Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Feminism of Ghosts of Mars

Every once in awhile, I catch myself watching John Carpenter's Ghost of Mars. This is likely Carpenter's dumbest film, and maybe his worst. It's at least in the running. In fact, the film was so bad that it burned Carpenter out and he would not make another feature length film for nine years. That's a tough call for a film staring Ice Cube, Pam Grier, and a young Jason Statham... (of course, Statham did do this too ==> Dancing Jason <==before he got famous). Anyways, what I want to talk about is the feminism of the film. I think it's enlightening.

Feminism is a tricky word because it means a lot of things and few of its adherents follow what they claim it means. On the surface, it means legal and practical equality, i.e. that men and women have the same rights, same opportunities and neither faces discrimination based on gender. But some take it further and want a gender free world. Good luck with that. Others, in particular most feminist dogmatics, see feminism as a sort of female superiority movement where women should be given special right and males are made second class citizens. Carpenter's Ghost of Mars weighs in more along these lines.

The story takes place on Mars in a world run by cartels who have imposed something called "The Matriarchy." It's essentially treated as a government run by women where women hold all the power and roles are sort of reversed. The thing is, this whole reversed roles thing ultimately proves meaningless to the plot except for a couple of small moments. Consider these:
(1) The lead officer, Pam Grier, talks about wishing she had more "dependable" women for her prisoner transfer squad than men.

(2) Grier makes a lesbian pass at the heroine, Natasha Henstridge, and Henstridge suggests this is the price of promotion.

(3) There is a woman in a jail cell who acts like a tough biker and talks about wanting a "piss break."

(4) Heroine Henstridge describes mining towns as places where there are "drugs to take and whore to f*ck."
That's about it. Other than that, the toughest character is either Ice Cube's Desolation Williams or Jason Statham's Sergeant Jericho. The women aren't stronger, faster or more physically able. They aren't brighter or more courageous either. Nor are they better people. They aren't even different people. So there's really no basis for this being a Matriarchy, except that Carpenter wanted this. But what is his point?

I rather struggle with understanding this. Carpenter is a feminist, so was his producer the late Debra Hill. You will see elements of that throughout his work. This film was the first time, however, that he openly made feminism "a thing," and look what he did with it. The government is corrupt. They lie. They abuse. They make secret deals. They discriminate openly. They are violent and stupid. Drug abuse is common. Sex abuse is common, as is prostitution and sexual harassment and being forced to sleep your way to the top. In other words, they are everything feminists claim men are at their worst.

If I didn't know better, I would think Carpenter was making a rather nasty criticism of feminism, but he wasn't. He was just trying to tell a tale of a standard dystopian world where some action film takes place. His use of feminism was just a facade on the plot.

You often see this with liberals. Their views simply don't work in the real world or in stories. So they tell a normal story and they just gloss it over by pretending that liberal ideas are involved. Indeed, time and again, liberals write stories about liberal heroes using conservative ideas to attack liberalism in action and they hide this ideological mashup by making the villain some demonized conservative, e.g. a corporation or religious person, or having the hero spout feminism or environmentalism that doesn't actually reflect the action.

That's what happened here. I suppose from Carpenter's perspective, he is presenting a group of rugged "frontier women" who have finally replaced evil, worthless men. And this is the story of our heroine, Henstridge, as she fights the evil ghosts. But that's not really what he's created. Indeed, while this is a feminist world dominated by women, Ice Cube and Statham are both more dominant than Henstridge. The world is still filled with the kind of corruption that makes this kind of dystopia work as well, even as we are told that women would not do this. These women are just as corrupt, just as over-sexed, just as stupid and just as incompetent. You could actually swap out males for females in this film, strike the word "matriarchy," and you would never have a clue that feminism was introduced into the film.

That's bad.

What I find so interesting is that if he wanted to envision a world run by women rather than men, i.e. a modern feminist dream world, why does this feel like "the ass end of the universe" as Statham puts it? Why is it just a rotten world where women merely replace the men as the rotten actors rather than a world that is changed to reflect supposed difference feminists think women would bring? What does this tell us about feminism? Frankly, I think it tells us that feminists don't really believe the crap they spew.



Anthony said...

The movie was written around Ice Cube, who was kind of a standard Carpenter badass. The hot blonde with whom he shared billing was only picked after every other woman in Hollywood turned down the role.

I thought the dystopian matriarchy and murderous not Native Americans villains could have worked.

Unfortunately everything about the movie (action, the characters, the plot, the setting and the cinematography) sucked.

I was never a big Carpenter fan but watching some of his older films I could kind of get why he was a cult icon. Ghosts was just a mess.

Pam Grier, the other cult hero in this film, effectively double tapped her film career (briefly resurrected by Tarantino) with this and Pluto Nash though she had better luck on the small screen.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I'm a big fan of Carpenter actually, but this one is a turd. It's just a mess from start to finish and halfway through it's like Carpenter just gives up and hands the whole thing over to a running gun fight.

I think the matriarchy could have worked, but I don't think they gave it any thought. There is literally nothing in the feminism that couldn't be undone by just dropping two lines of dialog and then no one would ever know of their intent.

The not-Native American villains felt entirely like stock villains to me, but so did everything else about the film.

Yeah, Grier certainly did her best to drive a stake through her career.

tryanmax said...

I think I caught this on cable at some point. Didn't leave an impression on me and I probably missed large chunks of it.

To your larger point about liberal filmmakers basically slapping a liberal sticker on conservative plots and characters, absolutely. I think that's why you see, time and time again, conservatives flocking to certain films, raving about the conservative undertones, and speculating about an ideological shift in Hollywood, only for things to never change.

ScottDS said...

I've never seen this film but I have to ask... if Carpenter's politics were unknown, or if another filmmaker had made this film, what conclusions would you draw?

The vibe I got from reading this was, "Oh, he's making the point that men and women are equal... i.e. women can be slobs and assholes, too!"

Speaking of Carpenter, I finally FINALLY watched They Live for the first time. Not exactly subtle, but it is a silly, fun movie and it's easy to see why it's become a cult classic. :-)

Also, Scream! Factory is releasing a new Blu-Ray of The Thing in a couple months. It appears to be one of the most comprehensive, jam-packed-full-of-extras release of a movie I have ever seen.

tryanmax said...

If Carpenter's politics were unknown, Hollywoid's political atmosphere would still be inferred. Carpenter just happens to be an exemplar.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I think that's absolutely right. Liberals make films using conservative ideas because those are the human default and then they try to make them appear liberal by tinkering with the facade. Carpenter does this a lot.

A great example is Escape from LA... a putrid followup to Escape from New York. The villain in this film is an evil "right wing" religious nut president who has taken over the US and turned LA into a sort of prison. His daughter has disappeared into LA and the president forces Snake Pliskin to go save her.

Anyways, here is what makes the villain a villain: he wants to force everyone to conform to his view of behavior (could be Religious Right, but as we have noted, they fit on the socialist left), and that behavior involves banning the eating of meat, banning smoking, and banning guns and a few more things.

So his views are socialist conformist combined with a strong dose of the current leftist PC culture, combined with the leftist hate of meat, smoking and guns. Yet, he's "right wing" because he's religious, even though he doesn't actually act like any known religion would dictate.


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, If we knew nothing of Carpenter's views, I would assume that the film was either (1) done exactly as I say, i.e. premised on the idea of a feminist world but the director had no idea how to represent that except for a handful of lines of dialog and casting women in the leadership roles, which lines reveal how confused he was, or (2) that this was essentially the director's attempt to make a science fiction S&M/Female Domination fantasy but almost all of those scenes ended up on the cutting room floor when the producers saw the mess he created.

I would not assume he was making the point that women can be just as bad as men. That doesn't come across as his intent at all.

To give you a sense of how poorly this film was done, the last two lines in the film have Ice Cube breaking the blonde chick out of jail and telling her that the ghosts have arrived in the main city. He says, "Let's go kick some ass." She responds, "That's what we do best." Only, they got their asses kicked. They did not win, they only escaped. Moreover, they learned they can't kill the ghosts. So basically, those two lines nullified the whole prior adventure. That's how poorly this thing is written.

I like They Live a lot, despite its politics.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughts...but it's kind of like criticizing a turd burger for its moldy bun.

Ultimately, I hate horror films that are just an exercise in futility (e.g., The Ring, The Grudge, Night of the Living Dead). Give me my money & 2 hours of my life back.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Sometimes the turds make the best discussions.

You should give The Others a try. It's different and really good. Kind of like The Sixth Sense in that it's a puzzle.

Unknown said...

When I first watched this film, in the cinema, I was surprised at the approaching-Hellraiser level of nastiness re the body piercing and mutilation perpetrated by the Martians.

It was also painfully obviously a Western, I just couldn't really place which one.

Ice whoever saying "the only difference between you and me is that you have The Woman backing up your bullshit" is the full extent of the coherence of its feminism.

It also features one of the all time classic acting moments where Revenge of the Nerds alumni bit player in this film says "the WAY youlikeyourcoffee" - a Shatneresque attempt to make the most of one line. :)

I like the premise, I like the nastiness of the Martians, I appreciate the effort to make a (typically false color red) Mars that seems like a real place.

It's a zombie western basically.

On the making-of / behind the scenes it's obvious Carpenter is absolutely pissed off 24/7, snarling at the videographers, yelling at the extras and generally being an ogre.

On the commentary with Henstridge (who had her husband cast as one of the cops) he is extremely complimentary of her but there is none of the warmth you hear in the Big Trouble commentary with his amigo and compadre Russell.

Anonymous said...

Turds, yes. Mold...eh.

The Others was decent. Nice twist. Generally speaking, I'm going to have some issues with ghost stories due to my theological views on the afterlife, but that movie was good for what it was.

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