thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Feminism and Victim Subjectivity in “Dead Girl Shows”: How The Killing Succeeds . . . and then Fails

In Uncategorized on September 23, 2014 at 8:08 am


Sarah S.

Note: This post includes spoilers for seasons 1-3 of The Killing. It also includes violent images after the jump of a type allowable on cable television and so may not be SFW or appropriate for all readers.


Recently, GLG’s Phoebe B. has been writing on white male violence, discussing television’s problematic obsession with white men committing and fixating on the murders of white women and how, further, these tropes can be read as constant infantilization. A while back, I wrote on how depictions of rape in critically-acclaimed Hollywood films function as body genres that foreclose empathy and activism. This post builds on these discussions with a reading of the representation of dead female bodies in the AMC/Netflix show The Killing, which begins in a compelling, even feminist vein before devolving into tired, exploitative modes in later seasons.


Who killed Rosie Larsen? This question drives season 1 (and, alas, season 2) of The Killing. The show also quite consciously evokes its predecessor Twin Peaks, the ur-“Dead Girl Show,” to use the terminology of Alice Bolin in her discussion of this genre. However, The Killing—like counterparts The Fall, Top of the Lake, and Pretty Little Liars—complicates this core narrative by putting a woman in the role of detective and mystery solver. Mireille Enos plays Detective Sarah Linden, a complicated woman, haunted by her past and obsessed with discovering who murdered 17-year-old Rosie. Because of its female-centric perspective, I argue that in season 1 The Killing takes a divergent path in the representation of the murdered female body.

Feminists including Martha Nussbaum have long articulated the problem in objectifying people, most commonly women. A common feature of said objectification involves chopping up the female body into parts or otherwise denying the subjectivity of a woman, for example, by obscuring her face or head.

I add that, often, Dead Girl Shows similarly objectify female bodies through dehumanization and bifurcation. The goal in these shows is less sexual titillation and commodification than to evoke a repulsion aligned with body genres, a la Linda Williams.

Cheers, Elaine Stritch!

In Uncategorized on September 18, 2014 at 7:18 am


Sarah S.

I want to take this time to salute the inimitable Elaine Stritch, who died this past July at the age of 89. Stritch was a Broadway legend and, as is evident in the documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, one of the brassiest broads to stroll through Manhattan.

Shoot Me follows Stritch through several months near the end of her life, showing her rejection of pants and love for Bay’s English muffins. Stritch was a complicated delight. She drew little distinction between employees and friends, treating both with similar domineering affection. At one point, she parks her limo in the fire zone outside a Starbucks and, when the cops show up, fakes a limp. Filming during her stint on 30 Rock as Jack’s mom, she calls out “Alec ‘Joan Crawford’ Baldwin” when they’re waiting on Baldwin to shoot the scene.

The film honors Stritch and provides a glimpse into her long love affair with the theater and her audiences. As such, it’s a testament to a remarkable performer and an amazing woman who grew older (not old!) with peacock-like aplomb.


Feminist Fabulists: Telling Stories, Changing Perspectives, and “Pretty Little Liars”

In ABC Soaps, feminism, Perspective, Pretty Little Liars on September 16, 2014 at 7:59 am

Phoebe B.

The villains and heroes of a story often change depending on who’s controlling the narrative. Consider the many recent re-thinkings of classic stories from the evil characters’ perspective.

Wicked, for example, re-tells the Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch’s (aka Elphaba’s) point of view. In so doing, an entirely different story is spun: a young girl discriminated against for her skin color fights an unjust system, only to be cast as “wicked” by the Wizard’s corrupt administration.

Similarly, Disney’s newest princess fairytale re-imagines Maleficent (masterfully played by Angelina Jolie) in the titular character as a woman scorned—her majestic wings violently stolen by the King, her former childhood sweetheart. As narrated by Aurora, Maleficent’s supposedly evil nature—and by extension her violence—is filtered through a rape-revenge fantasy narrative. The film casts her anger and desire for revenge as rooted in trauma rather than the product of pure evil—a move that doesn’t function to justify her violence but rather explains it.

Both re-tellings further complicate familiar narratives by foregrounding relationships between women that don’t fit within patriarchal structures. Sleeping Beauty’s re-telling of Maleficent’s story, outside the confines of her father’s violent ideology, reveals that the theoretically bad fairy was Aurora’s true protector, a complex person capable of love. In Wicked, a similar relationship of rivals is recast as a best friendship and alliance between the “good” witch Galinda (aka Glinda) and Elphaba.

This is the trick of perspective: when we flip it and re-imagine stories from the viewpoints of outsiders, we begin to see the dangers of limiting ourselves to just one narrative (check out Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s beautiful Ted Talk for more on this.).

Like Wicked and Maleficent, the ABC Family series Pretty Little Liars foregrounds perspective, casting doubt on the reliability of any singular narrative and particularly those that attempt to frame women within patriarchy. But it goes even further in championing the multiplicity of narratives that emerge in communities of women, suggesting the importance of reclaiming and re-writing our own diverse stories.


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