Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Cinematic Other: Dominatrix

For the past couple of days my husband and I have been watching the mini-series Tin Man which originally aired on Syfy. It is a retelling of the classic Wizard of Oz. Many of the players are the same, Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man, Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and wizard. However, each has been retooled to appeal to a modern audience; including the wicked witch, now known simply as "sorceress".

In the original film version of the Wizard of Oz the Wicked Witch of the West looked like this:
She represented many of the things that I feared as a child - old people, ugly women, long fingernails, warts, disfigurement, and aliens (who are also green). And that is exactly what the cinematic other is supposed to be. The cinematic other is a concept by which we inscribe our cultural fears onto the evil or othered characters in film. These attributes shift with time, but are always from a white, heterosexual, middle-class/upper-class, male position since they are the ones who control American (and global) media. Thus, women, children, homosexuals, foriegners, old people, immigrants, people of color, etc. etc. are generally cast as the "other" or villain in Hollywood films.

Now the sorceress in Tin Man looks a little different from her predecessor:Yep. She's been dominatrixed up for the 21st century. Indeed, even E's Kristen Dos Santos picked up on it in her write-up "Tin Man: Welcome to the O.Z., Bitch!" (C'mon Kristen, do you have to use the B-word?):
Kathleen Robertson's Azkadellia manages to be exquisitely beautiful without sacrificing any of the terrifying that Margaret Hamilton pulled off so well. Think Darth Vader in an S&M corset. Seriously—keep an eye on her cleavage, because this miniseries has some majorly good boob acting.
And it is true Kathleen Robertson's boobs do get to act in this incantation of the Wizard of Oz. Seriously, I wish I was joking.

Aside from Tin Man, the dominatrix as the evil character has been popping up all over the place the last couple of years.

Sienna Miller got to don the vinyl and heels in G.I. Joe to play the villainous Baroness.


Cate Blanchett's character in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull is a Russian dominatrix (she is caring a crop whip on her hip, but never rides a horse in the film). Her stereotypical depiction of Russian womanhood actually offended the communist party so much they tried to have the film banned in Russia.Then there is the Disney version of the dominatrix from Enchanted. Now while I can watch Tin Man as an adult and roll my eyes every time I see Kathleen Robertston strapped into another corset, Enchanted was made by Disney for a youthful audience who probably have not studied how film reflects, but more importantly, influences our culture. Thus, they begin to absorb the message that sexual deviance (meaning anything but missionary, monogamous sex with your husband or wife) is evil. Undoubtedly, children's films are usually the most evil when it comes to how they code their villains with all the attributes that are culturally unacceptable to the conservative white men who dominate film production. I will go into this in more in another post since there is so much more to be discussed, but in the meantime think about all the Disney villains you've ever seen and who they culturally represent. Crazy, isn't it.

It is easy to see that with the return of the dominatrix as the cinematic other in recent Hollywood films and television shows that patriarchal fear of kinky sex and powerful women has not diminished one bit (I must confess that I actually have a lot of respect for anyone who can don high heels, wear an outfit completely made out of vinyl and do anything but sweat). Male fear is also now heightened in Tin Man to show how mystical, magical, and confusing boobs are to the male population. So I conclude this post with this ominous message - don't make us mad otherwise we ladies will unleash the full power of our cleavage on society and it won't be pretty. Just think Fembots from Austin Powers.

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