Author: Siobhan Denton

Friends and the representation of women

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Friends has arguably dated, and dated poorly. The series, released on Netflix this month, has once again attracted discussion regarding its representation of homosexuality in particular. While this subject has, quite rightly, attracted much discussion, the representation of gender, especially women, has not received the same attention. This discussion is entirely warranted, and needed, given the objective influence of the series. Such is the hyperreality of the series that viewers regularly view themselves through the lens of the characters, questioning which character they most resemble, or using the narrative of the series to influence the manner in which they interact within their own relationships.

When teaching English Language A Level, there was a specific clip from the series which was regularly used to demonstrate the supposed differences between gender and language. The clip regularly garnered both laughter, and recognition from students, with students genuinely believing that the clip represented an accurate depiction of the manner in which men and women interact, as well as view pivotal moments in relationships. While this may be true for some, the fact that the clip is often the starting point, rather then merely a reflection for the majority is concerning. Many viewers of a particular generation grew up watching the series, and indeed, viewed these gendered interactions and assumptions about relationships before they were in relationships themselves. Subsequently, then, the series has been viewed as a learning tool, encouraging the viewer to use the myriad of relationship difficulties depicted in the series as a model through which they can position their own.

This in itself is questionable enough, but the very depiction of the women in the series, particularly the three female leads, must be questioned. Each woman, despite her own identified independence, is ultimately diminished by the men around her. Each, forging their own successful career, is compelled to compromise both their original ideals and their own concept of their career.

Rachel for example, proving herself to be so successful within the fashion industry is offered a job in Paris. A role that she readily describes as both exciting and scary. Despite the potential of this role, she is, once propositioned by long-term romantic interest Ross, quick to return to New York. There is then little mention of her career prospects, suggestive that ultimately, it is family that is the ultimate goal.

This idea of family as being the true measure of success is echoed in both Monica and Phoebe. Monica’s life is deemed complete once she is able to adopt two babies. Her previous lack of success in conceiving a child with her husband is, seemingly for Monica, some marker that highlights her as lacking. The topic, of the difficulty in conceiving, is given little rumination and all suggestion of difficulty is quickly forgotten once the prospect of adoption is proffered. In earlier episodes Monica is regularly seen at work, forging a career as a successful chef, but as the series continues, these insights into her work seem more sporadic, suggesting that this is no longer important to Monica’s character development.

Similarly, Phoebe heralded as the quirky and eccentric member of the group who disdains convention becomes utterly conventional. In marrying Mike, Phoebe shows that her attempts at kookiness were entirely superficial. Her lifestyle, previously a defining feature of her character, is entirely uprooted. She struggles with spending money on her wedding and considers donating it to charity in order to help people who have had similar experiences to her. Rather rapidly, however, she is willing to use this money for her own means, decrying it as deserving considering her previous life. It is surely at this moment that Phoebe has consciously rejected her own nature, and instead, freely submits herself to convention and married life.

Each character, when comparing the first series to the last, is entirely unrecognisable. Of course, character change over the duration of a series, particularly one that has the duration of Friends but these characters have not merely naturally progressed, but rather rejected past incarnations of themselves arguably in order to submit to the men around them.

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You Were Never Really Here – Trailer

Any film directed by Lynne Ramsay is guaranteed to pique critics’ interest. The director, known for the supremely unsettling We Need to Talk About Kevin and Morvern Callar, has demonstrated her unique ability to fuse the visual and the aural in order to create and generate tension.

Her latest effort, starring Joaquin Phoenix, looks set to be similarly disquieting. Phoenix stars as Joe, a conflicted gun for hire, who readily and easily dishes out brutality with seemingly little moral qualms. His latest commission, to rescue a politician’s daughter from a sex ring. quickly descends into difficulty.

With music by Jonny Greenwood, who has garnered a fine reputation on the sparse scores that he has created for P.T. Anderson, the film presents an interesting concept. This narrative and central conceit, of a young girl rescued by a violent man, has almost become a cliché thanks to films such as Taken and Man on Fire, but Ramsay’s involvement will ensure a fresh, progressive direction.

The merits of First Dates

Channel 4’s First Dates and Gogglebox were released around the same time. Both, fairly similar in tone and style, have enjoyed huge success, but while Gogglebox‘s premise has become increasingly tired, with its supposed regular featured viewers demonstrating that they are ever more aware of their own audience, First Dates has, despite Channel 4 attempting to inject the series with a new appeal through the hotel concept, remained enjoyable. The series’ premise is incredibly simple, so much so that it seems strange that the series was not developed sooner. Featuring a range of couple each first on a date, the series charts the featured participants as they embark upon the prescribed date. For some this experience is exciting, for others, it presents a situation in which they feel increasingly vulnerable.

It is this opportunity for vulnerability that engages, and in turn, compels the viewer to consistently watch. Scenarios in which participants have lost a loved one, or endured difficult, at times abusive, relationships immediately connect with the viewer on an emotional level. Similarly, it is the universality of these situations that so aid the series’ success. Each date is well-orchestrated, and there is never any sense of meanness or maliciousness on the part of the producers when matching couples.  Rather, it is clear that the producers, in creating the show, have recognised that for sustained success viewers don’t want to witness awkwardness or conflict, but instead, want to experience positive connections between participants. This is rather notable, as the regular tendency with reality programming is to attempt to generate aggression and argument in order to attract viewers. Instead, First Dates is, simply, a nice show.

Red Sparrow: Trailer

It’s far too easy for a film, in hoping to represent women positively, to posit the female lead as some manner of violent killer or assassin as short-hand for empowerment. Since the success of Wonder Woman and Mad Max: Fury Road there seems to be an influx of female-led films that, in attempting to ape the success of the aforementioned, present the feminine role as not being dissimilar to a more typically masculine one. To simply adjust gender dynamics in such a way, as other films are seemingly doing, is simply lazy and heavy-handed. The success of Wonder Woman and Mad Max: Fury Road as regards female representation was not to simply place a female lead in a male role, nor was it through presenting the woman as hypersexualised and therefore adept at seduction and in turn, capable of manipulation. Red Sparrow, directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Jennifer Lawrence, seems to rather unsubtly fall into that trap.

Lawrence plays a Russian spy who, in falling for a CIA agent, is forced to question her loyalties. Rather unfortunately, the role seems to largely focus on aesthetics, with Lawrence featured in a number of outfits that rather obviously pander to the male gaze. The narrative, based on a book of the same name, appears to offer little in the way of progression or originality through its presentation in the trailer. Of course, this may be due to marketing, rather than the narrative of the film itself, but thus far Red Sparrow looks set to merely join the roster of a myriad of similarly tired films.