Garwulf's Corner

Garwulf's Corner
Resurrection! (Along with Some Gender-Flipping)

Robert B. Marks | 28 Sep 2016 16:00
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"I'm back!"
"That didn't take long."
"That happens when you've got a time machine, my dear."

- Not Doctor Who or William Hartnell

Isn't it wonderful when an ending turns into a hiatus?

That's right my dear readers, your eyes do not deceive you - Garwulf's Corner is back in its usual spot, running on its usual schedule. The fact is that I've missed writing about pop culture, as well as the marketplace of ideas that we were able to carve out of the many battlefields of the culture war, and most of all, I've missed my readers. There are some changes, though.

This time around, I'm not being paid by The Escapist. This run of the column is being paid for by the support of readers like you, over at this Patreon (and, as with the Patreon for Erin Dies Alone, none of the money from it goes to The Escapist - it all comes to me, and, yes, this was my idea). The column will run for a few weeks to see if we can get the Patreon up to a critical mass, and assuming it gets there (and I hope it does), it will keep going until I run out of things to say on pop culture (which will probably take a good, long while).

If you want to see more Garwulf's Corner and you have the ability, please go to the Patreon and contribute, even if it is only a dollar or two per month. And, the more support you provide, the more we can do - we have plans, you see...wonderful plans...but we need your help to get there. To steal a phrase used by Loading Ready Run, as of right now Garwulf's Corner is brought to you by you.

So, that bit of business taken care of, let's throw around some ideas. And let's start with gender-flipping.

I've written about gender-flipped characters and movies before, back in installment #9, which was about the Ghostbusters remake. But while the critical response to that movie suggests that it happily avoided the old movie producer joke of "It's X, but they're all women!" this still leaves a lot of movies where the gender-flipping of characters is little more than a gimmick.

And, it looks like this approach may be about to backfire in a major way. Back in August, it was announced that Rebel Wilson was set to star in a gender-flipped remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, in which two female con artists compete to scam a male victim (in this version, a tech prodigy). The main takeaway from this news may be that whoever made the decision to gender-flip the remake had never seen the movie, or at least sat through it long enough to watch the last twenty minutes.

For those who haven't seen it (and if you haven't, in all seriousness, go look it up - it's a great movie), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels revolves around two male con artists on the French Riviera (played by Michael Caine and Steve Martin) who specialize in fleecing women. They enter into a contest - whoever is the first to extract $50,000 from a naive young lady known as the "Soap Queen" (played by Glenne Headly), gets to stay and continue to work the Riviera, while the other has to leave. The two torture and sabotage each other, each vying for the Soap Queen's affections, and then the movie takes a delightful turn: the Soap Queen is, in fact, a con artist herself, and a lot better at it than they are - she fleeces them for $50,000.

It's a great twist, and it leaves the movie playing at least as well today as it did when it was released, if not better. There's huge amounts of schadenfreude in watching these two scummy chauvinists inflict suffering on each other, and then get exactly what they deserve. It also means that a gender-flipped remake ends up massively misogynist, with a "man showing the upstart women how things are really done" plot that was considered patronizing and sexist by the time the early 1980s had rolled around.

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To be fair, in certain cases gender-flipped characters really work - as I mentioned in "Gimmick Busters," Katee Sackhoff's gender-flipped Starbuck ended up a better and more memorable character than Dirk Benedict's original. But if there's a rule to a successful gender-flip, it is that it cannot be a gimmick. It has to add something that wasn't there before, bringing out new facets that elevate the story as a whole.

Unfortunately, all too often the gimmick is the rule, rather than the exception. It's lazy storytelling in the guise of progressive storytelling, and this disguise is a problem.

People tend to defend societal progress, and with good cause. Many of the most important social changes in the last century came at the cost of great sacrifice, from the suffragettes fighting for the right to vote to the Civil Rights movement's battle against racism. By presenting gender-flipped characters as part of progressiveness, this makes the trend difficult to challenge without appearing as though you are trying to turn the clock back to the bad old days.

But lazy storytelling is still lazy storytelling, and gender-flipping a pre-existing character is not as good as
creating a brand new one. Great characters are defined by their personality and their impact on the plot, not their genitalia. Great roles for female actors are created by solid writing that gives the character room to become alive and grow as a person, not by existing in a previous version of the story as an male character. And, most of all, progressiveness is never an excuse - or a defence - for bad, lazy writing.


Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, and Garwulf's Corner. His newest book, An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture, is coming out on October 15th, and is available for pre-order in print and Kindle formats. He also has a Livejournal and is on Facebook.

Garwulf's Corner is made possible by the support of readers like you (and yes, I know this sounds like a PBS pledge break, and it was absolutely not written by a PBS employee being held as a political prisoner at the North Pole by our wonderful Inuit with their laser eyes). If you would like to see more content like this, please visit the Patreon, and if you can, contribute.

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