Thursday, June 17, 2010


As part of my goal to finish this book by the end of the summer (still technically a possibility, but right now not looking too likely) I have been saving my writing energies for the book, rather than a blog. How do those daily bloggers DO IT? Some of them don't write anything else and therefore can pour all their energies into their blog, but some are prolific novelists, screenwriters, TV boggles the mind. I seem not to be too capable of multi-tasking. Which is interesting, because I have "multi-tasking" on my resume. (Everybody does! It's required!)

Okay, the thing that stimulated this post. I have noted with interest the proliferation of readers of the Stieg Larsson books: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc. I first read about these books about a year ago, with rave reviews. I have seen many, many people on the subway reading this book. (When multiple subway readers have the same book, you know it's a phenomenon. See: Harry Potter, Twilight.) It's now in magazines, newspapers, was made into a foreign language film and is being made into an English-language film (possibly with Brad Pitt. One word: miscasting.)

I picked up a copy of the first book about a year ago, right before heading on a trip. I had a B&N gift card, and wanted something really good. (I used to be a huge book buyer, but space and money constraints have made me more cautious of late. No more buying books... that aren't *really good*.)

Reader, I couldn't finish it.

I am not squeamish. I grew up in a doctor's household, and gross medical tales at the dinner table were the norm. Our family now has 2 dermatologists and a periodontist, so the gross tales have multiplied. And I love them. I don't mind gory TV, pictures of open, ulcerated, weeping sores...rashes and gashes...broken The only kind of surgeries I can't watch on TV are surgeries I've actually had--I saw Little Shop of Horrors shortly after having my 12-year molars removed and couldn't do the Steve Martin dentist scene (my periodontist brother now dresses up as that dentist for Halloween); I saw Minority Report shortly after one of my many Lasiks and couldn't watch the eye surgery stuff. But gore doesn't bother me. (Little g- gore. Actually, Al Gore doesn't really bother me, either.)

Here's what bothered me: unmitigated sexual violence. It turns out that the original title of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was Men Who Hate Women. I think the original title explains it perfectly. There are lots, lots, lots of men who hate women in this book, and all of them take it out on the women in the book. Lisbeth Salander is a powerful woman...after she is raped (conventionally and anally, sorry to be graphic) and tortured by a man in power over her. Really, Reader, after reading this scene, I pictured an author completely turned on by what he was writing, writing it for no purpose than to get himself off. It's titillating, it's graphic, it's violent, it's mysoginistic. Woo hoo! Wow, how deep and graphic and horrible can I go? How badly can I shock? How can I best turn myself on?

And then Lisbeth gets back at the rapist! Woo hoo! She Tazes the tormentor and gives him a giant body tattoo, something like "I am a misogynistic rapist pig." (I don't have the book with me, so this may be slightly wrong.) Now I picture the author saying, But Lisbeth won't take it! She's raped and gets back at him and is utterly unfazed! True, she recovers for a few days in her bed alone, but then she takes control and gets the pig (and for the rest of the book doesn't suffer any emotional repercussions). Lisbeth is a true woman. She's a victim.

It just doesn't sit right with me. Why do we need such graphic sexual violence? Why is it the norm in his book? Disclosure: as I haven't read the whole book, I am not *sure* how it ends. But as I do occasionally like to read the endings of books when I've only gotten midway through (a good reason not to like e-books, as far as I'm concerned), I believe it ends with the missing woman discovered. (SPOILER!) Turns out, all these years she was a sex slave in the basement of one of her relatives. Wow, I'm so turned on right now! Captive women, subjected to the worst torment and torture, physical, sexual, emotional...just keep 'em right where we want 'em! That's all they are anyway...subservient vaginas that exist only for our pleasure!

No, I haven't read the next two. A friend did. She said the second one opens up with a young girl, naked and tied to the bed, having been used, yes, as a sex slave. And it's her twelfth birthday. How can I go even farther? What's more shocking than 20 years as a sex slave? Getting in while they're young! Seeing it from the start! Yeah! Let's get into her head and really feel how subjugated and humiliated and tortured she the other women can feel it too! And the men...can feel how the man feels. Powerful.

Is this feelings-postulating I'm doing a stretch? Possibly. It's possible that Mr. Stieg Larsson, RIP, was a feminist and wanted to wake the world to the horrors and dangers that, unfortunately, do exist. (See Jaycee Duggard.) But they didn't come off that way to me.

Okay, you say, it's one author, it's one series. An incredibly popular (and becoming more so all the time) series, but just one series. Why the big deal?

Well, publishing tends to follow trends, much the same way Hollywood does. (Try selling a drama--or anything that's not bawdy comedy or sci-fi or involving the word "superhero"--in Hollywood right now to a big studio. I dare you.) What's the big trend in YA lit? Vampires, of course! Vampires sell! We have sparkly vampires, vampires that go vegetarian, vampires in Victorian England, vampires that are fat...YA vampires, literary vampires...the list goes on. Vampires have sold huge for Stephenie Meyer, so every YA author and his typing dog is writing either a vampire or a supernatural novel. And they continue to sell. The NY Times gave a great review to Justin Cronin's literary vampire novel, good enough that I reserved it at the library. (I promise, if and when my space and time restraints lessen, I will purchase unused books!) The vampire trend might be peaking soon, but it's still going strong. And this "trend" trend is what worries me about the Stieg Larsson popularity. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of wannabe authors are going to read these books about Men who Hate Women and write their own. Only now Stieg has crossed the first boundary, so we need to make them more shocking! What's more shocking than a 12-year-old girl getting raped on her birthday? ... Let's see...

I'm not even going to provide examples. I'm sure there are things more shocking, more depraved. The human mind has no limits, unfortunately, where those are concerned. More people will write them, getting darker and darker, more and more evil, turning themselves on as much as others. And agents will rep them, even if they find the books abhorrent; just look at how much Stieg Larsson sold! And editors will buy them, because look at how much Stieg Larsson sold! Everyone will be looking for the next Stieg Larsson. Advances will increase, which will fuel more people to write them; look at how much money I could make! The books will get worse and worse. And then, when does society follow suit?

Obviously hypersexualization of children (and women) has been going on for a while now. Little girls who idolize Britney Spears (because her life has turned out so well), dress like Sex and the City women, whose parents buy them sweatsuits with "Juicy" emblazoned on the butt. Noah Cyrus, 9 years old, coming out with a lingerie line. (She's gotta be able to compete with sister Miley, who's turning into a bit of a ...fill in the blank. And how best to compete? Pushing boundaries!)

Not a subject change (bear with me): I did stand-up comedy (on a very amateur level) for about a year, several years ago. I enjoyed performing, working on comedy and refining my material, thinking of new things to make my wry observations on. But I hated hated HATED listening to the other comics. Some of them were funny and smart. And about 90% of them were not. They were simply not smart enough to think of regular observations that would make people laugh, so they figured they would talk abuot SEX. If I can shock them, I'll make them laugh, and that's the same thing as real comedy, right? I noticed a trend: the stupider the performer, the more crass and disgusting his or her routine. And I, for one, didn't want to sit there and absorb the stupid people's (not funny!) observations.

I actually don't get offended that easily. Sometimes I wish I got offended more easily, actually. But the stupid would-be comics offended me on a regular basis, partly because of the blue routines and partly because THEY WERE SO STUPID.

So to take this little offshoot back to my main thesis, I just don't understand why sex is the go-to topic...for comedy, for drama, for shock value. It demeans us all, but most of the time it demeans women (more than 50% of the population!) more. Women have something to give, something to say. Something important. It's coming from our heads, our hearts, our souls. It's born of experience and perception. Not sex. And this marginalization comes NOT JUST FROM MEN. Women are doing it too.

There's an article in this month's Atlantic magazine called "How Women are Taking Control - Of Everything." It's all about social order, more women going to college, more women supporting their families, women adapting to the new job landscape and becoming more malleable, to their own advantage. Why does it feel like we have control of nothing? All you have to do is watch a rap video and see four bikini'd women rubbing their behinds against one fully-clothed man (brandishing money and gold teeth) to know...things are not equal. Or at least, there are a lot of people who don't want them to be.

Do you ever wonder about the women in those videos? The ones who stick out their big round bare butts for photos that end up on magazine covers? What are they thinking? Of the paycheck? Of their allure? Are they supporting families? Or drug habits? Who knows? I wonder why there are so many women willing to put themselves into that situation. Because one video/picture/book just fuels another. It doesn't seem to get better. You hear a lot of "I'm in control of my sexuality," but the moment you put that picture into the hands of another person, you are literally giving up that control.

I'm sure there are people who disagree with me. I'm sure there are people who see no harm in pushing limits, who think any kind of art is fantastic, who don't think there's any problem with sexualizing the world. I just don't happen to be one of them. I don't want to read about subjugation, because I don't want to imagine myself as anything less than a whole person. I am grateful that people are buying books and keeping that business alive; I really am. (Some indie bookstore people are calling the trilogy The Girl Who's Paying Our Salaries for the Next Few Months.) But I am a whole person, and women of all shapes and sizes and colors and creeds are whole people, with intellect and personality and all kinds of different facets, of which our gender is only one. I have talents, likes, dislikes. And I immensely dislike The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

No comments: