Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Slide1I’m fairly certain I understand what it takes to make great entertainment: a well-written narrative, good casting, and compelling characters, but the current trend of the Anti-Heroine in the Spy Dame genre is really starting to tick me off and sends a bad message about women in the biz.

It started with Carrie Mathison, the CIA analyst from the popular TV series Homeland. Carrie is a talented analyst aided by her bipolar disorder, when in full-force, enhances her ability to see patterns where others fail. However, her erratic behavior and general prickliness makes her really unlikable as a person.

Then we are followed up by another CIA analyst, Maya Lambert from the Oscar nominated movie Zero Dark Thirty. No apparent mental health issues, but again, the near combative, and constant bullying behavior was overwhelming throughout the movie, and at times, very much unwarranted and out of place.

Now we have the new TV show The Bridge with Sonia Cross, a detective in the El Paso, Texas police department tracking down a serial killer who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, which limits her ability at times to accomplish her job without ruffling more than a few feathers, and apparently also makes her a pretty bad driver.

Maybe these writers think that making these women exceptionally quirky somehow makes them more exciting, lovable, or endearing. Mostly it just makes them aggressively annoying. I love the “procedural drama” because I like to understand how the proverbial machine of investigation and analysis work, but putting the disfunctional character archetype first and foremost really undermines and even derails that genre as a whole.

Now this is not to say that there are not women out there doing the job with these circumstances. But this twist of character doesn’t even have a base level by which to jump off from. A base level where are just women doing The Job. So here’s my bigger problem: It’s not enough that a woman can be a real and normal human being with all the real and normal issues that accompany that, but that she also has to be decidedly single with a mental illness-disorder-awkwardness-whathaveyou, and in many cases, just plain damn unlikable sends the message that dames can’t get the job done unless they delve just enough into a big bag of crazy, or conversely, any woman successful at her job must somehow be a loon on some level. And frankly, at the end of the play, I think it’s a cop-out to cover the fact that writers can’t develop a strong female character without a plot device.

Plenty of amazing fictional Spy Dames didn’t need this malarky: Kate Burroughs, the illustrious M, hell, even Sidney Bristow – Queen of SpyFi – got along just fine with her overly-developed sense of patriotism that almost always resulted in her being a pretty darn positive person…impending Zombie Apocalypse and mad scientists aside.

So I find myself waiting, patiently, for the Happy-Go-Lucky-type SpyDame to appear on the screen, big or small. They’re out there. And if writers had even some sense of a clue, they would write about her.

Advertisements

I received a heads up from a reader (thanks, 2blake2) regarding a Spy Conference being held in Raleigh, NC next March and I admit, I eagerly clicked the link to take a look.

So let me now just say how utterly disappointed I am.

Yes, I realize, the organizers are using sex to sell their product, but there’s a few people speaking at the conference whose work I respect and frankly, the respect levels plummet when they involve themselves in an enterprise selling female participation in the spy-trade under the banner of Sexpionage.

As I have written previously, that term, as it applies to women, and is used to sum up the female experience in intelligence, is insulting.

I am not at all trying to express that this is a topic not worth exploring, but the problem is most people view this as the only topic when it comes to women in intelligence and it effectively ends any further discussion. Women using sex as tradecraft is an extremely small sliver of a much larger pie. Yeah, let’s forget all the broads who contributed as inventors, managers, operatives, radio operators, cryptanalysts, analysts, etc. Forget that these dames jumped out of airplanes, brandished weapons, performed acts of sabotage, found it necessary to take a life or two, or sacrificed their own lives in the process.

Just because a precious few gals of the whole  used their female lucky charms as a means to an end, they are the only ones seemingly worthy of comment time and time again (wishing there was an emoticon for sarcasm presently) while the rest of the bunch is routinely ignored.

I could rant on and on about the overt misogyny of a conference speech of this nature, but what’s the point? The organizer seems like an aware fellow who usually puts on an interesting event but he really ought to get a clue (or a hundred) about the ladies.

I came across this article today regarding a female student’s lawsuit against the famed Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut.

Miss Porter’s is a 165 year old institution noted for such venerable students like Jackie O and Gloria Vanderbilt.

Painting of the Oprichnik for use in an opera

Painting of the Oprichnik for use in an opera

The suit is based on the harassment of said student by a group of girls who referred to themselves as the “Oprichniki“. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it was the name given to the Russian secret police squad under the command of Ivan the Terrible in 16th century Russia.

Aside from feelings of revulsion and outright disgust, I find this whole story fascinating on a number of different levels. Obviously, I fail to understand women undermining other women. If one of us gets ahead, we all get ahead and I believe that sisterhood will further our united cause, so female bullying rather gets this Agent’s Irish up sort to speak.

Okay, rah-rah feelings aside, what really interests me about this story is that the history of the Oprichniki is not solely attributable to a guy. It is believed by a great number of scholars that it was the second wife of Ivan the Terrible, Maria Temrjukovna, that founded the idea of this brutal organization most noted for the abduction, imprisonment and subsequent torture of the Czar’s internal enemies.

Secret police have been used throughout history as a way of those in power retaining their power. They gather intel on real and potential enemies and then neutralize these enemies through such methods as impalement, throwing “offenders” in vats of boiling oil,  and being drawn and quartered, to name a few choice methods.

Makes you rethink the whole idea of Hell’s fury in relation to women feeling put-out.

Also makes me wonder about a group of high school girls referring to themselves in such a manner and what this means to society as a whole.

Before I lambast this movie into the great hereafter, this Agent must make a confession: she laughed her hiny off when first she saw it…at the dollar show. And in retrospect, I think I want my dollar back.

Sandra Bullock plays Gracie Hart, a foul and unkempt FBI agent amongst a group of Frat-Pack FBI dudes who regard her warily. What we get to witness is Gracie being turned into a Sexed-Up-Fembot. Not of the Killer variety, but a Fembot nonetheless.

The plot goes that there is a beauty pageant that is about to go kaboom, literally, and the FBI is on the case. Gracie goes undercover as a New Jersey beauty queen after monumental help from Michael Caine who teaches her to masticate her food with her mouth closed.

Frivolity and hilarity ensues as Gracie tries to ingratiate herself with the contestants (all of whom are suspect), learn their bizare tribal behavior (like swilling fat-free hot cocoa, waving, and fluttering her hands while faking tears), all while duking it out with her pageant handler, Caine, who declares her to be an unfinished woman.

Hmmmmm….so it’s not enough to be competent, smart, and have to put up with the thinly veiled misogyny on the job, but you also have to endure it while looking “hot” as well? Any Intell analysis aside, what the hell kind of message does this send to all the young girls who saw this flick?

Back to movie: Largely, Gracie gets by using her gut instinct. Basically what we call Abductive Logic. And not to diminish finely tuned instincts for a job, but we’re talking bomb threats here and mass murder on a public scale, you’d think they’d use more than just a gut feeling to solve the case. Yes, I know, this is Hollywood…

As you might have guessed, Gracie cracks the case, gets the guy, and finds a balance between between her kill-instinct and her feminine side. Sigh, how sweet. How sweet that the FBI is portrayed as bunch of bumbling idiots not totally up to the task of matching wits with a psychotic pageant mistress. But I’ll give kudos to the film for being equally insulting to both men and women. Points for parity!

Personally, if this is how the film industry insists on portraying women, then this Agent sides with the La Femme Nakita course of action. Nakita learns refinement, but only as a tool and nothing more. At heart, Nakita is a goofy, maladjusted, awkward girl, and her alias “Josephine” is the one with the mascara and the lipstick. “Josephine” is not the end-all-be-all of Nakita’s existence as an agent or a person.

Like Gracie, Nakita operates on almost pure instinct, but there’s training, skill, technique and method to back it up- not a frilly dress and and antiquated sense on how a woman should handle herself.

And to this Agent, that’s one finishing school I think all dames should attend.

Of all the Sexed-Up-Killer-Fembots out there, Aeon Flux has to be this agent’s favorite. Launched as a series of short animated films on the infamous MTV show “Liquid Television” in 1991, Aeon immediately garnered a twisted and cultish fan base (as twisted and cultish as the anime I suppose).

The run down on Aeon is as follows: She is an agent (assassin actually, but apparently that term is interchangeable to most) from the futuristic country of Monica. Aeon’s unstated mission is apparently to antagonize her former lover/evil leader Trevor Goodchild as best as one can tell. Aeon is silent, she is deadly, and more often than not is racking up a body-count the size of most college football teams.

Killer-fembottery aside, this Agent loved the series. Mostly because it was the best of silent films with only the occasional grunt and sound effect filling the silence. Also because the show was weird. And I do mean weird. Weird in a bat-poop insanity kind of way which made it innocuous and delightfully wicked at the same time. Deliciously improbable and terribly fun, I am sorry to say (actually I’m not, I enjoyed it anyway) there is zero intelligence analysis to be provided from this series.

However, like the channel itself, MTV managed to ruin the whole endeavor when it launched the show as its own series and started giving the character dialogue. That’s when this Agent left the building. MTV would have done better to just leave everyone mute. “The Hills” would benefit greatly from the same ideology. And oddly enough, as its own series, Aeon manages to kick the bucket at the end of every show. Now what the heck do you suppose MTV is trying to say about our Sister Assassin, eh?

Anyhoo-Aeon went by the wayside back in the late 1990’s only to be rebooted in movie form in 2005. “Aeon Flux”, starring Charlize Theron, embarked upon a similar mission in a really, really, really, really, one more for good measure, really, bad film. A film so bad, this Agent is beginning to wonder if she doesn’t actually kinda like it – something she can only admit to in the deep and dark recesses or her psyche.

Whatever, see it for yourself and be the judge. About the only comment to be made is that I really dug the futuristic “brush pass” Aeon performs in the film. Here’s the scene: Aeon is walking down the street, she encounters a random guy, momentarily plays tonsil-hockey with said guy, guy slips her a pill that is then swallowed, and then Aeon is psychically transported into a strange sort of meeting room with her handler.

Like I said, weird. However, if there must be a world where sexed-up-killer-fembots exist, then this is the horse this Agent is betting on.

Oh, what is there to write about the Bond Girls that hasn’t already been written? After many, many years of Ian Fleming’s 007, some patterns begin to develop with regards to all girls Bond:

Some are spies, most are not.

They enjoy 15 minutes of fame in one film and then disappear.

They have wildly inappropriate names and then all sorts of wildly inappropriate whathaveyou with Bond and then disappear.

They end up with Bond at the end of the film or are killed by Bond at the end of the film, and then disappear.

So basically, the key to being a Bond Girl is this: look great, have a truly interesting moniker, and make sure you don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Aside from the latest Bond installment, most of the Bond Babes have been truly forgettable. Except for the names of course. Oh, sure, there’s the naughty, cheeky, sauciness of it all (since there’s always 2 Bond Girls per film), but if you’re really looking for in-depth psychoanalysis of that whole thing, then may I suggest Hef as a better source for that kind of Intel?

For this blog’s purpose, the only Bond Girl worth analyzing is Vesper Lynd from 2006’s “Casino Royale”. Eva Green portrays the British Treasury Agent who breaks Bond’s heart and while there’s no tradecraft to speak of, Vesper Lynd’s act of treason is worth taking a look at.

There’s a theory about why people commit treason and that theory is called M.I.C.E.. It holds that one commits treason for either Money, Ideology, Compromise, or Ego. Vesper Lynd is clearly caught between the rock and the hard space called Compromise. Evil, bad men have her fiance and are forcing her to use her position to manipulate a high stakes poker game that will potentially finance terrorism.

The movie is a little light on the finer details: like what happens to her fiance at the end of the film?! Seriously, huge loose end! But Eva Green works it, sells it, and still manages to garner sympathy with her tragic demise.

Dame Judi Dench’s “M”, sums it up nicely about a specific failure in intelligence work: “We’re so busy watching our enemies, we sometimes forget to watch out for our friends”.

Since the Bond-Powers-That-Be used this last film to “re-energize” the franchise, I’d like to hope that they use the opportunity to develop a few more worthy female adversaries for Bond. Vesper makes the ultimate femme fatale without the use of roundhouse kicks, guns, silly gadgets, or sexed-up-killer-fembottery. She’s completely disarming with just her smarts and verbal sparing, and for that, Vesper Lynd may prove to be a tough act to follow.

…oh, and if you must, have some fun with the Bond Girl Name Generator…mine (Abbie Gail) is a total snoozer…

Associated Posts: M, Bond Girls Part Deux, Bond Girls 3.0