?” (“Should a documentary film win the Goya to Best Film?”) so, here I go again. Lara is asking the question in relation to this year’s Goya winner for best documentary, El año del descubrimiento by Luis López Carrasco and to one of the nominees, My Mexican Bretzel by Nuria Giménez Lorang. In Lara’s view, these two films are much better (meaning far more daring) than those in the fiction film category, the winner Las niñas, and the nominees, Adú, Ane, Sentimental and La boda de Rosa. I cannot offer an informed opinion as I have only seen Iciar Bollaín’s La boda de Rosa, which I absolutely loved. I can say, however, that I have found myself not only watching more and more documentary films in the last year but also finding them far more satisfactory than fiction films. Incidentally, I must note that the Romanian documentary Collective is making history at this year’s Oscars, after being nominated in the best documentary and the best international feature film categories. I must also note that whereas 24 women have won Oscars for feature-length documentary films (Barbara Kopple has won twice) only 1 woman (Kathryn Bigelow) has won an Oscar for best director. I would say, then, that it is also in women’s interests to make documentary films more prominent and visible.

What Carlos Lara is implicitly asking is why documentary films are less valued than fiction films. Please, note that the label ‘fiction film’ is only used when it is necessary to contrast what we usually just call ‘films’ with documentary films. That is, then, one of the problems: any film which carries an adjective in its label (documentary film, animated film, short film) appears to be in a separate category from the generic category ‘film’, which in fact corresponds specifically to the feature-length live-action fiction film. The supposition, I assume, is that the fiction film is better valued because it is supposedly harder to tell a story from scratch, through scenes performed by actors, than creating a film using animation, or involving scenes from real life, or told in less than 90 minutes. As you can see, the moment this is made explicit, it sounds quite absurd. Only prejudiced convention determines that the feature-length live-action fiction film is accepted as the main category for films. There is, in fact, no specific reason why the other kinds of films are undervalued, except a poor understanding of the effort it takes to make them and of their aesthetics.

Having mentioned the word ‘aesthetics’ I will now ask the question of whether this is all we take into consideration when choosing to watch a fiction film or a documentary. Believe me when I say that trying to define the fiction film and the documentary film for what they do is much harder than it seems, and perhaps aesthetics is the answer to what separates one from the other. Let me take an example on which I have written: the documentary by Rob Epstein, The Times of Harvey Milk (1984, Oscar Award winner) and the fiction film Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant). This was the winner of an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, which went to Sean Penn, and of an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay, awarded to Dustin Lance Black. Here the problems begin, for although Milk is not based on a previous work, the connections between Black’s ‘original’ screenplay and Epstein’s documentary are more than obvious. Van Sant, besides, uses original footage also used by Epstein, recreating some of the scenes with his actors.

Anyway, my point is that both films tell in a very talented way the same story: how Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected for office (he was a member of San Francisco’s Town Council) was murdered in cold blood, by his fellow councillor Dan White, who also killed the mayor, George Moscone. Now ask yourself how you would like to know about this tragic event: through the documentary or through the fiction film? Just trust me when I say that both tell the story proficiently and in a moving, entertaining way. Advantages of the documentary? It is, obviously, far more informative and has plenty of footage of the real Harvey Milk, and other persons of his circle. Advantages of the fiction film? It recreates far more personal aspects of Milk’s private life into which the documentary does not go, and the acting is very good. I would say that both films are excellent and, in combination, a superb cinematic experience. Yet, we rarely find time for two films on the same topic. In fact, although I see the point in making a documentary once the fiction film has been made, I see little point in making the fiction film once the documentary is available, particularly if said documentary is a great film as Epstein’s is. Consider, if you want another example, why Robert Zemeckis’s fiction film The Walk (2015) exists, since James Marsh’s Man on Wire (2008) tells wonderfully the story of how Frenchman Phillip Petite crossed on a wire the distance between New York’s Twin Towers in 1974. Is it a matter of availability? Of audiences not knowing that certain documentaries exist? Or is it, as I say, a question of aesthetics? Why do audiences prefer the fakery of fiction film to the ‘authenticity’ of the documentary?

I have written the word ‘authenticity’ in inverted comas because this is the issue that bedevils any understanding of the documentary. To put it simply, fiction films can lie as much as they want, even when they recreate real-life events, but documentary films are not supposed to lie, yet they do. In fact, it is quite possible that all boils down to a misunderstanding. Famously, the Scottish father of the documentary, John Grierson, commended in a review Moana (1926) –a film portraying the natives of the South Pacific made by the American father of the documentary Robert Flaherty– for its “documentary” value, which eventually lent this film genre its name. As happens, however, Flaherty’s film was full of staged scenes that he had invented on the basis of the local ‘traditions’ which he forced his native actors to perform; besides, Grierson wrote that Moana was perhaps more interesting for its poetic values. The idea that the documentary documents reality does not come simply from that review and that remark but it is certainly connected with it, and has made it almost impossible to define the genre with precision since not all documentaries ‘document’ reality (many re-create it) and what you may mean by ‘reality’ is also open to discussion. Take, for instance, Goya’s nominee My Mexican Bretzel. Apparently, director Nuria Giménez Lorang uses in it the home movies shot by her grandfather from the 1940s to the 1960s (footage which she found by chance), grafting onto these moving images the melodramatic story of her grandmother Vivian, a story which is, basically, invented. How is that a documentary?

Every time I try to think of some rule that fiction films and documentaries cannot break, there appears an exception perhaps because the two film languages have mixed in recent times. I had never noticed, for instance, that documentaries use music in ways very similar to fiction films, giving some scenes the tone of a thriller, or of melodrama, as the director wishes. Some scholars claim that, ultimately, the basis of the difference between a fiction film and a documentary is a matter of expectations: audiences expect to be told a story in fiction films, but to be enlightened about an aspect of reality they didn’t know in documentaries (as if they were lessons). It doesn’t work like this, either. Just think of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) and how much one may learn from it about the Holocaust, even though it cannot be called at all a documentary film like, for instance, Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985). Actually, Spielberg’s film created a big scandal by having the cameras enter the showers at Auschwitz, a moment that no other film, fictional or documentary, had dared recreate. Lanzmann was among the American director’s most vocal critics. Yet, this is just a matter connected with historical taboos, not a matter of what films –fictional or documentary– can do.

You may recall that one year ago we were all fascinated by Netflix’s documentary mini-series Tiger King (directed by Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode). There was a hilarious moment (I can’t recall whether it was in the series or in a bonus feature) in which Joe King fantasized about being played by Brad Pitt in a film about his life. That is hilarious not only because there are many obvious physical differences between King and Pitt, but because there is already a great film about King’s life: the mini-series. In a similar vein, let me repeat a curious anecdote I just heard actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt narrate: Philippe Petite, the man who did walk between the Twin Towers, remember?, taught the actor, who plays him in Ron Howard’s film, how to walk on a wire. This is bizarre, not only because just fancy the real-life man teaching the actor how to do what made him famous but also because, according to director James Marsh, Petite is a big narcissist that absolutely wanted to dominate the shooting of his documentary. Why Petite would feel interested in Gordon-Levitt’s performance is something I fail to grasp. Was he flattered in some way? Why not jealous?

All in all, I am going to argue that what ultimately makes the difference between choosing to see a fiction film or a documentary film has to do with a specific element of the aesthetics of the fictional film: acting. Moana, the film by Flaherty I have mentioned, inaugurated docufiction on the sly, by including staged scenes. Without going so far, many documentaries include recreations of scenes of real life for which there is no footage, usually employing actors in a rather anonymous way, frequently cast just because they look like the real-life person they play. On the other hand, the docudrama is supposed to bridge the gap between the fiction film and the documentary by sticking as closely as possible to the ‘truth’ of events while still being presented as a fiction film. Milk is a docudrama in that sense, and The Walk. I believe, however, that very few spectators think of films based on real-life events as docudramas, since the dramatic license many take is quite generous. I don’t think any spectator is now as naïve as to think that a film wholly based on staged scenes can be trusted. This is why I am claiming that ultimately what gives the feature-length, live-action fiction film its popularity over the documentary is the audience’s preference for acting, to the point that given the choice between seeing a documentary with the real-life person and a docudrama with an actor playing that person, the latter is preferred.

What I have been discovering –or rediscovering– in the last year is that actor-dominated films (= fiction films) are not necessarily more entertaining, or more fulfilling, than narrative or argumentative films in which acting is non-existent or just used at the basic level of re-creation (= documentaries). Despite marvelling at how Tom Hanks plays classic children’s TV star Mr. Rogers in Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), this fiction film cannot compare to the far better documentary film by Morgan Neville, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018), also on Fred Rogers. Indeed, when Hanks and Heller saw together Neville’s film, the actor asked the director why they were making their film at all… An obvious answer is that Hanks could attract viewers to the figure of Mr. Rogers in ways the far less known documentary by Neville could not, though this is not really a merit of fiction films (or of actors) but of their distribution channels. Now that we are used to finding so many documentaries on the streaming platforms the situation might change. My guess is that, if given the same visibility as fiction films, documentary films might grow to be just as popular and valued.

Here is, by the way, a very basic bibliography for documentaries in case you’re interested:
Aitken, Ian (ed.). The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film. Routledge, 2013 (2006).
Aufderheide, Patricia. Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford UP, 2007.
Bruzzi, Stella. New documentary: A Critical Introduction. Routledge, 2006 (2000).
Ellis, John. Documentary: Witness and Self-Revelation. Routledge, 2012.
Grant, Barry Keith and Sloniowski, Jeannette (eds.). Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video. Wayne State UP, 2014 (1998).
McLane, Betsy A. A New History of Documentary Film. Continuum, 2012.
Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Indiana UP, 2017 (third edition).
Renov, Michael. The Subject of Documentary. University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Enjoy! (And if you subscribe to Netflix, watch Father, Soldier, Son…).

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

SHAME OF THE NATION: ON WATCHING EL SILENCIO DE OTROS

It is habitual in scholarly work that a text illuminates another text quite by chance, in that phenomenon usually called serendipity. Reading the second edition of Sarah Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004, 2014) to fill in a serious gap in my list of books read, I have found myself considering in the light of what she writes a documentary everyone in Spain should see: Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar’s multi-award winner El Silencio de Otros (The Silence of Others, 2019). What Ahmed writes about shame in her volume has helped me to process my own feelings of shame regarding what the documentary narrates even though, as you will see, the cases in question are quite different.
I find that Ahmed writes in a rather abstract way, as if she were a philosopher mainly, and after finally reading her book, I realise that she is one of those big names whose texts everyone plunders following their own interests and not necessarily what she says. Of course, I am going to do exactly the same here. Incidentally, I have been amazed to learn that Ahmed is now an independent scholar, having severed her ties with all universities. This happened in 2016 after she discovered that her employer, Goldsmith’s College in London, had been turning a blind eye on a long list of sexual abuses perpetrated by its male professors. I applaud her brave decision, though few of us at a far more modest academic tier can take that kind of dramatic step (I also wonder to what extent her leaving helped the female students—but I digress).
Briefly, El Silencio de Otros (available on Netflix) deals with how the Ley de Amnistía passed by the post-Franco new democratic Parliament has prevented the crimes of Franco’s henchmen from being investigated. The film’s focus falls on a variety of cases, from the recovery of the remains of persons executed by the anti-Republican military rebels to the suffering of the victims of torturer Billy el Niño, passing through the thousands of babies stolen between 1940 and 1990. All these cases are grouped under the Querella argentina, the name received by the class action lawsuit investigated by Argentinian judge María Romilda Servini de Cubria between 2010 and 2015 (with no sentences whatsoever). She accepted the case on the principle of universal justice at the request of two descendants of victims of the Francoist regime. This was after Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón was expelled from the judiciary for trying to investigate the crimes, on the grounds that he was breaking the Amnesty Law of 1977.
The documentary focuses on a variety of persons, but two elderly women stand out among them: María Martín, who lost her mother, and Ascensión Murieta, who lost her father, both to the brutal action of murderous Francoist squads decimating the ‘reds’. María, the classic Spanish village grandmother clad in black, opens the documentary pointing at the road crossing her village and claiming that her mother and other victims lie under it. Garzón’s own lawsuit mentions 114226 victims whose bodies were then missing; less than 10% have been disinterred and properly buried thanks to the Ley de la Memoria Histórica of 2011 and other legislation previously passed by regional Governments. I must clarify, however, that most identifications, if not all, have been carried out by the NGO Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica, not by the authorities. I had assumed that most victims were piled in the mass graves of cemeteries, in lonely spots in the woods and in road ditches, but it had not occurred to me that cars might be rolling over dead bodies on a daily basis. That seemed far worse than the decision by the Málaga Town Council, withdrawn in 2017, to place an area for dogs on top of mass grave number eight in the local cemetery of San Rafael, one of the biggest collections of Francoist mass graves in Spain. Seeing the cars roll by, I felt not only sorrow for María and her mother but also a very deep shame about the nation where I live.
In Alfredo Sanzol’s excellent play En la Luna (2012) two characters discuss, if I recall this correctly, the problems one has to rescue the remains of her Republican grandfather from the road ditch where he was thrown by his executors. The scene happens in 1990, and the other character, a man, comforts her saying that all will be well because, surely, they cannot have the Barcelona Olympic Games of 1992 with so many bodies still unclaimed. That scene still strikes me because Sanzol stresses in this clever way the idea that Spain has never been subjected to the international scrutiny that other countries have faced, including the Argentina of Justice Salvini. In her country and in other post-dictatorial democracies, all the Amnesty Laws passed to protect criminal regimes where annulled so that the crimes against humanity could be judged. Spain, in contrast, has always taken the position that forgiving works better than judging, applying a ‘let bygones be bygones’ policy that the Socialist-sponsored Ley de la Memoria Histórica has barely eroded.
An argument often invoked is that the Civil War, anyway, happened a long time ago, which disregards both the abuses committed by the long dictatorship and the existence of survivors from the war itself. The other main argument is that, anyway, the ‘Reds’ were also genocidal murderers who killed thousands arbitrarily during the Republic and the war, and who would have likewise exterminated many fallen foes had they won. This argument, often invoked by right-wing persons of Francoist leanings, does acknowledge the crimes, as it can be seen, but justifies them on the spurious grounds that the ‘others’ were equally brutal. I doubt this is the case, but even so the Ley de Memoria Histórica is not limited to the Republican victims but to all victims. Yet, since no descendants of the Civil War winners are digging mass graves or road ditches to rescue the bones of their grandparents this possibly means that the victims caused by the Republicans were not that many, or that they are properly buried. I cannot explain otherwise the indifference to the obvious suffering of persons like Ascensión Murieta, who lost her father Timoteo in 1939, when she was only six, and could only ease her pain the day his body was found in 2017, as El Silencio de Otros shows.
Sara Ahmed refers in The Cultural Politics of Emotion to the ‘Stolen Generations’ of Australia, that is to say, the indigenous children mostly of mixed race forcefully but ‘legally’ removed from their families by a combination of the Australian federal and state government agencies and church missions, between 1905 and 1967, in some case as late as the 1970s. The appalling idea behind this mass kidnapping was that the children could be in this way assimilated into the white Australian nation, though, of course, this awful crime only resulted in deep personal and national trauma. A formal apology was presented in 2008 by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, though at the time Ahmed was writing Prime Minister John Howard had adamantly rejected all calls for an apology. The situation, as you can see, is quite different from the Civil War and the dictatorship in Spain though, at least until 2008, the key question was similar: those in power refused to acknowledge a crime against humanity and apologize for it. Ahmed worries that shame can be acknowledged hypocritically so that those who apologize do so to continue a false narrative of national unity. Yet, she worries above all by how the lack of shame then embodied by Prime Minister Howard undermines the communal ability to “identify with a national ideal” (111). Although acknowledging the “brutal history” is not a magic solution, shame appears to be a positive step so that “the shame of the absence of shame” (111) can be overcome, always taking care that this witnessing might not “repeat the passing over” of the victims “in the very desire to move beyond shame and into pride” (111).
Most importantly, in cases such as that of the Stolen Generation, the shame is not only faced internally but externally, before “international civil society” (112). Ahmed, a British-born Australian, writes that “Being seen as an ideal nation is here defined as that which will pass down in time, not in our memories, but in how we are remembered by others. The desire for shame is here the desire to be seen as fulfilling an ideal, the desire to be ‘judged by history’ as an ideal nation” (112). In her conclusions, Ahmed writes that “The projects of reconciliation and reparation are not about the ‘nation’ recovering: they are about whether those who are the victims of injustice can find a way of living in the nation that feels better through the process of speaking about the past, and through exposing the wounds that get concealed by the ‘truths’ of a certain history” (201). In the Australian case, and in others like Argentina or Chile, the international mechanism of shame has more or less worked (remember that Justice Garzón managed to have Augusto Pinochet arrested in London in 1998 but the monster walked away free thanks to the efforts of Margaret Thatcher and President George Bush senior). What is extraordinary about the Spanish case is that the international mechanism of shame has had no effect: Justice Salvini was simply not allowed to interrogate either witnesses or the accused in Spain (extradition was, of course, denied), whereas Amnesty International’s calls to the Attorney General’s Office of Spain to investigate and prosecute the crimes have been ignored. Watching El Silencio de Otros I felt shame at the lack of shame, particularly because I do not see on the horizon any apology, much less any serious, committed investigation.
I find the idea of being proud of one’s nation quite silly for there is no nation truly free of fault. At least, though, I would like not to feel ashamed, as I can only feel for as long as 100000 fellow Spaniards remain buried in mass graves or under the tarmac daily tread on by rushing cars. I would be very proud if the Spanish Parliament agreed by unanimity to put each of these victims in the family graves where they belong, because that would mean that a first step into healing the nation had been taken. But since this is a fantasy, we must live in shame. So far, we have done quite a good job of hiding this deep national shame, so much so that Franco’s heirs are daily gaining power, as if they have nothing to apologize for. In view of all this, it is logically easier for me, and for many others, to deny that we are Spanish and to cling with all our might onto the idea that we are Catalan. Not really because we are independentists, or because Catalonia is a perfectly civilized haven, but because being Catalan is not internationally connected with any specific shameful events. It’s a little like being Danish if you know what I mean.
By the way, if you watch El Silencio de Otros and come across calls to abolish the Amnesty Law of 1977, be careful. As happens, the law was passed to free those unfairly accused and imprisoned by Franco’s regime, though it has had the side-effect of helping the Francoist henchmen to escape prison. This law does need to be abolished but only to be replaced by a new law that finally applies internationally accepted legislation about crimes against humanity to Spain—and that lifts the veil of shame under which we still live.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

MEN AND MASCULINITY IN CINEMA: 103 BOOKS

In case this might interest any scholars working on men and masculinity in cinema, here’s my bibliography of the field, from 1977 to 2020. The selection does not include many books on the filmographies in other languages than English, though there are some volumes that do deal with them and that are included here to mark the beginning of certain trends. I have organized this by decade for readers to see how an academic field grows from nothing to become a fully established area of research.

1970s and 1980s: the prehistory, before the field becomes fully academic. Please note that the interest in exploring men in cinema begins with a woman and in the middle of the second feminist wave, before the establishment of Masculinity Studies in the late 1980s /early 1990s. Also note the attention paid at this early stage to the representation of gay men by activist Vito Russo.
Mellen, Joan 1977. Big bad wolves: Masculinity in the American Film. Pantheon Books.
Spoto, Donald. 1978. Camerado: Hollywood and the American man. New American Library.
Malone, Michael. 1979. Heroes of Eros: Male sexuality in the movies. Dutton.
Russo, Vito. 1981, 1987 (revised). The celluloid closet: Homosexuality in the movies. Harper & Row.
Neibaur, James L. 1989. Tough guy: The American movie macho. McFarland & Co.

1990s: I once read that Cultural Studies were invented by Routledge, and perhaps this statement has a point –you know that a field is consolidated when Routledge starts publishing research on it. Please note the focus on the concept ‘Hollywood’ and the emergence of specific genres (film noir) and periods (the 1950s, the Reagan era). 1993 certainly was a glorious year. Note the attention paid to specific actors and the beginnings of an interest in foreign cinema.
Krutnik, Frank. 1991. In a lonely street: Film noir, genre and masculinity. Routledge.
Silverman, Kaja 1992. Male subjectivity at the margins. Routledge.
Clover, Carol J. 1993. Men, women and chainsaws: Gender in the modern horror film. British Film Institute.
Cohan, Steven and Ina Rae Hark. 1993, 2016. Screening the male: Exploring masculinities in the Hollywood cinema. Routledge.
Jeffords, Susan. 1993. Hard bodies: Hollywood masculinity in the Reagan era. Rutgers UP.
Kirkham, Pat and Jane Thumin. 1993. You Tarzan: Masculinity, movies, and men. Lawrence & Wishart.
Penley, Constance and Sharon Willis. 1993. Male trouble. University of Minnesota Press.
Tasker, Yvonne. 1993. Spectacular bodies: Gender, genre and the action cinema. Routledge.
Bingham, Dennis. 1994 Acting male: Masculinities in the films of James Stewart, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood. Rutgers UP.
Callaghan, Lisa. 1994. Hollywood images of masculinity: Eastwood, Hoffman, Redford and Schwarzenegger. Oxford UP.
Reckley, Ralph. 1994. Images of the black male in literature and film: Essays in criticism. Middle Atlantic Writers Association Press.
Sklar, Robert. 1994. City boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield. Princeton UP.
Mitchell, Lee Clark. 1996. Westerns: Making the man in fiction and film. University of Chicago Press.
Cohan, Steven. 1997. Masked men: Masculinity and the movies in the fifties. Indiana UP.
Powrie, Phil. 1997. French Cinema in the 1980s: Nostalgia and the crisis of masculinity. Oxford UP.

2000-2004: 2002 was another glorious year! Please notice the attention paid to national and ethnic masculinities, homosexuality, and, interestingly, children’s cinema –a trend that should, definitely, grow. You’ll find referenced here books on the films by specific directors (this is a trend that has not really caught on) and in foreign-language cinema (a trend now fully blown).
Chan, Jachinson W. 2001. Chinese American masculinities: From Fu Manchu to Bruce Lee. Routledge.
Lehman, Peter. ed. 2001. Masculinity: Bodies, movies, culture. Routledge.
Spicer, Andrew. 2001. Typical men: The representation of masculinity in popular British cinema. I.B. Tauris.
Trice, Ashton D. and Samuel A. Holland. 2001. Heroes, antiheroes, and dolts: Portrayals of masculinity in American popular films, 1921-1999. McFarland.
Abbott, Megan E. 2002. The street was mine: White masculinity in hardboiled fiction and film noir. Palgrave Macmillan.
Butters, Gerald R. 2002. Black manhood on the silent screen. UP of Kansas.
Clum, John M. 2002. He’s all man: Male homosexuality and myths of masculinity in American drama and film. Palgrave.
Holmlund, Christine. 2002. Impossible bodies: Femininity and masculinity at the movies. Routledge.
Lang, Robert. 2002. Masculine interests: Homoerotics in Hollywood film. Columbia UP.
LaSalle, Mick. 2002. Dangerous men: Pre-code Hollywood and the birth of the modern man. St. Martin’s Press.
MacKinnon, Kenneth. 2002. Love, tears, and the male spectator. Fairleigh Dickinson UP.
Stephens, John. ed. 2002. Ways of being male: Representing masculinities in children’s literature and film. Routledge.
Perriam, Christopher. 2003. Stars and masculinities in Spanish cinema: From Banderas to Bardem. Oxford UP.
Nicholls, Mark Desmond. 2004. Scorsese’s men: Melancholia and the mob. Pluto Press.
Powrie, Phil, Ann Davies, and Bruce Babington, eds. 2004. The trouble with Men: Masculinities in European and Hollywood Cinema. Wallflower.
Reich, Jacqueline. 2004. Beyond the Latin lover: Marcello Mastroianni, masculinity, and Italian cinema. Indiana UP.

2005-2009: Hall’s 2005 handbook shows that by this date the label ‘masculinity in cinema’ was already being used in courses in Film Studies, otherwise why publish a handbook? I’d like to call your attention to how Creed’s volume on men is far less known than her seminal 1993 volume on women. Here the glorious year is 2006. Pullen’s volume is the only one dealing with masculinity in documentary film I have found; Zacahry Ingle and David M. Sutera’s edited volume Gender and Genre in Sports Documentaries: Critical Essays (2013), deals partly with women (which is right, as it announces it deals with ‘gender’).
Bruzzi, Stella 2005. Bringing up daddy: Fatherhood and masculinity in post-war Hollywood. British Film Institute.
Creed, Barbara. 2005. Phallic panic: Film, horror and the primal uncanny. Melbourne UP.
Hall, Matthew 2005. Teaching men and film. British Film Institute.
Chopra-Gant, Mike. 2006. Hollywood genres and postwar America: Masculinity, family and nation in popular movies and film noir. I.B. Tauris.
Claydon, E. Anna. 2006. The representation of masculinity in British cinema of the 1960s: Lawrence of Arabia, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and The Hill. Edwin Mellen Press.
Dennis, J. P. 2006. Queering teen culture: All-American boys and same-sex desire in film and television. Harrington Park Press.
Gallagher, Mark. 2006. Action figures: Men, action films, and contemporary adventure narratives. Palgrave Macmillan.
Gates, Philippa. 2006. Detecting men: Masculinity and the Hollywood detective film. State University of New York Press.
Gerstner, David. 2006. Manly arts: Masculinity and nation in early American cinema. Duke UP.
Harris, Keith M. 2006. Boys, boyz, bois: An ethics of Black masculinity in film and popular media. Routledge.
Plain, Gill. 2006. John Mills and British cinema: Masculinity, identity and nation. Edinburgh UP.
Eberwein, Robert. 2007. Armed forces: Masculinity and sexuality in the American war film. Rutgers UP.
Koureas, Gabriel. 2007. Memory, masculinity, and national identity in British visual culture, 1914-1930: A study of ‘unconquerable manhood.’ Ashgate.
Pullen, Christopher. 2007. Documenting gay men: Identity and performance in reality television and documentary film. McFarland & Co.
Baker, Brian. 2008. Masculinity in fiction and film: Representing men in popular genres, 1945-2000. Continuum.
Grønstad, Asbjørn 2008. Transfigurations: Violence, death and masculinity in American cinema. Amsterdam UP.
Patterson, Eric. 2008. On Brokeback Mountain: Meditations about masculinity, fear, and love in the story and the film. Lexington Books.
Cornell, Drucilla. 2009. Clint Eastwood and issues of American masculinity. Fordham UP.
Fouz-Hernández, Santiago, ed. 2009. Mysterious skin: Male bodies in contemporary cinema. I.B. Tauris.
Morag, Raya. 2009. Defeated masculinity: Post-traumatic cinema in the aftermath of war. Peter Lang.
Nystrom, Derek. 2009. Hard hats, rednecks, and macho men: Class in 1970s American cinema. Oxford UP.
Schleier, Merrill 2009. Skyscraper cinema: Architecture and gender in American film. University of Minnesota Press.

2010-2014: Yes, 26 books in five years! I’d like to call attention to Bruzzi’s book, which is the only one I have seen so far which claims that the cinema made by men has a certain style, and therefore we should speak of men’s cinema, as we speak of women’s cinema. I stand by that! I also would like to call attention to Amy Davis’s volume, the first one to discuss masculinity in animated children’s cinema.
Donovan, Barna William 2010. Blood, guns, and testosterone: Action films, audiences, and a thirst for violence. Scarecrow Press, 2010.
Larke-Walsh, George S. 2010. Screening the mafia: Masculinity, ethnicity and mobsters from The Godfather to The Sopranos. McFarland & Co.
Rehling, Nicola. 2010. Extra-ordinary men: White heterosexual masculinity and contemporary popular cinema. Lexington Books.
Cornelius, Michael G. 2011. Of muscles and men: Essays on the sword and sandal film. McFarland & Company.
Donald, Ralph and Karen MacDonald. 2011. Reel men at war: Masculinity and the American war film. Scarecrow Press.
Grant, Barry Keith. 2011. Shadows of doubt: Negotiations of masculinity in American genre films. Wayne State UP.
Gray, Richard J. and Betty Kaklamanidou, eds. 2011. The 21st century superhero: Essays on gender, genre and globalization in film. McFarland & Co.
Greven, David. 2011. Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush. University of Texas Press.
Peberdy, Donna. 2011. Masculinity and film performance: Male angst in contemporary American cinema. Palgrave Macmillan.
Vicari, Justin. 2011. Male bisexuality in current cinema: Images of growth, rebellion and survival. McFarland & Co.
King, Claire Sisco. 2012. Washed in blood: Male sacrifice, trauma, and the cinema. Rutgers UP.
Schultz, Robert T. 2012. Soured on the system: Disaffected men in 20th century American film. McFarland & Co.
Shimizu, Celine Parreñas. 2012. Straitjacket sexualities: Unbinding Asian American manhoods in the movies. Stanford UP.
Alberti, John. 2013, 2016. Masculinity in the contemporary romantic comedy: Gender as genre. Routledge.
Alberti, John. 2013. Masculinity in contemporary popular cinema. Taylor and Francis.
Bruzzi, Stella. 2013. Men’s cinema: Masculinity and mise-en-scène in Hollywood. Edinburgh UP.
Combe, Kirk and Brenda M. Boyle. 2013. Masculinity and monstrosity in contemporary Hollywood films. Palgrave Macmillan.
Davis, Amy M. 2013. Handsome heroes & vile villains: Men in Disney’s feature animation. John Libbey.
Greven, David. 2013. Psycho-sexual: Male desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin. University of Texas Press.
Hamad, Hannah. 2013. Postfeminism and paternity in contemporary US film: Framing fatherhood. Routledge.
Ingle, Zachary and David M. Sutera, eds. 2013. Gender and genre in sports documentaries: Critical essays. Scarecrow Press.
Jackson II, Ronald, and Jamie E. Moshin, eds. 2013. Communicating marginalized masculinities: Identity politics in TV, film, and new media. Routledge.
Meeuf, Russell. 2013. John Wayne’s world: Transnational masculinity in the fifties. University of Texas Press.
Moser, Joseph Paul. 2013. Irish masculinity on screen: The pugilists and peacemakers of John Ford, Jim Sheridan and Paul Greengrass. McFarland & Co.
Deangelis, Michael. 2014. Reading the bromance: Homosocial relationships in film and television. Wayne State UP.
O’Brien, Daniel. 2014. Classical masculinity and the spectacular body on film: The mighty sons of Hercules. Palgrave.

2015-2019: Here are all the trends: nationality, ethnicity, specific male stars, genres (with science fiction and romance complementing the analysis in previous decades of film noir, western and actions films), previously ignored decades, and whatever you may wish…
Fain, Kimberly. 2015. Black Hollywood: From butlers to superheroes, the changing role of African American men in the movies. Praeger.
Yu, Sabrina Qiong. 2015. Jet Li: Chinese masculinity and transnational film stardom. Edinburgh UP.
Balducci, Anthony. 2016. I won’t grow up!: The comic man-child in film from 1901 to the present. McFarland & Co.
Bell, Matt. 2016. The boys in the band: Flashpoints of cinema, history, and queer politics. Wayne State UP.
Wooden, Shannon R. and Ken Gillam 2016. Pixar’s boy stories: Masculinity in a postmodern age. Rowman & Littlefield.
Greven, David. 2017. Ghost faces: Hollywood and post-millennial masculinity. State University of New York Press.
O’Brien, Daniel. 2017. Black masculinity on film: Native sons and white lies. Palgrave Macmillan.
Carrasco, Rocío. 2018. New heroes on screen: Prototypes of masculinity in contemporary science fiction cinema. Universidad de Huelva.
Kac-Vergne, Marianne 2018. Masculinity in contemporary science fiction cinema: Cyborgs, troopers and other men of the future. I.B. Tauris.
Allan, J. A. 2019. Men, masculinities, and popular romance. Routledge.
Deakin, Pete. 2019. White masculinity in crisis in Hollywood’s fin de millennium cinema. Lexington Books.
Kelly, Gillian. 2019. Robert Taylor: Male beauty, masculinity, and stardom in Hollywood. UP of Mississippi.
Petersen, Christina. 2019. The freshman: Comedy and masculinity in 1920s film and youth culture. Routledge.
Willis, Joseph P. 2019. Threatened masculinity: From British fiction 1880-1915 to Cold-War German cinema. Routledge.

2020-2021: I assume that Covid-19 has affected academic production because I have only found these titles for 2020 (including my own volume!). Although the bibliography was intended to cover until 2020, I’d like to mention too Shary’s volume, as I think age should be the next big field of research in Film Studies connected with men and masculinities. The representation of little boys and of old men needs to be better assessed.
Barnett, Katie. 2020. Fathers on film: Paternity and masculinity in 1990s Hollywood. Bloomsbury Academic.
Donnar, Glen. 2020. Troubling masculinities: Terror, gender, and monstrous others in American film post-9/11. UP of Mississippi.
Luzón-Aguado, Virginia. 2020. Harrison Ford: Masculinity and stardom in Hollywood. Bloomsbury.
Martín, Sara. 2020. Representations of Masculinity in Literature and Film: Focus on Men. Cambridge Scholars Publishers.
Padva, Gilad. 2020. Straight skin, gay masks and pretending to be gay on screen. Routledge.
Shary, Timothy. 2021. Cinemas of boyhood: Masculinity, sexuality, nationality. Berghahn.

So you can see how a field of research grows from zero to one hundred –if you’re curious pay attention to which publishers have issued these books and you will see that there is a pattern there. I hope this is useful!

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

GENDER IN 21ST CENTURY ANIMATED CHILDREN’S CINEMA: NEW E-BOOK BY STUDENTS

This post is intended to be a sort of ‘making of’ of the new e-book I have edited and which has been written by the students in my MA course on Gender Studies this past semester. It is my ninth project of that kind (see the full list at https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/content/books). These e-books gather together short essays, and in some cases longer papers or brief factsheets, written by students as part of their assessment but mainly with a view to online publication. The new e-book is called Gender in 21st Century Animated Children’s Cinema and it can be downloaded for free from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/236285. I have also uploaded onto the digital repository of my university a narrated PowerPoint corresponding to the symposium presentation “Collaborative authorship: Publishing E-Books on Fantasy and Science Fiction with BA and MA students” (https://ddd.uab.cat/record/236037), which more or less repeats what I describe here (but with illustrations!). This is what I presented at the meeting on born-digital texts to which I referred a few posts ago.
I started publishing e-books with students both in the BA and the MA degrees in English Studies because my university, the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, invited all teachers to take advantage of the possibilities open by the digital repositories inaugurated in 2006. In 2013-14 I taught a course on Harry Potter for which I asked my students to write a brief essay about their experience of reading the series. When I saw that the essays had quality and interest I put together a volume which I published online in the digital repository. Then I put together a second volume with the academic papers written to obtain the course grade. These were my first two publications with students, in this case fourth-year BA students in the degree in English Studies, with a C1 to C2 command of English. Next, in 2015, I published a volume gathering together work written for a fourth year BA course on Gender Studies, including again personal essays and papers. I published a second volume a few years later, in 2018.
In the previous four publications I had worked with quite large groups of about 40 BA students. For the next two, Reading Sf Short Fiction: 50 Titles and Gender in 21st Century SF Cinema, I worked with much smaller groups. The science-fiction short fiction guide was written by only 15 BA students enrolled in an elective monographic fourth-year course on this genre. The e-book about gender in sf cinema was written by just 8 MA students in my Gender Studies course, with a similar C1 to C2 level. This is the minimum number this kind of project needs as each of the students had six films in their hands, which also meant six essays for the e-book of about 1500 words each. Of course, I could have chosen to cover less than 50 films, but this is quite a nice number if you want to cover minimally an extensive field. My two most recent projects before the new e-book were Frankenstein’s Film Legacy, written by a group of second year BA students with a lower B2 to C1 level, and Focus on the USA: Representing the Nation in Early 21st Century Documentary Film written by a group of 4th year BA students. This e-book is the most complex publication I have edited so far because I was not familiar myself with about 50% of the films and I had to learn about them as I taught the course. It is also a very long volume, with 90 essays.
All these e-books, published as .pdf files, are available for free from the digital repository of my university. They have generated together more than 22,000 downloads in six years, from a long list of nations all over the world. The most successful one is the short fiction guide which accounts for about 40% of the downloads, and seems to be particularly popular in the United States. I cannot explain its success except that it appears to be the most practical of the e-books I have published with students.
The last e-book has been written by 13 MA students of diverse nationalities (Spanish, American, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian) who have produced excellent work analysing how animated children’s cinema deals with gender issues. The novelty of the e-book and of the course is that unlike what is habitual in academic work it does not focus on a single animation studio. I did read in preparation for the course the two books by Amy Davis on Disney and another book by Shannon Wooden and Ken Gillam on Pixar. There are, however, no academic books yet on studios such as DreamWorks, Laika, Illumination, Blue Sky and so on. In contrast the e-book includes films by all these and others. The films are in any case all of them English-language films mostly made in the United States because they have been studied in an English Studies degree.
It was by no means easy to focus just on 50 titles, the maximum a small MA group can cover, even though it was my criterion to work only on 21st century films. I am myself a keen spectator of that kind of animated film so I relied on my previous knowledge of the genre to organise the course. Even so, I went through many lists of the best, taking into account that the films should also be interesting from a gender issues perspective. However, I must say there I discarded very few on those grounds for, as my students found out, all films for children implicitly address gender issues. An annoying problem was that many of the films made now have sequels and I found it very difficult to focus just on the first film and disregard the sequels. Perhaps I should have done that but I decided that taking a look at the franchises made sense to see precisely how gender evolved in them, or not at all.
Generally speaking, from the first film, Monsters Inc (2001) to the last, Onward (2020), there has been a general improvement in the treatment of gender though within a rather conservative pattern. Again generally speaking, the female characters are better represented, with many more strong, independent girls and women. Nevertheless, the influence of the Disney Princess stereotype still persists, even in films that try to opposite it openly. Besides, most films addressed to children have male characters as protagonists, even though it is by no means true that men or boys are always positively represented. The other matter that we established is that most animated films addressed to children are stubbornly heteronormative. There were hints that some characters could be gay or lesbian but only in Onward, that is to say last year, did we come across an openly LGBTI+ character, who has, it must be noted, a very minor role. So, on the whole the treatment of gender issues has improved but very slowly and we hope that the pressure put on the studios after the #MeToo campaigns and others will help to make animated children’s films generally more progressive and closer to what the march of gender progress demands.
For those who might be interested, this is how I taught the course. I used two of the ten teaching weeks for an introduction to Gender Studies and to animation, based on four 90’ lectures. Then I used the rest of the eight weeks for students’ class presentations of the gender issues in each film, with two to four 15’ presentations per session, apart from a teacher’s mini-lecture also of about 15’. I offered students a sample presentation, and I myself participated in the course as one more student. Each of us had four films in our hands. When we had to move online because of Covid-19, I kept the same format, though instead of streaming live presentations we used narrated PowerPoints that were later commented on in the corresponding forum. I don’t know whether this was the effect of certain competitiveness but the PowerPoints were in some cases simply spectacular. All students did much more than I asked them for. I must say that if the course had been run face-to-face it would have been impossible to deal with all the material that they uploaded after we went online, with most presentations running to 20 minutes instead of 10 to 15, as I had initially asked. The presentations were intended to be a draft of the essay that students later submitted; this was based on my own sample essay (including credits, film poster, three reasons why the film is interesting, a 1500-word essay). In total we covered 57 films, so the e-book contains 57 essays. I encouraged students to use for both the presentations and for the essays three secondary sources, including film reviews and academic secondary sources. Luckily, this time I had a research assistant helping all of us to find bibliography. We have found some academic work for most of the pre-2010 films but not so much for the more recent films, hence the importance of the film reviews.
I must note that I corrected in depth the essays, handed in two weeks after each presentation, but I did not grade them yet. If they were good enough, I accepted them for publication; if they required revision I returned them for a second draft, to be delivered one week before the final grades were due. That was the case with about 30% of the essays. This might surprise some but I asked students to self-assess: 50% of the final grade came from the essays, 30% from the presentations, and 20% from the forum contributions, that is to say the questions they asked their classmates. All assessed themselves fairly, though I upgraded some marks after going through the revised essays. Once I gathered the 57 essays together (216 pages, 105000 words), I spent about 35 hours revising them for the final publishable version, with most of that time used to correct the second versions of the essays for which I had asked students to rewrite.
I didn’t ask students to see all the films and I have not checked or valued in any way how many they did see, but I assume from their comments that they were familiar directly with at least half (in some cases more, in others less). Regarding the approach to Gender Studies, I have allowed students to express their own views and ideas freely. I am myself a feminist specialised in Masculinities Studies but I have not imposed on my students a single criterion (at least, I hope I have not done that). In any case, rather unified criteria emerged from classroom discussion with very little discrepancy, perhaps because the films are on the whole rather conservative, as I have noted, and they were quite easy to analyse and criticise. The students were clearly much more progressive and advanced in their understanding of gender than the studio executives.
I am extremely proud of my students’ great work. Thank you Rubén Campos, Manu Díaz, Cristina Espejo, Silvia Gervasi, Maria Guallar, Naiara López, Jessiah Mellott, Raquel Prieto, Alba Sánchez, Thu Trang Tran, Jamie Wang, Ting Wang and Helena Zúñiga for a wonderful experience in the midst of a hard time that seems hardly the best for doing good academic work. I hope your e-book is immensely successful!

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

THE DAY I WATCHED 50+1 MUSIC VIDEOS: A NEGLECTED PLEASURE

One of my BA dissertation tutorees has asked me to work on Childish Gambino’s fascinating, controversial music video “This is America” (2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch/VYOjWnS4cMY) and I’m happy to have the chance of returning to a film genre that I neglect too much. Ages ago (or so it seems), I published the essay “El cuerpo en el videoclip musical: Más que carne fresca” (in Meri Torras (ed.), Corporizar el pensamiento: Escrituras y lecturas del cuerpo en la cultura occidental. Pontevedra: Mirabel, 2006. 175-194), which came from a seminar on the same topic which I taught at UAB. I will always remember a hilarious moment in it. I had decided to debate with students The Prodigy’s video for the song “Smack My Bitch Up” (1997). I had more than a little distaste for the lyrics (just a monotonous repetition of “Change my pitch up!/ Smack my bitch up!”) but the video directed by Jonas Åkerlund is still one of my favourites. It narrates from a first person point of view a riotous night in London, with plenty of booze, drugs, and sex. The spectator assumes that the invisible protagonist behind the camera must be a man but the big final reveal is that this is actually a young woman. When I walked into the room, I saw that one of the students was an elderly lady and, ageist me, I worried that she might be scandalized. Funnily, when the video was over, she raised her hand and asked me very eagerly “can you play it again, please?” Everyone laughed.
I wrote a few years later another article on a music video, “Unstable meanings, unstable methods: Analysing Linkin Park’s song ‘What I’ve Done’” (José Ramón Ibáñez Ibáñez & José Francisco Fernández Sánchez (eds.), A View from the South: Contemporary English and American Studies. Almería: Editorial Universidad de Almería, 2011. 150-157), in which I showed how even when a song is popular there can be very little agreement on what it actually means. The song appears to deal with a man’s regrets about his past misbehaviour, either because he has been a drug addict or because he has been abusive in a relationship, or both. In contrast, the video directed by one of Linkin Park’s members, Joe Hahn, shows the band playing in the desert with the performance intercut with a montage of documentary images, mostly showing the conflicts in which the USA have been involved. Chester Bennington’s passionate singing changes radically depending on what you decide the song is about: a heart-felt apology from a single man speaking for himself perhaps to a woman, or a heart-felt apology by an American man ashamed of his nation and asking the world for forgiveness. And this just because some images were added to a performance in the music video.
Back to my student. She is also taking a Practicum with me consisting of doing academic activities connected with Literature and Culture. Since the actual content is very open, I have employed her so far as my research assistant for my MA course on gender in animated children’s fiction and will employ her now producing a guide of the best American music videos of the 21st century (for online publication on UAB’s digital repository and under her name, not mine). This is for two reasons: one, I think that working on other music videos will enhance her understanding of Gambino’s video for her BA dissertation; two, I very much wanted to learn from a much younger person about the current state of the music video. There are always lists of the best at the end of the year and, inevitably, I stumble upon this or that music video on YouTube or browsing the international press. I must say that, unfortunately, I seem to have lost my former passion for pop and rock, which lasted until I became incapable of working with the music on and found listening to it outside working hours incompatible with the lots of reading I need to do. Besides, I could never accomplish the transition from the album to the Spotify list, without which following the ups and downs of current music styles is hard enough. I know, more or less, who is who but if asked to name ten great songs of the last decade I would be lost. Yes, quite sad –perhaps I should teach a course and get back on track!
I agreed with my tutoree that she would select 50 great music videos of the 21st century and then we could decide how to write about them for the guide. She sent me the selection last week and I spend a few wonderful hours on Saturday enjoying a list if not of the best at least of the very good music videos which the past two decades have given us. My student has mostly chosen elegant, well-made videos that illustrate great songs by a notable variety of US performers. I’m not going to comment on the list itself (I keep that for when she publishes the guide) but I will say that, as she and I know, all lists are bound to be very personal even when the person making the selection tries to be as open-minded as possible. Everyone has favourites and in the immense world of popular music there is no way two persons can agree on what is best. It is, besides, very hard to say in which ways a music video is a quality work, for, surely, some great videos corresponding to not so popular songs must pass unnoticed, whereas other videos get noticed just for the song, not because the video has any filmic values. Surely, the video for Luis Fonsi’s hit “Despacito” has no special values as a film, despite being the second most played video on YouTube ever (behind “Baby Shark”!). Even worse, some music videos have become extremely popular for very wrong reasons, and I’m thinking here of the exploitative images in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”.
This leads to me to video number 51 –“WAP”. My student did not include it in her selection but “WAP” is no doubt the most talked about music video of 2020. Here are some notes. “WAP” is a song published by New York rapper Cardi B (born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar in 1992) featuring Texan rapper Meghan thee Stallion (Megan Jovon Ruth Pete, b. 1995). The song, which mixes hip hop, dirty rap, and trap, deals quite explicitly with sexual matters, with both artists singing and rapping about women’s sexual preferences and their expectations regarding men’s performance during sex (‘wap’ incidentally is an acronym for ‘wet-ass pussy’). “WAP” was generally well-received for its expression of female sexual agency but its dirty lyrics (https://genius.com/Cardi-b-wap-lyrics) were also a source of enormous controversy, with some criticizing them for their vulgar language. There was quite a backlash from conservative politicians (i.e. Trumpian Republicans) who even asked for some form of censorship, though their complaints mostly helped “WAP” to become an even more popular hit. Most progressive media outlets defended Cardi B’s raunchy song as an expression of black female empowerment through popular American culture’s reverence for the rebellious artist.
The music video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsm4poTWjMs), directed by the extremely experienced Collin Tilley but with plenty of input from Cardi B herself, made the controversy even more vivid, with figures such as British comedian Russell Brand arguing that there was little difference between pornographic sexualization by men and the supposedly self-empowering presentation of the women in it. The video shows Cardi B and Meghan thee Stallion, dressed in sexy outfits by haute couture designers (Nicolas Jebran, Thierry Mugler), walking in an extravagant mansion full of powerful women similarly dressed. The imagery uses plenty of animal print decorations and psychedelic colours in the style of Willie Wonka’s factory. A pool scene offers a sensual dance routine (by JaQuel Knight) imitated countless times on TikTok. The video features non-singing cameos by Kylie Jenner, Normani, Rosalía, Mulatto, Rubi Rose, and Sukihana, all contributing to enhancing the representation of female power. The video was celebrated, like the song, and soon hailed as one of the best of 2020, if not the best. However, beyond its sexiness, the video became a source of criticism for its use of live animals (with big cats appearing as pets for rich women) and for the presence of white celebrity Kylie Jenner. Cardi B defended her choice, arguing that race should not be a consideration (Jenner has been often accused of appropriating black culture) and that Kim Kardashian’s sister also appears as her personal friend.
There is an immense difference between Gambino’s “This is America” and Cardi B’s “WAP” but both have something in common: they are a wonderfully compressed representation of a rich bunch of interconnected issues, and require a savvy audience to make sense. I understand why my student is interested in the former far more than in the latter. Gambino’s issues, focused on racial discrimination in the USA, seem to be far more serious socially speaking than Cardi B and Meghan thee Stallion’s hymn to the hyperactive vagina. Yet, each knows its audience very well. Gambino throws one allusion after the other to events every black person in the USA should be able to identify whereas Cardi B appeals to those who follow the ins and outs of celebrity culture and of black female empowerment in the American music circuit. If you don’t know any of the celebrities appearing in the video, you will be mystified –though I remain mystified about why Rosalía accepted appearing in a sort of torero outfit without singing at all. Kylie Jenner’s presence is not, in my view, insulting in racial terms but because unlike Rosalía she is no artist and Cardi B hardly needs her to endorse her own art. Gambino, by the way, appears naked from the waste up in his film but this is not intended as a sexy display of his quite sexy anatomy. In contrast, Cardi B and her colleague Meghan display their curves in all their glorious abundance. In one of the scenes Cardi B’s breasts are quite visible, even though the nipples are covered, and this is when, like Russell Brand, I did doubt whether this was empowerment or self-exploitation. My own idol, Kylie Minogue, has found much more classy ways of being her own woman –and no, this is not prudery but a certain tiredness after seeing women claim power by showing their bodies for the last thirty five years, since Madonna started the trend. I recall dealing with the exact same issue in my 2006 article regarding a video with Jennifer Lopez…
See? These tiny films, lasting on average 3 minutes, are food for thought in ways much longer films are not. Half advertisement, half art the music video still survives and, from what I see in my 50+1 songs exploration, has a great future ahead. I’ll make sure to be more alert to it.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

AFTER WATCHING THE CROWN: WONDERING WHY I CARE…

Needing entertainment I chose to spend close to 40 hours watching the four seasons of Netflix’s The Crown (2016-). It has been impossible these last few weeks to ignore the abundant articles and blog posts on the alleged misrepresentation of the British Royal Family in the new fourth season, released in mid-November, as I just got curious. As you possibly know, so worried is the British Government about this matter that the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, asked Netflix last week to insert a warning at the beginning of each episode declaring that the series is intended to be fiction. I am under the impression that most spectators are aware that the series is not a documentary, but it seems there is some concern that the younger generation might take The Crown as a reliable history lesson. Naturally, there is also concern that the living persons represented in the Netflix series may be offended by their portraits, or even the object of social media attacks. The main worry in that sense is the Royal Family’s inability to protect Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, for the renewed wave of hatred against her as the late Princess Diana’s rival for the love of Charles, the Prince of Wales.
I recall in all detail the shock of hearing about Lady Diana Spencer’s tragic death in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris on Saturday evening, 31 August 31. I heard about the lethal car crash the following morning, when a neighbour told me, still amazed by the grim news. Diana was nothing to us, and I personally had no admiration for her, but she was an immense celebrity and still very young, just 36. There have been rumours to this day that MI5 had followed orders by Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to have Diana killed, fearing that the by then divorced ex-wife of Prince Charles was about to marry Muslim Harrods’ heir Dodi al Fayed supposedly because she was pregnant by him. The supposition behind these rumours was that the Crown did not want the future King, William, to have a Muslim half-brother. I find all this conspiracy theory nonsense, though it appears that Diana really had the intention of marrying a Muslim, Pakistani surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan, and was dating al Fayed, who also died in the crash, just to make this other man jealous. That’s the thing about the Royals… they make you engage in gossip, whether you are naturally gossipy or not. Anyway, on the day news of Diana’s death reached me, it was clear as daylight that the car crash had been provoked by the relentless pursuit of the media. The paparazzi started pestering young Diana the day it was known she was dating Prince Charles and, I have no doubt whatsoever, eventually caused her death; it was manslaughter though not direct murder. I fail to understand why this type of harassment is tolerated when any ordinary citizen chased by another citizen has the right to report this to the Police as a crime.
On the whole, I have enjoyed far more the three seasons of The Crown previous to the point when my own memory of events started. Once Diana appeared in season four, memory and dramatization got entangled and I started questioning not so much the truthfulness of the series as finding it too focused on the triangle formed by the Princess, Charles, and Camilla. For the first three seasons, the series works in a far more appealing way, with each episode being a self-contained narration of a particular crisis. And in that sense in can be taken as an History lesson, not because it tells the truth but because it send you rushing to Wikipedia and other sources to check for yourself. On average, I have spent about 30 minutes reading online for each episode, sometimes finding that the events narrated were quite different but also learning about matters I knew nothing about, or just very little. Looking back, I find that episode 3 in season 3, dealing with the Aberfan disaster, which claimed in 1966 the lives of 28 adults and 116 children when a colliery spoil tip collapsed in this Welsh mining town, was not only extremely poignant but also, on the whole, a valuable lesson on the Monarch’s duties. Now we are used to the images of Kings and Queens comforting the families of the victims of disasters or terrorist attacks but at the time this was a novelty, and whether this is strictly how Queen Elizabeth II behaved or not, the reflection that show-runner Peter Morgan (also author of most scripts) presents is valuable. Of course, what he offers is an interpretation based on his own personal thesis about the events narrated but if his views have currently more weight than those of the British historians, then we need to consider why giving reliable History lessons to the general public is generally such a daunting task. In this time of fake news and when American historians are begging President Trump not to destroy crucial documentation when he leaves the White House, as it is assumed he will do, this is more important than ever.
Season four, I read, has been quite traumatic to watch for those Britons who recalled Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s mandate (1979-1990) in all detail. If you closed your eyes and listen to the marvellous Gillian Anderson, here playing Thatcher, you will certainly get goosebumps–at least, I did. Anderson has done better than Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (2011). Yet, having spent 1985-86 in Britain as an au-pair, a period which included my stay for a few months in the borough of Finchley in North London, Thatcher’s own electoral district or constituency, I missed more about her mandate. Yes, the Falklands War was there (though no way she got into it distracted by her son Mark’s going missing during the Paris Dakar rally), and the final crisis that pushed her out of her long-held Prime Minister seat was there, but not the miners’ strike of 1984-85, the Poll Tax crisis and other events. Instead, we got the appalling soap opera that Charles and Diana’s romance was from its very onset.
The problem, perhaps, is that in current times each of us has become an amateur historian and we all have theories about what did or did not happen. I read an article by a woman journalist who claimed that now she finally understood Lady Diana, but to understand her I believe that the 2017 documentary Diana: In Her Own Words (also on Netflix) works much better. Not only because it reproduces interviews secretly taped to help journalist Andrew Morton to write his best-selling tribute Diana: Her True Story (1993) but because, ironically, it is easier to understand Prince Charles by listening to Diana’s own testimonial. The Crown argues that Diana was treated with total coldness by the Royal Family and by Charles himself, and so she is presented as their victim, but her own words present her as a victim of her own immaturity and of a grand vision of herself that Charles’ choice of her as his bride fulfilled, with horrific consequences. At many points of the documentary Diana is heard saying that she expected guidance from her husband, who was thirteen years her senior, but instead only got contempt for her immaturity. Peter Morgan has, in any case, a similar theory about Charles’s upbringing and treatment by his parents: that he received a cold-shoulder when he expected warmth and, yes, guidance. These were, then, two misguided individuals led to marry for the Crown’s convenience despite being woefully ill-suited to each other–which happens all the time, though in far less politically significant circumstances.
The history of the British monarchy as told in The Crown is, of course, a fascinating tale about how Western ideas of marriage have changed. Despite initial difficulties caused by Prince Phillip’s reluctant subordination to his wife, who is also his Queen, and his sense of emasculation as a man, the couple agree that divorce can never be an option. The real-life couple have been married for 73 years, and I must wonder whether theirs is one of the currently longest-lived marriages on Earth. The marriage may have survived with some infidelities on his side, as Peter Morgan hints in his series (though recall how Prince Phillip said it was hardly possible to commit adultery with a policeman shadowing his every move), but it is still there, whereas three of the couple’s four children have got divorced: Charles, but also Anne and Andrew; only Edward, who wed Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999, is still married.
The episodes of The Crown dealing with Princess Margaret are in this sense pitiful to watch: her relationship with divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend ended when she chose her privileges as a Princess over a civil marriage to him and a private life away from England; later, she did marry in Westminster Abbey with the acquiescence of Crown and Church but her union with talented bisexual photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones was anything but placid. The message we are given is not really that the Royals are failing to do their duty by staying married, but that the changes in the idea of marriage, from life-long commitment accompanied by a high degree of personal compromise to a relationship supposed to provide sexual and sentimental fulfilment, has changed radically. Of course, the old-fashioned model may have worked for Elizabeth and Phillip, but we are now seeing in Spain how the long-lasting union of the still married Juan Carlos and Sofía, was a sham all along. The united front they presented was crucial for the transition into democracy, but the former King’s long stream of mistresses and his shady financial dealings is revealing to us not only the less palatable aspects of his personality but that Spain on the whole respected a man who did not respect the women in his life, beginning with his wife, nor his fellow Spanish citizens.
In all this matter of the Windsors, the most intriguing participant is, no doubt, Camilla Parker-Bowles, née Shand. In hindsight, it is quite clear that Charles and Camilla should have married not long after they met in the 1970s but most biographers agree that she was seen as a commoner (which Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle are) and was sexually too experienced (Lord Mountbatten advised Charles to marry a virgin); besides, as Charles’s junior by just one year she was ready to marry while he was told to sow his wild oats before wedding anyone. As we all know by now, in 1973 Camilla married Andrew Parker-Bowles, a man all accounts agree that she did love, and had to watch his ex-boyfriend marry the virginal Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. I was astonished to listen to Diana herself explain in the 2017 documentary that she had avoided having any boyfriends, and had kept herself “tidy,” just in case that became required. The girl, nicknamed Duch by her family, had fairy-tale dreams of marrying at Westminster Abbey one day, perhaps even being a Queen. I’m not saying that she was a calculating teen, but there is something unsettling about a woman that decided to remain a virgin till marriage in the late 1970s/early 1980s. That was unusual. Anyway, in past times, or not so past if we think of Queen Sofía, Diana could have played her assigned role as future Queen and tolerate Camilla as the official mistress. That, however, was not to be, and the irony is that now Camilla is finally Charles’ wedded wife. They married in 2005, in a civil ceremony (as Camilla is a divorcee), though Camilla is known as the Duchess of Cornwall, not the Princess of Wales because that was Diana’s title. If Charles is ever crowned, which seems doubtful, she would be Princess Consort, though it is known that the British heir wants his wife to be crowned Queen. I was going to write ‘fat chance’…
When the credits of the last episode rolled, my husband and I burst out laughing. He had joined me in the second season, attracted by the high quality of the dialogue written by Morgan and his other scriptwriters. The reason why we laughed is that we found ourselves at specific points feeling deep empathy for some of the characters, despite our republicanism and general mistrust of families who inherit absurd, anachronistic privileges. We have, then, embarrassed ourselves a little bit by following the lives of Queen Elizabeth’s family. I read that Prince William and Prince Harry are very much against the addition of a sixth season dealing with their lives to the planned five seasons, and I doubt that I’ll watch more of this show. To disconnect, in fact, I watched one episode of the hilarious, over-the-top The Windsors, also on Netflix, and a few episodes of the new Spitting Image. I must, in any case, take my hat off to British monarchy and British society in general for their ability to endure misrepresentation and satire with no major political damage. Here in Spain we are light years away from that.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

RETROSPECTIVE FEMINISM: THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT AND THE WOMAN CHESS PLAYER THAT NEVER WAS

Like half the planet, I’ve been watching these days Netflix’s mini-series The Queen’s Gambit (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10048342) and enjoying it very much despite my total lack of interest in chess. Written and directed by Scott Frank, the mini-series adapts a 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, a truly interesting American author. Some of his titles may ring a bell, for they have been adapted for the cinema screen: The Hustler (1959) and its sequel The Color of Money (1984) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963). I strongly recommend Mockingbird (1980), on which I wrote here a few years ago (https://blogs.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/2015/10/18/walter-tevis-sf-masterpiece-mockingbird-the-end-of-literacy/). I have not read The Queen’s Gambit, but it seems to have been inspired by Tevis’s own passion for chess (he was an advanced amateur player). Apparently, Tevis wrote in his author’s note that “The superb chess of Grandmasters Robert Fischer, Boris Spassky and Anatoly Karpov has been a source of delight to players like myself for years. Since The Queen’s Gambit is a work of fiction, however, it seemed prudent to omit them from the cast of characters, if only to prevent contradiction of the record.”

The problem with the novel, however, is not so much that it is a work of fiction about a female chess player, Beth Harmon, who never existed but that it is set in a parallel world in which women (or at least one woman) can aspire to be the best world player. In The Calculating Stars (2018) by Mary Robinette Kowal women are part of NASA’s first missions already because a meteorite strikes the USA in 1952 and colonizing the Moon and next Mars becomes urgent. That, of course, is a science fiction novel. Tevis’s novel and the Netflix mini-series are presented, in contrast, as mimetic fiction but we are never told about the reality of women’s chess players in the 1950s-1970s period that the plot covers. Beth Harmon, in short, is as fantastic a creation as any of Kowal’s lady astronauts but, somehow, we are made to believe that she is more real, which she is not. Beth appears to be a peculiar case of what I will call ‘retrospective feminism,’ that is to say, a female character who achieves something of historical relevance for women at a time when no woman could aspire to the same feat. I’ll argue that this is both positive and negative: positive because it attempts to rewrite history, negative because it is an impossible rewriting and seems to highlight women’s shortcomings instead of our achievements.

As I have noted, I’m not interested in chess because, generally speaking, I’m not attracted to games and much less to those that involve any type of earnest competition. I had to learn from scratch then the basics about how the chess world works by watching the series and doing some quick research online. So, for you to know the current world champion is Magnus Carlsen, a 30-year-old Norwegian, and the current woman world champion is Ju Wenjun, a 28-year-old Chinese citizen. Yes, there are separate championships for men and women, though the men’s makes no reference to gender because, in principle, it is open to women. Chinese player Yifan Hou, 24, the youngest woman to earn the Grandmaster title (aged 14) is the top-ranking female chess player in the world and the only woman in the World Chess Federation’s Top 100 players (currently in position 88). So you see how fantastic Beth Harmon is.

An article in The Conversation by Alex B. Root called “Why there’s a separate World Chess Championship for women” (https://theconversation.com/why-theres-a-separate-world-chess-championship-for-women-129293) manages to be confusing rather than convincing as regards this matter. Root writes that “segregated tournaments allow those playing to get media attention, benefit financially, and make friends with people with whom they share some similar characteristics. Separate tournaments don’t speak to whether there are advantages or disadvantages”. Not convincing… Then, he notes that with about 15% of young players being female in the world, this means that because of the “smaller base of females” there are “fewer women than men at the top of the chess rating list,” which is even more unconvincing. If things were fair, there should be 15% of women players in the top 100, not just one. Only-women tournaments, Root suggests, “may make chess more attractive to girls and women.” Do they…?

The world’s top female player ever, Hungarian Grandmaster Judith Polgár (retired since 2014), totally disagrees with gender-segregated chess. She was at her peak the eighth best world player and famously defeated among others, Magnus Carlsen, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Boris Spassky. In an article published last year, Polgár expressed very vocally her opinion that women’s chess limits the chances of women players to do their best. “I always knew,” she declares, “that in order to become the strongest player I could, I had to play against the strongest possible opposition. Playing only among women would not have helped my development, as since I was 13 I was the clear number one among them. I needed to compete with the other leading (male) grandmasters of my time” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/nov/30/chess-grandmaster-women-only-tournament-play-men.) In the school and the children’s tournaments she runs there is for these reasons no gender segregation.

Reading, however, about why women lose at chess in non-segregated competitions I came across two very interesting pieces. One is an article by Omkar Khandekar about India, the nation were chess was born. He quotes Koneru Humpy, a top female Indian chess player, who simply thinks that men are better at chess. She and other players Khandekar interviewed “pointed to a combination of systemic and societal factors, and a dollop of sexism, that hold back women from realizing their potential in chess. Lack of role models, lack of financial security, male gatekeepers in chess bodies and an overwhelming pay gap in the sport were further deterrents”. Yet, many added that “the game needed some innate traits, and that crucial ‘killer instinct,’ which most women ‘lacked’.” The author of the article believes that it is rather a matter of being historically disadvantaged and thinks that women have progressed spectacularly in recent years, and will eventually catch up with the boys. But not yet. Kruttika Nadig, a top female Indian player, notes that “Fortunately I didn’t experience sexism in the chess world. But for some reason, I found women are a lot more cagey. It was hard for me to find female practice partners. (I would find) guys working with each other, playing with each other… but not that much camaraderie among women.” In her world, Beth Harmon is totally alone, the one woman among men (both allies and rivals) but it must be said that she does nothing to connect with other women; and there is one at least asking to be her chess friend.

This leads me to the other article, which deals directly with The Queen’s Gambit and can be found on Vanity Fair (https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2020/11/queens-gambit-a-real-life-chess-champion-on-netflixs-new-hit). Jennifer Shahade, a two-time U.S. women’s chess champion and author of Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport and Play Like a Girl!, explains that there are many female child players of chess until around the age of 12, when they start quitting. Chess, she says, is social, “So if you’re a girl and you don’t have other girls who are playing at your same age range and level and city, it can start to be less interesting. You might just gravitate toward another sport where you have 10 friends.” This is still a partial explanation: for whatever reason, and unless they are committed, girls seem to start identifying chess as a boy’s game in their teens, possibly when they realize that if they want to go further they need to play in earnest and face the boys’ pressure. “I think”, Shahade claims, “there are two parts to the world. [One] part is very excited to see girls and women play. And then there’s also some undercurrents of resentment. Especially as chess moves online, there are a lot of nasty comments written about girls and women.” The Netflix series, with its insistence on the importance of having a team of friendly, supportive players helping you, may certainly encourage girls, and boys, to see matters very differently. But like any other area formerly dominated by men, it’ll take time to make things more equal.

It is certainly gratifying to see Beth receive lessons and support from men who do care about her but several matters are less gratifying. To begin with, Beth is dependent since childhood on a sedative similar to Librium which, quite incongruously, is linked to her ability to visualize chess matches in her head. The series corrects the representation of this and other addictions eventually to end up claiming that Beth’s talent is not their product. Yet, I worry very much that a young girl, as orphan Beth is when her story begins, possibly around 8 or 10, might believe that there is a link between being a talented player and being an addict. Another complicated matter is Beth’s relationship with her adoptive mother Alma (she’s adopted in her early teens), herself an alcoholic. Alma supports Beth eventually but only because this brings in substantial earnings from the tournaments that the girl plays. Alma and Beth bond in unexpected, interesting ways but the mercenary nature of Alma’s investment in her daughter’s success is not too positive.

Finally, there is the matter of clothes… You may visit now the virtual exhibition ‘The Queen and the Crown’ (https://www.thequeenandthecrown.com/) at the Brooklyn Museum and marvel at the costumes designed for both Netflix series: The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit. The progress of young Beth Harmon in the world of chess is marked by her gradual physical transformation, not only from child to woman in her twenties but also from terribly dressed ragamuffin to sophisticated 1970s fashion victim. She seems to invest, indeed, most of her earnings in designer clothes. This metamorphosis is a pleasure to watch but it is also a painful reminder that intelligent women characters need to look good to be accepted by TV audiences. The actress who plays Beth, Anya Taylor-Joy, is not an average beauty but she is attractive enough to have worked as a model. Ironically, Beth’s French model friend Cleo tells her that she could never be a model because she looks too clever… It’s a no-win situation.

Going back to the initial question of retrospective feminism, I’m pleased that Netflix has made The Queen’s Gambit and young girls may see in Beth interesting possibilities. I cannot call her a role model because of her many addictions but she’s an amazingly interesting character. I’m just sorry that the chance has been missed to tell Judit Polgár’s real-life story, or the story of the other women trying to compete with the men in the world of chess at the highest possible level. All my encouragement to them.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

A GREAT DOUBLE BILL ON THE LIVES OF YOUNG GIRLS: CUTIES AND EIGHTH GRADE

You may have heard already of Cuties (original title Mignonnes), the debut feature film by French-Senegalese director Maïmouna Doucouré (b. 1985) author also of the screenplay. Her film, partly based on her own childhood experiences, narrates a turning point in the life of eleven-year-old Amy, a young girl with the same migrant ethnic background as the director. When news that her father is bringing home a second wife, as the Islamic religion permits him, and in view of her mother’s resigned humiliation, Amy starts rebelling. She not only disobeys the injunctions of her stern grand-aunt, the veritable custodian of the family’s patriarchal values, but also joins unbeknownst to her mother a troupe of multi-racial classmates training for a dance contest. Amy’s appropriation of a cousin’s smartphone introduces her to the social networks everyone her age is already using and, what’s more important, teaches her the sexualized dance routines uploaded by older girls that she has her companions imitate. When they take part in the contest, spectators are far from enthusiastic about their bumping and griding and Amy understands that neither world–her family’s repressive understanding of femininity, the so-called ‘liberal’ West’s exploitation of female bodies–can offer her what she truly needs.

When this film was released on Netflix, on 9 September, it immediately caused a major uproar among the most conservative American spectators. A scene interpolated in the narrative in which the director shows the girls fooling around in their sexy dance outfits elicited accusations that this was child pornography. The dance routine the girls display at the contest was found to be unwatchable (that was the director’s intention but for very different reasons). Netflix, which was simply the distributor and not the film’s producer, even had to apologise for the poster showing the girls’ bare midriff (remember the four friends are eleven). Since then, USA Today informs, “at least four state attorneys general [have] asked Netflix to pull the film; Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) urged a criminal investigation; Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said he was unsatisfied with Netflix’s apology; and a Texas grand jury indicted Netflix earlier this month for promoting ‘lewd material of children’” (https://eu.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/movies/2020/10/20/netflix-tiny-subscriber-growth-pegged-cuties-scandal/5991684002/). This is part of an article claiming that the Cuties scandal has lost Netflix perhaps even hundreds of thousands of subscribers (in the USA) after the #CancelNetflix smear campaign connected with the film.

Many others have defended Cuties and the argumentation in its favour is very easy to understand: Maïmouna Doucouré wanted to denounce the sexualization of young girls at an age when they don’t even have a clear understanding of their own erotic impulses (and when their bodies are not even fully developed). She explains with great precision how the process works: the girls want to be liked and for that they imitate what is most appreciated on the social networks–the self-exhibition of young, sexy female bodies. If, as the many likes show, this is a valid strategy for the older girls, it must also be valid for the younger girls, they naively assume; in the absence of any adult who can explain the crucial differences, Amy and her friends go down that path without truly grasping the nuances of what they are doing.

Please note that there is nothing sexual in the film in the sense that there are no scenes between the girls and any boys (a pathetic moment between Amy and her smartphone owning cousin is stopped by him in consternation). The girls’ dance outfits are not age-appropriate, I agree with that, but they are not really different from what you can see among very young cheerleaders or what is promoted these days on Tik-Tok. In fact, let me tell you that when I first heard that there was some kind of trouble with Cuties, I assumed that it came from the Muslim community in France. I supposed they might have been annoyed by the presentation of Amy’s resistance to her father’s patriarchal choices but, as you can see, the scandal erupted in the USA.

This is ironic, to say the least, as the strategies for sexualized self-presentation that French Amy and her friends learn come from the social media invented in Silicon Valley. They come from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and similar, all of them American products routinely used by pre-teens and teenagers all over the world to poison their lives. Proof of this is the other film which I am recommending today: Eighth Grade, also available on Netflix. In fact, my recommendation is that you see the two films together for they constitute a splendid double bill about the lives of contemporary young girls. They might seem unrelated at first sight but you can see for yourself that both narrate a state of matters that must be extremely difficult to navigate, and I say this as a fifty-something adult woman that would not know what to do in these girls’ position.

Eight Grade (2018) has been written and directed by Bo Burnham (b. 1990) an American comedian, musician, actor, filmmaker and poet, who “began his performance career as a YouTuber in March 2006” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bo_Burnham) and who is quite well-known as such. This is his first film. I knew nothing about Burnham but I must say that I totally applaud his brave decision to immerse himself in the world of shy thirteen-year-old Elsie Fisher to show the rest of us what it is like to be an American teen girl today. Neither Cuties nor Eight Grade have been made for children but I think it makes perfect sense to see them with the teens in your family, if you have any, not only for them to validate what the films narrate but also to open up a much needed discussion about what girls specifically should accept or reject in their lives.

Elsie’s narrative arc is very simple and very simply limited by her eighth grade in school. Most films about teenagers focus on the high school years but this one pays, exceptionally, attention to that grey area between early childhood and adolescence properly speaking. As I recently told my students it’s funny how the -teen suffix conditions an understanding of adolescence in the Anglophone countries. In Spain we take it for granted that adolescence begins at 12, which is in the English language an age in the pre-teen years (supposedly starting at 10). In any case, Elsie, who lives with her divorced dad Mark (a loving, supporting man), faces difficulties that while common to any adolescent since the term was invented 120 years ago are enhanced by the impact of social media in her age group. Having pimples, being body-conscious, making awkward moves to approach someone you like, fighting a losing battle against the most popular girls in class and so on are hardly novelties. What is new is the obsessive documentation in the social media of every single step taken, for good but mostly for bad, and the dangerous pressure this puts on all teens. Burnham has chosen a girl but it would be interesting to see a companion piece about a boy, perhaps the nerdish but also charming guy that befriends Elsie, for no teen is free of that tremendous burden.

It seems to me that all those Americans so offended with Cuties have missed the ways in which Eighth Grade is also lewd, even though these are different. There is a very uncomfortable scene in which Elsie picks a banana, a fruit she hates, to teach herself how to give a blow job, as the YouTube videos she is checking suggest. Her befuddled father catches her in the act, totally misreading the situation, and Elsie tries to eat the banana only to choke on it. This is not at all American Pie-style dirty humour but a comment on how pathetic it is that 13-year-old girls need to give blow jobs in order to be sexually enticing to boys their age (at least to the most coveted ones). Predictably, Elsie is interested in a popular boy that Burnham portrays with no compassion as a total jerk undeserving of her attention; the scene when she tries to awaken his interest by pretending that her private nudie pictures can be seen in her smartphone is another sad moment.

Worst of all is the terrifying encounter with a boy who, as he informs Elsie, just wants to train her into the type of sexual activity that will make her popular at parties and who is miffed when she rejects that kind of favour (though she is in tears at this point). I wonder, then, why Eighth Grade has not provoked and even bigger scandal than Cuties, though I think I know the answer. Even though there is much talk of sex in Burnham’s film, Elsie cannot be said to be sexy (though she is prettier than she assumes). In contrast, even though there is hardly any talk of sex in Cuties, Amy and her friends do look sexy in their dance outfits. Any healthy spectator understands why this is necessary. The ones disturbed by their sexiness are, in short, the dirty-minded individuals that enjoy that sexiness too much. How do they deny this ugly truth? By calling for a witch-hunt against the female film director, accusing her of being dirty-minded. How truly sad.

A personal anecdote to finish. Elsie has a YouTube channel in which she gives advice about how to face the crises of being a teen like her. She has very few followers but it is obvious that the advice she gives is solid. Unlike her everyday shy self, Elsie appears to be confident and quite wise in her videos. The day after I saw the film, my youngest niece (eleven) messaged me to say that she wanted me to buy her a sleeve for her smartphone. Knowing that she had to negotiate this purchase, she offered to upload a video of herself on TikTok and I had to determine how many likes it should get. I accepted her offer but stipulated, thinking of Elsie, that it should be a video in which she said something clever. Ah, no, my niece replied quite cross: either a dance video or nothing; the kind of video I proposed would get no likes… In that way she deprived herself of her coveted sleeve and I learned yet another lesson about young girls and social media. See Cuties and Eighth Grade and learn their lessons.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/sararamartinalegre/

NEW BOOK!: REPRESENTATIONS OF MASCULINITY IN LITERATURE AND FILM – FOCUS ON MEN

Last March I published the post “How Entitlement and Villainy Connect” (https://blogs.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/2020/03/03/how-entitlement-and-villainy-connect-as-i-explain-in-masculinity-and-patriarchal-villainy-from-hitler-to-voldemort/) to publicise my first monograph in English Masculinity and Patriarchal Villainy in British Fiction: From Hitler to Voldemort (Routledge, 2019). Now is the turn to launch my second book in English, Representations of Masculinity in Literature and Film: Focus on Men (https://www.cambridgescholars.com/representations-of-masculinity-in-literature-and-film). Both are part of my research in Masculinities Studies and, as such, are necessarily similar. Yet, at the same time they are very different examples of how academic research is done. I think that is worth some comment.

Every mature scholar accumulates a long list of articles published in journals along the years and there comes a time when it makes sense to see how they can be put together as a book. I believed that time had come two years ago, when I first submitted a proposal for the book now published. It is the habitual convention not to reprint chapters of books in other books (or only exceptionally) but is not uncommon to collect together journal articles. Or that is what I had assumed. I have read many books of this type but something seems to have changed because by the time I put my collection together I was told that this type of book was no longer interesting. The editor of the first book series to which I submitted the proposal was even rude to me about this: “why would anyone want to publish work available elsewhere?” he told me in a rather cold email message, which truly surprised (and hurt) me. I attribute this to his being a sociologist used to scientific publication which, certainly, is hardly ever published in collections (unlike what is more habitual in the Humanities). The second commissioning editor I approached was far more welcoming but told me that she’d rather publish new research by me. This is how I finally published Masculinity and Patriarchal Villainy in British Fiction: From Hitler to Voldemort a book, which as I explained in my previous post, had been since 2008 in the making.

The very week that Routledge published my book, a commissioning editor from Cambridge Scholars Publishing sent me an e-mail message asking whether I knew of any project that they might publish. I had edited for them the collective volumes Recycling Culture(s) (2008) and Persistence and Resistance in English Studies: New Research (co-edited with David Owen and Elisabet Pladevall). These gather together papers presented at two conferences celebrated at my university, UAB, expanded for book publication. My experience with CSP had been good and it occurred to me then that they might welcome my collection. So they did, and here’s the book, of which I am immensely satisfied. A matter that makes this book very special to me as that I chose for the cover a beautiful selfie that my nephew Álex took a while ago (for a class project in which students were asked to produce a self-portrait). I had originally called the book Focus on Men: Representations of Masculinity in Literature and Film, but, as happened in the case of the Routledge book, I was asked to reverse the order of title and subtitle (apparently libraries prefer the more self-explanatory titles). The photo, which shows Alex holding his glasses in his hand, ready to focus on his future whenever he chooses, illustrates very well my ‘focus on men’ concept, and there it is. It’s very beautiful and it makes me very proud to have it on the cover of my book.

I must clarify that Representations of Masculinity in Literature and Film: Focus on Men consists of six previously published articles and six new chapters (some had been online as working papers for a while, some are new). Here are the contents:

Introduction: Why We Should Focus on Men vii
Chapter One. Queerying Antonio: Michael Radford’s The Merchant of Venice and the Problem of Heterosexism 1
Chapter Two. Heathcliff’s Blurred Mirror Image: Hareton Earnshaw and the Reproduction of Patriarchal Masculinity in Wuthering Heights 21
Chapter Three. In Bed with Dickens: Ralph Fiennes’s The Invisible Woman and the Problematic Masculinity of the Genius 47
Chapter Four. Recycling Charlie, Amending Charles: Dodger, Terry Pratchett’s Rewriting of Oliver Twist 66
Chapter Five. Between Brownlow and Magwitch: Sirius Black and the Ruthless Elimination of the Male Protector in the Harry Potter Series 87
Chapter Six. Odysseus’s Unease: The Post-war Crisis of Masculinity in Melvyn Bragg’s The Soldier’s Return and A Son of War 112
Chapter Seven. A Demolition Job: Scottish Masculinity and the Failure of the Utopian Tower Block in David Greig’s Play The Architect and Andrew O’Hagan’s Novel Our Fathers 133
Chapter Eight. Rewriting the American Astronaut from a Cross-cultural Perspective: Michael Lopez-Alegria in Manuel Huerga’s documentary film Son & Moon 161
Chapter Nine. Discovering the Body of the Android: (Homo)Eroticism and (Robo)Sexuality in Isaac Asimov’s Robot Novels 186
Chapter Ten. Educating Dídac, Humankind’s New Father: The End of Patriarchy in Manuel de Pedrolo’s Typescript of the Second Origin 213
Chapter Eleven. Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Problem of the Flawed Mentor: Why Anakin Skywalker Fails as a Man 232
Chapter Twelve. The Anti-Patriarchal Male Monster as Limited (Anti)Hero: Richard K. Morgan’s Black Man/Th3rteen 251

I must say that it was not easy at all to come up with this final list, which is limited, as I say, to what I have published in journals (at any rate relatively little in comparison to what I have published in collective books). The other matter that worried me very much was how to place the articles, written in very different periods and circumstances, in a way that made sense. The other book, Masculinity and Patriarchal Villainy in British Fiction: From Hitler to Voldemort, is a monograph designed from scratch to cohere as much as possible. Yet in this one I had an immense variety of articles, from Shakespeare to Richard K. Morgan. I decided that perhaps that was the key: look at the chronology of the texts analysed and try to organise the volume this way. Of course, I have deviated from my own rule because the three chapters dealing with Dickens come after a chapter on Victorian Wuthering Heights but deal with 21st century texts. I wanted to build a nice gradation so that the reader would be taken gently from the 16th to the 21st century, from Elizabethan drama to post-cyberpunk. I hope it works… Of course, the articles were not written in this orderly fashion. The oldest one, the chapter dealing with Hareton in Emily Brontë’s masterpiece, originates in the lecture I gave back in 2001 in my official examination to get tenure, whereas the most recent piece happens to be the chapter on Asimov’s amazingly attractive robot R. Daneel Olivaw, which I wrote in 2019. It is, in any case, a real pleasure, to see together work that has a similar intellectual origin but that was until now scattered in very many different places (or that had been rejected in some cases by unsympathetic peer reviewers and, yes, I mean the chapter on Sirius Black, which with six rejections is my own personal record).

I must express here my absolute frustration with how the demands of our academic tasks prevent us from concentrating on writing books. I truly believe that both monographs and collections should be our main focus in publishing and not articles and chapters in collective books. Do not misunderstand me: shorter pieces are important and, as I am arguing, it makes good sense to collect them now and then in books. What I do not accept, and protest against, is the fact that books count so little for research assessment (at least in Spain). When I apply to be assessed in 2023, my next deadline, the Routledge book will only count as one of the five publications I need to inform about, even though it is 110,000 pages long and has nine chapters which equal nine articles. The idea that a book counts the same as a 5000 word article is simply ludicrous but these are the rules which assessment agency ANECA follows, inspired by the scientific fixation with the paper. I will not include my CSP book among my most valuable publications, not because I think it is not representative of what I do as a researcher (quite the opposite) but because ANECA will most likely argue that it is research corresponding to an earlier period. Actually, I will include one of the articles reprinted as a book chapter but referencing its original publication in a journal. This lack of enticement to publish monographs is, I think, a serious error for it is in monographs where we express our most sustained intellectual efforts. Articles and book chapters are fine but they are short bursts of energy in comparison to writing a monograph, which is steady, focused intellectual work (what we learn to do in doctoral dissertations).

The other matter that needs to be born in mind, apart from ANECA’s criteria, is time. I have managed to publish the monograph and the collection in about two years because my university scrupulously respects the legality marked by the decree known as ‘Decreto Wert’ of 2011. According to this decree, researchers with at least three six-year periods of research validated by the Ministerio can be allowed to teach 16 ECTS instead of the habitual 24 ECTS. I have been in this privileged situation for the last five years (if I recall correctly), which explains my productivity. The monograph was written in a period of one year during which I had no teaching duties. The collection has been assembled during Covid-19 lockdown, which has certainly facilitated matters to me not because I had less teaching to do but because I had no long commute to take my energy away. Now that I’m back to teaching face-to-face I have no time or energy to start a new book, even though title, chapter list and bibliography are ready and waiting.

Back to Representations of Masculinity in Literature and Film: Focus on Men, I’m quoting my own text in CSP’s website to note that collectively, these essays argue that, although much has been written about men, it has been done from a perspective that does not see masculinity as a specific feature in need of critical appraisal. Men need to be made aware of how they are represented in order to alter the toxic patriarchal models handed down to them and even break the extant binary gender models. For that, it is important that men distinguish patriarchy from masculinity, as is done here, and form anti-patriarchal alliances with each other and with women. This book is, then, an invitation to men’s liberation from patriarchy by raising an awareness of its crippling constraints. This begins, I add, by showing men how they are represented (mostly how they self-represent) in order to see where the positive models and the negative failures are. I find that, on the whole, men’s fictional representation is far less flattering than feminist criticism, focused on women’s deficient representation by men, usually assumes. The flaws are there for all to see, if you care to look, whereas the positive models are few and far between. A matter that puzzles me very much is that whenever positive models emerge they are not human (Asimov’s Daneel), are destroyed by their authors (Sirius Black and others), or prevented from bringing on deep changes. This is because, I believe, men have no collective agenda to improve their self-representation as, unlike women, they do not see themselves as a class (or so-called ‘minority’) but as a constellation of individuals. Please, recall that I always distinguish between men and patriarchy and that I would like to see men becoming collectively aware of the way in which they can be anti-patriarchal. I have found in the texts analysed some anti-patriarchal attitudes but not a sense that this is an actual position that can be actively assumed by a majority of men.

Enjoy!!!

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THE MEANING OF HARRISON FORD: STARDOM AND MASCULINITY

I have just written a review of Virginia Luzón-Aguado’s new book Harrison Ford: Masculinity and Stardom in Hollywood (Bloomsbury) and there are a few more matters I’d like to consider, for which I had no room there. Luzón-Aguado’s accomplished volume is absolutely recommended to those who admire this American male star but also to those interested in how to write academically about this type of icon. Its only limitation is that Ford (Chicago, 1942) is a living man and an actor far from retirement who can still revolutionise the way male ageing is presented on screen. Believe it or not, Ford, aged seventy-eight, is currently involved in the making of a fifth Indiana Jones film, scheduled for 2022. For reasons possibly of limited word count, though, Luzón-Aguado ends her analysis with 42 (2013), the film which in her view best signals Ford’s transformation into a character actor. This means there are no comments in her book on the end of Han Solo’s narrative arc in Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015), on The Age of Adaline (2015), which has an interesting comment to offer on Ford’s ageing, or on the controversial Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

As I read Luzón-Aguado’s study of Ford, I was wondering whether I like him as a star and I’m afraid that the answer is no. I like Han Solo and I like Indiana Jones, his two most iconic roles, but I don’t enjoy watching Ford in all of his films. Even so, I have seen most of the forty-four films Luzón-Aguado analyses in her book, which means that Ford has enough star appeal to have put me through diversely failed movies such as The Mosquito Coast or Random Hearts. Funnily, I usually name Blade Runner, in which Ford plays the protagonist, as one of my favourite films; it is then possible to love a film but not its star. In any case, I would name Witness, for which Ford got his only Oscar Award nomination, as my favourite Harrison Ford film and would call attention to the vastly underrated K19: The Widowmaker as a Ford film to rediscover.

Luzón-Aguado writes in her conclusions that she has tried to analyse the ‘fictional truth’ behind Ford’s public persona and she does so very beautifully, calling attention to the triangular tension between the man, the star, and the roles. She also avoids carefully showing a mere fan’s interest, though I assume she likes Ford as a star (otherwise why make such a big effort about him?), and treading on the less savoury aspects of his private life. Not that they are exceptional, but still they do matter.

I remember an article of many years ago by the late Maruja Torres in El País enthusing about Ford’s persona and praising him for having married (in his second marriage) not a star like himself but Melissa Mathison, a scriptwriter known among others for having written Steven Spielberg’s E.T. Close to sixty, in 2000, however, Ford went through a deep life crisis and separated from Mathison, whom he had married in 1983. They got divorced in 2004, after much acrimony and a substantial payment on his side, when Ford was already dating the woman that would become his third wife, Calista Flockhart, twenty-two years his junior. When the two met, in 2002, Flockhart was at the height of her popularity thanks to the title role in TV series Ally Mc Beal (1997-2002) and in a way her marriage to Ford seemed to be the answer to her thirty-something character’s search for a mate. I assume that many who, like Torres, had praised Ford to the skies found themselves disappointed. I am well aware that mixing the private life of actors with their public persona as stars is naïve and immature but I really believe this change of spouse is a factor that negatively affected Ford’s stardom. Interestingly, the year when he separated from Mathison he played a villainous husband in the horror film What Lies Beneath, and I would say that Ford was guilty himself in this way of blurring the lines and mixing the two spheres. The former ideal husband and father, according both to his private life and star roles (in the films about Jack Ryan or Air Force One) suddenly appeared to be far less wholesome, even mortally dangerous.

Ford did not continue playing villains but my personal impression is that as he became tabloid fodder the distance he had kept from the press and the zealous protection of his private life in his remote Wyoming ranch, so far from Hollywood glamour, accentuated a gruffness that must have been present all along. A truly rounded male star must project something exciting that makes you want to meet them in real life and whereas I see that something in actors such as Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, Hugh Jackman, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, or Chris Hemsworth, I don’t see it in Harrison Ford. Hollywood’s currently best-paid actor, Dwayne Johnson, is a most likeable man which, surely, says something about the kind of masculinity generally preferred today. In contrast, Ford appears to be far less likeable, perhaps because in his 21st century films he has been projecting all along a sense of detachment, even of boredom, with the business of acting. Even his reappearance as Han Solo in The Force Awakens lacks appeal. [SPOILERS AHEAD] The scene in which he is murdered by his son with Princess Leia, Ben Solo (a.k.a. Kylo Ren), lacks pathos as if the actor wanted the whole thing to be done with as quickly as possible. Besides, the realization that Solo did not leave happily ever after with Leia only helps to undermine his cool as most desirable man in the galaxy.

Having said that, there is also a certain sense in which Ford is unique and irreplaceable. The choice of the insipid Alden Ehrenreich to play a young Han Solo in Disney’s mercenary Solo: A Stars War Story (2018) tells a much neglected story about the difficulties Hollywood has to find new major male icons. Chris Hemsworth (b. 1983 in Australia), Chris Evans (1981), or Ryan Reynolds (1976) are perhaps best positioned to play that role but something is amiss. Sean Connery, who hit ninety last week (and famously played Ford’s father even though he is only twelve years older), or Clint Eastwood (also ninety) still preserve a charisma that seems lacking in the younger generation, perhaps with Hugh Jackman’s only exception. This difficulty to find young icons means that we have been witnessing for quite a few years now, perhaps since the beginning of the 21st century, an extraordinary prolongation of the careers of the older blockbuster male stars. The three Expendable films (2010, 2012, 2014)–Ford participated on the third one–offer an extensive comment on his phenomenon with their all-star cast of ageing action actors. The projected fifth Indiana Jones film also comments on the difficulties to find a male star capable of filling in Ford’s niche for younger generations. Presumably, Ford, famous for doing most of the stunts in his films, will this time require a double. I wonder, though, whether it makes ultimately any sense to have a man play the same action role in his late seventies which he played in his thirties and what exactly this says about Hollywood, US masculinity, and filmmaking generally.

Ageing in public is no easy matter and although it does not affect men and women in the same way, it does affect men nonetheless. Perhaps it is more correct to assume that stars with long careers like Ford (he played his first screen role in 1966) have a compound image which not only changes from decade to decade but also as their own audiences age. I am old enough to have attended the original release of Star Wars (1977) and have a first childhood memory (I was then eleven) of Ford as the hot hero Solo, but who is Ford today to an eleven-year-old? His most recent film, a new adaptation of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, seems addressed to that demographic but he can hardly generate the same response now. Possibly, any eleven-year-old will be puzzled to realize that this wrinkled old guy with a thick white beard is the same Han Solo of the first Star Wars films they may have seen at home with their nostalgic parents. With this I am not saying at all that Ford ought to retire, just that his persona is not one, but many depending, as I say, on the parallel evolution of his career and that of his audience. The film I have recommended, Witness, was released already thirty-five years ago and this means that in practice for younger audiences Ford may be perceived as a relic from a classical past far in the depths of the 20th century.

This impression that Ford is somehow a throwback to other times is increased by the constant comparisons along his career to classic male stars ranging from Errol Flynn to Gary Cooper. Both Han Solo and Indiana Jones are throwbacks to the 1930s and 1940s adventure film series and it can be argued that, somehow, Ford’s persona was constructed from the beginning as a suggestion that macho cool cannot be a matter of the present. By macho I do not mean that Ford’s image is blatantly sexist, but the other way round: I very much suspect that he has embodied the kind of subtly patriarchal guy that at heart most men, women, and even children prefer. This is a guy that, as Luzón-Aguado notes, can safely display a “manly vulnerability” because this vulnerability is by no means a sign of insecurity. Or of male chauvinism. Perhaps, unlike the current US masculinity which shows so much rampant sexism and homophobia and fear of losing control, Ford’s American masculinity showed in his prime that being a man is a simpler matter: knowing who you are mentally and accepting the limitations of your vulnerable body, with no need to hate others. When Aguado-Luzón says that Ford need not display his sexuality aggressively she does not mean that his roles are asexual but that his sole presence is enough to transmit a reassuring sense of non-sexist manliness. Perhaps this is what is most missed from the male stars of the past and in modern masculinity generally.

There is, in any case, always a bit of a mystery about why certain individuals, male or female, become major film stars. Navigating the Hollywood choppy waters for more than fifty years is already a major accomplishment; being an audience’s favourite for many of these years even more so. It is then necessary to acknowledge these merits in Ford’s case (and, of course, in others). I remain personally very curious to see where his career is going in his old age and, though I have my misgivings, will certainly see the fifth Indiana Jones film. I hope, however, for the sake of the current eleven-year-olds that new male icons appear and that they are what is needed in these troubled times.

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ON BULLIES AND NERDS: READING PIXAR’S BOY STORIES

I have now read Shannon Wooden and Ken Gillam’s Pixar’s Boy Stories: Masculinity in a Postmodern Age (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014) and feel even more disconcerted than I did last week about the boys in the audience for animated children’s movies. Interestingly, Wooden and Gillam are not only academic collaborators but the parents of two boys, their inspiration for writing the volume. We are all used to the idea that Disney is conservative and its filmic products a way of teaching little girls to stay within the confines of patriarchal heteronormativity (which is a biased view, as Amy M. Davis shows) and to the complementary idea that Pixar, bought by Disney in 2006, is the more progressive studio. Much to my surprise, Wooden and Gillam do a terrific, though controversial, demolition job of Pixar’s production until 2013 (Brave, A Bug’s Life, Cars, Cars 2, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., Monsters University, Ratatouille, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Up! and WALL-E). Possibly only Coco out of the rest (Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory, Cars 3, Incredibles 2, Toy Story 4, Onward) contradicts their main arguments.

Wooden and Gillam establish, to begin with, that there is a worrying situation concerning boys as, the more girls advance, the more boys retreat. This is not because girls are actively pushing them out of any area but because American boys identify any area in which girls excel as a girlie area, which is slowly but constantly erasing their presence, out of their own accord, from many. This is a phenomenon we know well: the only degrees with a majority of young men are those in Engineering, which does not seem to interest girls so much. In the rest, the girls are the majority and still gaining ground. Borrowing their theoretical framework for masculinity mainly from sociologist Michael Kimmel, Wooden and Gillam paint a bleak picture of contemporary US masculinity, split between the bullies and the nerds (as I noted in my previous post). The patriarchal ‘boy police’, which consists not only of direct bullying but of general social pressure to avoid anything connected with femininity out of a combination of misogyny and homophobia, is preventing American boys from receiving the right guidance to become well-adjusted adults. Wooden and Gillam candidly grant that whereas girls are now well liked “At the heat of the boy crisis, it seems, is the hard truth that we don’t like them very much anymore” (17, original italics). I was surprised to read that this extends to some US couples actively trying to select the sex of their babies, preferring girls.

Using Jesse Klein’s The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America (New York: New York UP, 2012), Wooden and Gillam try to make sense of what has happened to boys for US society not to like them. I am not sure that I agree with all their arguments but the changes in masculinity, they say following Klein, have to do with the emergence of the concept of “body capital”, which has facilitated “the jock cult” (and on the side of the girls the cookie cutter looks of the teen influencers). Whereas in the past any classroom would afford social acceptance to a variety of boys, from the popular jock to the socially awkward nerd, passing through the geek, the super-achiever and the B-grade boys, now all classrooms are radically split between the jock and his cronies and the rest, all pushed into the nerd category by the jock’s bullying. This is a sort of revenge of the jocks: told in the 1990s that body matters more than brain by the combination of shallow lad/frat guy culture and celebrity culture, the jock demands a position of prominence he never had by demeaning those who do not possess his body capital. What he sees in society, with the cult of male sports celebrities, confirms his view of school social hierarchy. The boy that excels in matters which are not sports learns to conceal his abilities so as not to attract the jock’s bullying. The boy that has no special qualities tends to side with the bully, either overtly or covertly for “even young boys know how to read bodies as signifiers of social status” (35), and the one with the ‘right body’ is, definitely, the jock with the six-pack abs.

According to Wooden and Gillam, “The Pixar films, for all their wholesome surface messages, do nothing to rewrite the bully script by which many American kids suffer” (80). Their narratives register, in fact, “disapproval of the extraordinary” (22). They endorse the homesteader ideal of the past which “privileges self-effacement, obedience, and emotional stoicism, hardly healthy values for contemporary boys” (15) and preach that “Maturing out of boyhood requires suppression and conformity” (25). By joining in the “traditional celebration of physical brawn” they “tacitly endorse the social hierarchy that perpetuates our rampant bully culture” (52). This is done mainly by presenting the “gifted and talented” as “ludicrous, creepy, or downright dangerous” (96) and by characterizing them, not the jocks, as the villains even from childhood. The model, they hint, is that of the Columbine High School massacre: the child nerd, or geek, is ostracized and bullied, and left with no parental guidance, and he grows up to be a resentful teen school shooter seeking respect in real life, and a villain (or a loser) in the Pixar films. Wooden and Gillam also note that the worst villains are the guys that disrupt the workings of the market on which companies like Pixar and Disney depend. “Rather than asking the community which values should be taught, the corporation teaches the community those lessons that work in its favor” (130), they conclude.

I am not sure that I completely understand what Wooden and Gillam are arguing, for I do not see the alternative they propose and I do not see the boys in the audience (are the Pixar films for the bullies? Do they go to the cinema? Is going to the cinema nerdish?). If I follow them correctly, the authors want for the boys what studios are beginning to offer the girls: stories in which being outstanding following positive values is rewarded and which offer a lesson in how to mature into being a well-adjusted woman (man in the boys’ case). I am just wondering whether this is indeed what girls are being offered…

Take Frozen, the biggest hit with girls in recent years. Princess Elsa has a unique gift by which she dominates ice but she is forced to conceal that gift because her power is presented to her as a danger to the persons in her circle and to the community. Elsa almost becomes a villain, as she is in the original fairy tale, but learns to ‘let it go’, turn her fear of herself into a positive understanding of power, and enjoy the love of her sister Anna. For all that she is rewarded and becomes the respected, celebrated Queen of Arundel. Yet, in Frozen 2, which I initially loved but now I have serious misgivings about, Elsa feels again unhappy as, somehow, her powers are too constrained in her new role as Queen. The story leads to her gradually shedding away any duties she has towards her community, including passing the crown to Anna. Elsa moves elsewhere to a place that looks very much like Superman’s fortress of solitude to do… what? I thought she was going to enjoy complete freedom but now I read that as solipsism. Or even worse: social limbo. I recently read that, originally, Elsa died at the end of the film, which is very scary for even though this is a Disney film it responds to the Pixar model which Wooden and Gillam criticise: whoever is different needs to be isolated or suppressed. There are happier films with girls, like Disney’s Moana (2016), but Frozen also needs to be read from this dark angle.

I think that the Pixar film that most worries Wooden and Gillam is Monsters University, which most clearly corresponds to the ‘bully society’ pattern they describe, with Sulley as the jock and Mike as the bullied nerd (though my impression is that this is a much inferior film to Monsters Inc., in which Sulley learns valuable lessons about parenting and friendship). I find, however, that children’s animation moves on very quickly and the gaps noted by Davis in relation to Disney and by Wooden and Gillam in relation to Pixar are no longer there. We need to consider, besides, the DreamWorks films (Shrek, Trolls…) and other studios such as Blue Sky (of Ice Age fame).

Anyway, Wooden and Gillam make little of some of the Pixar films that have a happy end for the nerdish male character and I mean here specifically Ratatouille written by Brad Bird (also the director) from a storyline by Bird himself, with Jan Pinkava (also co-director) and Jim Capobianco. I am not very sure about how to read this film, which tells the story of how, defying patriarchal authority, the provincial French rat Remy manages to fulfil his dream: cooking in an haute cuisine Paris restaurant. He does so by establishing a singular partnership with the hopeless garbage boy, Linguini, who little by little learns to appease the bullies in the kitchen, be his own man and, of course, interest the strong female character, aspiring chef Colette. The message here is that, um…, even if you are the lowliest of the low as rat or boy you do have a right to fulfil your dreams which does sound positive to me. The bullies are put in their place and even charmed and, in short, the nerds here triumph. And we love it.

Coco (2017) is even clearer in its anti-bully, pro-nerd message. There have been very serious concerns about whether this film by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, from a story by them with Jason Katz and Matthew Aldrich plagiarises the Mexican film The Book of Life (2014) directed by Jorge R. Gutiérrez, from his own screenplay with Doug Langdale. Unkrich and Molina have claimed that the films just overlap in their visual treatment of Mexican popular culture but I have my suspicions that there is much direct borrowing of visual motifs. The plots, however, could not be more different. The Book of Life tells an embarrassingly cliched story about Manolo, a young man whose father wants him to be a bullfighter but who wants to be a musician and who is involved in amorous competition with his manly rival Joaquín for señorita María. In Coco Miguel, a younger boy than Manolo, also wants to be a musician against his family’s wishes but here the similarities end.

That his family are shoemakers instead of bullfighters is a relatively unimportant matter; what matters is that Miguel’s bildungsroman passes through understanding who the bully is in his personal story and through paying homage to a nerdish ancestor. Since he is universally celebrated in his native Mexico Miguel deduces for a series of wrong reasons that the late star singer Ernesto de la Cruz must be his great-grandfather, when in fact he turns out to be, once he meets him in the land of the dead, a most horrendous bully. The long-lost father that Miguel’s abuela Mamá Coco misses so much is a very different man, and actually a direct victim of Ernesto’s violence. The film is called Coco because what is at stake how the abuela’s gradual loss of memory makes Miguel’s identification of his real great-grandfather so complicated. The title tries not to spoil the film’s surprise discovery of who her father and Miguel’s great-grandfather really was but it might as well be called The Lost One. Talented Miguel, who has inherited his musical gifts from this man, not only vindicates him but also gets rid of his own bully, his Abuelita, who wrongly believes that her grandfather, the lost man, deserted his wife and daughter (Mamá Coco). Coco teaches boys in the audience, in short, to oppose the bully and stand up for themselves, which is what Wooden and Gillam find missing in the other Pixar films.

I haven’t seen yet Pixar’s most recent film, Onward (2020), about two elf siblings in search of their lost father but an enthusiastic IMDB spectator praises the studio for “providing rich a brotherly relationship” as Frozen did for girls. What I am wondering is whether the boys are there, getting the message, or elsewhere… perhaps playing videogames…

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/