The Contradiction of April O'Neil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Contradiction of April O'Neil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Though April is the most prominent female character in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, does that make her a strong female character?

Read Full Article

Hm...I'm trying to remember April in the comic series published by Archie Comics, and my memory is too faulty for me to be sure but I don't think she comes off well there, either. I know once the character design ditched the jumpsuit for jeans and a T-shirt, she started ninja training and fought beside the Turtles in sword fights n shit, and though the series made a point of telling us every guy who knew her name hit on her and asked her out on dates, she never took those dates because she was married to her job. I even remember a story arc about her saving her boyfriend from a mutant dog trying to summon a Japanese demon.

That storyarc I just mentioned also introduced a female mutant fox who became Raphael's girlfriend fucking immediately, and as best my spotty recollection provides, April kind of stopped being in the comic at that point. I think maybe Ninjara replaced April's function in the book.

If memory serves the 2007 CG TMNT actually had a pretty strong April as well. She actually finally had the sense to learn some martial arts herself apparently, and fights alongside the turtles in that one.

You just, in dead serious earnest, wrote that the new April O'Neil is a strong female character except that she's attractive and guys are attracted to her - thereby excluding her from qualifying. "Almost." But no cigar. You're basically saying that being pretty makes you weak.

I find this attitude far more troublesome than a little ogling.

I think Devin Faraci from Badass Digest put it best.
http://badassdigest.com/2014/08/05/teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-movie-review-heroes-on-the-hack-shell/

But the turtles end up crowded out of their own picture, sidelined by April O'Neil, who takes center stage. It's weird; I like the idea of the female character getting more to do, but the movie's title is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Coming into the story through her POV makes a bit of sense (the movie, for some reason, plays the turtles as a reveal) but staying there? All the way through the last scene of the film?

She's a good protagonist in a movie that completely sidelines the main characters. And since she isn't the one doing ninjutsu, there's this huge disconnect/tone shift whenever her part's on screen and when the Turtles are on screen. 'She' cares more about where the Turtles came from than the Turtles themselves (not one of them display curiosity past Splinter's word.)

Pyrian:
You're basically saying that being pretty makes you weak.

Would you mind quoting the line or lines you're getting that from? Because I'm not seeing that. I see several bits where the author complains about how the movie seems more interested in inviting the audience to leer and thereby make issue of her sexuality than it ought to be, but that's it.

I also am not sure how you mean "weak." Are you referring to the character's abilities, or to the characterization displayed by the movie? If the former, would you mind quoting me the lines that lead you to that conclusion as well?

JimB:

Pyrian:
You're basically saying that being pretty makes you weak.

Would you mind quoting the line or lines you're getting that from?

Sure. Let's start with the fact that, other than being pretty, she's a "strong female character":

Yes, you heard right. Megan Fox in a Michael Bay production is a Strong Female Character.

I would also cite the entire preceding paragraph, but I will not copy it here. He makes it very clear that in terms of her actions and role within the movie, she's a Strong Female Character. ...Except not:

The very next paragraph consists entirely of "Almost." This means that she is NOT a "Strong Female Character" (author's term, not mine) because that's what "almost" means: that you got close, but didn't make it.

So, why is it almost, instead of, say, mostly, or something else in addition? Well, the next two paragraphs explain, and it's entirely because she's pretty and people notice:

For all its admirable work in this regard, the flick can't help but remind us that, yes, Megan Fox is a girl and, oh, boy, have a look at her.

So, she's not a "Strong Female Character" (i.e. she's weak) and it's entirely because she's pretty and people notice. Which means he wrote that being noticeably pretty automatically and in itself precludes you from being strong (I'm assuming it doesn't exclude you from being female or a character).

That's... Awful. And it's also extremely clear from the text and I frankly can't imagine where your confusion could be coming from.

JimB:
I also am not sure how you mean "weak."

Well, that depends on what the article's author meant by "Strong Female Character" (he does not elaborate except in the already cited text), but I think it's a major problem no matter how you take that phrase.

Pyrian:
So, why is it almost, instead of, say, mostly, or something else in addition? Well, the next two paragraphs explain, and it's entirely because she's pretty and people notice:

I think you might be making the mistake of treating the movie like reality. No one is really noticing April O'Neil is pretty. The problem is that in this entirely artificial and fictional situation, fictional characters are being forced by writers to notice how pretty she is, and the audience is being forced to notice it with lingering camera shots of her ass and whatever else he mentioned (I did not see the movie and do not intend to, so I am only providing my understanding of the author's complaints, not speaking for their veracity). In the real world, yes, a woman's sexual appeal has nothing to do with the kind of person she is, but in fiction, her characterization is damaged whenever we are invited to view her not as a subject but as an object seen through the lens of another's desires. It certainly doesn't help that the desire in question is a desire to pee in her butthole.

Pyrian:
So, she's not a "Strong Female Character" (i.e. she's weak) and it's entirely because she's pretty and people notice.

I feel like a lot of problems in these recurring discussions could be solved with a comma. "Strong, female character" means something rather different than "strong female character." I don't think the author's intent is to focus on April's strength, particularly since he never defines what either strength or weakness are. I think it's to focus on the strength of her characterization.

JimB:
I feel like a lot of problems in these recurring discussions could be solved with a comma. "Strong, female character" means something rather different than "strong female character." I don't think the author's intent is to focus on April's strength, particularly since he never defines what either strength or weakness are. I think it's to focus on the strength of her characterization.

This is actually a really great point. Note, however, that you need a correct use of a hyphen, not a comma. See hyphenated, compound, or phrasal adjectives See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compound_modifier

A strong female character is correct for our conversation. It is a character that is strong (however that is defined) and female (e.g. Ripley, Clarice from Silence of the Lambs).

A strong-female character is a character that is a strong woman (e.g. Power Girl, Wonder Woman, Titania, Supergirl, She-hulk).

ReverendBob:
A strong female character is correct for our conversation.

I think a comma would clarify that "strong" is not being used as an adverb to modify "female," but is rather one of two adjectives modifying "character." I'm glad you like the underlying sentiment whether or not you agree with my approach to it, though.

I don't think this film warrants much deeper thought and analysis. I don't think half as much thought went into the film as went into your article about it. The movie is bad because it feels like it was made by a retarded 12 year old, i think most of it stems from everyone involved with it having a distrait for the source material and lacking the requisite brain power not to make something insulting to your intelligence. It is a dumb, worthless pile of crap I'm not going near. It's like analyzing someone smearing their own shit on the walls.

Three things:

1)"Strong" in this context is mainly applying to her character and how she contributes to the story. Unless there's a scene where she has to, say, pick up Leo's katana and stealthily shove it in Shredder's armor to disable him, physical strength is not the focus and by rights makes sense for this particular story - she's not a ninja, has no combat training, and has virtually no chance lasting in a direct fight, which is fine. What makes her a better character is how she *works around that particular handicap* to help out. That plays to her gutsy, proactive nature. In fact, that's the key word - not "strong" but "proactive" - she's outmatched but she refuses to be a victim and let others solve her problems. Hell, we bash her for Transformers, but I distinctly remember the climax of #1 where she hooks up Bumblebee to a pickup truck and drives him around so he can continue fighting. Again, not a soldier, probably doesn't know how to use military tech, but she still helps however she can.

2)The whole "pretty = weak" is not the argument: it's objectification. Sure she's attractive - 99% of actors in Hollywood have their jobs because they're nice to look at - but no one seems to acknowledge her beyond that. For God's sake, Vernon would rather ogle her ass than *warn her against impending danger.* I'm sure it was supposed to be funny, but it's also nonsensical and makes him a terrible character. Also, reading that "shell tightening" made me literally, physically cringe and not just because this is Mikey we're talking about. The author's idea of "Almost" was that the film, for all the positive development it (apparently) gives her, it still needs to treat her like a sexual object. To be honest, I'm not sure if that's 100% wrong were it in another context, especially if they play that as that character's particular strength (Game Overthinker Bob did an interesting bit on how Bayanetta is progressive because she *owns* her sexuality), but this is supposed to be a kid's movie - it's got Nickelodeon's seal on it - and it could very well be sending the wrong message for both sexes.

3)I just saw a clip of an interview of Fox going on about how Vanilla Ice should've been on the soundtrack. I'm not 100% sure if that's just the studio telling her to hype things or something (though that's kind've degrading the actual soundtrack), but between this and that bit where she wants to play a live-action Sailor Moon and I'm starting to wonder if maybe we don't have the complete picture of her or, worse, if she can't let us see it because she's been convinced her only assets are the T&A. I read too much into things, sure, but, while I don't believe she's a stellar actress, I wonder if there's more to her that if she let it out would make her far better.

So...

Not to be that guy, but...

Isn't it worse that the male characters are the ones objectifying the female character? I mean, we want to have strong female characters that are more than a pretty ass, but don't we also want strong male characters that are more than just horny idiots too?

Daaaah Whoosh:
So...

Not to be that guy, but...

Isn't it worse that the male characters are the ones objectifying the female character? I mean, we want to have strong female characters that are more than a pretty ass, but don't we also want strong male characters that are more than just horny idiots too?

I agree in that it just needs to plain stop for the sake of both genders.

Daaaah Whoosh:
So...

Not to be that guy, but...

Isn't it worse that the male characters are the ones objectifying the female character? I mean, we want to have strong female characters that are more than a pretty ass, but don't we also want strong male characters that are more than just horny idiots too?

I think it's more that the scene is shot as if we're supposed to ogle her ass (I haven't seen the movie, but that's how the author described it), which degrades the female character and not the male characters around her. If if was shot from the front (we see that Vernon has a clear view of her ass, and we can see his facial expression) or didn't linger (just to briefly show what Vernon was seeing, without actually filming from his POV) it wouldn't be much of a problem. Sounds more like the director shot the scene as he did for the sake of getting some tasty ass on screen rather than framing the characters.

But yeah, I'm also sick of horny idiot characters too. It's not funny, it's sad.

2003 cartoon has April as a scientist who is a non-action girl, but she is an asset to the team nonetheless, acting as the team hacker either in collab with Donnie or replacing him when he has to take the action and actively helping turtles. And there's no interspecies love interest bullshit because her romance is not with the turtles, but with Casey Jones, whom she ends up marrying. And she also starts getting ninjitsu lessons from Splinter. She goes through a lot and gets some development, which I think makes for a strong female character.

This is why female characters will never be "good enough", people keep over-analyzing every single one. That's why Ellie from TLoU had people saying she wasn't strong and independent enough despite already being made unrealisticly capable in every way for a 14 year old. Everyone has to nitpick.

In this case, I don't see why a "strong character" and being sexually appealing is mutually exclusive as things seem to imply, but the article puts more thought into a Bay movie more than it deserves.

This is going to sound blunt, but.... it's Megan Fox. The very fact it's Megan Fox automatically disproves her as a Strong Female Character. Any woman who looks more like a L'Orčal advertisement than a real woman is never meant to be more than eyecandy. It's like with Scarlet Johansson: they try to sell us the Black Widow as strong and independent, but the REAL reason she's there is to look really pretty.

heWizard:
Fox's involvement seemed to indicate that the beloved no-bullshit, go-getter reporter would be reduced to a piece of eye candy; a damsel in distress waiting to happen.

So? That's basically all April O'Neal has been in most of the TMNT media she's been in, a damsel in distress that everybody else in the cast has to go out of their way to save all the time, and in the few where she isn't she doesn't start out that way and has to grow into being competent. Also, eyecandy? That's another given.

It's like if they made a faithful Super Mario movie and everybody complained that Princess Peach doesn't do anything but get kidnapped over and over. I mean, what do you expect?

8bitOwl:
It's like with Scarlet Johansson: they try to sell us the Black Widow as strong and independent, but the REAL reason she's there is to look really pretty.

Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow does a good job of coming off as being a good strong female character in spite of also being eyecandy at the same time is the difference, in fact BW being eyecandy is barely focused on at all. By contrast Megan Fox has never been anything but total eye candy in everything she's ever been in, they don't even TRY to make her look like she's there to be anything else.

Johansson's Black Widow is one of the few examples that exist which show that female character can be strong and independent and look good at the same time, Megan Fox's characters are as far on the other side of the spectrum as one can get and still fill the eyecandy part.

immortalfrieza:

8bitOwl:
It's like with Scarlet Johansson: they try to sell us the Black Widow as strong and independent, but the REAL reason she's there is to look really pretty.

Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow does a good job of coming off as being a good strong female character in spite of also being eyecandy at the same time is the difference, in fact BW being eyecandy is barely focused on at all. By contrast Megan Fox has never been anything but total eye candy in everything she's ever been in, they don't even TRY to make her look like she's there to be anything else.

Johansson's Black Widow is one of the few examples that exist which show that female character can be strong and independent and look good at the same time, Megan Fox's characters are as far on the other side of the spectrum as one can get and still fill the eyecandy part.

Let's just say this is not how I feel about Scarlett Johansson, at all. She can portray the slutty seductress part really well. She can't portray anything else. She tries to look strong - but what I see is only sexyness with a flavour of strength.
Basically Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow is the equivalent of those sexy Halloween costumes, you know, where there's sexy-werewolf or sexy-zombie... and the focus is only on the sexy, they're barely a werewolf or a zombie. See, Johansson is exactly like that: she's sexy-spy, the kinky Halloween costume.

Long story short: I hate that actress, sorry.

immortalfrieza:
So? That's basically all April O'Neal has been in most of the TMNT media she's been in, a damsel in distress that everybody else in the cast has to go out of their way to save all the time, and in the few where she isn't she doesn't start out that way and has to grow into being competent. Also, eyecandy? That's another given.

It's like if they made a faithful Super Mario movie and everybody complained that Princess Peach doesn't do anything but get kidnapped over and over. I mean, what do you expect?

If you had kept reading you would know that this is the point of the article.

heWizard:

immortalfrieza:
So? That's basically all April O'Neal has been in most of the TMNT media she's been in, a damsel in distress that everybody else in the cast has to go out of their way to save all the time, and in the few where she isn't she doesn't start out that way and has to grow into being competent. Also, eyecandy? That's another given.

It's like if they made a faithful Super Mario movie and everybody complained that Princess Peach doesn't do anything but get kidnapped over and over. I mean, what do you expect?

If you had kept reading you would know that this is the point of the article.

No, you then go on to write that she's been a contradiction between a strong female character and token hostage and that we should expect more out of April O'Neil, when I'm saying that being just that is the core of her character and that we shouldn't expect more than that out of anything half faithful to her character.

What bothers me is that you (and many other people) consider "peril" as something purely physical. Like being kidnapped, or attacked by someone. As if strength is purely a physical thing. As if you cannot be a strong person unless you can kick someone's ass.
What about emotional peril? As far as I remember, Raphael goes very often into emotional holes. Why isn't he consider a *whatever the fancy word for male is* in distress? Why isn't he considered a weak character? Just a tough brute, who every now and then needs saving from his depressions?

I always saw her as the audience stand in character. Kind of like the normal agent guy in Hellboy. Or the doctor lady in Blade. It's a pretty common narrative convention. Your introduction to the world so things can be explained. As for the old TV show. They don't really do anything. I never really saw sex as an issue with that kind of character. If you are trying to construct a complex narrative, then sure. But this is a couple of pop corn action films, a kids tv show from the 90's and the original comic. (Where it seems she had a developed character. She was their helper and represented us at home. She might not have been strong or capable but you could relate to her and her sex was not important. Anything over that is bad narrative. She is a side character. The turtles was the ultimate boys club and she was the kid sister who gets to tag along sometimes and help out.

immortalfrieza:
I'm saying that being just [a damsel in distress] is the core of her character and that we shouldn't expect more than that out of anything half-faithful to her character.

A character is measured by what she does, not by what others do to her. A character defined by what others do to her isn't properly a character at all, but an object.

JimB:

immortalfrieza:
I'm saying that being just [a damsel in distress] is the core of her character and that we shouldn't expect more than that out of anything half-faithful to her character.

A character is measured by what she does, not by what others do to her. A character defined by what others do to her isn't properly a character at all, but an object.

In that sense she's kind've half a character. There's not doubt in her incarnations as a reporter that she's pretty gutsy - she goes out and gets the story by any means. Hell, the very first episode of the 1980's cartoon has her using a radio device the turtles gave her and threatening her boss by claiming it's a friggin' bomb unless she can be allowed do some investigating. Wildly irresponsible and certainly grounds for getting her fired, but gutsy all the same.

The problem I think is that she's stuck in development. Being saved from an overwhelming situation makes sense once or twice in the beginning, but sooner or later she had to have realized there would come a time when she couldn't rely on the turtles and needed to find a way to fend for herself. Later incarnations fix that by having her learn martial arts and defending herself from the forces that originally would have crippled her. That's not just a good thing in the sense of physical strength - it makes her a better person because she's taking steps to improve herself and become more independent like a rational person would do rather than dead-weight who expects others to solve her problems for her.

Not "strong" per se but "proactive."

JimB:

A character is measured by what she does, not by what others do to her. A character defined by what others do to her isn't properly a character at all, but an object.

There are plenty of characters throughout all of fiction that are defined by how other characters treat them and are no less valid characters for it. April O'Neil is defined by largely having little other purpose beyond being a hostage for heroes to save, it's central to her character and always has been.

immortalfrieza:
There are plenty of characters throughout all of fiction that are defined by how other characters treat them and are no less valid characters for it.

How do you define the word "character," immortalfrieza?

Also, sorry to be this guy, but it's kind of driving me crazy: her surname is not spelled with an A. It's "O'Neil."

JimB:

How do you define the word "character," immortalfrieza?

First, how do you define the word "character" or "object" for that matter?

As for me, I could go into a long rambling explanation, but to put it simply any fictional person in any media that has any lines, actions, or other presence of note. They all are valid in their own way, not all necessarily good per se but all valid.

Also, for examples of characters which are defined by what other people and the world do to them instead of what they do for the most part, check a few TVtropes pages:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ButtMonkey

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AttentionWhore

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FakeUltimateHero

and of course, for many more characters just like O'Neil (happy?):

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DesignatedVictim

...and that's just off the top of my head.

My basic attitude is that in heroic fantasy where most characters are one type of ideal or another, it's not so much a girl being oogled or not that makes her a "strong character" but how she reacts to it. There is no one "right" way to do it and be strong, as a girl can be strong doing everything from ignoring it, to giving scathing put downs, to playing the temptress, it all comes down to how well written she is and what she does other than act as eye candy (or if she's eye candy, how she goes about pulling that off, since that can actually be empowering as well).

That said, I'll say that at 39 I'm just old enough and a big enough nerd where I can say I both actually read the old Black and White comics, and played the Palladium RPG based on them (fairly heavily in fact). While I am in a distinct minority, I actually felt that version of "The Turtle" was actually better, not so much because it was darker but because it seemed to be better put together, thought out, and constructed as far as such things go. At the time The Turtles were hitting the cartoons and became a huge success, beyond anything they did in an obscure comic book, I was getting smart/wary enough to be sort of put off by the whole thing, especially seeing as it was pretty easy to see the mass merchandising involved, and some of the things like the "Turtle Van" just outright annoyed me. The Turtles as a concept seemed to always work better to me as a sort of urban legend, and being fairly frightening monsters in appearance (I mean seriously, a humanoid mutant turtle would be kind of freaky, they had things like that in the D&D monster manual... and I believe it's pretty close to the description of a Kappa from Japanese mythology to boot). While they made some mild pretensions of hiding in the sewers, them dragging a reporter around while they tear up the streets in a brightly colored van covered in shells, with guns hanging off the side, just never seemed right to me.

At any rate, I'll be blunt in saying that I do not think the version of "April" from the cartoon could really be considered a strong female character. Overall it always seemed to me that she was extraneous to the plot, and while she wasn't always a damsel, she seemed to largely operate as a foil and build in plot/information source. While some attempts were made to do things with her, and she was always there, I always felt she was kind of a part of the scene dressing.

In the old comics, April wasn't present as much, but she actually served an important role by acting as a sort of bridge between normality and the fantastic. Her initial background aside she was fundamentally just a girl with an antique shop who was decent with computers and once ran into a nut. By all rights she could have walked away from the turtles and would have every reason to do so, but she didn't, compared to the comic version where one can argue that April's entire career is based around the fact that she knows the turtles, and honestly I've kind of wondered if she would have really ever been anyone without them. What's more in the original comics things are pretty dark, people die, the bad guys are not always portrayed as being total buffoons, and the turtles are pretty scary looking (and at least one of them is arguably a sociopath... yes Raphael I'm talking about you). In the cartoon the bad guys are almost laughably incompetent, the turtles are a bunch of brightly colored pizza swilling clowns who it is hard to be scared of (being re-designed to appeal to kids), and nobody does... and the whole series rolls like that, being a cartoon everything is magically sanitized. It's not like your going to see a truly brutal melee, and have the turtles, themselves actually cut up/injured standing in the middle a pile of dead ninjas and wonder about how they are going to dispose of the bodies...

The point I'm getting at here is that I think the B&W version was actually a stronger character even though she did less, and was less active for a lot of it (though she does hook up with Casey Jones and even dons a hero mask briefly). Heck she even keeps doing this stuff after she's rendered sterile. Indeed I think in this case less was more.

Now, as far as Megan Fox goes, I have a little more respect for her than a lot of people do. She seems to be a decent actress, even if she has a tendency to say the wrong things to the wrong people (which I can empathize with). She's smoking hot of course, and you can't blame her for using that while she's got it (or directors for exploiting it). I actually suspect she's someone who will get more respect 10-15 years down the road when her looks start to seriously fade (though she seems like the type who will always been attractive for their age group). Mind you I don't think she'll make any "best of all time" lists, but it seems like she's decent enough where she'll be around in one form or another for a long time.

I'll also be blunt, Megan fits in with the old B&W version of April. April being a redhead started with the cartoon, and while that's the more well known version, I will say that they seem to have been going for a look more similar to the old B&Ws, with the turtles being a lot "scarier" looking as well for example, though it still drew heavily from the version most people know.

I won't likely see the movie until Netflix though, simply because no matter how much money it makes The Turtles drove me out of the theaters a long time ago. :)

immortalfrieza:

JimB:
How do you define the word "character," immortalfrieza?

First, how do you define the word "character" or "object" for that matter?

sigh

An object is the opposite of a subject. An object is something that is defined not by acting, but by being acted upon by outside forces.

A character is a fictional being with volition who has an arc. Insufficient amounts of either of these defining traits makes the character at best badly written, and at worst just an object that exists only in the context of some other character. See also "sexy lamp" phenomenon, a term I believe was coined by Lindsay Ellis of Nostalgia Chick (but don't quote me on that bit), referring to any character whose purpose in a plot could be replaced by an inanimate object like a lamp without changing the substance of the story. For instance, Jane Foster's role in Thor II: the Dark World; or April O'Neil's role in pretty much any Turtles story, which could just as easily be replaced by a camcorder the Shredder stole without changing the shape of the plot.

immortalfrieza:
O'Neil (happy?)

Yes, thank you.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here