The Last Ferryman

The UMF community celebrated faculty who published books in 2013 and 2014 at a reception on March 10. Each faculty member’s book was introduced with remarks from another faculty member, a nice (and relatively new) UMF tradition. Several faculty members from the Humanities were on hand as authors, and we wanted to share some of the commentary on their books.

Linda Britt, The Last Ferryman, introduced by Pat O’Donnell:

This last year Linda Britt was commissioned to write the book for an opera, “The Last Ferryman,” celebrating the anniversary of the Deer Isle Sedgewick bridge. The Grammy-Award winning Paul Sullivan was commissioned to write the music. Of “The Last Ferryman,” the Portland Press Herald says it “tells the bridge story with historical figures and fictional characters. It illuminates a key cultural moment for one of Maine’s loveliest islands, and does so within the framework of a fully staged musical that features a cast of New York actors and community members, a three-piece band anchored by Sullivan and choreography by the Portland-based dance artists Gwyneth Jones and Gretchen Berg . . . ‘The Last Ferryman’ captures the conflict inherent in progress of the Maine coast. It celebrates the aesthetic and architectural wonder of the bridge while giving poignant voice to what’s lost when an island attaches itself to the mainland and gives in to the headlong momentum of change.”

We all know Linda as our beloved chair of Humanities and Professor of Spanish. Some of us remember Linda writing poems and having them published in literary journals. Not many of us know that a book she translated by Costa Rican writing Carmen Naranjo, There Never Was a Once Upon a Time, was included in a list of “500 Great Books by Women.”

Some of us also have, over the years, enjoyed some of the plays and musicals she has written. These include “Let Me Count the Ways,” her divorce musical performed at the Community Little Theater in Auburn; “Thanksgiving,” a one-act play which received an award from the Theatre Association of New York State; the moving full-length play “Adoption Stories” performed by the Out of the Box Theater company in Lewiston; the ever-popular “Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington,” a one-woman show about Margaret Chase Smith that is touring venues in Maine; the play “Aiken Pond” performed by the Out of the Box Company; and the devastating “What If,” performed at the Maine Playwrights Festival, at Out of the Box Theater, and the Community Little Theater. Her play “I Smile, Of Course, and Go On Drinking Tea,” will be previewed in a staged reading at UMF on April 10 before it goes to New York in June as part of the “Talent on Tap” program which brings playwrights to NYC to see their work performed.

In Search of Kluskap: A Journey Into Mi’kmaw Myth

The UMF community celebrated faculty who published books in 2013 and 2014 at a reception on March 10. Each faculty member’s book was introduced with remarks from another faculty member, a nice (and relatively new) UMF tradition. Several faculty members from the Humanities were on hand as authors, and we wanted to share some of the commentary on their books.

Jennifer Reid, Finding Kluskap: A Journey into Mi’kmaw Myth, introduced by Gaelyn Aguilar.

Jennifer Reid’s Finding Kluskap: A Journey into Mi’kmaw Myth packs a small, but mighty punch. In just under 97 pages, Jennifer manages to unravel the complex connections between and among: The Mi’kmaq of Eastern Canada—the first indigenous North Americans to encounter Colonial Europeans; Kluskap, a Mi’kmaw mythic hero; St. Anne—the grandmother of Jesus and a bedrock of Mi’kmaw Catholicism; and post-modern discourse.

It’s less an unraveling, perhaps, than (by Jennifer’s own admission) an “hermeneutic pilgrimage.” Working her way through the history of scholarship on Kluskap (who remains for the Mi’kmaq associated with the landscape), Jennifer pieces together how stories of Kluskap are indelibly linked to a series of 18th century treaties negotiated by the Mi’kmaq and the British government. The mythic hero is cast as a champion of aboriginal and treaty rights.

Aware that “the relationship between individual myths is no more predictable than the experiences of the world in which that community finds itself,” Jennifer becomes aware of the necessity of getting away from “just ideas,” as her daughter admonishes her in one scene, so as to explore actual people and places. Places like St. Anne’s Mission in Potlotek (also known as Chapel Island off the coast of Cape Breton Island). The mission—in fact, the oldest one on Canada—“spatially and sacredly connects Kluskap, St. Anne, and Mi’kmaw sovereignty,” even as it serves as the site for an annual pilgrimage for the Mi’kmaq.

A reviewer has pointed out that Jennifer follows Michael McNally’s challenge “to focus not just on what missionaries intended Christianity to ‘do to’ Native people, but what Native people have ‘made of’ the Christian tradition.”1 It is here that Jennifer drives beyond the easy categorization of syncretism in explaining Mi’kmaw Catholicism and the quick integration of St. Anne into Mi’kmaw culture, preferring instead Homi Bhabha’s category of interstitial or in-between spaces—“arenas in which inherited cultural forms (both indigenous and colonial) are not simply rearticulated in new configurations but are the fuel behind entirely new conceptions of reality and power.”

It would take a while to parse through Jennifer’s argument about postmodern discourse—an argument guided “by Claude Lévi-Strauss’ dictum that the only culture we can change is our own.” One of Jennifer’s conclusions is that “[t]hese postmodern discourses may be well suited to speaking about the marginalization of modern peoples, but they are not so appropriate a mechanism for representing the meanings of modernity that are forged within these so-called marginalized spaces.”


That Obscure Object of Desire – le petite objet a

That Obscure Object Of Dersire

This film by Luis Bunuel explores le petite objet a through the postponed romance of Matthieu and Conchita. We begin with Matthieu booking a train ticket to Paris from the town of his estate in Spain. The last scene there: a room showing signs of struggle, some blood on a pillow, discarded undergarments. There is mention of ‘the girl’ and ‘she’ in the dialogue between Matthieu and his servant Martin. Upon departure they are detoured by a terrorist bombing in the streets – it seems this kind of thing happens all the time; the film is interspersed with isolated moments of social calamity.

When they arrive at the station they board the train in separate cars. Matthieu finds himself in the company of a French woman and her daughter, a French judge, and a three foot tall psychologist – also French. As the train departs Conchita, a young Spanish immigrant, is shown chasing the train, begging to Matthieu to let her explain. He blocks the doorway and dumps a bucket of water over her head. Upon returning to his seat he is questioned by his momentary companions, and begins to tell his story.

This story is one of inescapable desire: Conchita appears in his life, he becomes obsessed with her, she disappears, reappears, and their romance becomes questionable and cyclical. In Savoj Zizek’s Looking Awry we are introduced to the Lacanian concept of le petite objet a first through the paradoxes of Zeno: “As in a dream, the pursuer never succeeds in catching up with the fugitive whom he is after, and the fugitive likewise cannot ever clearly escape his pursuer.”(4)  While Matthieu chases Conchita she is forever outside his possession; she postpones his desire to make love to her. To his questioning “Tomorrow?” she replies “No, the day after tomorrow”, when he asks to kiss her, she replies that she can’t right now and then lets him run his hands obsessively through her hair.

 Objet a 2

To quote Zizek: “We mistake for postponement the “thing itself” what is already the “thing itself.”(7) This is concisely Conchita’s point when she proclaims “You want what I won’t give you; it’s not me that you want.” He is hooked on le petite objet a, and Conchita knows this. She lets herself fully become the philosophical object: she offers Matthieu first candy, then her lips, her skin, her breasts – but never will she let Mateo possess the object of his desire, though she professes her love for him again and again. She says to him and to the audience as well (as we are most strongly tied to Matthieu as the story teller): “You think that you’re chasing me and that I won’t have you, but it’s the opposite.” She is being mistaken as the object desires of Matthieu.

 Objet a 1

We can see clearly the way Conchita acknowledges her role as the object a in subtle lines; when Matthieu tells her he never stops thinking about her and she replies “Neither do I.” This line does not act as a reciprocation of his obsession, but as an assertion of her self-understanding and difference. When she says “I don’t like what I’m doing either” after denying Matthieu upon their arrival at her new home, she acknowledges responsibility for and understanding of her actions. When seeking her true motivations we should look not to Matthieu, but to the film as a whole: A postponement of desire in hopes of momentary attainment of the real. Are we, the viewer, left with our desires fulfilled when we find Matthieu and Conchita again in their cyclical play after the train arrives back in France? No, a terrorist bombing abruptly ends the film and we are returned to our seats.

The Golden God: A Freudian Analysis of Dennis Reynolds

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of the longest-running American sitcoms in history, having just started its landmark 10th season. Throughout the series, flashbacks of the character’s upbringing are few and far between and even word-of-mouth stories of their youth are equally as rare. Analysing “the Gang”, a group of five self-absorbed underachievers all with varying degrees of dishonesty, laziness, pettiness, selfishness, egotism, ignorance among many other unethical personality traits, could take a lifetime. As such, I’ll be analysing just one character: Dennis Reynolds, a self proclaimed Golden God who is the most sociopathic, abrasive, and histrionic of the members of the Gang.
As with the other characters, not much is known about Dennis Reynolds’ childhood. Illigitimate child to Bruce Mathis and Barbara Reynolds, along with his twin-sister Deandra, yet raised by Barbara and Frank Reynolds. Clearly affected by the alcoholism and abrasiveness of his mother and the outright lunacy of his father, his parents lack of guidance have raised him to be the narcissistic, vain, sociopath he is today.
An indication of an oversized Id, Dennis’ gluttonous impulses always seem to get the best of him regardless of any financial or legal consequences he may run into on the path of desire. An exemplary showcase of this is The D.E.N.N.I.S. System “a comprehensive approach to seduction” that Dennis has “perfected over the years” that according to Dennis “does not soley stem from my good looks and my charm, but a careful systematic approach that has allowed me to become the playboy that I am today.” The Dennis System is a six-step which Dennis claims can “get any chick’s undying love and devotion for life.” The steps consist of Demonstrating one’s value towards a woman they are attracted to, Engaging the woman physically then Nurturing her dependence, followed by Neglecting her emotionally and then immediately Inspiriring hope in the relationship, before finally Separating entirely from her. Dennis’ wild and inhumane treatment for other’s well-being is a clear indicator of an uncontrollable Id.

Another example of Dennis’ overpowered Id and lack of superego is his intentional attempt to do anything to get out of a day of work. In one instance, rather than channel his talents or and natural abilities he may have into socially acceptable pursuits Dennis attempts to get on government welfare. Since government welfare is reserved for “drug addicts, mentally disabled, people with dependents and that sort of thing” Dennis decides that, rather than returning to his day-job working at Paddy’s Pub, he would rather become addicted to crack cocaine in order to qualify for welfare programs.
Here I have just delved into two episodes of the TV comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and it is already clear to see that Dennis Reynolds has some serious psychological problems stemming from his emotionally and intellectually scarring childhood and his highly unbalanced id, and superego.

Psychoanalyzing Michael Scott: A Christmas Carol

Psychoanalyzing The Office’s (US) own Michael Scott within the context of the entire show could take years of professional work. Michael is such a psychologically damaged character that his time on the television program The Office could prove to be an interesting case study for anyone brave enough to plunge into the depths of his psyche. While I am not currently the one to explore the farthest reaches of Michael Scott’s mind, I would like to pick apart a moment in Michael Scott’s history.


The scene I intend to discuss comes from season 3 episode 10, A Benihana Christmas. For context, Michael has a girlfriend named Carol who has two children from a failed marriage and he is very excited to invite her to an all inclusive trip to a resort in Jamaica over Christmas. Carol has appeared a few times in the show and has never seemed particularly happy to be with Michael.


In the scene, Carol comes into the office clearly upset and demands that Michael see her in his office. She pulls out a Christmas card and demands that Michael explain it. It is a picture of Michael, Carol, and her two children on a ski trip, but we learn that Michael had actually photoshopped his own face onto that of Carol’s ex husband. Carol attempts to explain why such a thing is not okay but Michael can’t seem to understand the problem so Carol promptly breaks up with him. As a response, Michael takes the opportunity to invite Carol to the resort in Jamaica. Carol, of course, responds by leaving and Michael spirals into a deep depression.


The children in the card are roughly between the ages of nine and twelve. Divorce is an extremely stressful event for everyone inside the circle of a family, especially children. Children must cope with the fact that their parents no longer love each other, understand that they will have to divide all of their time and energy between two households, and that they will have to see their parents in separate settings for the rest of their lives. It can make kids angry and scared and upset, having lasting consequences for years.


Children are predisposed to dislike step parents, especially ones who were brought into their lives soon after their original parents divorced. These new entities are like parodies of their original parents. To a child stepfather is like an imposter father, a man brought in to replace the original father. The stepfather typically parents differently and acts differently toward the child, making the child harbor resentment already. If this parody father were to do anything to prove to the child that he were in any way bad, the child would only allow it to build up his or her own dislike.


It is the responsibility of the parents to take care of their children and to advocate for them. During and after a divorce, it is important that a parent make sure that his or her child is okay mentally and emotionally, especially if the parent is choosing to date again, as bringing in a step parent can become a new stress for the child. In Carol’s family circle, Michael would be acting as potential stepfather.


The fact that Michael sees no initial problem with putting his own face over the children’s biological father in the first place is key to his personality. To Michael, nothing he does is wrong. Carol has only been divorced for one year by this point in the show and her children have not even moved out of adolescence and yet he has decided it is okay for him to take their father out of picture and memory and put himself in their father’s place. When Carol attempts to point out how weird it is that he might do such a thing, he explains it away by saying that he was “in her heart and next to her kids.” Michael is so invested in the idea of being the father of her children that he sees nothing wrong with cutting their actual father out completely.


By the time Carol has realized that she needs to break up with Michael, he extends the invitation to the resort to her, which reveals to us another point of Michael’s psychology. He doesn’t realize that Carol can’t go to a Jamaican resort over Christmas because she has two children. She is simply advocating for her own children’s needs, ridding herself of a man who cannot respect her family’s boundaries as he continues to disrespect them.


This scene reveals to us that Michael is a rather self involved individual who feels that all of his ideas are brilliant. He lives without responsibility and without consequence so he automatically assumes that everyone around him lives without responsibility and consequence, even when it should be clear to him that this is not true. Michael is not bound by children so he does not see Carol’s children as binding or even important. He sees no fault in assuming the role of their father, or in inviting their mother to a resort which is not child friendly over Christmas vacation.

After Carol has had enough and chosen to break up with Michael, he has a breakdown in his place of work. He cries at reception, listens to sad songs at full volume, and even uses a company credit card to go to lunch so he can cheer himself up, all while trying to convince various women to go to the resort with him because to Michael Scott all that really matters is that he can make sure his plans don’t fall through.

An Epic Patriarchal Rap: Dialectics and Multi-shaded Feminism

By: Curtis Cole

When talking of how Laura Mulvey naturalizes heterosexuality through the exclusion of Queer subjectivity, Robert Dale Parker—in his book How to Interpret Literature—speaks of how “some spectators will feel attracted to the masculine spectator on the screen. In this sense, when Mulvey supposes that the text determines the spectator, she leaves out the possibility that the spectator also determines the text” (174). Taking this secondary part to what I view as its natural conclusion, let’s push this spectator defined text to indicate that the text is not merely to indicate a binary path (of some kind of spectator defined construct) but rather a defined-path associated with a heteronormativity based in mandatory heterosexuality, something born of feminism sheaved from a Queer inclusive Marxist-Feminist position.

Proving this position will requiring looking at popular Youtube videos: the “Epic Rap Battles of History”. Initiating the reification process is the title itself: it overflows with masculine signifiers—“epic”, “battle”, and even “rap”, when we consider its contemporary roots in “gangster rap” male –chauvinism (as espoused by the likes of Eminem, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Little Wayne and countless others). Epic sets the stage by connoting action; in contrast to the sexist notion of woman being passive, action is uniquely signified to the masculine by virtue of its historical specificity (namely, the transition from primitive society to class based society), of, following Evelyn’s Reed’s research in her classic piece “The Myth of Women’s Inferiority”, men usurping the formerly feminine dominated industries, regulating women to the passive as masculinity increasingly colonized the ruling feminine.

Such lingual signification extends over into “battle” where this great reversal also takes root in the sense that while women were bringing together the majority of the communal necessities, the men hunted the “big game” animals in order to provide social luxuries to the community. Just the same, upon the passing into class based society, this fact is repeated as farce after women were coerced into nuclear households where they raised children: men now went off into the world in order to battle each other: kingdoms, tyrants, the devil, and other men. Whereas women were artificially regulated into passivity, men existentially sojourned as the moral purifiers of the world.

However, as with any truth, history as a truth and it moves dialectically. That is to say in this great contest between two opposing forces which, as new material conditions become relevant to the masses, the situation changes, or intensifies, and gives weight to the ever changing reality of history. In the case here, we are able to define this as the feminist versus the patriarchal. In other words, that which holds the inferior aspect—feminism—battles it out with the dominant (Patriarchy) in order to define new modes of living within the superstructure.

Provided, however, with each wave of feminism new contradictions emerge as culture and materiality becomes increasingly disturbed. Part of this disturbance is the murky connection feminism has to patriarchy’s subservient twin, heterosexism. Part of the feminized dialectic’s mission was to re-introduce women into the public sphere and though there have been three prior waves before the emergence of the most recent wave, many progressives have fallen into the bourgeois trap described earlier in that they include women but only as part of the masculine identity.

To illustrate:

[Romeo & Juliet vs. Bonnie & Clyde]

The women here take a proactive role yet it is one tied to support. Bonnie said, “I mean, I’ll let you go first but damn sure I’m getting licks in on this hissy-fittin’ rich kid and prepubescent vixen”. ‘Let’ speaks to falsity: in history, yes, Bonnie and Clyde were a duo but to reverse the process and say she is actually the prime mover would be dishonest to say the least; this is not surprising, of course, when this false sense of superiority is betrayed immediately by “take this broad from behind” indicating participation in battle, but ultimately of a mixed nature: masculine but done in conservative ways—‘behind’ indicative of stealth, weakness, and mixed observation of the masculine.  The opening slavo to Romeo and Juliet takes a slightly different approach but ultimately remains mired in the same pit: “so together we shall both put these bitches on blast” is Juliet’s retort. ‘Together’ is the key word. While Juliet is as Bonnie is, part of this grey masculine-feminine fusion, she is more confidant of her position—there is no falsity to her position and she understands herself to be subservient to Romeo’s role as prime guardian. Romeos takes the thrust of the battle with the heavily clichéd usage of genital references while his girlfriend merely backs up what he started by taking it to the next level with rape jokes.

Let’s take the analysis to level two.

[Miley Cryus vs. Joan of Arc]

Miley opens the concert by proclaiming “Spitting harsh words in this French maid’s face. You died a virgin girl, who you think you messin’ with?” Each line is laden with sexual imagery but closer to the point it indicates an advancement of the manner in which women in pop culture interact with men by signifying social-material liberation with sexual liberation. This is in contrast to Arc’s position which takes a blunt approach: “I only get down on my knees when it’s time to pray” mixes with “call me Katniss Everdeen” to signal differentiation between the primitiveness of the past and modernity. Just as the Hunger Games protagonist isn’t to be found engaging in wanton sexual acts, neither is she to be found engaging in homoerotic acts (not with her love triangle constituting a plot device) which may be fashioned as masculine activities insofar as it subverts what was then seen as the standard code; a homonormative inverse of heteronormative conduct. “I’m the maid of Orleans, you’re the Mardi Gras beads” solidify this power with the masculine by propelling her own agency over the sexuality of Cyrus whose feels threatened enough by Arc to initiate transphobia through the utterance of the cross-dressing peasant remark. So while ultimately the video is aligned with reactionary effectual modalities, it is a curious progression between the previous video which framed the role of women as purely supportive tools. The next video, as we will see, takes it to the third and final level insofar as we need be concerned with how the masculine acknowledges the Queer within the masculinized-feminine.

[Sarah Palin vs. Lady Gaga]

Palin’s opening remarks are a furious tirade which brings together heteronormativity, mental illness, and slurs to form an associative matrix; that is to say, she subverts her adversary’s persona by using its connotations against her through the power of reversing her intents to indicate a non-heterosexual (that is to say a mentally ill mind) reeking of poorly formed modern femininity: she lacks “real” femininity due to having “big balls”. Gaga cannot respond in the same manner. Accordingly, since she lacks the edge Palin has thanks to her heterosexuality, she must deconstruct the cultural aspects of Palin’s base: “Governor of Alaska? That’s like the principal of a homeschool” though speaking to a petty-nationalistic sentiment of some states being of better quality than others, is quickly augmented by the following line “spend some time with your kids before their pregnant” which colors the first by marking the first as a reference to spatiality; Palin is away from her family, hence why the question mark is included in Gaga’s comments, which in turn forcefully turns Palin’s heterosexist comments on its head once the spectator understands the women’s “duty” as caretaker is being neglected, ergo, suspending Palin’s entire offensive push. Of course, this is only achieved through a legitimation of the nuclear family. Gaga may have been able to reverse Palin’s assault but only thanks to utilizing patriarchy’s own tools of domination. This is seen as true later on when, after Gaga asserts Palin simply being afraid of her music, Palin shoots back with “I’m a mother of five”, a statement which pleads to the heterosexual audience member by appealing to their moral center: Palin, though being away from home, as fulfilled her ‘biological imperative’ by breeding. This is something not done by Gaga and is only countered by half-hearted references to male dominated sports (supposedly marking Palin as masculine).

In terms of historicity this third battle is interesting because, much like the second, it constitutes two women battling it out without the presence of men. However, unlike the second battle, the third consists of two high-powered, contemporary women. One and entertainer while the other a politician. Each attempt to mark the other within the masculine while calling upon the specificity of patriarchy’s machinations in order to subjugate the other within the confines of the male gaze, even if it is distorted by Queer influxes. Ultimately, the fact that each contestant throughout the battle series feels the need to submerge their selves within the culturally constructed masculine-feminine, can be counted among the odder moments for the struggle between the socially constructed male and female.

Works Cited

Parker, Robert Dale. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

Reed, Evelyn. “The Myth of Women’s Inferiority.” Fourth International, vol.15 No.2, Spring 1954, pp.58-66; Web. 6 Mar. 2015.

Lara Croft – Feminist Heroine or Busty Sex Icon?

Lara Croft’s character all started from a popular video game Tomb Raider which started in 1996. She takes form as a female British archaeologist in search of ancient relics and adventure, coming into contact with all sorts of challenges in the form of power-hungry/greedy men, snipers, mummies, jackals, and ancient monsters. She acquires all sorts of weapons for these reasons. As the game grew more popular, two movies were created with Angelina Jolie starring as Lara.

As a video game character, her appearance is generally known to be a dark haired girl with a backpack, short cargo shorts, wide hips with guns holstered to them, army boots, a green shirt (bra?), a tiny waist, and large breasts.

 video games tomb raider lara croft 2000x1600 wallpaper_www.wallpaperhi.com_20

In Dangerous Curves, Jeffrey Brown addresses the use of guns in the hands of a female heroine. “…the action heroine who exhibits a mastery of guns represents a woman who has usurped a particularly phallic means of power” (30-31). Lara Croft’s popularity hits both genders; many women identify with female empowerment, whereas many men find her image titillating. Is Lara’s grasp on guns a turn-on for men? For many feminists, Lara’s necessity for ammo and gun control is a problem because it signifies that the heroine still needs this object of masculinity. Lara’s character may not have been as popular with men if she were to have no weapon at all.

Lara Croft is similar to the character of Maggie in the movie Point of No Return where they ask, “’Does the rise of the aggressive heroine really pose a threat to men or does she merely contribute to male fantasy via the eroticisation of hardware and violence?’” (41). Maggie has both a hard-bodied image and a feminine “soft” side to her character.

In the movie version, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), Angelina Jolie plays Lara’s part as an elite British aristocrat removed from romantic emotion and any stereotypical acts of a domestic female. It’s very similar to the description of Maggie being, “physical and self-reliant, murdering without remorse” (35). She is still sexualized, Angelina Jolie’s anatomy matches that of the video-game creating the same sense of the male gaze. 

In this clip, her butler presents her with a white dress and high heel shoes which she casts off and declares herself as not ladylike. Instead Lara Croft’s movie character is known to wear this outfit:


It’s interesting that Lara’s costume changed from a green crop-top to a black undershirt. Is this the director’s way of identifying Lara as a masculinized character? In Dangerous Curves, Brown recognizes the “black undershirt” as being the standard costume worn by Slyvester Stallone in the Rambo series, Bruce Willis in Die Hard, and “such muscular/masculine women as Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, and Rachel McLish in Acres: Iron Eagle III” (35). Although in Lara’s case, the black shirt isn’t used to define her muscles; it’s used to define her breasts. She rejects the white dress for the black undershirt.

In conclusion, it seems that Lara’s character challenges the role of female heroism by not playing the part of a “woman in sheep’s clothing,” clearly, her body has all the shapes of a female’s curves. It is arguable though, that her large breasts are simply, “…a way to incorporate some ‘tits and ass’ into the action genre” (41).

Female Action Heroism in The Hunger Games

Jeffrey Brown’s article on action heroines and gender, Dangerous Curves, looks at the role of women in traditionally masculine roles, specifically in action films, where men tend to be the hero, while women are often portrayed as the damsels in distress. The article uses films Alien and Terminator 2 to show how women action heroines outplay this stereotypical role of many female leads in an action role. These films portray believable heroines that are not, “really only ‘boys’ in ‘girl’s’ clothing” (21), but actual ass kicking women that can be taken seriously and on the same level of their male counterparts.

OneKatniss everdeen 1 of the newest action/adventure film franchise to present to the public and millions of impressionable young girls, is the Hunger Games series, which features a teenage girl as the action heroine. The films are arguably some of the most positive portrayals of a female lead role taking the part of a traditional male role. In the above quote that suggests “hard body heroines as a male impersonator” (21), it is claiming that these action heroines may really only be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Let’s take a closer look at the Hunger Game’s female lead, Katniss Everdeen. One of the first scenes of her is when she is out in the woods hunting for food to bring back to her mother and younger sister. Katniss does not have a father, which seems to be important to her role in the story. Without an older man in her life, it is as if she takes on the role herself in the way she provides for her family and offers herself as tribute to the annual hunger games, in place of her sister Prim.

The appearance of Katniss is significant in her portrayal in the story. She does not have ripped abs or bobbed hair, and she even wears dresses and occasionally makeup. Her hair is often kept in a braid, which retains feminine elegance but is practical for hunting in the woods or battling in the games. Her clothing remains practical throughout. We never see her wearing clothes that are overwhelmingly masculine or foolishly tight or revealing that seek to show off her womanly curves. The outfits remain appropriate to the character’s life. Neither is her mental state exaggerated. We see her cry, but we also see her make decisions and even kill other human beings. Her doubts and breakdowns throughout the trilogy make Katniss resemble who she is: a teenage girl who is not immune or pretending to be immune to trials. She is both tough and weak at times, showing the fact that she is simply human, not necessarily a male impersonating a heroine role.  Katniss everdeen 2

Along with its honest portrayal of Katniss, the story does something else that is interesting in respect to the story. Here we turn to the role of men in The Hunger Games. There are two, Peeta, the bakery boy and chosen male tribute for the games, and Gale, Katniss’s best friend and hunting companion. As both males fall for the lead female, the story plays with this love triangle in interesting ways. Throughout the series, Peeta and Gale are portrayed as side shows to the story, the story being Katniss’s journey to overthrowing the tyrannical Capitol. The drama revolves around her, because she is the one who defied the Capitol in the end of the first story. It is as if the traditional roles of women, as distractions and loves interests in action films revolving around male heroes, are being switched to that of men (Peeta and Gale). It is appropriate to add in here the significance of Katniss and Peeta’s start of friendship and eventually romance.

During the early stages of the games, Katniss stumbles upon a wounded Peeta. Here Peeta portrays the stereotypical role of damsel in distress. The woman, who also happens to be the hero of the story, nurses the man back to health. At the end of the games, she saves his live again by refusing to kill him and threatening to eat poison berries if the Capitol did not allow them both to live. In this stunning reversal in traditional action film gender roles, the character, Katniss, carries the role well.

The Final Frontier … for Psychoanalysis?

The original series of Star Trek has garnered enormous amounts of attention among a wide audience since its initial airing in the 1960s.  Because the series has been attended to by so many fans and critics over the years, it is unsurprising that there have been many modes of criticism to dive into the series’ cherished content.

Originally aired in 1967, the Star Trek episode “Mirror Mirror,” can be distinctly understood in terms of Freud’s structural model and the clash between the id and the superego. Due to an ion storm and transporter malfunction, medical officer Leonard McCoy, chief engineer Mr. Scott, communications officer Nyota Uhura, and Captain James Kirk are dropped in a parallel “mirror” universe while their doubles are transported to the familiar universe.  In this mirror universe, similar to Freud’s idea of the uncanny, the familiar Enterprise crew and Federation are made unfamiliar and the friendly made sinister.  Typically the characters in the familiar Star Trek universe are thoughtful, driven, and (despite later series’ jokes at Kirk’s expense for failing at this) linked to a sense of duty to the benevolent Federation.  However in the mirrorverse, expressions of male dominance, violence, competition, and sexualization abound, making it a veritable playground of Freud’s id as opposed to the “moralizing conscience” of the superego represented by the familiar universe (Parker, 123).  By Freud’s definition, “the id is a seething cauldron of basic drives in their primitive, selfish and unorganized state,” (Parker, 123). For Freud, this included urges revolving around violence and sexuality.  In the most immediate way, we can understand the representation of the id in the mirrorverse as Kirk first does through differences in costuming. The conservative and plain Starfleet uniforms in the familiar Star Trek universe are placed into unsettling contrast with the phallic representations and heightened sexuality intrinsic to the mirrorverse uniforms.

starfleet uniforms typical

 Typical Starfleet Uniforms Characters from left to right: Mr. Scott, Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk, Leonard McCoy, Nyota Uhura, and Chekov.

This image is representative of the typical uniform worn by the characters while they roam the Enterprise and carry out their individual duties.  These costumes are notable in their simplicity.

mirror verse kirk and spock sword view

Mirrorverse Uniforms Characters from left to right: Mirror Spock, and Captain Kirk (minor characters behind)


The costuming in the mirrorverse is notably different.  One of the most personally startling differences is the addition of Spock’s facial hair.  Facial hair may in this case be representative of heightened masculinity and masculine expression.  This is distinctly different from the way that the familiar Spock grooms himself; the half-vulcan always maintains a well-groomed and completely shaven appearance, he also rarely expresses overtly masculine or dominant traits (only doing so when under the influence of a mind-altering pollen in the episode “This Side of Paradise”).  The other elements of costuming presented here are also indicative of expressions of masculinity and dominance which are absent from the familiar universe costuming.  The presence of swords in particular as a phallic representation is key to understanding the expression of id in the mirrorverse.  All high-ranking members of the crew carry these highly-sexualized weapons with them while on the deck of the Enterprise whereas the familiar crew does not typically do so with their phasers.  There is also the presence of the sashes with their long, hanging lengths of fabric in the front of the uniform and the decorative medals which display presumably masculine accomplishments.

In addition to overtly masculine and phallic traits of the costuming, there are also heavy elements of sexualization in some of the costumes as may be seen in the following screencap:

mirror sexualized uhura 2

Sexualized Uhura and Kirk Characters from left to right: Uhura, Kirk, McCoy, Mr. Scott

Here both Uhura and Kirk are sexualized in different ways according to their gender. Kirk’s arms, as a traditionally attractive part of a man, are exposed and highlighted by the lack of sleeves on the mirror costume.  Uhura’s midsection and legs, traditionally attractive parts of a woman, are also bared in an extremely revealing uniform.  This suggests a heightened sexuality that is also intrinsic to the mirrorverse and common to our understanding of the id.

The urge for display of phallic, sexualized, and overtly dominant features in the dress of the mirror characters is key to understanding them as direct representations of the familiar characters’ repressed urges in the id.  Though there is more to explore in this episode than costuming, the differences in dress of the characters is a surprisingly complete start to comprehending the differences between the superego-driven familiar universe and the id-driven mirrorverse.

Gamora: A Hardbody Action Heroine

While comics and their film adaptations still focus heavily around the male heroes, Marvel separates itself from DC comics by creating unique female heroes who exhibit agency within the story. DC, on the other hand, tends to just create female equivalents to preexisting male heroes (Superwoman, Batgirl). The most recent of Marvel’s female action heroes to hit the big screen is Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Gamora is a fairly simple character to understand since the writer’s of Guardians of the Galaxy seem to play off every trope explored by Jeffrey A. Brown in his book, Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture.

The first of these tropes often associated with the action heroine is that she is “often filmed to accentuate her body, but this new hardbody is not offered up as a mere sexual commodity” (25). Instead, her body is coded as “both object and subject,” or, in other words, “her body does not exist to solely to please men, it is a body designed to be functional” (25). The image above shows how creators are drawing attention to Gamora’s body using the tight leather outfit, but the leather also implies a sort of utility. The audience becomes aware fairly early in the film that Gamora is not just some eye-candy to accompany this group of male heroes, but her body was actually designed to be a lethal weapon; thus making Gamora the most dangerous out of the five. Also, she is considered to be one of the most covered up compared to her companions (looking at you Drax and Groot).

Not only is Gamora’s body a lethal weapon, even her fitting style stays within the guidelines of Brown’s analysis. Brown explains how the action heroine’s strength “is represented through the heroine’s superior ability in martial arts” (31-32). Starlord and Rocket rely on their guns, Drax and Groot rely on their brute strength, but Gamora is the only one who seems to have any martial arts training. While this initially seems to be a limitation to not allow Gamora to wield any sort of firearms, the audience becomes aware within the first few fighting scenes that Gamora does not need firearms or brute strength. The audience witnesses as the rest of the characters become bogged down by their weapons or lack of fighting skills, but Gamora never seems to fail with her martial arts fighting style.

Even though Gamora mostly exemplifies the female hard-bodied action heroine, she also incorporates some elements of the femme fatale. One popular example from the film where Gamora takes on the role of the femme fatale is the scene when she first encounters Starlord. Gamora casually leans up against the side of the building, eating some type of fruit, and starts to engage Starlord in conversation. Gamora expects Starlord to underestimate her, so she takes on this role to gain further advantage. After all, just a few moments after assessing her as no real threat, Starlord is then mercilessly attacked.

Despite being a stereotype of the hardbody action heroine, Gamora is still a rather enjoyable character since she exhibits one trait that is often lost to female heroes: a sense of agency. All too often, the male heroes are the ones to drive the plot forward while the female heroes just accompany them. Gamora, on the other hand, seems to be one making a lot of the decisions for the rest of the heroes. In fact, she is the one who not only convinces the others that they need to take the stone back from Ronan, but who also has a dramatic fight scene that determines the outcome of their entire plan. In short, Gamora is both a stereotype and innovative.