In this information age, with so many of us having access to the world’s biggest library, the internet, it is a foible of the human condition that even as society advances in medicine, nutrition, lifestyle, as technology improves at such a rate that it is nigh on impossible to keep track and as information and news is more available and accessible, nothing changes that much.
Social media has, one would believe, had some positive impact on society. Obviously, we hear of the bad things, the fake stories, the destruction of reputations, the keyboard bullying on forums, but there is the positive side as well.
Social media is democratic. Anyone with access to a computer can voice an opinion, champion their viewpoint. In so much as this is a good thing, it is inevitably impacted by the aforementioned foible of the human condition. Human beings are, almost out of necessity, lazy. What does this have to do with social media you say. Or film for that matter. Ask yourself this; of the millions of web pages you have looked at in your perusal around the web, how often to you look at a new one? Google is the most used search engine and Chrome the most used browser. The search engine argument is easy: it is the best. How about the browser? They’re all much the same, still, most use Chrome. We are lazy.
How does this have anything to do with film? Well, you might ask. In cinema, film and television, the dominant stories, the ones that are told time and again, the ones that make the money, have changed little since the advent of cinema over a century ago. A hero – the protagonist – has to overcome some problem, whilst gaining wisdom and saving the day on the way.
Even with the liberal masses pretty much ruling social media, the trend for inclusivity, all colours and creeds, sexual persuasions, sizes and ages, the seeming embracing of the Everyman, does not extend to Hollywood. The hero is still generally male and macho, the female is still young and attractive.
Think about it, who are the people that open films, who are the headliners? Even in this era of costumed superheroes, it is still men, in the thirty to fifty age bracket, being the marquee names. The male headliner, who is still considered matinee handsome can play the hero father – Blood Father, Taken, World War Z – the hero loner – Batman, John Wick, The Accountant – the hero charmer – every Bond film (not the Lazenby one), Jack Reacher, Hitch. The heroic male is a standard trope in film through the ages.
For women the story is the same, they are generally a supporting character, between twenty and thirty, slim and attractive and stereotypically feminine. The ‘interesting’ female characters tend to be friends of the lead female. Very few beautiful women open films. Attractive women do, but few are the ones that are considered real lookers who open films. Probably not since the days of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn have there been women who are considered both extremely desirable and marketable over a long period. There have been some; Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan for a while, but mostly the other notable female leads have been in lighter, comedic fare, such as Goldie Hawn and Sandra Bullock.
Though the likes of Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Susan Sarandon and Cathy Bates may be heavyweight in their field, there is still a specific expectation for their works.
Television is different. The plethora of female-led shows is too many to name. Though not all good or successful, a show with a female lead is no longer an unusual or new premise in television. Though the need to be young and attractive remains, they are not necessarily in support of a male lead.
The present model of the young and attractive permeating our screens is not wrong. It is just a little samey. We see and accept the same images because we are so conditioned to like them. Even as life and news coverage tell us that not all heroes are beautiful and slim or look good in clothes, we still want to see the non-real, but-we-which-it-could-be, reality of those shows. Everybody may be beautiful in their own way, just don’t show it on our screens.