I’m a woman. I have not seen Blade Runner 2049, yet. I thought I would make those disclosures right up front. Because that’s the subject of this article.
Weird, right? I am not talking about the usual current events, or political speech. Nope. Just sharing some thoughts.
About how women think. Or, at least, how one woman thinks. Or maybe it’s just something subconsciously part of women’s decision making. Or maybe it’s not a thing at all.
But at least it’s some food for thought.
WHERE DID THIS “WOMAN” THEME COME FROM?
Like with my article on figleaves, a friend’s conversation on Facebook inspired this. Bryan Alexander is, in his own words: “an internationally known futurist, researcher, writer, speaker, consultant, and teacher, working in the field of how technology transforms education.”
He has an amazing blog, where he covers a wide range of subjects, found here:
Please go check it out. He’s a wonderful writer.
Bryan encourages people to query the world around them. He urges people to display curiosity and explore the concepts and events that make up our society. He brilliantly initiates and keeps going meaningful and interesting conversations. No matter the medium, it seems.
He is also one of the people who inspired me to start my blog. Although, I am now going to make the standard disclaimer that the views reflected in my blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of those who inspired me to write. In other words, you may think I am a crazy crackpot, but Bryan is not.
THE QUESTION BEFORE US
Anyway, one of the conversations he started recently relates to the release of Blade Runner 2049. Inspired by a recent New York Times article, Bryan asked, “Why did so few women go to see the new Blade Runner movie? Are we falling back on the sad old trope of science fiction is for boys only, or is something else going on?”
He qualified it by noting these questions would be relevant only if the article was accurate on that front. Obviously, if it is not, that’s a different story.
For context, the New York Times article noted that Blade Runner 2049 hit the no. 1 at the box office mark, but did not rake in the money hoped for, by a long shot. Especially in light of the great reviews already received.
The article pointed out younger audiences and women failed to watch the movie on opening weekend. It suggested several possible reasons for low turnout, including the baseball playoff season and nervousness about going to public venues due to the recent shooting in Las Vegas.
But, as noted above, my friend was particularly curious as to why women might not go to the movie.
And yes, I believe that Bryan’s suggestion that we have tended to move away from the trope that science fiction is for boys is true. We have moved away from that trope. However, there are signs that steps backward are occurring. So Bryan’s second question about whether we are falling back to that old trope is entirely legitimate.
As usual, Bryan initiated and continued to encourage an interesting dialogue in which several ideas were batted back and forth. People made great points. Some of those comments inspired some thoughts in me. Which I tried to add to the conversation. And then realized, as usual, I had developed something too large to really fit there.
So here we are, instead
WHAT I KNOW ABOUT BLADE RUNNER 2049 – NOT MUCH
In addition to the disclosures I made at the beginning, I confess I did not pay much attention to Blade Runner 2049’s advertising. Why? Because I may see it eventually.
I find that, while I don’t fear getting plot spoilers in print, I don’t like getting too many visual spoilers. Weird, I’ll admit. I only just figured this out about myself.
So, I did not see many of the promos for Blade Runner 2049. Or the tie in short films that are circulating.
For those interested, my friend Bryan has now seen Blade Runner 2049. He wrote a very interesting review on his blog.
Be warned. There are spoilers in the review.
I am particularly fascinated by the generational element he points out.
But correct, I have not seen Blade Runner 2049 yet. Fortunately, I am not writing a film review. I am delving into why the film may have failed to draw women to its opening weekend.
SOME POINTS ABOUT THE ORIGINAL BLADE RUNNER
In all honesty, I am old enough to have seen the original Blade Runner back in its day. I am in science fiction and fantasy fandom and have been since my youth. I do not revere Blade Runner as many do. I still respect it a great deal and feel it should be considered part of foundational science fiction cinema.
Blade Runner immersed us in its world. It felt real and touchable. And not just because of special effects that today probably seem dated.
The filmmakers carefully crafted a full world, in depth. As we travel through it, we feel substance behind the façade. Thereby, making it seem not a façade at all.
It’s the future. But, while some characters in the film would argue it was a better world, most viewers see a world that is not really better, and may be worse, than the present.
I would not call Blade Runner dystopian. Just that the film refuses to fall into the trope that the future has only two diametrically opposed outcomes, i.e., a much better existence than the present or a completely decayed, or destroyed society. Now Blade Runner has film noir aspects. Those aspects, as film noir tends to, allude to some state of societal decay. But every society complains of societal decay.
I am going to steal a line from Bryan Alexander’s review of Blade Runner 2049 because I found it summed up so well what I was thinking of the world we see in the original Blade Runner: “We see few visions of progress.” We see a world that has advances. There are flying cars! But we don’t see a vision of true progress. Because the path of the future is not always that simple or straight.
All of these factors contribute to why people hold Blade Runner in such high regard.
COMMODITIZATION IS NOT NEWS TO WOMEN
As was pointed out by one of those commenting on Bryan’s conversation, the world of Blade Runner treats people, whether replicant or not, as commodities. As in, like a thing to be owned or traded, not like a person. The film also explores the theme of what makes a person a person. The two themes are completely intertwined. Their exploration makes for compelling and interesting cinema.
Such an exploration also necessitates delving into women as commodities. And when one does that, the exploration will then touch heavily on women as sexualized objects and/or sexual commodities. To not do so would leave a huge gaping hole in any exploration of the topic. Blade Runner has a lot of objectification of women. By design, because of the film’s subject matter.
But in that lies a potential problem for female audiences considering the new Blade Runner 2049.
That world is not a woman’s possible future. It’s her present day.
Most women in the U.S. aren’t necessarily “owned. Yet concepts of ownership of women and women being viewed largely in terms of sexuality and/or as sexual commodities abound in our society. So, this is a topic many women have already had to explore as part of their everyday existence and self-awareness.
I would argue that to be even more true of women in the science fiction fandom communities. By that I mean, the women’s exploration of the topic. Because science fiction is often used as a mirror to our own society. So, science fiction ends up exploring a lot of our present day societal issues.
Sadly, I can probably also make a case for women in science fiction fandom having to explore the topic because they were objectified and/or treated as a commodity within fandom. But I don’t want to get into that here and now.
What all this means is that the exploration of people as commodities in a science fiction film may end up being eye-opening to the male viewer, while being “been there, done that” to the female viewer. And not in a good way.
Watching the promos for Blade Runner 2049 did not necessarily give a lot of hints as to what the film would actually be about. That’s going on reports from folks who paid a lot more attention to that marketing than I did. But, what little I saw led me to believe that replicants were still part of the subject matter.
With that little to go on, potential audiences could reasonably conclude that further exploration of people as objects would follow.
Also, from what little I saw, and as confirmed through the impressions of others, the female presence was lacking in much of the marketing for Blade Runner 2049.
But look! There is a woman right there in the promo materials. Doing, by the way, a softened version what I refer to as the awkward “tits and ass at the same time” pose. Of course, so is Harrison Ford, so I am not really griping about gender unfairness on that front. Clearly, there exists some female presence in the promotion of the film, but apparently not much. Certainly, it was at a level to make many women comment on the lack of it.
An exploration of people as commodities as a future, when it is already the present for women. A lack of women’s presence in advertising. The prior film had a noir feel that was not necessarily kind or sympathetic to women. I can see where that might not spark much interest in the female audience and may have turned off women before the film debuted. I can see where women, in general, would not be as eager as men to see such a film.
TIME, TIMING, AND WOMEN
Let’s add some other factors. Viewing time and timing.
I agree that the recent events in Las Vegas could turn folks away from the theaters. I also agree that baseball playoff season coupled with football season getting into full swing means that folks may feel they have better things to do on a weekend.
Trust me. Last Friday, my workplace all wanted to cut out early, in anticipation of Saturday. Why? We have two major universities in my state. They have a rivalry. Their big football game was Saturday. So around here, a lot of people would have gone to or watched the game and partied at a lot tailgates, rather than watch a movie.
Especially one as long as Blade Runner 2049. Length is another factor. The close to 3-hour length represents a big block of time. Especially in an age where people’s home theaters and streaming make it possible to get a pretty good experience at home, if you can just wait long enough. And at home, you can start and stop the movie if need be. So length is fine at home, but a problem in the theater.
I also have come to believe that the age of streaming means that opening weekends don’t mean as much as they used to. At least not to filmgoers. If it is something they really can’t wait for. Or if they really desire the bragging rights of being able to claim that they saw a particular movie on opening weekend. Then they are excited for the opening box office. Otherwise, “meh.”
Timing is also an issue with respect the film’s sequel status. Blade Runner was released in 1982, 35 years ago. If you are younger, you may not have seen it at all, much less have seen it on first run. If you are older, that’s a very long time to keep waiting for a sequel. So, Blade Runner 2049 does not have the weight of anticipation behind it that some sequels do.
All of that serves as a deterrent to all would be filmgoers, not just women.
But there are problems with timing tied more directly to women. Again, it is nearly a 3-hour movie. Women still have the lion’s share of the child-watching duties in our society. That is not to say men do not participate, or that some do not do so to an equal degree, or greater than some women. But either way that represents a huge block of time, where you can’t watch the kids. Because I don’t think you want to take your kids to an R-rated film. That makes it difficult to get to the film for the women and couples who have kids to look after.
Let’s add to that one more factor. It’s October. At close to 3-hours, the film ends up being a weekend film, not a weekday one, for a lot of people. If you have kids, the Fall means a lot of school activities and sports during the weekend. You are going to prioritize your kids over a long sequel to a movie from long ago.
In a lot of places, October also means hunting seasons have begun. That also means many men go off to hunt for the weekend, while the women stay home with the kids. Making it even less likely they are going to be getting away for the 3 to 4 hours they need to watch the movie.
So, both timing and viewing time can impact female viewership.
LEARNING ABOUT CHOICE
Now, let’s add to all of that the concept of choice.
When I was younger, I got to see syndicated re-runs of original run Star Trek. It was pretty much the only serious science fiction television option I had. While pretty good, it did get old after a while.
Then the original Battlestar Galactica series aired. Was it great science fiction? That’s questionable. But there were not really any other choices. Then it died out, and nothing again.
And then, after what felt like a long time, along came Star Trek: Next Generation. If you considered yourself a science fiction fan when that first aired, you had to watch it. There was no other first-run, serious science fiction television really available. Battlestar had tended to be more about flash and less about exploring science fiction concepts. Not that it did not do so, just that a huge part of the draw (and part of the reason it ended due to costs) was the flashiness of the show.
I remember eagerly awaiting the first episode of Star Trek: Next Generation. I watched and was completely underwhelmed. But I kept watching. Because there was nothing else. And I was a science fiction fan. I had no other options available. I did not have choices. I did not understand the concept of choice. If I wanted to watch some new science fiction, this was it.
On the other hand, options abounded when reading. Thank you, books.
Some episodes of Star Trek: Next Generation that followed excited, or intrigued me. Many did not. It was, in the end, a flawed effort.
No offense to those who think fondly of the show. There were certainly things to praise and love about it. And I think it earnestly tried to be good science fiction. And it was not bad. I have my own sense of nostalgic fondness for some of it. Just to me, a lot of times it was “meh”. But despite that, I stayed loyal to it for some time.
But then there was an explosion of choices. We got more Star Trek shows, like Deep Space Nine and Voyager. We got Babylon 5. And Stargate SG-1. And so on. And it was then I learned an important lesson. I did not have to settle. I did not have to accept something simply because it was the only choice offered.
I also learned that part of not settling was demanding better. You could demand better of television. That was a shocking concept to me back then. But I digress.
I did not have to be loyal to something simply because it was the only serious science fiction show out there. It had to earn my loyalty. If the show didn’t, I did not watch it. No more settling. I had choices. And if I did not like them, I did not have to watch. It was very liberating.
TIMING MEETS CHOICE
That touches on another factor for the latest Blade Runner movie. A coincidence of timing and choice.
Timing: because it came out 4 months after Wonder Woman and less than a month after the Wonder Woman DVD release date. Choice and not settling: because of Wonder Woman. In short, because of Wonder Woman.
Someone in the comments to Bryan’s question about women’s attendance on Blade Runner 2049’s opening weekend mentioned the Wonder Woman movie. If I recall correctly, the mention related to people’s appetites whetted to see action, not thought provoking science fiction. If that is true, that may be true in a general sense, across genders. Some folks are going to want action, some aren’t. Also, with ticket prices as they are, plenty of folks only go to the theater for spectacle. For everything else, they stay home and wait until it comes on Amazon, Hulu, or Netflix.
But that got me thinking. The Wonder Woman movie may have had a different kind of impact on potential women viewers of Blade Runner 2049.
Remember, we are talking about what viewers who have not seen the movie would anticipate it to be about. Because we are talking about people who did not go see the movie yet. So the following is based on what one could reasonably anticipate the movie is about, as discussed above. Not what it actually is about, which, as I disclosed, I would not know. Since I have not seen the movie yet.
But I managed to see Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman reminded female movie goers there was a choice. And that they did not have to settle. There could be action and adventure and all that jazz that also handled women well. I have encountered a few people who saw the movie as disempowering to women. Most of those have been men, but, yes, there have been some women too.
THE WONDER WOMAN OPTION
However, the vast majority of those who saw the film found it empowering to women. Even if you are one of those who find the film was a negative for women, the key issue for this discussion is what the majority of women thought about the movie.
Women felt empowered, not objectified.
Now, I am about to digress about some of what made the movie feel empowering. This stuff is my opinion. Other people may have seen other things in the movie. But the important thing is not my upcoming digression. It’s that the movie gave female filmgoers an option to see women empowered not commoditized.
Okay, back to some of my take on how women might view Wonder Woman as empowering.
Yes, there were pretty women in the movie. A lot of them were athletic instead of model thin. Some were bulky in build, short in waste, or over 25. And shown to be 100% awesome all the same. And the pretty presented was, for once, not really for the male gaze. Oh, men gazed. But the women were not putting themselves on display for that gaze. They did not even care about it.
The lyrics from a Pink song come to mind:
“Check it out, going out on the late night
Looking tight, feeling nice . . .
. . . .
We didn’t get all dressed up just for you to see.
So quit spilling your drinks on me.
. . . .
I’m not here for your entertainment.
You don’t really want to mess with me tonight.
Just stop and take a second.
I was fine before you walked into my life.”
Pink, “U + Ur Hand”
Surprise. Women can choose to appear pretty for their own reasons. Not all of them involve doing it for the male gaze. That’s how the pretty in Wonder Woman came across to me. And a lot of other women too.
Women did action stuff in that movie. Because there is interaction in the wider world, they do interact with men. Because there are both men and women in the world beyond Themyscira, and that world is largely dominated by men. Even so, the women are as much defined by their own actions as anything else.
I remember being pleasantly surprised that the film backed off of obvious lines designed to tell me how feminist the movie was. In other words, the film did not waste time preaching to me the film was about strong women. It showed me strong women.
In the process, stuff that was not feminist, but rather humanist, came across instead. Which served to strengthen Diana’s message and make her not a female hero, but, simply, a hero.
Of particular note to me, right before the famous no man’s land scene, there was a line I was sure I was going to hear, and instead the movie went somewhere else, making Diana’s character and the movie better than if it had gone with the obvious feminist choice.
In the lead in to the moment, Steve Trevor explains to Diana why she can’t just go out there.
“This is no man’s land, Diana! It means no man can cross it, alright?“
I expected the film to then let some line drop from Diana’s mouth about how she isn’t a man, so there. And out she would go. Very feminist. Very affirming, right?
But instead, Steve continues by explaining why it can’t be crossed. The full exchange:
Steve Trevor: This is no man’s land, Diana! It means no man can cross it, alright? This battalion has been here for nearly a year and they’ve barely gained an inch. All right? Because on the other side there are a bunch of Germans pointing machine guns at every square inch of this place. This is not something you can cross. It’s not possible.
Diana: So… what? So we do nothing?
Steve Trevor: No, we are doing something! We are! We just… we can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.
Diana: No. But it’s what I’m going to do.
Okay, that is way more affirming. That is, in many ways, way more female empowering then some corny line about being a woman, not a man.
Why? Because it refused to make some declaration about gender when the real discussion is about easing suffering and helping people. People, regardless of gender. And in response to that, the main character just says she is going to do it. She is going to ease that suffering and help people. Period. Full stop. Doing. Getting it done.
Then and there the film shows the audience that Diana is a worthy person, a heroic person who is going to do the right thing, “not because it is easy, but because it is there.” And gender doesn’t enter into it. That is the essence of female empowerment.
Which is really weird to say about a film with a scantily clad, beautiful female protagonist that all the men ogle.
Don’t get me wrong. I had problems with the film. There were definite flaws in the writing and the storyline that really rub me the wrong way. But I am in agreement with the majority of women who saw this film as empowering to women.
Women don’t get that in film much. Sorry, it’s true. Oh it happens. And it is better now, than it used to be. But it is not as frequent as one might hope. Especially in blockbusters. So it sticks around in one’s mind.
“BEEN THERE, DONE THAT” – NOT USUALLY THE FIRST CHOICE
And then Blade Runner 2049 comes along. We know it’s supposed to be good. But we aren’t entirely sure what it is about.
But we know the original. We know the original dealt with people as commodities, women as commodities, often tied to sex, and had noir overtones that were not terribly respectful to women.
That was part of the mood of the piece. And we, the audience, were meant to question every last bit of that. So I am not criticizing the film for going there.
But when sequel to such a film comes out. And the advertising has a limited female presence in it. And it’s going to be extra-long. And probably dark and gritty. And probably explore those similar topics of objectification and people as commodities. And there was just a movie out earlier in the year that did things right in terms of showing empowered women.
Well, it’s understandable if women give this one a pass until it can be streamed, right?
Because they realize they have choice. They don’t have to settle. And they can wait.
And maybe this kind of story wearies them. Because they deal with that garbage every day. Like I said, already “been there, done that”.
NOT DISSING A FILM I HAVEN’T SEEN YET
Now maybe that’s not where the film goes at all. My friend’s review indicates otherwise and that women feature in the film in a variety of roles. He found it very much about generations. Or at least he is mulling over that part of it right now.
I find that kind of fascinating myself. That may have been intentional, although I wonder if it also just an unconscious reflection of our time. Science fiction does that at lot. We frequently use it as a means to hold up a mirror to our own society. Sometimes the stuff caught in the reflection was not purposefully put there by the author, but rather just part of what was on his or her mind because it is part of a general societal feeling. Like background noise that unintentionally gets amplified.
And maybe there will be a huge “don’t judge something you haven’t seen” moment when people realize they have not given the movie a fair shake. And they drive themselves off to the theater in droves for some interesting cinema.
Or maybe it is not that good after all. I don’t know. And I am not judging it. Again, I have not seen it. If you have, and enjoyed the heck out of it, please know, I am not trying to rain on your parade. I’m glad you liked it. I am sure I will get around to it too, eventually.
CHOOSING SOMETHING LESS WEARYING
“She may be weary, women do get weary,
Wearing the same shabby dress.
And when she’s weary, try a little tenderness.”
Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M. Woods, “Try a Little Tenderness”
But let me give you another example about why women may not have initially been attracted to Blade Runner 2049. I am going to relate to you the plot of a film. Pure fiction. But enlightening.
Sullivan’s Travels. 1941. A director who makes comedies is tired of being the “fluff” director. He wants to make a serious film that delves into real people’s experiences, not the made up world of Hollywood. So he poses as a homeless man to get learn about and get a feel for the life of the less privileged. Being a film, that sets off a series of misadventures, ultimately landing the director in a prison labor camp in the South. A local church offers up its place of worship to show movies for both the locals and the prisoners. Good Christian charity for the uplifting of all. The locals are economically depressed farm folk. The assembly of locals and convicts watches a cartoon and everyone, prisoner and local alike, puts aside the cares of their life for laughter. The director has an epiphany. When you experience difficulties in your life, you don’t necessarily want to go to a film that makes you re-live them. Sometimes it is better to make comedies. To offer people a chance to feel better about things for a while. To escape.
Movies remain escapism. Remember what I said about the commoditization and objectification in the original Blade Runner? It was not the future, but the present for the female audience. It would not be surprising if a woman would hesitate before going to a movie that looks like it would rehash for close to 3 hours difficulties she already faces. She knows what those are. She does not need to rehash.
Especially when she has other choices. She can view other movies that offer her escape instead.
Anyway that’s just some thoughts I had. No big sweeping conclusions here. Everything I said is just conjecture. Food for thought. And maybe revealing of women’s experience.
But being curious . . .
What I would really like to know now is if the same weekend saw increased viewing of Wonder Woman DVDs by women. Hmm.