Don Jon: Legit critique of Porn and Rom-Coms

SPOILER ALERT:

MV5BMTQxNTc3NDM2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzQ5NTQ3OQ@@._V1._CR28,28.649993896484375,1271,1991.0000305175781._SX640_SY987_So, I went to see Don Jon, Joesph Gordon Levitt’s new film.  (Literally.  He wrote, directed and starred in the damn thing.)  The film is centered on the main character, Jon’s (Levitt) growth from a Jersey-shore-esq, macho, porn-addicted, women-objectifying goof into a more enlightened and fulfilled man, who values genuine connection based on the reality of individuals.

Jon, who spends most of his time acquiring notches on belt, cleaning, working out and masturbating to internet porn, begins to change by falling for Barbara (Scarlet Johansson). Basically, Jon’s porn addiction has created a monster – a man who functions as one in a constant search for female perfection, with perfection defined according to a pornographic beauty ideal. Notably, the film makes it clear that this pornographic ideal isn’t just confined to the seedy dark corners of the internet by showing  Jon oogling women on the covers of magazines on stands in supermarkets and in tv commercials. When Jon meets Barbara  the hottest girl that he has ever encountered, he decides to play the “long game” and commits to her in an attempt to score/screw/sleep with her.   Jon is able to give up other women for Barbara, but he cannot give up porn. He tells viewers that porn is “better than real pussy” – because he’ loses himself in porn, and real women are never as good. [POSSIBLE TRIGGER WARNING: It’s worth noting that all this ‘telling’ comes with a lot of pornographic imagery]. Porn basically teaches Jon that there is a certain way that sex should be and the reality does not live up to the representation.   Throughout their relationship Barbara is clearly a pornographic conquest — but what is interesting is that Jon is equally so for Barbara.

imagesLike Jon, Barbara is basically a stereotype. She is a woman who is interested in controlling a man using sex, so that she might achieve her ultimate goal, getting married. Repeatedly in the film we see her manipulate Jon using sex – for example she convinces him to go to school and pursue a better job, while he is on the verge of orgasm. Like Jon’s porn addiction, Barbara  consistently watches romantic comedies (rom-coms) – which teach her that there is a certain way that “love” looks. Barbara’s rom-com obsession is presented as a foil to Jon’s porn obsession. In other words, the film makes a clear argument that the representations that we are watching obscure reality, rendering women as objects for sexual pleasure to men and men as objects of responsibility and violence to women.  Don Jon goes as far as to argue that these representations are forcing us to live as disconnected empty shells. The point Don Jon is making reminds me of Jane Caputi’s The Pornography of Everyday Life.

Ultimately,  Esther (Juileanne Moore), a widow teaches Jon that women are more that objects – and sex is way more than porn.  DONJON_JulianneThe movie is graphic – but it’s also funny and enjoyable. The acting is spot on and if you ask me, this is the first movie I’ve seen in a long time, which I would genuinely call feminist slanted social critique.  As long as you’re willing to put up with the pornographic images, I say see it. Here’s the preview:

 

I am not the first person to notice this – BUST magazine covered these ideas as well.

 

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Have You Been Thinking About the Roles Women Play in Hollywood?

As any good blogger should, I follow a number of other bloggers and I am very often intrigued, impressed, humored and touched by the tidbits that they are offering up to the world. Today I was reading Feminema, and she suggested her readers take a look at Overthinkingit.com’s female character flow chart:

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I got a kick out of it and thought y’all would too…

So, I went to the movies, again – no strings attached.

 Those of you who know me personally know that despite my feminist leanings and my best intentions, I am still a sucker for hollywood. In particular, I love romantic comedies and teen  flicks, ( not to mention teen television and YA novels). When it come to these often patriarchal films, I am not a complete push over – and by that I mean I don’t just sit there and sop up the cheesy without thinking about it, and I certainly don’t take chauvinism lying down. But, I know that merely buying the ticket is a donation to the kind of media that promotes a male dominated asymmetrical gender dynamic.

That said, I saw No Strings Attached this weekend. For those of you who don’t know,  this film stars Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Portman plays Emma, a strong-willed and determined female doctor, who has no need for relationships or love. In fact, she finds relationships taxing and complicated so she avoids them completely. Enter Adam (Kutcher), a fun-loving, sensitive male wannabe writer, who works as a producer for a teen show similar to Glee (sidenote: yeah, glee!). Adam and Emma enter into a “friends-with-benefits” scenario, which is basically a denial of their budding relationship. (Note: Normally, this is the point where I might say spoiler alert – but if you don’t know where this  film is heading from the first scene than you aren’t living on the same planet as the rest of us.) Ultimately, after much push and pull Emma realizes that she’s in love and gives in to her version of traditional heterosexual partnering.

The basic premise here is about reaffirming gender construction. This is the story of how the stoic woman learns to face her emotional core, a storyline I think we are seeing more and more often (Juno, Love and Other Drugs, The Ugly Truth, The Proposal…)  and one that seems to be a backlash against the ideas of 2nd wave feminism. Before, Simone de Beauvoir women were (and still are) perceived as unreliable because they are “emotional” and so some 2nd wave feminists looked to strip away the understanding of woman as emotional and replace her with the super-woman, a career focused gal who could do anything a man could.  (Note: I am italicizing woman and man here to emphasise that these terms are constructs – no one genuinely fits into these categories 100%). No Strings Attached, like the other films I’ve mentioned, features this less than emotional girl and portrays her lack of desire for a relationship as reactionary scar or wound, which is the result of either having to grow up too fast or deal with a great traumatic event earlier in her life.  Emma is heroically emotion deficient because she is the rock for her mother and her sister.  The confirmation that Emma, has these issues is a scene in the car driving to her sister’s wedding in which Emma’s mother explains to Emma being so brave since her father died was important but isn’t really necessary anymore. Following this chat and a similar conversation with her sister Emma takes a whirlwind dive into the emotional mess category. Blech.

The point is this film seems to say that women who choose work over relationships or women who don’t act emotional are just out of touch with the truth of their feelings; they are  lying to themselves and all they need is the right guy – the sensitive guy –  to help them see how relationships can make you happy.  This is a backlash to that super-woman who acts like a man – the infamous feminazi. Films like this usually include a gender switcheroo – a sensitive man and a dominating woman – so in some ways they flatten the rigidity of gender categories but they still maintain  dominate codes of the patriarchal system one strong stoic partner and emotional partner, i.e. a non-equal partnership of domination.  

I am absolutely not saying that relationships don’t make people happy. They often do. Nor am I saying that a woman can’t walk around and say she doesn’t need or want a relationship and then change her mind. In fact, I know that an enactment of traditional male stoicism is not anything I want to be and I generally question why women would want to mimic this fallacy of the masculine construct because isn’t it the history of what men have done that caused the problem – our culture of domination? But that said I still find myself wondering why? Why, in the second decade of this new millennium am I seeing this story pattern?  The answer seems obvious to me: if you can’t beat them join them. In other words, any pattern that reaffirms the heteronormative love match maintains the othering and subjugation of non-conformist behaviors , i.e homosexual relationships, single moms, asexuality etc. Sure, go ahead be a doctor – act emotionless – poo poo relationships, as long as it’s in theory, not practice.  Because in the end we learn s that despite her hard exterior Emma is after all a girl – a gorgeous, tiny ,thin,  emotional mess who acts jealous, hides in bushes, binge eats doughnuts and gets the guy.  Puke. Puke. Puke.

Anyway – it was funny and man oh man, Portman and Kutcher are so very pretty.

Go see Juno!

So in honor of Ellen Page and others getting an Oscar tap for Juno, I thought I’d blog about this truly nifty little film.

Juno is the story of a precocious teenager who finds herself pregnant and decides to give her baby to a “deserving” couple rather than have an abortion. It’s worth mentioning that this film is definitely a farce and social critique. You are meant to laugh and see truisms in this less than lifelike world. For example, no parent has ever taken their daughter’s teenage pregnancy as well as Juno’s parent’s do, and no teenager is as equipped to handle life as well as Juno does. As long as you keep this in mind, Juno reveals itself as a touching and hilarious film, featuring a strong-minded, smart protagonist, which us feminists can adore.

A tid-bit about me that most of you don’t know, I have a MFA in creative writing, which means I am eligible for two things, I excruciating job teaching college composition and the right to point out really bad and really great writing. (I paid close to 60,000 dollars for this privilege. Dope.)

Embracing my place in the world as a homegrown and ridiculously over-educated critic, I’m telling you that Juno is smart, funny, clean writing.  Diablo Cody brings rich sarcasm and cutting style to the page.

With this meaty script to work with, director Jason Riteman (Thank you for Not Smoking) and Canadian actor Ellen Page gracefully bring to life the world of this a knocked up and delightfully awkward 16 year old. Watch the trailer, go see the film, it’s easily worth two hours of your life and your hard earned pennies:

Check out the blog by Juno’s writer: The Pussy Ranch