The increasingly dominant role of women in film and television: a social or economic reform?

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In recent years, women appear to have been given roles that are far more domineering in comparison to those in the past. Some say this is due to changing attitudes with the modern woman's realisation that masculinity is just a socially constructed performance- the archetypal male is now often criticised rather than celebrated. While society's stance on the function of women in the media has been altered, it would be foolish to believe or suggest that it has been a phenomenon of sorts as the extent of the speed of evolutionary thinking in our culture and the media is often overestimated. With current trends in film and television it seems more likely that the motivation behind the increasing number of assertive roles for women is purely economic. While the answer to this question is at present unclear and difficult to determine because of the great number of factors to consider, the following will discuss points that are significant to the contention of each side.

'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider' (2001), starring Angelina Jolie is based upon the incredibly popular video game series of the same name. The 'Lara Croft phenomenon' has had a span of influence covering much of the western world, not necessarily just through the computer games but also with the huge amount of marketing opportunities and products taken or made due to its success. In its cinematic form Tomb Raider was produced by Paramount Studios, who aren't renowned for their history in action films aside from 'Mission:Impossible' which is a possible exception. The series of adventure games starring Lara Croft have been programmed by all male teams at Core Design and distributed by Eidos Interactive, who in the 2000-2001 football season also sponsored Manchester City football club with increased publicity around the time of the film's release.

The games themselves are most popular with men. Computer games are frequently described as a typically male pursuit, which is perhaps somewhat of a generalisation but beautiful Lara Croft appears to have been designed as the overtly sexualised answer to Indiana Jones.

Lara's representation always falls into one of three basic contexts: Lara as an action heroine, an object of sexual desire and a virtual icon. While these representations are simplistic and limited, her whole character and image adhere to society's accepted or idealised female identity.

Lara's virtual breasts are two of the most talked about things in recent times, ballooning to ludicrous proportions in the games. While feminists everywhere reeled against Tomb Raider and its perpetuation of a woman's body as a commodity, there were also elements of the game (and now film) that rather than demean women, can in fact empower them.

Previously, our female action heroes have been just that. Heroes instead of heroines- feminised variants of the stoical 'tough guy', with their typically depicted male traits. Muscle-bound, angry and lacking remorse, examples of these more primitive characters include Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in the 'Alien' series and Linda Hamilton's curious transformation of a terrified young woman to military obsessed and physically capable Sarah Connor in the Terminator films. The difference between our previous and modern heroines is based fundamentally upon image.

While Lara Croft as Tomb Raider professes to breakaway from the traditional idealised female construct and make a statement against it, there are many elements of her image that seem false or transparent. The choices made on her clothes include tiny shorts and a very tight t-shirt, coupled with an ever-present pair of pistols and backpack that act as a metonym for the character itself. Crude as it may be, Lara's idolised breasts and the pistols somehow share a meaning. While the former act in a way that purports only a dangerous sexual power over men, the latter are that which is physically dangerous and life threatening. Though she may be agile and swift, without weapons Lara...
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