The Weekly Pop: A Moment in Pop Culture Episode #2
All About "IT": Adaptations, Remakes, Franchises, and #MeTooWelcome people! We’re back with EPISODE 2! You can catch the full episode on YouTube right here or read it below. And, if you missed last week's episode, check it out, again, either here on the blog or on YouTube!
I appreciate a few people who reached out and said they liked the first episode and found it enjoyable and so I'm back with the next. This week's moment in pop culture was a scene from the 2017 film, It. Let's take a look at the scene that made me stop and think--which is what this series is about!
Ok, let's talk about It. Well, but before we can talk about the 2017 film, It, we've gotta do some backtracking. Now, this film is a remake of 1990s TV mini-series, which is an adaptation of one of Stephen King's more ginormous novels by the same name.
Right here--it’s HUGE!
To boot, the film has been made into 2 films with the second film to be released 2019.
By the way, naming your book after a common pronoun makes total sense for the story, but makes it horribly complicated to talk about. After all, each time I say "it", you have to wonder if I am talking about lower-case it--the pronoun, which I'm likely using to talk about the title, the capital-I "It".
The English language is ridiculously complicated and anyone who gets mad at people who are not native speakers can go take a long walk down the sewer with Pennywise--more on that, later!
So, we're dealing with a product of popular culture that is often triply damned. In idle conversation, I hear people lambast film adaptations of books, film remakes, and films that are extended beyond a single as signs of the apocalypse. Somehow, these things indicate that our culture has run empty. And people, I need to tell you--cut that mularkey out. Seriously--that argument is unoriginal because people have been doing this for hundreds of years--YES, hundreds of years.
Don't believe me? There's so many places to go with this, but let's go with some classic Greek. We have The Iliad and Odyssey written by that illustrious Homer--and I will save you from an overused Simpson joke here--except that I didn't--ooops. So Homer writes these 2 badass epic poems--and along comes the playwrights who decide they like this story so much, they are going to rewrite it repeatedly, make sequels, and even create a sequel trilogy--it's called the Oresteia--check it out.
So A few hundred years later, and the Romans are so into the act--they’re total fanboys and fangirls, if you would--that they decide to spin their own series off from Homer and call it the Aeneid--and just like The Force Awakens hits nearly every beat of A New Hope, so too does the Aeneid when compared to the Iliad.
And of course, we are still retelling those tales--you know how I first learned about the Odyssey--swear to the powers that be--I became familiar with and a fan of The Odyssey by watching Ducktales. I kid you not. Of course, I'm not talking about the remake of DuckTales but the original series from the 1990s. Woohoohu!
Of course, I don't have to reach back hundreds of years; I can look at the 20th century and point out that Frankenstein, the 1931 Boris Karloff--was a remake; Dracula with Bela Lugosi, remake, The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland--remake, The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart, remake--in fact, it was the third remake in a decade.
Seriously--there are so many damn remakes out there that you don't even realize are out there. And many of them are fascinating and interesting and curious. Remakes are not about an absence of ideas but rethinking old ideas in a new world. The Frankenstein that Thomas Edison told in 1915 is profoundly different than the one that was told in 1931 and that was deeply different from the few dozen that have been remade since.
Then,, there's the issue of adaptations that we also have to address--and as I already mention Homer's epic poem got turned into plays; Frankenstein, Dracula, and Jekyll and Hyde all became plays in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Adapting fiction to other forms has not only regularly happened but again has been some of the most amazing and most popular films ever made and that was the case well before the present. As I already mentioned, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Maltese Falcon, The Wizard of Oz--they were all books first. James Bond--books series. Psycho was a book by Robert Bloch. Rosemary's Baby--also a book; I know--I'm talking a lot about horror films but since I started with It--they're on my mind.
Some other examples:
The War of the Worlds; The Outsiders; The Color Purple; The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Fight Club; and Let the Right One In.
Adapting fiction into film makes total sense; because all films start out as scripts--written works and therefore, making the transference is easy and as history shows us--good books often make good films.
I can’t tell you whether the book or the Swedish film version of Let The Right One In is better-they’re both amazing.
The final issue--franchising a film. Yes, it's influenced by moneyed interest but let's face it, we love our characters--we love our stories. Again, we saw this with the spinoffs from Homer's work and that continues all the way to Dante who writes his Inferno and it's a who's who not only of Italy but of biblical and epic characters. That's again, part of our enjoyment is to see what new stories can be spun about the worlds we love. It's why despite significant criticisms I have for Disney, I'm still impressed with how Disney has managed to capture this for adults with the Marvel and Star Wars universes.
All of that is preface to say that in talking about It, I don't have issues with it being a remake, an adaptation or a franchise. That is perfectly normal and intriguing for me. I think remakes and adaptations open up interesting reflections of culture and possible opportunities to compare and contrast what each time does within a given work; it's one of the coolest ways to have a point of comparison.
Ok--back to the film. I started all of this with that clip from It. The female among the group, Beverly Marsh, who within the film has had sex thrust upon her. Her father sexually abuses her while her peers sexually harass her--implicating that she is a slut, despite her claims of innocence. She has joined up with these group of boys--it's emphasized that they are boys, while she is stuck in the space of "not a girl, but not quite a woman". So even among The Losers, the group of protagonists’ self-proclaimed name, she is an outsider. This becomes further evident in a scene where the boys strip down to their underwear to jump into a rock quarry and Beverly strips down to underwear and a bra. She is developing, while they are still prepubescent.
So we have a young woman who has been sexually assaulted, sexually harassed and made outsider even among a group of outsiders. She is also the one that the villain, Pennywise kidnaps--to which the boys must rally and go save. Thus, the scene you're watching is them coming upon Beverly, who is floating and all deadeyed.
They lower her down and they are trying to figure out how to wake her--how to save her. They yell, that doesn't work. They give her shake. That doesn't work. So Ben, the blond haired boy in the scene, kisses her--and somehow that awakens her. With her awaken, the team can defeat Pennywise, for now.
The scene evokes memories of Sleeping Beauty wherein the woman has been sent into an impenetrable sleep and only the kiss of a noble person, in this case, Ben, will awaken her. Of course, this flies in the face of a different scene from Stephen King's novel that neither this film nor the 1990 film was ready to grapple with but I'll leave you to google that or read the original novel--which is good--the novel; the moment I’m referring to...not so much.
OK, the scene as I watched it, did not sit right with me. And it made me think about all the ways in which popular culture informs how we learn how to interact with those we are sexually or romantically attracted to, how we court them, and how we pursue long-term, serious, and casual relationships. It made me think of the #MeToo movement and the discussion around it, where it has become clear how often and what direct, indirect, and microaggressive ways that women are sexually maligned, harassed, and assaulted. So how do we think about this scene in a world of #MeToo?
Pop culture from novels to TV shows to music to --hell, even to commercials--regularly present us with how attraction should and shouldn’t work. What it means to show interest, what it means to flirt, what it means to try to court someone, what it means to date someone, what it means to make the first sexual contact….we can all call upon a million examples that cover this. This is often where we take our cues from or just learn about what it means to start some kind of relationship with someone.
And then we have this scene. Ben is romantically interested in Beverly, but her attention is largely more focused on Bill, the protagonist among them. He also is a heavy set kid--which sets him physically apart from the other kids who are all skinny by comparison; he is the token “fat kid.” Films often do that with a cast of kids; there’s one that is on the heavier side and so much of his/her/their identity is defined within that; he/she/they must be made fun of at some point, their weight often serves as an obstacle, and he/she/they are the usually only one. Sometimes, they are presented as “the funny one”--but they are rarely the center of attraction within a story. As someone that grew up as a fat-kid, it’s been something that I regularly saw.
On a side note, a good book and OK movie to check out is Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going. I appreciated that book a lot, especially the opening scene, which was powerful and resonated with me a lot.
So hold those 2 things in our head: pop culture tells us all about relationships; and in “It” we have a prepubescent boy romantically interested in a catatonic young woman.
And in this scene, the only conceivable way for Ben to awaken this young catatonic woman besides shaking her and yelling her name, is to kiss her. That is, to sexually assault her.
But it was just a kiss, I hear you say. It was just a kiss by a chubby boy who never had a chance (as the film conclusion shows us) and look--it worked! It was innocent. But I'm not sure that really matters. Or rather, it matters and it should concern us because the film is telling us that this is ok.
The film is telling young men and boys--and yes, they will see this movie, even if it is Rated “R”. If I was watching Psycho, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th by the time I was 9 years old in the age of videotape--you can be damn sure, kids and teens are watching R-Rated--hell, they’re watching X-Rated materials by the same age in the world of internet access.
But the film is telling young men and boys, that when a young woman is catatonic--when a young woman has no control of her body--they can--or should take advantage of the situation to “awaken” her--or even save her.
Now, I’m not saying this and thinking this was the intention of the creators--be it the filmmakers or Stephen King. He is often a progressive voice who advocates feminist ideas (sometimes to varying or problematic effects in his work, but certainly as a public figure--check him out on Twitter!). They are not necessarily thinking about or always fully aware of the connotations of their work because they are often just as deeply entrenched in the culture as the rest of us are and therefore, it can be hard to see what they might be suggesting.
What I am saying is that just like so many other scenes within pop culture influence our sense of what romantic and sexual relations look like--this one will also influence us.
Especially today. In the age of the #MeToo movement, I can’t help but look at this scene and think about how it communicates a complicitness of such things. 5 boys standing around a catatonic young woman and the most logical action to take is to kiss her. What happens in 8 years when they’re 5 young men at a party? The moment evokes the concept of rape culture.
For those not familiar with the term, rape culture, I’ve got another recommendation for you: Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture - And What We Can Do about It by Kate Harding. Check it out--it’s an eye-opener for many people and an affirmation to experiences by way too many people in our society.
The premise of rape culture is we live in a society whose structure accepts, if not promotes, rape as a feature of it. This happens in large part because despite what we may be told about previous waves of gender-based equality, social structures still often encourage a discourse where men are the aggressor to the point that their actions are not even seen as transgressive but perfectly natural and that girls, women, and trans folk need to adhere and/or protect themselves from this acceptance.
So rape culture is disbelieving women who say they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. It’s also when we ask “what was she wearing?” Rape culture is when we tell females how “not to get raped” constantly, but rarely tell males, “Don’t rape or don’t allow others to rape” with the same vigilance. Rape culture is when we tell girls that the boy who is picking on her is doing it because he likes her--connecting harassment with affection. And yes, rape culture is also portraying a young boy kissing a catatonic young woman as an appropriate means of “saving” her.
Whew--that's a lot to think about. So I'm going to bring it to an end here and give you some time to process.
We've covered a lot today--we talked about adaptations, remakes, franchises, and It as an example of all three. We had a brief discussion of the “fat kid” trope. We've also delved into thinking about how gender and relationships are depicted in popular culture and how it contributes to our understanding of #MeToo and sexual harassment and assault. So I'll leave with just this thought: Where else have you seen scenes like this?
I know I can think of many over the decades, but what about you? Start keeping an eye out and try to sit with such scenes to see what the connotation is and how we should make sense of it in the present world.
Thanks everyone! See you next week!
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