So, this past weekend I saw Spring Breakers. Familiar with it? If not, check out the trailer here.
And here's how the film is described on IMDB, "Four college girls who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation find themselves bailed out by a drug and arms dealer who wants them to do some dirty work."
Let me say from the outset: there is certainly a lot that a feminist blogger could tackle about this film. In particular, the race elements deserve a lot of attention and critique. However, I will leave it to Aisha Harris at Slate to give you a good run down of that.
What I am focused on is how I think that Spring Breakers is a perfect example of how male filmmakers exploit women in their storytelling.
Let me back up for a moment.
When I saw Spring Breakers on Friday night, I didn't really know what I immediately felt. I realized that the director, Harmony Korine, is known for his bleak depictions of things, so I wasn't surprised that the story was so gritty. Its style was engaging to me and ethereal in parts, which was certainly an interesting contrast to the horrific nature of the stuff on screen.
But beyond the style, the more I began to think about it, the more that I realized something was bothering me about the film, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I heard a few opinions here and there--mostly a bunch of my male Facebook friends posting about how it was so amazing and they loved it. And amongst the ideas shared was that Korine was intentionally pointing out just how fucked up the spring break lifestyle can be. I went back in forth in my own mind about what I saw. On one hand, there was a ton of female objectification. Korine takes his viewers through stereotypical spring break scenes like men pouring beers held at their groin area down into the mouths of naked women at their feet. But on the other hand, two of the four girls end up taking a lot of control at the end and go out guns blazing (literally.) They're not doe-eyed innocents, passive in their situation. They do display agency--but something still didn't feel right.
I finally found what bothered me about it all when I got around to Googling "Spring Breakers feminist." I came across a few things that beautifully summarized what I was thinking. First, we have NPR's David Edelstein. He said,
Korine is an art-house darling and doubtless thinks he's parodying girls-gone-wild pictures while delivering one that's like Where the Boys Are on acid. It's among the skeeviest films I've ever seen: The camera glides up, down and around these women's bodies like a giant tongue.
Hudgens, Benson and Gomez are good actresses and manage to convey genuine emotion — especially Gomez as the hitherto obedient Catholic girl. But what's clearly their attempt to free themselves from the shackles of corporate teen celebrity backfires. Korine exploits them more than their Disney overlords ever did.Nathan Givens expands on Edelstein's review and actually compares Korine to pornography directors. He said,
So the problem is not the female body or nudity, but that doesn’t mean that all nudity or clothing is innoccuous [sic]. Spring Breakers does not merely depict the naked female form, but rather obsesses on it. Remember Edelstein’s friend’s quote about the camera being a tongue? Gross, but vivid and accurate. Nudity is not intrinsically sexual (shouldn’t be, anyway), but Spring Breakers isn’t just nudity. The young stars are not merely being neutrally depicted, they are being packaged for sexualized consumption. That is the reason that no matter how much Korine (director) or his young stars might have been trying to strike a blow for liberation they have only succeeded in contributing to the objectification of women.
[Emphasis mine.]I'd like to avoid the whole pornography as exploitation vs. empowerment general debate for a moment and just talk about how Spring Breakers, in specific, treats its female subjects.
What it comes down to for me is that the the women aren't the storytellers, so it's very hard to make the claim that there is an authentic, empowering female voice. In my view, no matter how sympathetic and/or kick ass they might be at certain moments in the film, they are ultimately puppets in Korine's voyeuristic world.
I get that it's his "thing" to show the seedy underbelly of life, but let's be honest: these stories do not exist in a vacuum; they come out of the deeply misogynistic cultural content in which we all operate and they are viewed by your average person who carries all of that misogynistic baggage with them. This average viewer may or may not engage in any critical thought beyond consuming the exploitative images. In this context, it's very hard to see how Spring Breaker's is any different from any other exploitative text. All in all, the prevailing theme just left me feeling dirty.
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