So I got another visit from Tumblr in Actioners last week after they featured by post "Thanks For the Misogyny, Hollywood." Thanks again for the traffic, guys. Comments were fun, too. Always happy to have you folks drop by.
Unfortunately, a couple of the comments I received were along the predictable lines of "you shouldn't be discussing this because fiction doesn't matter." "They're just movies." I've seen this argument pop up a lot when feminists start to critique or poke fun at.... well, anything. These same commenters probably don't complain about long analyses of their favorite movies, or people constructing elaborate and intensely accurate costumes of their favorite movie characters, or entire conventions/conventions/amusement parks dedicated to their favorite movies. No, "geez it's just a movie calm down" then.
I understand that it can be difficult to hear criticism of fiction that you love. I'm an English major and writer, and before I switched to journalism and then blogging, I wrote a lot of fiction and creative nonfiction. Hearing criticism of characters you love is akin to hearing criticism of one's self, because you identify with said characters and your love of them becomes part of your identity. "Clerks fan" is an identity, not a simple descriptor.
Do I really have to explain to anybody that I like or love all of the movies I listed? "I grew up with them" means that I watched them multiple times, and I remain nostalgic for them, problematic as they may be. Examining and criticizing art is an act of love. Dismissing them as "just movies" is not. It's an insult to any piece of fiction to call it "just a movie" or "just a book" or "just a video game."
It's also a lie. Stories are more than just stories because of both the writers and the audience. Stories don't come from nowhere. Every story that's created comes from the mind of a human being, and every human's mind is a unique collection of experiences tempered by personality, and every part of that leaks onto the page. Don't even try me on this. If the story is misogynistic, so is the author. It's not intentional (usually), but neither is it an accident. Tropes show up in fiction because the author has been raised on and influenced by said tropes.
And big box office productions like Men in Black are also heavily influenced by money and what they know makes money. Obligatory romance happens because people want it, or they think people want it. They have a formula and they assume it will always make them more money.
Then there's the story's effect on the audience. If you think you can view any piece of media, read any book, even glance at an advertisement without being effected on a subconscious level, you are extremely wrong. Your brain is an amazing magical sponge plus hyper-advanced computer running shit in the background constantly that you are not aware of. If you receive the same subtle message over and over, especially when you're young, it will shape the way you view the world and you won't realize it unless someone points it out to you.
This is how what we call "systemic misogyny" happens. People absorb misogynistic messages without noticing that misogyny is even happening, and it affects their attitudes, words, and actions. Their words and actions are then absorbed by the next generation. Writers create misogynistic stories based on the misogyny they learned, and add to the pile of misogynistic messages that the audience will get over a lifetime. It's so prevalent that it's considered normal and most people don't question it. Man does thing, is rewarded at the end with a woman, whether she is straight up presented to him as a prize or simply shows romantic interest in him.
So no, it's not just a movie. It's not just a movie because the human mind is a sponge computer and because each individual piece of fiction doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's another piece in the puzzle of systemic misogyny. And the same thing applies to cissexism, ableism, heterosexism, racism, etc.
If you'd like to know more about the human subconscious, I would encourage the crap out of you to look up some Psychology 101 stuff. Everyone should learn more about this stuff if they're able. Seriously, it helps.