Gender Roles in The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element is one of those movies that it often seems like everyone likes. From the comic book visual aesthetic to the ostentatious yet believable nature of the universe, there is a lot to love about this flick. It is also a film that plays with tropes and genre staples in almost every scene. It could be said to be the opposite of a film like Young Frankenstein, which is a parody film that loves its genre; Fifth Element is a genre film that loves its parody. But while he employs many tropes, director Luc Besson seems to be deconstructing and analyzing those very cliches in a way that often makes the result truly brilliant.

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One of the things that gets dissected in this fashion is gender. The way that gender and heroism are intertwined in sci-fi is a constant presence in almost any scene in which there is significant development of the protagonists, Leeloo and Korben Dallas. While these moments sometimes play into expectations and brush with actual tropiness, they also make some crucial points in a way that resonates with an unusually diverse audience.

My primary focus will be three things: Bruce Willis as the “generic action hero”, The Supreme Being as a female archetype, and of course, Ruby Rhod.

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Trailer Tuesdays: The Northlander

November continues to be a difficult month, so of course it makes sense that suddenly the only thing I’m seeing online is warnings about the apocalypse. The one silver lining of all this is that I was recommended a post-apocalyptic Canadian film, written and directed by a young Métis filmmaker by the name of Benjamin Ross Hayden and starring a mostly aboriginal cast from Canada. Intrigued by this premise, I checked out the trailer, and now I’m here to share it with you.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Gender Dichotomy

jessica-jones-luke-cagePlenty has already been said about heroes and anti-heroes. Superman was created over seventy-five years ago, and yet America today prefers its heroes to have a bit more grit, like Tony Stark. What’s undeniable is that a dichotomy exists between light heroes and dark heroes. It’s a way of looking at protagonists that has ancient roots, but manifests differently in male and female characters.

The light and dark dichotomy is very old and very ingrained in our storytelling traditions. On the surface, “light” stereotypes give the character traits that are traditionally associated with positive ideas and symbolism. More often than not these characters will wear white or light colors, have light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. “Dark” characters tend to have dark hair, skin, eyes, and clothing. This color dichotomy is associated with good and evil, for religious and historical reasons. If you don’t have electricity you can be more productive when the sun’s out, while it’s easier for robbers and rule-breakers to hide in the cover of night. White is associated with purity and goodness, especially in Christianity, while black is associated with evil and the consequences of evil (like sin and death).

While light heroes cling to a traditional morality, dark heroes have a more subversive attitude. There’s something bad or wrong or broken with a dark character, which is usually the source of their darkness. Men tend to be gallant, chivalrous heroes or troubled rogues, while women tend to be virginal maidens or seductive vamps. It’s taken generations to move beyond this rigid dichotomy, giving the light and dark new and interesting implications. But if we really care about smashing gender stereotypes, we need to move beyond the light and dark gender axis. Both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones from Marvel’s respective Netflix series take the light and dark dichotomies and smash them to bits.

Spoilers for all of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones below.

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Trailer Tuesdays: Rogue One Redux

It’s been about six months since the last time we reviewed a Rogue One trailer. Since then the hype has only grown, and December 16th can’t come fast enough. What we have in the meantime is this second full-length trailer.

This one reveals a bit more, but what it reveals has left me with mixed feelings.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Possibilities of Digital Religion

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source: Tumblr Staff

A few days ago the staff of Tumblr (you still have a Tumblr, right? We do.) promoted a post announcing “emoji spells” were “having a moment”. I couldn’t help but think about how unique this idea is, and at the same time, really isn’t. Emoji spells are a series of emojis put together with a similar intent to that of casting traditional spells. They’re popular with technopagans and operate under principles similar to traditional spellcraft, combining specific intentions with sending the spell out into the world multiple times. Instead of saying the words aloud thrice, likes and reblogs (or other forms of sharing specific to a digital platform) charge and cast the spell. Witches have used sigils, or symbols, that are experimental and unique to a specific spell. They turn an intention into a magic image, so emojis are the perfect vehicle for digital witchcraft. The more the emojis are shared, the greater charge they get and the more powerful they become, just as many voices are more powerful than one.

The reason emoji spells get so many reblogs and likes isn’t because there are an overwhelming number of Wiccans and magic-users on Tumblr (although there is a thriving community). It’s because people hope they work, it takes next to no effort to pass on today’s version of the chain letter, and if they don’t work, no one actually thinks any harm will come of it. That’s the key: we aren’t really sure if digital manifestations of religion really count in the same way “real-world” religious rituals and practice do. Even in the Wiccan, witchcraft, and pagan communities, practitioners of techno magic are looked down on. One way to start this conversation is to look at geek culture, and the way geeks have been encountering some of the most important fundamental elements of religion since the dawn of the internet.

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The Island of Excess Love: Disgusting and Disappointing

the-island-of-excess-loveA while back I told you all about a little strange dystopian novel called Love in the Time of Global Warming, by Francesca Lia Block. I felt it was a breath of fresh air in the dystopian YA world, with its magical realism, perfectly set eerie mood, and a main cast made up of queer characters. I was surprised to find out that there was a sequel, since it didn’t seem like the sort of book that would be part of a series, but I was nevertheless very excited when I finally got my hands on The Island of Excess Love. Unfortunately, my mood soon turned sour as it became apparent that even though the sequel recaptures the mood of the first book, the narrative sends some very troubling rape-apologist and transphobic messages.

Spoilers for both books, as well as discussion of sex, rape, and transphobic ideas, below.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Theodicy and The Sparrow

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Job’s Evil Dreams, via WikiCommons

If any of you have followed my posts in this Sunday column for a while, you’ve probably noticed that one of my favorite subjects to harp on is that by and large, science fiction does an absolutely atrocious job of authentically representing religion. Most of us have come to expect that if religion even shows up at all in a story, it’s likely an evil strawman of some kind of Christianity: really a parody of 1950s Roman Catholicism. If we’re lucky enough to deviate from that, we get a generic “Eastern Religion”. It’s even less common to read science fiction that takes faith-based issues and conflicts seriously. Take theodicy, for example. It’s a tricky topic but in short, it’s the theological discipline that attempts to grapple with the problem of evil. In many ways theodicy attempts to address some of the most serious objections to faith in a loving, powerful God. So when a priest recommended I read Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, I was happy to not only find an authentic representation of religious belief, but a deeply moving treatment of the problem of evil and divine providence in a faith-based context.

Spoilers for The Sparrow and triggers for rape, cannibalism, sexual slavery, body horror, and disturbing content below.

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