The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Enduring ‘The Day I Endured The Dark Knight

Posted by Clem Bastow on July 19, 2008

This piece has been on my mind for the bulk of this week – news.com.au’s article ‘The day I endured The Dark Knight‘, by Alison Stephenson. Here’s the opening salvo:

I don’t like clowns. I don’t like puppets. I don’t even like those talking felt creatures, The Muppets. I still have nightmares about E.T. – and I was seven when I saw it.

My cinematic comfort zone is limited to Pixar movies, comedies and romantic comedies. I am no fun to go to the video store with.

I’ve never seen Spiderman, Batman, Ironman, X-Men or any other movie featuring any sort of men or man in an action.

[…]

Any movie with the word “dark” in the title is something I want to give an automatic miss. Being scared to my wits end for two hours is not my idea of entertainment.

I liken it to going out to dinner and ordering a vile meal you know you’re going to hate. Why would you put yourself through it?

It doesn’t get much better from there (the piece de resistance being Stephenson’s apparent surprise when a mother says her eight-year-old was scared during the film). It’s not a rave – far from it – and although the piece got my hackles up instantly when I first read it, I decided to sit on it for a few days. Was it the rampant gender stereotyping that I was feeling queasy about, or was it my tendency towards knee-jerk reactions when a critic (or, in this case, a “critic”) doesn’t like a film I love? And I do, very, very much, love The Dark Knight.

As the days passed and more reviews emerged, I realised that it wasn’t the latter. Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek, who I love, panned the film, and I didn’t feel the same skin-crawling reaction; neither did I when SMH‘s Sandra Hall didn’t think much of it – both are excellent writers and fine critics, and although I didn’t agree with them, I enjoyed reading their arguments against Christopher Nolan’s, as I put it at work, existentially dark megaplex superhero action tragedy epic.

No, the problem that I have with ‘The day I endured The Dark Knight‘ is that I can smell the editorial think tank in every sentence, and it goes a little something like this: “I know, team, let’s get Alison to go see the Batman flick, it’ll be hilarious! Chicks hate action movies, and she’s scared of clowns! Walkleys all ’round!” (etc).

I don’t think the odiousness of the piece is necessarily Stephenson’s fault – from what we can gather from the article she at least has a grasp of that whole post-Bradshaw sass thing, and I doubt she would’ve pitched the piece herself, unless she’s, well, lying about her cinematic phobias – and is instead a shrewd and blatantly sexist ploy on the part of the news.com.au “editorial” team to rev up the commenters and score some tasty page hits.

But it is hard to know where editorial suggestion ends and Stephenson’s own writerly universe begins in the piece; essentially, we have a lot of cliches – harmful ones – represented. Girls don’t like action films? Check. Girls like romantic comedies and cute cartoons? Check. “Dark” movies are boring and/or too much to take? Check. Guns and explosions are for boys? Check. The Dark Knight should be more “fun”? Check, check, check.

Naturally, the commenters (the majority of them male) went berserk. Here are some of the ‘highlights’ from the 121 currently attached to the piece:

Mitch of Brisbane writes:
Alison, Have you received the copy of ‘Movie Review Writing For Dummies’ I sent to your office? Guess not. Oh, and the job of a movie reviewer isn’t to talk about themselves, or post pictures of themselves, or brag about going to film premieres.

Andrew of Sydney writes:
Scared of ET? MY GOD WOMAN! How can you be a film critic when you have not seen, have no idea, and can’t even digest a movie for someone older than 10?! Thats like me saying I’m a wine critic but only drinking ‘Passion Pop’. I think you need to find a new career, or go back to playing with your barbies (which sound more like your style).

Mark of Sydney writes:
Um … so News (a loosly used term) Ltd (seemingly) has asked a girl who does not like dark action movies to write their review, and has made it their number one story. Maybe next time you should get someone afraid to fly to test the A380, or someone with a phobia of snakes to go to a reptile park.

Alan Meade of Cairns writes:
This is like getting my Grandma to do an exclusive review of a death metal album

And so on. Presumably, this is precisely what news.com.au wanted when they commissioned the piece.

I fail to see how articles like this are helpful for anything other than perpetuating outdated ideas and gender stereotypes. Yes, some women don’t like action movies, or horror movies, but it’s down to personal taste, not their gender; some men don’t like action movies either – or, for that matter, The Dark Knight (just ask The New Yorker‘s David Denby or New York Magazine‘s David Edelstein) – but would an article be commissioned on the topic, ostensibly to spotlight that fact? I highly doubt it.

I also realise that when a film like The Dark Knight is released to more or less universal acclaim (as MetaCritic puts it), papers and magazines will occasionally try to balance the coverage by commissioning a critic who won’t necessarily like it. That’s not an editorial concept I really support – some things just are really good, and liked by (almost) all – though I can understand it, but I don’t think it needs to be done in this way.

Some of you will say, “Big deal, who cares?” But the piece was the most-read Entertainment article on news.com.au for at least three days this week, which means more than a few people saw it. And the fact that some of those people will have grunted in agreement and said/thought something to the tune of, “Yeah, all chicks hate scary movies, what a pussy” means that the piece has done its job when it comes to letting the average reader know that such sexism and stereotyping is, in effect, “okay”.

Stephenson inadvertently sums up my thoughts on post-fem trash “journalism” like this in her own article: “I liken it to going out to dinner and ordering a vile meal you know you’re going to hate. Why would you put yourself through it?”

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2 Responses to “Enduring ‘The Day I Endured The Dark Knight‘”

  1. patrick said

    kudos to the makers Dark Knight for their record breaking opening weekend… it’s no wonder there’s talk of another one coming out ASAP

  2. Christine said

    Great piece on this terrible review. I must admit I hadn’t really thought of this piece from quite this point of view. I’d mostly thought of her as a solitary idiot who should have at least tried to open her mind a little, though I had also reflected on the social context that allows this to pass for journalism and the implication that a woman doesn’t have to think about things too deeply. But you’re right, it does further perpetuate a painful stereotype of ‘chicks’ being scaredy-cats, etc; even if most, like me, will hopefully not see her as representing a female view, just her own.

    I can’t pretend to know how the game works, but I’m not sure news.com.au necessarily wanted or expected that reaction. I suspect they expected many to take it as cute and funny and charming. You know, just some chick, teehee.

    The self-absorption of trash journalism is what gets me. As if just writing “I…I…I” makes something so personal, it has to be fascinating. I suspect SATC’s influence is partly to blame for this. Moreover, it’s this idea that a woman can get around actually having to know anything or be interested in anything by deflecting with some ‘cute’ personal anecdote. This might be ok at times if she could do it with some Mae West-esque pizazz and wit, but instead boring, unfunny bits of nothing like this review pass as commentary worth hearing. And this ‘interesting-because-it’s-me’ fluff is assumed to deeply interest other women who get bored when not thinking about their shoes, and in passing amuse men who chuckle at how adorably mysterious women are.

    What worries me more than this individual review is the culture that allows her to feel nothing more is required of her in taking in a movie, let alone committing a review of it to a publication, than reflecting at length, and uninterestingly, on the personal reasons she doesn’t like something. Not to mention the attitude of the employer that either sought to capitalise on that, as you suggest, or found it endearing, as I suggest – either scenario is dripping with sexism.

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