Pouting pinups push women off the screen

Monday, April 19, 2004


Written by Johanna Schneller (Globe & Mail)

Ay yi yi, have you seen this current film, The Girl Next Door? Its characters are high-school seniors on the cusp of graduation. Like every Hollywood movie these days, it's a tale of redemption -- popsicle geek (sweet but frozen) rescues damsel in distress, and in return she thaws him. The theme, stated throughout, is, "What is moral fibre?" It's even written with some wit.

Yet smack in the middle of this Risky Business Lite is a porn film. The damsel is an adult-movie pinup -- all the high-school boys are intimately familiar with her videos -- on the run from her producer/pimp, and in between life lessons her colleagues provide the geek's buddies with plenty of dry humping, stripping, and enough enhanced breasts to fill a bowlerama.

Every time someone says or does something remotely clever, sets of dirigible breasts float into the scene like pink Hindenburgs. Oh, the humanity.

In the first line of the film, delivered against a black screen, a woman's voice purrs, "How do you want me?" -- which, according to this movie and its ever-burgeoning ilk, is the only question a woman is put on Earth to ask.

When the hero tells his best friend that he met a new girl last night, the friend immediately asks, "So did you bang her? It's what a man does." Soon, the hero introduces the girl to his friend by having her appear at his door dripping wet, wearing low-rise jeans and a sheer white shirt tied at her midriff and completely unbuttoned over a pink lace bra. Later, the friend urges the hero on by saying, "What would JFK do? He'd tap that ass!" (Okay, that's kind of funny.) Later still, after repeatedly acting like a porn fantasy -- never mind actually being a porn actress -- the damsel, pouting, admonishes the hero for treating her like one, then drives away with her teddy bear. To a porn convention in Las Vegas. Cue the Hindenburgs.

The really depressing part is, no one in my after-school audience, one-quarter full of groups of teenagers, seemed to find any of this unusual. The Girl Next Door is just one more example of the pornification of everything.

A generation ago, in films such as Porky's, teenage boys had to crowd around peepholes for a glimpse into the girls' shower room, and the girls, who wore cotton panties, squealed in fury and chased them away.

Today, in Porky's successors, boys no longer have to spy; rather, the girls, who have traded in their cotton for lace thongs, vinyl bustiers, belly chains, stilettos and shiny, metal-slick lip gloss, invite the boys into their bedrooms and act out X-rated fantasies for their entertainment.

In American Pie 2, two otherwise hetero female friends make out with each other.

They slap each other's bare backsides and nuzzle each other's breasts, while the boys watch -- and it's presented as simply something gals do for a giggle. In Old School, a high-school student who has a one-night-stand with the 30-ish hero is deemed the ideal woman because she tells the hero he was a great lay, assures him that he shouldn't call her, and leaves without telling him her name. Even a spoof such as High School High, which mocks the callowness of teen genre films, has a gorgeous female character walking around naked throughout. It makes fun of gratuitous nudity, by showing gratuitous nudity! Bonus!

It's not just happening in fiction films, either. Take one look at the popular Girls Gone Wild video series or the movie Real World Cancun, and you'll believe there isn't a co-ed in the U.S. who isn't a budding pole-dancer panting for the chance to flash her rack on camera. The miniskirts and low-cut sweaters of every woman candidate on the TV show The Apprentice (would-be employer Donald Trump always called them "the girls") may not have landed them in last night's final two, but it did get them a gig posing in their skivvies in this month's FHM magazine. And why shouldn't Janet Jackson think that baring a breast at the Super Bowl is a fine way to promote her sex songs, in a world where people sell yogurt by having a babe spoon the stuff suggestively into her wide-open mouth and then roll her eyes in ecstasy?

The Cannes Film Festival, which runs next month, provides a great visual metaphor: The yacht where adult films were bought and sold used to anchor far out in the harbour. Every year over the past decade, the ship moved closer to shore until it was docked smack in the middle of the festival action. Now the ship is gone and the porn films are dealt right alongside the so-called legitimate fare, and who can tell the difference?

I'm not a prude; I have no problem with sex or nudity. But I do object to all women being confined to one role and one role only. Certainly, today's legit actresses have to contend with a fearsome set of demands. The last three I interviewed for American magazines were at very different stages in their careers, but the subject of what was expected of them, male-fantasy-wise, always came up. Keira Knightley, who turned 19 a month ago, has already made two films for power producer Jerry Bruckheimer in which he personally got involved in her costume design. In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, he asked that she be put in tight corsets to emphasize her bosom. In this summer's King Arthur, set in the fifth century, he wanted her stomach exposed. She plays Guinevere.

Singer and actress Vanessa Williams, 40, told me her career changed radically when she hit 38. "My L'Oréal contract disappeared, and my recording contract," she said. About acting roles, "I started to hear, 'They decided to go younger,' over and over. I thought, Wow, I'm out of the game! I've had my time as the, whatever, the hot babe. Now I'm seen as a mother, and that genre is gone." She said she was grateful to Cedric the Entertainer, the star of her current road comedy The Johnson Family Vacation, for "choosing someone close to his age to play his wife. A lot of leading men my age choose to play opposite gorgeous women in their 20s, whether they're believable as mothers of three or not."

Even an actress as accomplished and Oscar-nominated as Julianne Moore, also 40, told me she honestly believes the day may come when she's never offered another role. "You know, it's not unprecedented," she said. "There are women all around us who it's happened to. As an actress, you always think to yourself, 'God, this is going to just go.' "

Yes, yes, you can take heart in stories such as this week's saga of the "anti-Barbie" Internet voters in Russia who supported a real-looking woman as their candidate for the Miss Universe pageant, until she was disqualified for being too young. You can vote with your dollars and turn off TV shows such as the wildly distressing The Swan, in which "ugly ducklings" confess their deepest self-loathing in order to win free plastic surgery that transforms them from ordinary women into extraordinarily scary creatures.

You can not go to movies like The Girl Next Door.

But plastic surgery and porn are major growth industries, and their ethos is increasingly showing up in all kinds of films, even where you least expect it. The title The Girl Next Door isn't tongue-in-cheek, it's prescient. She's moving in on us all.

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