We’ve been over the booth babe controversy enough, and so I’m not going to rehash that here. However, I was struck by one paragraph in this LA Times piece, by Tod Goldberg, on Comic-Con:
It was the zombie issue that brought forth the sociologist in me. Countless women covered in knife wounds and in advanced stages of decomposition happily posed with men (and boys … lots and lots of boys). The booth for “The Blood Factory” — Danny DeVito’s home of short splatter films … which is to say, films with lots of sex and lots of knife wounds, often concurrently — featured two smiling and bloodied hotties wielding chainsaws who posed and vamped for children of all ages. The sexualization of violence was not something I was prepared for even knowing well how undead vampires have become romance heroes in print and film. Sex was certainly in play without violence too — apparently selling any kind of video game is easier if there’s a vacant-eyed woman wearing a Wonder Woman costume in the booth — and in a way it’s nothing new for these kinds of gatherings since even Renaissance fairs use women as objects, but usually those women aren’t covered in open wounds. I’m no prude per se, but it was nonetheless odd to see young boys getting their cheeks pecked by buxom undead women. Maybe not as odd as the gentleman dressed like Bob’s Big Boy, burger and all, but odd no less.
I would say that what he’s critiquing here is not the sexualization of violence–anyone who’s seen Kill Bill or, well, any action movie, could tell you that sex and violence go hand in hand–but the way women are almost always cast as the victims of that violence. In other words, it’s not that there’s violence and sexy women mixing; it’s that those women are dressed as victims of violence and yet are cheerily posing for pictures with men and young boys. It’s the normalization of women-as-victim of violence that is kinda creepy.
That said, I like female monsters, even the undead variety, in my monster movies. Zombies and vampires, after all, keep coming despite the horrible things done to them. That’s what makes them scary, and in vampires’ case, sexy. The monsters are powerful because they are dead and yet they live.
Goldberg juxtaposes women wielding chainsaws (presumably, the blood they are covered in would be someone else’s) with women covered in (fake) wounds here without question, where in fact they’re two very different things, and I would go even further and say that it does matter whether the women covered in wounds are zombies or simply victims.
This goes to the heart of my disgust with “torture porn” films like Saw and Hostel but love for vampires, zombies, and other freaky monsters. Monsters are subversive, uncanny: they violate boundaries. Torture porn movies do nothing but show us splashy violence, the worst of humanity, and quite often reinforce gender roles: male attacker, female victim. A wounded woman who fights back is entirely different than one who is simply a victim, and a wounded woman who comes back as a monster might be the stuff of worst nightmares.