Alternative heading: “Why Kyle Smith is an actual dinosaur” or “A rant about gender & identity in cinema”.
I’d never heard of Kyle Smith before today, but I sure have heard his rhetoric before. In fact, I heard it just a few weeks ago when one of my male friends tried to tell me that all women are bitchy when they are in groups of solely women. Apparently, women talking to one another about their feelings is bitching, men doing the same is just ‘shooting the breeze’.
Anyway. For those of you that haven’t read it, Smith wrote a piece about the 1990 gangster film Goodfellas. You can read it here. On reading said article you could be confused into thinking it was written in the 1950s, when society wholeheartedly believed that men and women were wired completely differently and therefore understood the medium in very different ways. I was surprised to learn that this ‘enlightening’ piece was written just two days ago, in the 2015. It’s astounding really.
Let me just say, I haven’t watched Goodfellas. I reserve the right to not watch films I don’t think I am going to enjoy, and I don’t think I would enjoy Goodfellas. But let me be perfectly clear. The reason I don’t want to watch Goodfellas is not because (in Smith’s own words) I’m too sensitive to watch men busting each others balls or because I would rather watch films where the main characters sit around and talk about their feelings. It certainly isn’t because I think I wouldn’t understand it. I don’t want to watch Goodfellas because, at the grand old age of 23, I know which type of film I enjoy and which ones I don’t want to waste three hours viewing just to confirm that I was right. I am not an advocate for watching a film just because it’s a classic, or because it was made by a specific director or because some idiot on the internet reckons it’s the best thing since sliced bread.
Continuing on though, there are a few points that Smith made that I would really like to address. Firstly, going back to the point I was making at the beginning of this article, Smith completely generalises and groups all women into one category – simply because his former girlfriend didn’t like Goodfellas. Smith makes a huge assumption here, and one that my friend made when talking about groups of women being bitchy. To a woman, the “goodfellas” are lowlifes. To guys, they’re hilarious, they’re heroes. Two huge sweeping statements that cannot possibly be validated. Just because one woman in your life behaves a certain way or has certain interests, it’s completely ignorant to suggest that every other woman feels that way. This is in no way a statistical study (but since Smith decided not to do one either, I think that’s okay) but I know several women who have seen Goodfellas and love it. In fact, I know several women who enjoy both Goodfellas and ‘Sex and the City’. Smith doesn’t seem to think these are compatible somehow.
Quite why Smith had to bring S&TC into the mix when it’s pretty incomparable with Goodfellas is beyond me. It’s entirely plausible that, whilst enjoying S&TC, one could also enjoy Goodfellas. In the same way that sometimes I like watching ‘Real Housewives of New York’, but my favourite film is ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. His generalisation is incredibly harmful – both to women and men. The idea that our gender dictates whether or not we can engage or understand certain cinemas is pretty juvenile. Maybe Kyle Smith only has the capacity to appreciate one genre of entertainment, but I’m pretty sure the rest of us don’t work like that – male or female.
Secondly, I feel like Kyle Smith has completely forgotten about Hollywood’s intrinsic trajectory. The vast, vast majority of Western films are completely male-centric, so much so that when a film like Mad Max: Fury Road is released, it is held up and celebrated simply because women aren’t portrayed as simply silent and passive love objects. Smith completely ignores years and years of white male protagonists gracing our screens without a second thought. When we talk about identification in cinema, we see that women don’t identify with the passive, objectified women they see on screen. They identify with the male hero figure because that’s how films are coded – identification with the male protagonist. Theories surrounding the male gaze and spectatorship convincingly show us that women do indeed identify as male whilst watching male-dominated films. Read some Mulvey already! Dual identification makes an interesting study, but it certainly doesn’t stop women from engaging with and enjoying male-centric stories. If the lack of female protagonists stopped me from enjoying a film, then I’ve probably enjoyed about 5% of all the films I’ve seen in my life.
Moreover, isn’t the whole point of cinema is that it is an escapist fantasy? Cinema, films, television and gaming are mediums that allow us to experience life as somebody else – even if it’s just for half an hour. I might be the ‘sensitivity police’ in real life (thanks Kyle) but whilst watching Back to the Future I become Marty McFly – unafraid and ready for adventure. I might actually be a real-life mafia boss, but when I watch Sex and the City I can get emotional about Carrie’s love life – to use Smith’s own example. Fundamentally, you don’t have to be a man to engage with ‘manly’ narratives (whatever the fuck that means anyway). If what Smith says is true, then I need to be a white, 40+ mafia boss in order to enjoy Goodfellas. Never threatened to kill anyone? You can’t engage with Goodfellas. Never ratted out your buddy to your former enemy? Probably shouldn’t be watching The Godfather then.
Simply, your genitalia does not determine what films you identify with or enjoy. So thanks but no thanks Kyle.
Cheers to Nat & Di for reacting with a similar burst of outrage as I did, and giving me some great material for this post. Also for liking Goodfellas despite not being men. Well done.