home | about | archives | forum | submit

Mrs Everywhere

"Love Me, Love My Dog"

Gabrielle Taylor

the plot of Princess Mononoke involves a diseased Asian prince, descended from five hundred years of inbreeding, being flung out into the cold evil world to, apparently, go find women that were generally leading aberrantly self-empowered lives and make 'em stop. Really, all these uppity chickee-babies need is a good smack on the ass and they'll coo and quiver with the best of 'em -- vis the scene when the Princess is brandishing a great big knife and about to spear it through Our Hero's throat when he gasps "You're beautiful!" and she instantly turns into a simpering little tithead and stops trying to amputate his anatomy. It's a movie so relentlessly buckshot-loaded with anti-woman dialectic that it's hardly worth bothering to highlight it all -- except that it can be reasonably argued that "it's a cartoon fairy story, not a manifesto!"

Which is fair to a point. A movie, or any piece of art, is not a manifesto, since if it's a manifesto it (in my personal take, and many more studied than I can disagree until their noses fall off) is not art. But a piece of art can, and often they are, be sufficiently borderline that there is question as to which is which. A case in point -- if you're Canadian, chances are you remember the Meat Dress from about ten years ago. But to explain for our extroboundarial brethren, the Meat Dress was a sculpture by Jana Sterbak which depicted, ah, a life-sized dress made out of meat. Sterbak apparently felt it was a strong statement about how women are objectified; many who saw it (or even heard about it -- which is a dangerous way to judge) felt it was just dumb. Which it was, in that it picked a lousy battle for the National Gallery of Canada. It's awfully difficult to defend your stance as making art available to the public and funding essential and brilliant new forms when people feel empowered to openly say they think the art is stupid instead of just boring like usual -- and boring is the usual result of art gone bad, but when art-manifesto goes bad it's almost certain to be stupid. As Humphrey Bogart said, "if you've got a message, send a telegram."

(A minute about judging art you've never seen in person -- the National Gallery also shelled out around $1.8 million for "Voice of Fire" which was a ninety foot tall canvas completely covered in three stripes: dark blue on the outside and orange-red in the middle. Got a lot of bad press. Well, I saw the painting, and goddamnit, it IS the voice of fire!)

Princess Mononoke's attitude problems are either ignorant or malicious. It's entirely possible that the screenwriters had no idea that they were telling a story in which all the women who tried to live their lives their own way ended up murderers and outcasts who could still get pushed around by any man that came along. In which case what they needed was a non-psychotic critic -- someone versed in literary and artistic symbology that would, essentially, psychoanalyze the screenplay until it was able to go out in public without embarrassing itself. However, the critic has historically been in a lazy adversarial role -- the work is begotten, born and dead before the critic gets to autopsy it for a few hours on its way to the graveyard. The critic should represent a distilled version of society, able to sense what response will be to the work and how to magnify that response without injuring the work, instead of there at the end and able to do nothing but cut it apart to see what made it work or not work. Perhaps liberal arts fields are so denigrated now because they're effectively 200 years behind the times.

That is, however, assuming the political quality of this work was coincidental, as opposed to consciously or otherwise motivated by a culture which has spent a long time not treating women as equals. It's always disturbed me that Generation X has been in such a hurry to absorb Japanese culture as inevitably and incontrovertibly superior when it's at least as screwed up as our own.

Now, if the screenwriters meant for their work to be sexist and insulting, they achieved it, and their work was fully developed along the lines they meant it to be. They're well on their way to being masters of their craft, with Hemingway-grade sensitivity to the world around them and the response they'll generate.

If they didn't, it's quite reasonable for the contemporary psychotic critic to examine what's known of the context for development, and where environment has played a role in the evolution of their piece. Of course, it's enormously politically incorrect to say anything that suggests that any non-North American culture might have any failings whatsoever, unless it is considered to be Hitler-grade evil, in which case it's politically incorrect to discuss whether or not any Nazi ever helped a little old lady across the street.

Which is a thoroughly Canadian cultural issue. Canada has, over the last hundred and thirty-odd years, been generally willing to amalgamate with whatever culture we ran into (although our first female Supreme Court justice did start the War on Drugs in the late 1800s to supposedly prevent "race mixing" in the opium hangouts of Chinese railroad workers -- sorry about that, guys) except for the Americans and arguably tacitly there too. However, we have never had a comprehensive policy on how to let those cultures coexist with our own nebulous entity. Which means we have the Bloc Quebecois screaming that the French are unfairly treated, the First Nations (loosely consolidated from people who came over the Bering Strait a while before we came over on boats -- the only real natives to Canada are probably the codfish and we ate them) are attempting to establish freeholds of their own government system within Canada, and the Lebanese are taking over Ottawa with their fantastic little bakeries where you can get lunch for two bucks*. Not to mention that women are still being paid, on average at the medium to high end, 66-75% of what men make -- and damnit, we came here with all of you!

*I say that like it's a bad thing -- which it is, they should be trying to take over all of Canada. Lebanese bakeries are cheap, quick and good -- entirely unlike, say, the Liberal party.

The government's response? Status of Women Canada. The Department of Indian Affairs. The Department of Immigration (although in Quebec, they have their own immigration and taxation departments -- which are paid for by the Federal government). Human Resources Development Canada (which lost 3 billion-with-a-b dollars in 1998 and still isn't sure where it went). Result? Division of resources, repeated and inconsistent systems, and total lack of cross-accountability because they pretend discrimination against women is not fired by the same neuron as discrimination against yellow or gay or green or orange people. For instance, a couple of years ago there was a minor scandal in Nova Scotia regarding a 1756 law offering a bounty of $50 per Indian scalp... However, there was suggestion that repealing it might open up the Nova Scotia government to a lawsuit from the Indians of today....

It would take an awful lot of courage and fortitude to reform all of those along one consistent line which offered every Canadian the potential to develop his own little culture if he wanted, or to pool his cut of the cultural kitty with others who felt the same way, provided what they were doing didn't clash with any human rights that the UN thinks we ought to have and any human rights that Canadians in general think everybody ought to have even if the UN hasn't gotten to them yet. I think we could agree on food, clothing, shelter, health, education and information. Beyond that any extreme cultural innovations would have to be judged by whether they resulted in irrevocable or excessive harm to the practitioners or their underage wards. Which is to say, S&M whorehouses might well be fine, but orphanages run by groups with a high propensity to sodomize their kids, might well not be allowed to exist at all.

But that would involve Canada shaking a neurosis endemic to all cultures -- the desire to irrationally eradicate what is sweetest and best while keeping what can support itself the least. Only those with the most potential go off to war and the sick, insane or elderly stay home to be protected. Global mythologies constantly deal with the destruction of youth and strength -- King Arthur floating babies out to sea, babies fed to Mammon or Moloch, Egyptians putting Jewish babies to the sword, princesses fed to dragons, fortresses full of treasure collapsing after the evil overlord has been killed. The American Indian sanctified this with ritual destruction of their best stuff and I'm too lazy to go research whatever other cultures did too. The religiomysticomythico upshot is that man always gets turfed out of Eden and life's never so hot after that so just give up.

That's a fine attitude -- well, no, but a comprehensible one -- when human lifespan is only about 40 years and likely to be even less. However, we've tacked on a whopping twenty years in the last century alone and I personally plan to become immortal as soon as possible. This means we must be specially intolerant of bullshit, because the bullshit which can let you hold your breath for forty years will turn you midlife crisis blue only halfway through now. It has never been so important to learn to reject all the things we were too busy to learn to reject before. And, for that matter, to understand the things which make us uneasy so that we can decide if we should reject 'em too -- or not!

"People say rape can't be funny. I say rape can be funny. Picture Elmer Fudd raping Porky Pig. That's funny!" -- George Carlin

Gabrielle Taylor is in the backwilds of Sackville, New Brunswick, working on a novel in spite of herself.

mrs. everywhere archives

home / about / archives / forum / submit