Monday, October 7, 2013

Unfortunate Sexism in Good Media, as Portrayed by GTA V

Nothing to see here

Mild Spoilers Ahead.

GTA does satirize american culture and the american dream. The quick buck, the easy fix, sex and violence. But, consciously or not, it is also satirizing women: not just our society's view of women, not just specific people who happen to be women. No, it satirized women as a class of people. I don't think it necessarily sets out to do this, and I don't think the people who made the game are evil for it turning out this way. But this is something that I find difficult to deal with, and something I wish there were a LOT less of both in the world and especially in the industry.

Let's look at how GTA uses satire. Take Jay Norris: the Zuckerberg/Jobs character who runs the game's version of Facebook, "Life Invader." He gives speeches that are essentially literal translations of a cynical interpretation of a Jobs keynote. The words, "peek, pry, populate," displayed behind him, the extolls the virtues of his company. He says, to a cheering crowd, "We have put a billion people's private information in the public domain, and we have milked every penny we could in the process."

Here we have an exaggeration of a real type of public figure, calling out the absurdity of the these cult-of-personality keynotes, and showing how companies like Facebook and Apple getting people to pay them for the privilege of eroding their private lives. He says they're average workforce age is 14, which calls out some of the questionable manufacturing conditions that have been reported at FoxConn.

This is pretty classic satire. There's an element of real culture dialed up to the proverbial 11 to make it easier to see and to show how absurd it is. And then, without spoiling too much, it gives us some lovely wish fulfillment.

Then there's the son of one of the main characters, Jimmy. He's a classic example of the second generation son of the hard working parents. Looking like a ginger Turtle circa Entourage season 1, he's a stand in for lazy millennials and entitled trust funders. He sits in his room all day yelling slurs at people over the internet and getting high. He sells his dad's boat because he doesn't have any spending money at the time, and has the audacity to at one point put a giant brick of marijuana in the family fridge.

This is the game mocking the college age core demographic gamers, and the easy target millennials. And it's not the worst mocking. Here we have entitlement, moral bankruptcy, and general dudebroness all called out for ridicule. When he calls people "gay" over the internet, this is mocking dudebros -- not mocking homosexuality. Once again, we've taken something problematic and turned it up to 11 to point out the flaws and have a good laugh.

Then there's the women. It's easy to talk about Michael's wife and daughter. I know, because I just deleted two paragraphs I wrote about them. But the truth is, that's talked about better elsewhere; the nagging, cheating, entitled housewife and oversexed underbrained blonde stereotypes aren't new. And the game doesn't do much new with them here. It just uses the same old vaguely offensive sitcom tropes without really making fun of them.

Oddly enough, this doesn't bother me all that much
The more interesting female characterizations, and the more toxic, are the "strong women" that show up. First of all, there's Franklin's Aunt who he calls crazy and with whom he owns a small house. All we ever see her do is hanging out with her female friends and performing various empowerment exercises and asserting her right to the house she half owns. She has the audacity to not want to move when Franklin wants to sit down, watch TV, and smoke a bowl. Her assertion of ownership over what's hers and her feminism are what is exaggerated here and, thus, are what the game is subtly saying is a character flaw to be made fun of.

The other character is a minor quest giver - a female jogger Michael can race against. She's an attractive woman in her late 30s. When Michael first approaches her she says she's not interested in him. She then goes on to assert that she's working out for herself and not to fill a man-shape void in a very "the lady doth protest too much" sort of way. She constantly berates Michael, who keeps replying, "You should meet my wife." The exaggerated elements here are her independence, her athleticism, and her hatred of men. The game implies that she's compensating for being an "old maid" with man hating and exercise and all but saying that she may just need a good fucking and she's be fine.

Yes, this is a game of terrible people. There are no female role models because the game doesn't have any role models. Except maybe Trevor. Here's the distinction: when male characters are satirized, it's usually for qualities that have little or nothing to do with their gender. The shrink is satirized for being money grubbing and uninterested, the yoga instructor for being in touch with his body (and anus), and Trevor's friend Ron for being a conspiracy theorist. When women are satirized it's usually for things that are specific to women: dressing too provocatively, being obsessed with being 39 and single, or marching around like the mother at the beginning of Mary Poppins. People are made fun of everywhere, but women are made fun of for being women.

I say this not to convince. As I said at the top, if you don't think it's a problem that the game satirized women as a class that's on you. I'm not here to try to evangelize. I'm writing this to let people who feel the same way I do, or agree with some of what I said, to know that someone else out there thinks the same things are true. Because god knows there are enough people out there who say there's nothing wrong with the way our media portrays women.

Now THIS is cultural satire:

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