I recently watched “Public Enemies.” It’s a new movie about the gangster life of John Dillinger. I’m not writing a review of it because it was boring, but it did remind me of a paper I wrote in college about the Maltese Falcon. My essay was called “Fedora = Condom?” and it discussed the idea that private dicks were in fact representations of dicks. When they had no hat on they were working for themselves and able to use harsher (Jack Bauer style) methods of interrogation, and only once they put on their fedoras did they become members of the actual police force – meaning they were safer from being accused of a crime themselves, but also able to get less done. Thus the fedora was a condom.
Public Enemies was attempting to hearken back to the noir movies of the early forties and did so very well, but that was the issue with it. There is a reason that noir movies stopped getting made the way they were. It wasn’t because people weren’t talented enough to make them anymore, it was because they got boring. So, we stopped making them. Not Michael Mann. He decided to just remake a bunch of old movies in one shitty, boring diatribe of sexism and cliche.
I said in my paper about the Maltese Falcon: “The woman uses love as a valid defense for lying, while the man uses duty as a defense for doing something that he ‘doesn’t want to do.'”
The female is an emotional creature unconvinced by logic and reason, but completely driven by her irrational emotions. The male, on the other hand, has to complete tasks and accomplish goals, and must be noble in doing all of this. This was the golden age of chivalry (aka sexism). In Public Enemies, Depp/Dillinger decides he wants a girl, and so he tells this woman that she’s gonna be “his girl.” He demands she follow him through his adventures of lawlessness, and he is looked upon as a hero for this.
I could go on about the absurd representations of the relationship and the gender roles within that relationship, but that would make my hypocrisy too obvious, and I like people to have to search to find the hypocrisies that I sprinkle throughout these posts. Instead I’m going to make a claim: Sexism is cliche.
At this point, I wasn’t even offended by the sexism because of how it represented women, or men, or how they should interact with each other because I found it so absurd and obvious that it was completely uninfluential, but rather I am annoyed as an actor, writer, and artist that someone could copy so many tropes from others and think it reasonable to show to an audience. The writer relied on generic gender roles to define a relationship without at all attempting to subvert the roles, or define new roles, or try anything that was tried and true.
So, fuck you Michael Mann, your sexism is soooooo early forties.
ADDITION: Just to prove that these problematic representations of women are affective at influencing our society I feel like I should tell this story.
Last summer I went to a bar with a friend. Not just any bar, but Drink. Drink is a bar mostly attended by people who spent most of high-school at the “cool” table, most of college drunk, and all of their life White. Drink is a bar that told one of my racially ambiguous friends that he wasn’t allowed in because his pants were “too baggy.” I don’t know why I was in Drink.
So, I’m at Drink with a friend, watching bros and hoes interacting. To our left is a largish man with a lack of chin and an excess of hair gel. His shirt was black with plasticy gold lettering on it that said: “King of all Angels.” I pointed it out to my friend, a theater and music kid since birth whose understanding of how to throw a ball would make any homophobic father disappointed and whose wardrobe was filled with clothes that were a mix of steam-punk and girl, and he took this as a cue to begin a conversation with the black and gold douche.
“King of all angels!” my womanly dressed compadre screamed. The bro turned and the two attempted a conversation.
“What’s it mean? The shirt?”
“Oh, I don’t know. But the bitches love it, they just start feeling up on it and shit.”
“You see this chick kissing up on this dude. What the fuck? She’s just living in some fantasy world, he doesn’t care about her, he doesn’t give a shit, she’s thinks he’s… y’know.”
“You don’t think the woman has any agency?”
And this is the attitude that movies like Public Enemies, Maltese Falcon, and Ironman promote. The promote strong men who can take care of women and women who can’t take care of themselves. So when a man is asked does a woman have any agency, first he doesn’t know what it means, but then doesn’t care because a woman doesn’t have much, so he says: “nahhh.”