Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Final Girl Theory

I debated about whether or not to post about this because even though it's about an adventure game and makes reference to horror movies, those aren't the aspects of it that grabbed my attention.

I'm fascinated by gender issues and this article in Wired about the way that young males identify with female characters (whether in video games or horror movies) is intriguing as hell. Especially since the theory was developed by a woman.

The Final Girl theory emerged in 1985, when Carol Clover -- a medievalist and feminist film critic -- was dared by a friend to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Back then, most feminist theorists loathed slasher films, and regarded them as classic examples of male misogyny. It wasn't hard to figure out why: Thousands of young men were trooping into theaters to cheer wildly as masked psychos hacked apart screaming young women. That really didn't look good.

But as Clover sat in the theaters, she noticed something curious. Sure, the young men would laugh and cheer as the villain hunted down his female prey. But eventually the movie would whittle down the victims to one last terrified woman -- the Final Girl, as Clover called her. Suddenly, the young men in the audience would switch their allegiance -- and begin cheering just as madly for the Final Girl as she attacked and killed the psycho.

This, Clover argued, was not mere garden-variety sexism. On the contrary, it was a generation of young guys who apparently identified strongly with the situation of a woman who faced agonizing peril yet came out victorious. The slasher dynamic was unprecedented in film history: "The idea of a female who outsmarts, much less outfights -- or outgazes -- her assailant (was) unthinkable," Clover wrote. With this new crop of slasher movies, the young men in the audience essentially became the Final Girl: exhausted, freaked out and ultimately triumphant. They weren't just ogling the sexual violence. They were submitting to it.

The Wired columnist goes on to suggest that this identification with female characters also may explain the popularity behind Lara Croft and the desire that many young men have to play female characters in online role-playing games.

How this could influence my writing is tough to say except that this fascination with how men and women view and treat each other is bound to make it into a book someday. If nothing else, it'll help inform the way I write female characters.


Anonymous said...

That's interesting, but also a little strange, as I recently read a different article that said young men feel safe playing video games with strong female characters, but are intimidated by them in movies. The article cited the box-office failures of ELEKTRA, AEON FLUX and the last TOMB RAIDER as examples.

Michael May said...

Do you still have a link to that article? I'd love to read it.

I'm thinking that the theory could be modified to explain that, but I'd like to think about it some more. Maybe something to do with the Final Girl's being a victim for most of the movie before turning heroine? I don't know.

Yet. :)

Anonymous said...

Kinski says...

You need to read Clover's book. I first read it 10 odd years ago. She sets up some interesting arguements, even if you do end up disagreeing with her on some of them. I think it's still in print, but I couldn't tell ya for sure. I know it's not regularly stocked though. In those pre-Amazon days I had to special order it...

Michael May said...

Amazon's got it. I just Wish Listed it.

Thanks, Joe!


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