Friday, 6 February 2015

My Very Own Exploitation Flick?

Or, The Ex-Exploitation Flick

It occurred to me that it would be boring to talk about every genre in terms of my own worldview, so I’ll probably tackle them as lenses to other worldviews instead. However, I think it might be worth considering what my exploitation flick would look like, rather than talking about what someone else’s exploitation flick would like, because there are a few problems I have with the genre which would impact or limit its use. Thinking about this will let me dig a bit more into the genre than I otherwise would dig and it will give me a reason to talk about finding genres which wouldn’t work for someone’s worldview.

I wrote extensively about exploitation flicks before and I don’t want to engage in that too much. In fact, I’m going to do something pretty bad and ignore the historical and political specificity of the assorted subgenres for this post and focus instead on four more top-level characteristics:
  1. displaying an abundance of stereotypes or common place trope about the subject matter, such that collecting these references marks a specific identity;
  2. a penchant for taboo violations, such as a sacrilege, body horror, cannibalism, etc.;
  3. enthusiastic/gratuitous nudity and sex, with a pretty unapologetic heterosexual male perspective; and
  4. enthusiastic/gratuitous violence, with a pretty unapologetic pleasure in gore and explosions over, for instance, choreography of fighting;

Recall, too, that these subgenres are mostly used to celebrate the identity in question, either by indulging in it (the first trait) or making it attractive (the third and fourth traits).

Let’s get started.

The connection between collection and identity has come up in a class I’m taking about social media. A few weeks ago we discussed how people constitute their identities in social media contexts. An example I brought up, in connection with Jorge Luis Borges’s “Afterword” to Museums (of course), is how sharing seemingly non-autobiographical content can constitute a kind of identity. Think of Tumblr, and particularly what are called reblog tumblrs, where a person does not produce their own content but rather shares things they like, sometimes with commentary appended or in the tags but sometimes without any addition at all. Though they technically only collect and co-locate content they found, and therefore do not reveal any information about their offline life, they still create a kind of identity—reputation? presence? role in the media ecology?—by creating that collection. Lots of people, or lots of the people I know, do this sort of thing on their Facebook or in their real-life conversations. I’m well-known for spouting out facts about animals and, more recently, for my Weekly Wonders tumblr. And I have other interests or obsessions which different people know to varying degrees.

So if a person were making an exploitation flick in order to celebrate or valourize Christian-H-ness, there are a number of things they might use to mark the film as having that identity, probably as plot points or as passing references, but maybe as background, too. I could make a list, but I think that you either know me well enough that I don’t need to or you don’t know me well enough to care. Either way, I won’t bore you with the list. Feel free to compile one in the comments if that’s something you’re into.

Still, I don’t know what to do with this observation that a collection can constitute a sort of identity (except in a library science context, in which I think there’s at least one obvious direction to go with that). If I think of anything, I’ll come back to it.

Violating taboos is one I have a harder time with. For the most part, I don’t like violating taboos; when I violate a taboo it’s usually because I don’t think of it as a taboo, and when I think of something as a taboo I usually don’t violate it. It is difficult for me to think about a taboo I’d want to violate that I’d also want to depict as a taboo violation. I’m all for violating gender norms, but I basically don’t want there to be gender norms, so I’m not at all interested in their violation as violation. I’m also all for having a variety of body types in film—and I don’t just mean different levels of body fat, but also people with amputations and people born with unusual anatomy, etc. We’ll get back to this topic, but I guess I wouldn’t want to see the movie treat this as breaking a taboo, either, even if that’s technically what is; I want the camera to normalize people with unusual anatomy, and that seems at odds with taboo violation.

The only thing I can think of is breaking museum exhibits or destroying art. I don’t generally like either, but I can imagine instances in which I’d support or at least be sympathetic to either. For instance, in some cultures, specific objects are made specifically to be broken or to be allowed to degrade over time, but then museums preserve the objects, violating those cultures’ values. So breaking into a museum and destroying the object might be 1) appropriate within the object’s original culture, even if a taboo violation in the museum’s culture, and 2) a political act against colonialism. I can think of other such examples. This would be a taboo violation for me, since I tend to treat art and artifacts as being set aside, almost sacred, but it would also be a taboo violation which possibly agrees with my explicit values, too, given highly specific circumstances.

Nudity is also a difficult one. There seem to be three “functions” for nudity in exploitation flicks, which don’t all align with one another: the film’s apparent reasons for using nudity aren’t necessarily the same as what the film actually achieves with its nudity, nor does it match what I, personally, get out of it. So, respectively, 1) for the apparent audience, the presentation of nudity in exploitation flicks seems intended to shock and excite/arouse, in order to celebrate the relevant identity; 2) the usually female nudity in exploitation flicks rhetorically erases women’s agency, turning women into bodies, plot points, trophies, etc.; 3) regarding my personal engagement, nudity in exploitation flicks mostly improves my understanding of human anatomy, though of course the lack of diversity in the bodies shown limits this function. On the grounds of #2 I am uncomfortable with #1 and, besides, the way these movies depict nudity isn’t all that appealing to me; #1, meanwhile, limits #3, because it means that only certain kinds of bodies are shown. This means that if a person were to make a Christian-H-ploitation flick, conventional exploitation flick nudity wouldn’t work. It would misrepresent, rather than confirm and celebrate, my norms and identity.

There might be two solutions: 1) use nudity, but use it differently, or 2) find something to substitute for nudity. These aren’t mutually exclusive. For instance, you could have nudity in order to showcase human anatomy and show how human bodies work, but not do so in an erotic way; choose a wide variety of body types and highlight how those bodies move and function rather than focusing on their naughty bits. (For instance: have three people in gym showers, facing the wall, with the camera on them from behind; one of them is elderly, one of them is heavyset, and one of them—who will be a main character?—is missing an arm.) And then you could also show people in ways intended to make them physically attractive that don’t rely on nudity. There’s a wide range of outfits that I consider to be very attractive beyond “naked” or “swimsuit,” like floor-length sleeveless dresses and scarves over sweaters over dark skirts and checked shirts tucked into blue jeans. By splitting functions 1 and 3, you can achieve both without committing function 2.

(If you’ve noticed that we’re quite a distance from exploitation flicks now, don’t worry; I’m going to talk about that.)

The last element I mentioned is violence. I’m quite non-violent in real life, and I feel almost like pacifism is a moral obligation, though I’m not quite there. At the same time, I have no objections to violence in films. I find a lot of fight sequences boring (Transformers is by far the worst offender but certainly not the only one), but I’m always down for a well-done fight scene. So, on the one hand, violence would certainly reflect my media choices, but on the other hand it might be a violation of my values.

There might be three possible fixes: first, we could ensure that the violence always has consequences and isn’t undertaken frivolously; second, there could be a lot of simulated violence, but little actual violence (for instance, water fights, martial arts training, play fighting, LARPing, or video games); and third, there could be violence against inanimate objects. I stole that last idea from Yojimbo, in which the most elaborate and impressive “fight scene” involves the protagonist trashing a room to make it look like a fight happened there when it didn’t. (Someone could trash a museum?)

But, when I combine all of these transformations, what I don’t get is an exploitation flick. There might be a lot of stylistic things we could do to give it similar visuals (see Grindhouse for some ideas), but its heart is elsewhere. Exploitation flicks rely on an unembarrassed celebration of things which we usually feel uncomfortable celebrating: sex, violence, blasphemy, etc. For the most part, I have no interest in doing that. So while I might still get a lot out of the question, “What would my exploitation flick look like?”, in terms of both understanding myself and understanding exploitation flicks better, I have to conclude that the simplest answer would be, “Well, it wouldn’t be an exploitation flick anymore.”

What about you? Does it sound like exploitation flicks would work for you? Are there other genres that wouldn’t?

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