Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wish Fulfillment I: When?

Blerg. I am not sure I can put into words how fed up I am by the whole "the guy's an asshole, but the woman sees something in him and through fucking him a lot, redeems him" thing. And furthermore, I'm a bit fed up by male critics not realizing that this is blatant wish-fulfillment for male audiences . At least reviewers seem to have figured out that Anne Hathaway's character (a terminally-ill redeemer who likes to fuck a lot but might not want to be in love who changes Jake Gyllenhaal for the better) is a cardboard construct.

Back when the second Twilight film came out, there was a lot of talk about the fantasy that those movies sell young women. Bella is, essentially, a character without qualities, entirely passive, uninteresting and devoid of personality who men throw themselves at because it turns out she has some kind of secret power that fascinates them. This is the man-child equivalent of that fantasy, and I'm sick of watching it. It's perfectly possible to construct a romantic comedy (or weepy, for that matter) without it. Furthermore, while I think this is meant to be an exaggeration of something many of us feel-- that we are improved, and to some extent redeemed, by our successful relationships-- this trope lacks even the vaguest whiff of actual truthful perceptiveness about relationships, or life, or men and women.

Here's my question: a lot of drama, art, entertainment, etc. is based on wish fulfillment. A specific genre that I would point to as being heavily influenced by wish fulfillment is comic books. The very notion of a "super-hero" is, in some sense, wish fulfillment. That's what we want: someone big and strong and better than everyone who will save us. And we'd like to be that person.

I could go into specific examples, like the X-Men as a gay community wish fulfillment, or Spiderman as a puberty wish fulfillment, but I'm not huge enough of a comic book reader to answer that. Even The Walking Dead trades on the "If there was a zombie apocalypse, I'd like to think I'd kick some ass" wish in all of us, that if the chips come down we'll turn out to be a PC, not an NPC.

So when dealing with fantasy in culture, what qualifies fantasy/wish fulfillment that is acceptable and good, or fantasy that's tiresome and should be gotten rid of?

I think I'm clear on why the male fantasy above is bad: because it encourages ways of relating towards women that are not only selfish (all fantasy is selfish, I would argue). It perpetuates the idea that guys don't really have to try to be good -- we can just be big kids, and some mother-like woman is going to clean up after us.

But what about the power fantasy, that shows up not only in Superman but also in 24, and in Mitt Romney's foreign policy speeches? When can you get a fun action movie out of it, and when can you just get something loathesome?

I'm going to think about the question myself for a few days, and take it to the realm I know: science fiction. Stay tuned.