Reading into Reality

Maybe sometimes, we do read into things too much.

Out of sheer curiosity, I read some Frozen reviews after I finished mine. Oh, how interesting they were! Mostly they were the eclectic mix I had expected; Praises, critics, comparison with the original ‘Snow Queen’, but what I didn’t expect was pages and pages of people writing that they disliked Frozen for its misogyny and racial injustice. It took a bit of time before these settled into my mind. We’ll get into the ‘feminist’ part in a bit, but first I’d like to address the first issue. Honestly, I have never thought of these aspects before. Not even when watching or reading any other title. My approach of reviewing is usually targeted on plots and character traits, never appearances. Well, I must be one of the ‘privileged white’ then.

Yet I hail from a country that is naturally non-white. Even my ethnic heritage alone had mandated I wouldn’t be white unless I was born albino. If that isn’t obvious enough, my friends are all non-white as well. To this date, I’ve heard them commenting and ranting about various titles for its casts, stories, graphical quality, animations, but never skin tones. It doesn’t occur to me that these works are doing us injustice because they don’t bother portraying people with less-than-fair skin. But a quick search on internet archives on a few select titles convinced me that this is a real problem in many parts of the world. Even discounting the countless people who never actually give the title they’re reviewing a legit chance, there is still a lot of articles to trawl. Why there is such a vast difference?

I am looking for a suitable explanation, and perhaps it is all rooted in the way history is shaped. Unlike the other part of the world, we were relatively devoid of racism based on our skin colors (but not the other kinds of racism, unfortunately). Back in colonial era, natives were treated poorly and all, but more because we were citizen of a conquered country than anything else. In modern days people can still tell you that many see ‘the whites’, people of Caucasian breed, are admired and seen as something cool, but it owes to another reason completely.

While Indonesia is home to many races, we are all share the common link-being non-white. Consequently, we can see fair share of our people in local TV channels, while seeing a lot of ‘whites’ in international channels. It just seems natural that a movie, an animation, etc from America (or Europe) to feature many white characters. Yes, I think that is why there is little complaints from this side of the world. We have balanced timeslots for those creamy whites and healthy browns. Different parts of the world think differently on what seems offensive. If you mention religion around here on the other hand… well, you don’t want that unless you’re keen to spark a war.

Now we get that part over with, let’s move on feminism. This time fully from my personal point of view. Sure, sometimes I rant about the lack of non-stereotypical girls in RPGs and animes, but given that I also have a list of cool female characters, I rarely give this idea more than a cursory glance. On Frozen, most of the people who complain about feminism are those who haven’t even watched it, but on other titles (speaking generally) there are endless legitimate complaints.

Maybe they are right. There are too few females in the entertainment world who actually get to do something worthwhile compared to the list of male characters. Too few who stands on her own rather than serving as mere eye candies with the oft impossible, ridiculous body proportions. However, this is where my view diverges. I am all in for girl power in real world and for equal chance for women, but when I sit down to enjoy a work of fiction, I mostly give them a lot of leeway. Alright, maybe a bit too much at times.

Fairy tales especially. I focus on single characters and their traits, how they are used to move the plot, those ‘shallow intrinsic values’ as some people call them. I like analyzing stories and poetry, yet gender is something I always overlook. Because funnily, it doesn’t matter for me whether the main character or the best bud is a male or female. When I am enjoying some sort of adaptations (like ‘Frozen’, since this title is what launched me to this piece) I don’t really care when the writers change the genders from the original because what matters to me is how they make the story works. I’d rather have a decent story with males than a less-than-average story with more girls because the writers don’t know how to utilize them, to unleash their potentials. This is noticeably different than when I am reading, say, a woman magazine, where I will be more critical on how female is represented. This separation forms quite a world in my brain, and despite how contradictory it sounds, it feels right for myself. Had I not taken the time to do that search, I will not realize how my thinking is wired differently.

Flame me, sue me, but if you think these writers are despicable, do a favor to the world: create your own story with proper female characters, and share it. We have enough people complaining, but only a handful who actually goes on to write compelling pieces that show females with all their glory.

Phew. It’s shocking to see how far scribbling in a notebook can lead you.


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