I don’t want to be a feminist anymore. Like a five-year-old, I want to close my eyes, stick my fingers in my ears, stomp my feet on the floor and scream “No! No, you cannot make me, I won’t, leave me alone!” I am, simply put, too tired. So very, very tired.
I am tired of fighting with my friends. I am tired of arguing that someone groping and slapping my butt isn’t “what I have to expect”, just because I’m at a bar, and the one attacking my butt has a drink in the other hand. I am tired of hearing “boys will be boys” and “when you’re dressed like that …” and “that’s just what guys do”. I am tired of trying to drown those sentiments in loud, repetitive no’s, screamed over and over again, till my throat is sore and my voice weak – just to hear them repeated, as soon as exhaustion threatens to silence me.
I am tired of being afraid. I am tired of seeing someone writing something offensive, sexist, racist, ageist, ableist, somewhere online. I am tired of seeing those writings getting likes and lol’s, and SO TRUE’s. I am tired of being consumed by confusion and anger, typing, typing, typing and typing a seemingly endless response, including research, links and statistics, and then hesitate clicking “submit”. I am tired of knowing that I hesitate because I am afraid of the flood of responses that will come. I am tired of knowing that I will be bombarded with lighten up’s, stop whining’s and get a sense of humor’s for so long, that I will start to wonder if I am indeed wound up too tight, a nagger and humorless. I am tired of the fact that I’m afraid of being called a cunt, even though I don’t find genitalia insulting or demeaning.
This is a really frustrating feeling. It really, really is, and the problem is even worse for the trans* and POC community (who are liable to suffer much more than just name-calling), and the whole thing just gets so ridiculous and infuriating sometimes.
Yannow what super-duper sucks? Being tired of being a feminist in the fucking queer community and having anti-racism, anti-ableism and anti-cissexism treated as a joke, or worse - as is the trend in Sydney at the moment - as “thought-policing”.
I mean, I expect this shit from the straight community, though I hate it. But you queers should know better. :/
I wrote this post several years ago for my livejournal when I was less-educated on political stuff - so I acknowledge it possibly has a few not fully-formed or sufficiently comprehensive parts, or is clumsy - and also hadn’t read the Hellboy comics. This little dissection is totally about the Hellboy MOVIEVERSE and NOT the comics, which I can pretty much find no fault with (whhhhyyyy did it take me so long to start reading them?!?!). I also disagree with myself on a few points here with regards to the movie’s intentions and structure. I love the movie, though I think it’s massively flawed, but at the time I wrote this I hadn’t seen any deconstruction of it beyond its merits as a piece of cinema… and I still haven’t, really, and I thought there was heaps of interesting stuff IN the movie worthy of deconstruction.
So, here it is… my rambly, messy, confused thoughts of 2008 on HELLBOY II.
I’ve been meaning to write this up for ages and just kept putting it off because it requires some thought and care and you all know I avoid that sort of dangerous thing at all costs.
I remember being very disappointed when I saw HBII. But I’ve watched it a few times now since I got it on DVD and I think it did a much better job than I originally gave it credit for. Still not the job it could’ve and should’ve done, but better than I initially realised.
I’m no expert in these matters, not by a looooooooooooooooooong shot.
I’m a sex worker but I have tended to be particularly privileged as a sex worker. I’m a woman but I’m white. I’m queer but I tend to pass as straight. And even my understanding and experience of oppression and stigma because I belong to these marginalised and discriminated against groups, does not mean I understand the experience of oppression and stigma of groups of people to whom I don’t belong. So these are my rambly, inexperienced thoughts and I welcome debate on the matter from those who know better than I.
One thing that struck me about del Toro talking about the film was how excited he was about depicting an inter-species relationship, about exploring the Other, outsiders and freaks, their disenfranchisement from the world - the world named “Ours” (meaning humanity).
The most obvious allegory is that of Race, particularly when you consider Colonialism and its enduring effects. I remember coming out of the film and feeling disappointed it had not been more aggressive and radical in its explorations of the issues, that it instead opted for a very, uh, white-washed and superficial treatment. But then, hearing del Toro talk about it and it seemed that he hadn’t made the connection himself and most people were talking about it as an environmental film – which is applicable as well. In fact, I think the film has messages about colonialism, speciesism, ableism and environmentalism as well as racism.
But, whether intentionally or not, quite a lot of other little elements slipped through.
Let me try and make sense of my thoughts. First, the good stuff:
* Nuada. The “evil” prince. I remember being angry initially that he was depicted as the bad guy when I felt his frustration and anger was very justified - his people had lost their land, been uprooted, disempowered and diminished, forced into hiding by humanity and into a position of passive acceptance.
Actually, although it was very subtle, they didn’t treat him as the bad guy. Obviously he was perceived as the bad guy by the characters in the film, but I don’t think we were really meant to see him the same way. He was broken-hearted and furiously angry and I thought the actor did a wonderful job of expressing the intense pain in that anger. Initially I was irritated his people had not taken a stand alongside him, but as time passed I realised this was probably more accurate - oppressed people often resent and exile those who cause trouble by speaking out, particularly if they have to fear very real repercussions from their oppressors. Often times life has already been such a complicated, exhausting, stressful trick of negotiating spaces and surviving in a world that will punish you for going against the status quo, marginalised people very understandably can be reluctant to draw more attention to themselves. You often see this within the sex industry - there’s a not-insignificant number of sex workers who want sex worker activists to just Go Away because they fear being outed, and miserably, have a good reason to.
He says at the end “we die, and the world will be poorer for it” - this line makes me think of the immeasurable number of languages of various nations within colonised countries that are being eradicated and lost, to say nothing of their entire history and culture. They were not simply dying out. They were being ERADICATED. Pushed from their land - the forests - forced into hiding, becoming less in numbers, becoming forgotten - being humbled and crushed to the point where the majority, including their leader, were resigned to it. They didn’t just lose - they lost EVERYTHING. An aggressive and even directed process, again similar to the situation suffered by the original inhabitants of invaded countries and nations.
When he says “kill me - you must - for I will not stop. I cannot”, I find that line very powerful and sad and says so much about his desperation. (2011 note: a friend pointed out in comments to the original eljay post: “It’s a popular sentiment we tend to ascribe to folk heroes… the willingness to die before they’ll stop fighting for their cause. In actual fact, not always so helpful :)” – which is a very salient point, particularly when it comes to the issue of colonised peoples) He says something else to Hellboy as well: “If you cannot command, you must obey” that I thought also had a strong and important message within it and also really hits Hellboy hard as he realises what is being said about his own situation. After all, Hellboy is tolerated by humanity because he works for us.
I was originally irritated by the Princess Nuala sacrificing herself to stop Nuada, and I don’t think I’m not unirritated by that yet because that she was a fairly misogynistic character in that she existed to be rescued and fallen in love with and then sacrificed. On the other hand, the lack of a true resolution underscored the fact the entire war was bitter and incapable of being truly resolved because the damage done was too great and the people who had done the damage - humanity - too unwilling to accept responsibility for it. And, as is the case in these situations, the oppressed end up suffering the most and losing the most, including their lives, in their battle for justice. It was depressingly realistic. Nuada was the most compelling character from the film and it’s a pity (yet also depressingly typical) his sister was not given the same due. (2011 note: look, it might make for an emotionally powerful storyline, but the whole ‘oppressed people must die tragically for the point to be made’ angle is really fucked and I don’t know what I was thinking really by excusing it)
Moving on from Nuada, there was other stuff I thought was good but I don’t know how intentional it was:
- Hellboy, Abe and Krauss, despite representing the Others, have absolute no intimate and personal knowledge of the paranormal world they come from. They have to access - and force - information from a member of that world (the female troll under the Brooklyn Bridge) - a symptom of their having been separated from their people and integrated into humanity.
Likewise, they were constantly being forced to turn traitor against their own kind in order to be accepted by the dominating people - humanity. To such an extent that inhabitants of the paranormal world are often approached by them (particularly Hellboy) with hostility and suspicion.
Hellboy’s story (in the movies) is one of striving to be accepted and loved by humanity; to become a part of us - yet his appearance simply won’t let him. Yet he continually strives to be one of us and to adhere to humanity’s standard of “good” - his considerable skills are continuously exploited for the benefit of humanity but he is given very little respect - he is kept locked up below ground and punished when he breaks out because he must be kept a secret. He yearns to come out and when he does discovers it doesn’t matter how “good” he is, he is still judged by his appearance, by the fact of his being non-human.
Hellboy, however, begins to demonstrate some awareness of this, shown in the moment where he moves to file his horns and then stops, staring at himself in the mirror. Hellboy has habitually filed his horns because he wants to “fit in” - he wants to look more “normal”. This shows a self-conscious awareness of his difference and a sense of stigma about it - he wants to be accepted, not as himself, but as human. I think there’s links between this and his generally hostile attitude towards other paranormal beings.
But in the end, he and the others all quit the BPRD in disgust because they become aware they’re being used in a useless battle, that no matter how hard they try, humanity will still just treat them as freaks whilst at the same time exploiting their abilities and never truly accepting them or permitting them full privileges and rights. Furthermore, using them in a battle that is deeply… unfair seems too inadequate a word to use… Using them to do their dirty work. Using them to continue a cycle of oppression and marginalisation. There is NO sense of triumph in defeating Nuada. They come to understand what drove him, why he was so angry and that his sense of loss and betrayal was right. So they quit.(And I absolutely love how Abe grabs Manning’s face and says “watch us” - it says SO MUCH)
There is other bits - like Hellboy’s throw away line about never having been given a badge, despite having asked for one, and Krauss commenting on the plight of the tooth fairies - imprisoned, starved and sold on the black market, rather than them just being OMGBAD!.
Now. The BAD stuff.
- The more subservient characters and the more brute characters were MARKEDLY less “human” in appearance and behaviour. They were depicted as being obsequious to the humanoid characters, or used as muscle, also generally seeming lower in intelligence…
- There was an unfortunate underpinning theme of entire species of creatures being inherently good or bad - little moral ambiguity and, uh, the whole POINT of Hellboy is his moral ambiguity – that he was a being created specifically to bring about the destruction of the world and chose not to.
- The theme of the move is entire races of beings being oppressed and disenfranchised and that this is BAD AND YET. YET. At the BPRD HQ, in the background we see various paranormal creatures being violently subdued and “causing trouble” and being EXPERIMENTED ON - AS COMIC RELIEF, despite the fact these background events are entirely decontextualized and the creatures’ story is unknown to us. It’s just implicit that whatever they’ve done, they’re Bad and the BPRD Must Stop Them. I don’t like that. At all. Considering the issues that arise with the BPRD during the course of the film, is it so much to think species profiling is occurring!?
- The whole good freaks and bad freaks thing - the good freaks tend to be those who conform to human expectation.
- Also consider how important it is that Hellboy be referred to as a Man and that he’s a Good Man and what makes him a Man is his actions and the choices he makes. This comes up in the movies, & a couple of the books (the ones that I’ve read, it’s probably in the ones I haven’t too… I haven’t read the comics yet so I dunno about there)… and it’s problematic. Add to that, the notion of manhood as presented in the film is one that is largely defined by white, western standards and… yeah.
- I simply cannot get past the fact that, in a movie supposedly celebrating the outcast, the likes of a misogynistic, homophobic, racist jerk like Seth McFarlane is playing a role.
Finally, the relationship between Liz and Hellboy. ARG.
I’m a bit OTPy about these two, I’ll admit. And del Toro PROMISED us so much - he was SO excited about this relationship - and then failed to deliver.
NO, I didn’t want there to be a big deal about the whole inter-species thing. I didn’t want to see them angsting about that or talking about how difficult their relationship was - I liked that none of their issues seemed to be at all about that.
BUT OMG! Where was the sexual tension and chemistry from the first film? Why was their relationship almost nothing but comic relief in this film? I mean, they’re a NEW couple, where were the cuddles and kisses? The PROPER kisses, not the chaste kisses on the forehead? Holy cow. It’s like del Toro suddenly went chicken on us with this. I wanted to see heat between them. They barely engage physically or intimately - the very fact that they’re presented as already having tension in the relationship (because Hellboy is a slob, of all things!!!) seemed to me like a way of copping out on the intimacy of it.
There were a COUPLE of moments of intimacy where it was clear they are very physically comfortable with each other, and ultimately the love shown between them was very powerful especially as Liz makes a couple of particularly strong demonstrations of her desire to be with him (like when she outs herself - she’s a freak but she can ‘pass’ for normal so I felt this was quite awesome, there’s even discussion in a background news story about what a cute girl like her is doing hanging out with freaks. And the other one backs up my belief that love is highly “unethical” as a general rule), but it wasn’t enough. And I deeply resented the injection of the hackneyed, cutesy humour and considering how deeply solicitous he was of her in the first film, depicting Hellboy as this immature and insensitive toward her felt really out of character.
I felt like the pregnancy sanitised their relationship. Ok, yes the fact she’s pregnant tells us they’ve been having sex, but again, maybe it’s just the associations I personally have with pregnancy, but it seemed like the relationship was reigned in and tamed by it. I don’t know, in the first film there seemed like there was so much intensity between them and the moment and kiss between them at the end was so awesome and passionate - why didn’t we get something similar in this film? This is often an issue with how pregnant women are portrayed though – all of a sudden, they can’t be sexual because now they’re mothers and that’s sacred!
So I’m not sure if the tamed relationship was due to del Toro chickening out on the inter-species thing or the sacred mother thing, but either way – it bugs me HUGELY and is way problematic!!!
If Hellboy III is made, the kids will be born and Hellboy will be learning how to be a father, del Toro has already said. I can only imagine the cutesy humour and the further stulefying of this relationship. God, del Toro, PLEASE, give us a little more nookie!!!!
Is that my final word on Hellboy II? Does it all just come to nookie for me?
Sadly, I think the answer may be: yes. Yes it does.
Ok, no my final words are: a lot of people have felt this was a bad movie but I’m beginning to feel that it’s actually pretty good, it’s just that its principle themes are sloppily deal with and aren’t effectively connecting with people. Really, I think there were some very beautiful and powerful moments in this film, but perhaps it was trying to be too much at once in too many different styles. And I guess a lot depends on whether you think the fantasy genre should use non-humans vs. humans as a racial allegory (2011 note: I think it’s WAY problematic if done carelessly – eg, if races of fantasy creatures conform to stigmatic stereotypes about actual human races. Also there’s been a long ugly tradition of associating people of colour as animalistic or subhuman so there’s big issues there in using the allegory if oppressed fantasy races are depicted in such ways). As mentioned above, for all its aspirations, this film has its highly problematic elements.
But… in the end, I think this film is being severely underappreciated. I think it didn’t ultimately know what it wanted to be or what timbre to take and that it tried to do too much but not in a cohesive and fully-thought-through way and because it was aiming for so much it just didn’t connect with audiences. There are plot holes and clichés and weak moments too. But, you know. Actually. I really like it, for the most part, in the end.
And the fact that del Toro is talking about bringing back Kroenen and Rasputin for III, if it is made, probably indicates what he attempted here was simply too ambitious and conflicted/flawed. I think people expected a narrative to continue more in the vein of what was set out in the first film and to go so wildly off into a totally different theme and genre alienated people. Even though the comics are a total mash of genres. But the Rasputin storyline is one that is part of the overarching plot of the comics and would’ve worked great for the second film too and would’ve certainly flowed more continuously. But del Toro and Mignola had a vision and wanted to follow the fairytale aspect of the comics. It just backfired.
Bottom-line: I love that this film is so ambitious, even if it is totally flawed. At the end of the day, it’s one of my faves.