(I’ve made this a pages so people can find it a bit easier).
Yeah. It totally turns out that I’m doing requests now.
My postbag (it’s a metaphor, bear with me) usually only contains offers for unbelievable financial opportunities (with spelling mistakes) and several shades of spam but yesterday I received this from Sarah.
Hello, I just found your blog this after and I love it! Could you write about gender representation in Metroid in comparison to Tomb Raider? It would be really helpful as I have my end of year exam on Tuesday.
Firstly Sarah after what? I initially assumed that you found my blog “this afternoon” but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps the “this” is a typo? Perhaps it should have read, “I just found your blog after I discovered that I am taking a subject called Media Studies when I have been attending Agricultural Studies lessons” or “I just found your blog after taking horrific, and bloody, revenge on the last Media Studies blogger who displeased me?”
With that in mind here are my thunks on the matter.
If you are being asked about gender representation in anything by AQA you want to immediately see which theorists you can weasel into your answer (yes weasel is a real verb). You have a choice of several:
- bell hooks: Especially interested in race gender and power intersectionality and self-representation. Not so useful in this scenario.
- Lizbet Van Zoonen: Discourse and power. Yup. Useful (we’ll look at this some more).
- Ariel Levy: She’s not one of the big named people but if you have studied raunch culture then you should have met this journalist’s name. Ariel Levey could be useful here.
- Stuart Hall: If in doubt, whenever you see the word representation, go to Hall. His stuff on audience response is also useful here.
So what to write about in a couple of pages of exam stressy essay?
1: Van Zoonen and discourse. Both Metroid: Prime 2 Echoes and Tomb Raider Anniversary are shaped by the discourse concerning gender that surrounds them.
In Metroid the makers have exploited the fact that in the discourse on gender the default gender for the action genre (even in a metal suit) is male.
Even robots from Cybertron are male!
So then this comes as a bit of a surprise at the end of the game.
We’ll talk more about negotiated audience response at the end.
But you will want to stress that Samus Aran’s gender is actually completely irrelevant in most of the game. Check out the packaging imagery:
A suit is a suit is a suit! In many ways the suited Samus is almost as alien in design as the aliens.
That said a woman in a suit fighting aliens is not without precedent in even Hollywood culture.
The game sidesteps discussions about gender until the very end. In many ways this is down to Metroid’s Japanese roots. Robots (and robot-y suits) are big in Japanese pop-culture (check out the brilliant Netflix episode of “The Toys That Made Us” on Transformers to understand more).
I don’t think AQA has any expectation that you will have a grasp of this but Samus is linked to big Japanese mecha-suit narratives that often feature beautiful women in power-suits (or even robot women). Japanese discourse concerning gender is often very different to western discourse so you will want to make your points quickly and move on.
Tomb Raider (as you will see in my notes) is far more of a western cultural animal and so engages with western discourse on gender. See my notes on Lara’s original character design and concepts. Lara is a product of the discourse as it was occurring in 1996 and shaped the discourse itself over the next decade and a bit.
Lara is presented as capable, rational and the equal of any man.
However Van Zoonen might lead you to consider that her capabilities are also bound up with her femininity and attractiveness. If she was presented as less feminine and conventionally attractive would she be presented as being as capable? There’s plenty of evidence that Vasquez always dies.
Also Van Zoonen might be interested in the way that gamers play(ed) Lara differently from a male character (they tended to let her die less casually) and the way the final boss, Natla, is also female. Both point to conflicting elements in the prevailing discourse concerning gender,
2: Ariel Levy and Raunch Culture. In her book “Female Chauvanist Pigs” Levy argued that during the 90s there emerged a way for women to succeed in a patriarchal system by playing along with it. By presenting themselves as attractive to men and engaging in sexualised behaviour (visiting strip-clubs, dancing sexually, drinking as much as men) they could become “one of the boys” and so gain power within the system.
You could argue that the packaging artwork for Tomb Raider Anniversary is a representation of raunch culture with its T and A shot, direct eye-contact, leather straps and hyper-feminized pony-tail.
Metroid? Well unless you have a thing for upgrade-able fighting suits – less so.
3: Stuart Hall. Firstly his ideas about representation were that:
- In popular culture there was a primacy for the visua.
- The powerful tended to control representations (a point also noted by Dyer in his theories concerning stereotyping).
As a result both games tend to represent the women in them in particular ways because they are the result of a male dominated industry.
Remember the artwork for the games is not produced by the game producer so there are odd divergences between the Lara in the artwork and the Lara in the game for example (more sexualised).
As I have said earlier there is a long history of female manga and anime characters (as robots, in suits or in big mecha) and Metroid fits with this. It is interesting that she is presented in similar ways to Sayla Massone of the first female Mobile Suit Gundam pilots in the long running anime series).
Blonde, Caucasian, feminine, youthful and without make-up. Both representations are the result of a particular aesthetic created by male media-producers (in Japan).
There is also a representation element that you might want to mention with Hall in that his audience response theory gives the audience the ability to read the representations any way they desire. One, negotiated, reading of Samus is that the character is transgender.
The important thing here is not whether or not Samus is (or is not) trans. It is whether the producers have allowed enough free space in the representation for the audience to read it the way that they want to.
So Sarah. Enough for ya?
I’m off to play in the sunshine now. Happy revising!
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