Sunday, 13 January 2013

Two films: Two Cultural stories

How the rise in popularity of Scandanavian TV reflects our changing views of women's status in film and TV. 

In the past 3 or 4 years our television screens have become filled with all things Scandinavian, much of it has been what is called “Scandinavian Noir" -crime and detective series such as Wallandar, the killing as well as “Borgan" which is as close to the equivalent of “West Wing" that the Danish are going to get!

One of the most popular films has been the adaptations of Stieg Larsson's series “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", and although I haven't read the book I recently watched both the American and Swedish versions of the film. There are lots of things that are contrasting, the Swedish version was much more grittier and realistic, more understated and subtle, but the thing that struck me most were a bit different portrayals of the main character Lisbeth in the films.

This is going to reveal important things about the plotline, so please do not read unless you have watched the film or  are not planning to! In the American version of the film the plot is very much more led by the character played by Daniel Craig: he's the one to track down Lisbeth to ask her to work for him, and the investigation is largely led by him, where as in the Swedish version it is Lisbeth who makes the 1st of the discoveries about the case he is working on, before he does. I also do not think that the decision to cast Daniel Craig, who also plays James Bond, is accidental. In the American film Lisbeth ends up being much more of a sidekick, to the charismatic and reckless Mickael. Where as in the Swedish version he is much more of a passive character, following Lisbeth's lead. 

But the most startling thing is the differences in their relationship with each other in the 2 films. Although Lisbeth instigates their relationship in both of the films, in the American one she ends up rejected and sidelined by him, and ends with him going back to his lover, and the sad final scene of her putting the present she's bought him in the trash. Where is in the Swedish film it is her who leaves mysteriously, and he who is pining after her when she doesn't keep in contact with him. 

So what's the big deal about that? Well I think it really reflects the different attitudes to women in America and Scandinavia. One of the positive things in Scandinavian TV and film is that they are willing to have female strong lead characters who drive the story, where men can take a much more passive and less controlling role .And this is reflected in Scandinavian culture and politics. It is no accident that these countries have a much higher level of equality between men and women both in income and status. In Iceland 5 out of the 11 Cabinet members are women, and the Prime Minister herself is not only a woman, but also openly gay. Can you imagine that happening in "West Wing"?

But this move away from less stereotypical roles for men and women, reflects not only greater gender equality, but the greater level of equality found in general in Scandinavian countries. Norway, Finland and Sweden all have greater equality in all other areas, in terms of income and quality of life, as well as life expectancy, educational attainment and many other things, with the US lagging behind near the bottom despite it being a so-called “developed" country.

I think that this burgeoning  interest in all things Scandinavian is a positive thing, showing that people are ready to move away from the macho, male dominated, testosterone fuelled film and television making that is so prevalent in America, towards a more equal role for women both in society and in our  choice of television and film.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Disability Witchhunt

In the past year, verbal abuse towards disabled people has increased by 41%. The governments demonisation of disabled people claiming benefits, presenting them as fraudulent, lazy and responsible for robbing a recession sunken country of its precious funds.

In a recent survey that public misconceptions about welfare have been wildly out of step with the actual figures. When asked about the proportion of the welfare budget that is fraudulently claimed, on average people placed it as 27% instead of the 0.7% that is actually estimated.

This is a context for what happened to me tonight. I was at the station waiting for a train, when a man came up to me and said:
And he said “why have you got a stick?"

I  was startled and said “pardon?" 

 “what's wrong with you?". 
“It's complicated to explain" i replied

My train had come, and I was waiting to get on it, but because he was standing between me and the train, I couldn't get on it straightaway. At that point he moved towards me, I moved back and he said aggresively:

You're not really disabled are you? Are you, are you? You're not disabled. You're one of them aren't you, you're one of them that's pretending, you're draining this whole fucking country" 

He got on the train, I didn't because I don't want to get in the carriage with him, and I sat back down at the station and burst into tears. 

My disabilities have ruined my life, they make it so hard for me to do almost everything. Every day it's a struggle, and it is terrible to be told that you are not as ill and in pain as you know you are by someone else. And it's terrible to have the government who will not believe disabled people when they tell them what they need, and what they can't do.

Picking on minority groups to divert attention from the actual problems is not something new. Jewish people, gypsies, women, gay and bisexual people have, and often still are, blamed for the ills in society. Freud says that persecution is a way of externalising your anger and hatred, by making the Other a scapegoat for the ills of society.

And I am scared: scared for myself and for other disabled people, who face loosing their income, their transport, wheelchairs, and independence and i suspect probably their lives in some cases. 

With the benefits cut back by coming in during the next year, there is going to be a witchhunt on disabled people claiming benefits. Maybe they should go back to the old way of trying people: by throwing them in water and seeing if they float. Because the way that people's disabilities and benefits are being assessed is just as ridiculous and unfair, has just as little grasp on reality, and just as little understanding and compassion and plain common sense.