Wednesday, 20 February 2013
Confronting My Own Sexism: Up In The Air
This is a difficult post to write. It’s hard admitting your flaws, especially when you have an ego as big as mine.
Back when I was at University, there was this TV show my best friend introduced me to - The Dead Zone. It was about a teacher who got into a car accident and was comatose for X amount of years. When he regained his consciousness, he finds out that he has superpowers – when he touches people, he can see past/future events.
There was an even better film based on the same Stephen King novel which was directed by David Cronenberg and stars Christopher Walken. You should check it out.
Anyway, back to the TV show. While the teacher was in his coma, his fiancée had their baby and got married to someone else (obviously). This last point stuck out to me and no matter what the fiancée character did in the show, I never warmed to her. In fact, I was down right hostile to her. So much so my best friend always questioned why I hated her so much.
These same feelings for a female character recently resurfaced thanks to another TV show, Homeland. Morena Baccarin’s character erked me so much that, again, my best friend asked why?
If I was being kind to myself, I would explain it as a dislike of someone who has betrayed their one true love – their childhood sweetheart. I am a card carrying member of the Disney’s Love Conquers All Club (this should actually exist); I believe in soul-mates, and in my opinion Jessica Brody defiled this idea.
I would happily go on with my life believing that this was the reason I showed such resentment to these characters if it didn't smell so much of horse scrap.
If I believe so much in true love and hated betrayal then why wasn’t I annoyed at Damien Lewis’ Brody for boinking (the very hot) Carrie? Why do I cheer on characters like Mad Men’s Don Draper without questioning his loyalty to his wife? Better yet, why was I so angry when Don’s wife, Betty, went out and did some cheating of her own?
Horse shit, is horse shit, people.
Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air is the film that made the stench of my own crap too overwhelming for me to ignore. The film is about a man that literally lives his life out of a suitcase and has a job of amassing frequent flying miles by firing people (this may not be an accurate description of his job). But this guy is George Clooney and it’s a know fact that you can’t hate George. George is cool.
Up In the Air has two elements. The first is that the film is a story about the 2008 financial meltdown and the impact the crisis had on everyday workers in small to medium sized businesses across America – not the elite bankers heavily featured in news coverage at the time.
Watching a fictional character clinically fire fictional workers with what I can only describe as charm is brutal and unnerving. The first time I watched this film, I remember naively asking whether such as job (corporate downsizer? Firer? Satan?) exists – and if so, can you really take pride in your work, especially during an environment like 2008?
Clooney is the glue that holds this film together. He is frighteningly believable in the role of Ryan Bingham. What makes it even more scary is that you grow to like him because, as I’ve said above, Clooney is cool. Ryan Bingham is of the same line as your typical movie gangster who you know is a rotten person, but who you root for them anyway because they do their dirty work with such – cool.
The Second element to this film is its love story. In fact, in my opinion, this film is a love story first. Clooney’s Ryan meets his match when Vera Fargmiga’s Alex makes an appearance very early on in the film.
They first meet at a hotel bar and start to flirt over their knowledge of rental car companies. They go mano-a-womano and duel over their loyalty cards, which results in Alex getting turned on over Ryan’s frequent flier miles. She out sexts him. It's all very romantic.
Throughout the film, Alex slowly melts Clooney’s resistance to having anything but a fleeting relationship with anyone and he eventually hands her a key to his apartment which he loathes to call home. More importantly, he invites her to his sisters wedding so she can meet the family he almost wishes he didn’t have to bother with.
Alex gets Ryan to change his philosophy on human interaction and in the world of this film, that is a big deal.
This all ends with Ryan making the typical rom-com last minute dash to Chicago to declare his undying love for Alex. What he finds in Chicago is a married woman with kids, who is shocked to see her male-mistress (I don’t even know what the male term for mistress is) standing in front of her family home. Every single time I've watched this film, the only word that comes out of my mouth during this sequence is “bitch”. But why?
Vera Fargmiga’s character is the female equivalent of Ryan Bingham. In fact, she maybe marginally less reprehensible as she doesn’t fire people for a living; yet, it’s her I call a bitch and its Clooney who I feel sorry for. Why?
In fact, throughout the whole film, Ryan treats intimate human emotion as a form of weakness that he systematically tries to get rid of in his own life. So again, why do I feel sorry for him?
At the end of the film, Alex coldly (fires) explains what Ryan was to her all along - an escape from her everyday life. Somehow, I don't believe that Ryan hasn't himself had to make the same phone call that Alex has just made to him.
So the question still remains, why the animosity towards Alex? It’s simply really - there must be something about strong, but more importantly, promiscuous women which doesn’t sit well with me. To make it more plain – there must be something about female characters that treat sex and relationships the same way as their male counterparts do that makes me angry.
It’s ok to see a man treating a woman badly, but god forbid a woman sleeps around. Bitch!
I’m not proud of feeling this way. But I do feel this way.
This sexist way of thinking isn’t confined to movies, I see it everywhere in culture. If a sports or movie star gets caught cheating on his girlfriend/wife then he’s a “lad” - but a woman does the same thing, then she’s a whore. Google what happened to Rita Ora and her Kardashian ex-boyfriend; the coverage, especially if you were following it on twitter, was horrific.
There is a double standard.
The only solace I can take is that I acknowledge I have a problem and that I know this way of thinking is wrong. All I can do is question myself one film at a time and work on being a better person.
For what its worth, Up in the Air is a very good film, I’m just not sure that it’s an enjoyable film. I don’t like what that film says about me as a person.