(Ed. Note – This is an editorial feature article from a contributing writer, and therefore does not reflect or express the opinions of the webmaster, or any of the other contributors to Geek League of America.Com.)
In the past, the most controversial thing about a JJ Abrams movie was his compulsive use of lens flares in nearly every single scene of his films. That changed last weekend when Star Trek Into Darkness opened to underwhelming box office. The Geek God’s latest sci-fi spectacle launched an online brouhaha about sexism and misogyny in Hollywood thanks solely to one scene, in which the character of Carol Marcus, played by British actress Alice Eve, strips down to her underwear for the purpose of…well, there was no purpose really, except for the fact that Alice Eve is an attractive and fit actress and the sequence provided a PG-13 dose of T&A in the midst of a shiny series of space-set action sequences. It was a brief, seemingly inconsequential scene, yet it provoked a visceral online reaction that led one of the film’s writers, Damon Lindelof, to actively apologize for the scene on Twitter and to get Abrams to (weakly) defend it on Conan. The initial outraged reaction was, naturally, countered with the equal and opposite outrage at the outrage, with many saying the whole sorry mess was an overreaction to a non-issue.
Except…it is not a non-issue. It’s very much an issue, a very explicit issue that has touched a chord with many people, which is why creative is attempting to do damage control with apologies and reasonings. It touches at the very heart of sexism in the Geek community, in Hollywood, and in our world at large. It may be a brief scene, but it speaks volumes about the way women are still viewed in a supposedly modern society.
To me, it was quite striking when my boss, Jeff recently posted a poll about the controversy on the Geek League Facebook page and it garnered the largest number of responses that we have ever received: over 130 responses, most of the them declaring the sequence a non-issue (with one emotionally over-involved man even getting the dreaded Ban Hammer for his attitude!) What was interesting to me is that most of the commenters were men, some of them friends and even contributors to the site, and a good many of them actively said things along the lines of wishing that Alice Eve remained that way the entire film, that they wished she was naked, and a few went so far as to decry “stupid femenists [sic]” for making a big deal out of nothing.
It was disgusting.
And proof that, yeah, this was a big deal.
As a straight man , I get it. Alice Eve is good-looking, she’s half-naked and I like to look at half-naked attractive women. As a straight man, I also realize I don’t have to deal with things in society on a day-to-day basis that women are confronted with as a whole. So I get why most of the men who took the poll could comment, shrug it off as a non-issue and then respond with crude jokes about wanting to see her further undressed. Men don’t get it. We don’t have to deal with it, and when you don’t have to deal something, you tend to lack the empathy for the people who do have to deal with it. For example, rich people will never understand the struggle to pay your bills week after week. They have money. Similarly, men can’t ever fully understand the magnitudinous struggle that is being a woman, because we have penises and the penis is its own currency. Your pay is not less. You are given more opportunities, treated with more automatic respect, not questioned about your abilities, allowed to have sex without defending yourself and you aren’t ogled on a daily basis, your worth reduced to how sexually valuable you are to the person viewing you. That’s not your life, so you can’t comprehend this. To you, you’re just being a red-blooded male embracing your natural sexuality. What’s wrong with that?
Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with that. Every person – gay, straight, male, female – should be free to embrace and engage in their sexual side without fear of reprisal. But not out of the expense of devaluing people based on their gender. And guess what, even if you don’t think you are doing that, you are. Because that’s what that scene was doing.
There is nothing inherently wrong with showing a woman in her underwear in a movie, if it fits the context of the scene in question. Some commenters suggested that, as geeks, those who were against the scene were afraid of women’s bodies. That’s hardly the case; and the prudish dismissal of Eve in her near-nude glory, the desire to reduce a woman to a Madonna archetype (the biblical kind, not the singer kind) is its own kind of sexism. Aye, but here’s the rub — there was also no single reason to include this scene in the movie. Not one. It was probably one of the single most gratuitous moments of exploitative sexuality I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. It was so random, so out-of-place that it took me right out of the film. On a sheer technical note it was inept: a clumsily placed insert shot that did not flow directly out of the preceding shot or easily into the next one. In terms of cinematic grammar, it was some really bad editing, regardless of what it represented.
But it’s what it represents that makes it even more problematical and worthy of discussion — even if quite a few of you would rather not deal with the repercussions of what it asks. I’ve heard so many defenses of the scene, yet all of them can be easily debunked, and all of them simply refuse to deal with the core of the issue at hand — the inherent sexism still prevalent in sci-fi, geek culture and culture at large. Carol Marcus, as seen in Star Trek Into Darkness, is a horribly written character, a plot device and easter egg for longtime fans. She isn’t a character, but a place marker and an exposition spouter; her character could have easily been written out and no one would notice. She’s repeatedly been said to be a weapons expert of high intelligence, yet not once do we see her actively show that intelligence — but we do get to see her perfectly sculpted six-pack. Her two big scenes of “heroism” are deeply undercut by stupid writing. As someone pointed out, she saves McCoy from a ticking bomb, but only due to blind luck — the supposed bomb expert can’t defuse the bomb so she desperately yanks the innards right out of it. No display of her vaunted intelligence required. Her other big scene, wherein she tries to save the Enterprise crew by revealing her presence to her villainous father, Admiral Marcus, fails because once she does so, she’s immediately beamed aboard his ship. So her sacrifice as a bargaining chip carries no weight whatsoever and renders her ineffectual.
That Carol Marcus is so underwritten in a film that already has issues with female characters — Uhura is reduced to being identified solely through her relationship with Spock, and her big scene, the Klingon negotiation, also ends with her failure and is resolved with the actions of a male character — makes the underwear scene even more obvious. The scene has no reason to exist — there is no reason for Carol to disrobe, not even the flimsiest excuse to justify the T&A. She isn’t having sex with Kirk. Her clothes aren’t dirty or need to be changed. It’s literally apropos of nothing that she changes. She isn’t even effectively flirting with Kirk . I’ve heard people respond that it’s a cute moment of flirtation between Kirk and the future mother of his child. But she isn’t that. In the original franchise maybe, but this Abrams’ alternate world version — you know, the one where Kirk dies and Spock yells “KHAAAAAAN!!!” instead of the other way around. The one where Khan’s motivations are completely different from “Space Seed” and Wrath of Khan. Even if Carol becomes Kirk’s baby mama in this timeline, there is no indication here, in this film, that she is ever going to be that. She doesn’t even get to be the hoary old cliché of “the girlfriend” to Kirk, in the way that Uhura gets to be with Spock — even that simplistic character identity is denied to this plot-moving non-entity of a character.
JJ Abrams has tried to defend the scene by promoting his “equal opportunity” exploitation, but the shirtless scene with Chris Pine as Kirk is both a) contextualized (he’s bedding two alien ladies) and b)builds off his character as a womanizer. The Carol Marcus underwear scene comes out of nowhere, does nothing to establish her character and does nothing to advance the plot. It exists solely to pander to the male fanbase, something the costume designer made clear in one interview. Just the way it was shot has a leering, ogling quality to it: the aforementioned clumsy insert shot from low, Carol fully displayed, hip cocked, arms splayed, not even attempting to cover herself from the peeping of space’s biggest man-slut. There’s an oddly presentational quality to how she’s shot, as if Abrams is serving her up on a silver platter to the male gaze in the audience. The irrelevant Benedict Cumberbatch shower scene was cut from the film, why not this? The one-shot screams “look at this, a half-naked woman everyone!!!” which is not only sexist and exploitative, but serves only to reinforce that most galling stereotypes about the male geek community — that we are only comfortable with idealized half-naked images of women rather than the real, human thing.
And judging from the comments made in the Geek League poll — leering, sleazy, defensive, angry, insulting, objectifying — maybe those stereotypes are right. And they prove, if nothing else, with every single question of why this is an issue, that this is something that needs to be an issue. You all proved why women and their male allies need to make a big deal out of small scenes like this. Because this single, inconsequential moment is the seed to a larger conversation about gender roles and how they are treated, respected and disrespected in the geek community. Your responses are exactly why I need to write this article, and why women need to write blogs about their life in the geek community like this one http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/why-the-fake-geek-girl-meme-needs-to-die, this one: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2012/11/nerds-stop-hating-women-please, or many other blogs around the net from women who have to defend their love of geek culture from mouth-breathing apes who only view women according to their tit size. Until the day that stops happening , we have to make a big deal about small potatoes like a Star Trek underwear scene.
If you don’t believe me, just ask Joss Whedon: