Turns out I don’t know where I’m going. Although who am I kidding? I don’t think I’ve ever led myself with the possibility that I might know such a thing. And while I don’t know the exact details of what I want my future to be, or where I want my mind to go, I know enough for me to be certain that this is exactly where I want to be right now. I am an academic – a developing one, at the very least. I will spend the rest of my life in this mental stage of wonderment, wonder, argumentativeness, theoretical genius, interest, passion, and independence.
I do have a problem, though, one that I hope to circumvent with the main bulk of my imminent doctoral research. I love old films, and pretty much the single great love affair of my life has been Hollywood cinema from the 1940s and 50s. The problem, however, with loving cinema of this period is that I have to be forgiving of gender stereotypes and really offensive female “society” restrictions & pigeonholes. And accepting of expectations of such feminine representations. I say that I have to, because in order to not get undeniably raging in response to severe offence, I can’t even get a little bit ragey. I love old cinema for the dialogue, the lighting, the cinematography, the couture, the colour, and for the affect that all these things have on me as a devoted spectator. If I start thinking about the socially undeveloped, gender stereotyped, racially aggressive template that often dictates scripts and storylines, I have to get into a whole different theoretical framework, and enter a whole different critical arena that I don’t necessarily want to be a part of.
Actually, that last sentiment is a false one. It’s the critical arena of masculinity and gender theory that I don’t really want to enter. Feminism and discrimination are things I have problems with, and I have no qualms fighting the opposition. It’s just that I don’t want to have to justify my phenomenological fascination with old Hollywood, and much old cinema, with things unrelated.
There are certain things that I don’t mind making reference to. For example, in Elia Kazan’s America America (1963), women are not really a figure of the film. And when they are involved, they are treated with contempt by, pretty much, the entire male population on screen. Men say things like, “God’s fault when creating women was giving them tongues,” and, “Shut up woman you are good for nothing but childbirth and bringing me food” (I’m paraphrasing, obviously). This is a reference to Greek and Turkish culture, and to religious mores that dictated their society. It is of a specific time, a specific place, and serves a specific purpose. In this case it seemed that female roles were brought to the fore so obscenely that Kazan was ridiculing their existence. Or maybe I’m just projecting.
There are things like a general male belief that women don’t have opinions, or aren’t worthy of making choices for themselves, exemplified in Pat and Mike (George Cukor, 1952), particularly when Katharine Hepburn tries to order for herself and Spencer Tracy overrides her every request. He believes he knows what’s good for her more than she knows and–passive-aggressively–that they are “equal”. And then that other kind of “typical instinctive masculine brutality,” as seen an labelled by Hepburn in Adam’s Rib (George Cukor, 1949), where Tracy will not accept that Hepburn can have even a friendship with another man, without feeling threatened, but expects her not to feel the same of him. And in There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1956), Cliff’s obstinate son cannot bear being opposed by his girlfriend, and in lieu of an established argument to the topic at hand, claims, “Well, there’s no sense in talking to women, they don’t even know the meaning of logic.” However, it’s not like this sort of opinion hasn’t been rife for ever and ever (at least as I believe), or at the very least, every since then. Rick Santorum has claimed women would be no good working on the front line of the US military because their emotions would pose a threat to getting things done. If that doesn’t prove that he should have his mouth permanently shut, I don’t know what does.
But when, for example, there is a completely outrageous, hyperbolic representation of a homosexual character, or the white lead ridicule and neglect the rights (or lack of) of an African American, I have to try my best to let it go. More specifically, when a film like The Bitter Tea of General Yen (Frank Capra, 1933) employs a vaguely mysterious-looking European in the part of a Chinese person, along with all the requisite costuming, facial hair, and daft accent, I am liable to get angry but I try very hard not to. Bitter Tea is an excellent, important film, with a lot to say about romance, societal pressures, and with a dream sequence important to the catalogue of film psychoanalysis. Starring my ever-favourite lady Barbara Stanwyck, I love it and it’s likely that I always will. Prejudices, misconceptions, and lack of education of the day aside, the film is fantastic. I don’t like to think of my opinion as irresponsible, but I feel that I must put such things into the category of “the past,” as in “they didn’t know any better” and “things were like that back then,” and not think too much about it.
I really hope this isn’t irresponsible on my part. I don’t think it is. It’s when opinions like these are repeated in present day that I have a problem – and I can’t give any examples, because I don’t get the chance to see a lot of contemporary cinema and my brain is in a fail place right now. I will argue if given the opportunity to, though, and my opponents better watch out.