Monday, February 12, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth


Fascist ideals of masculinity had no real use for women other than as the vessels through which passed the next generation of fascist males. Its aesthetic was built upon a world where women were the conduits for sexual release and the pride that came from having reproduced a junior version of yourself who would carry on the ideals with which you yourself had been inculcated. Women, when they were not serving their purpose as mothers, or as virgins—potential mothers—were garbage, part of the larger population of undesirables and vermin who needed to be brought to heel, to be destroyed.

In Fascist Spain, in 1944, Franco's forces had been triumphant, but there was still opposition in the countryside. It is against this background that the splendid movie, Pan's Labyrinth takes place. Billed as a "fairy tale for grownups" it is just that. An old-fashioned, pre-Victorian fairy tale. A myth. As such, it is full of disturbing nightmarescapes and brutality that will sicken you. It is also one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen.

I should say right now that I saw it with my 15-year old daughter, who also loved it. It would have terrified her 9-year old sister (who did not attend), and my recommendation to parents is that consider carefully the ability of their children to contextualize both the horror and the beauty that the movie presents.

Pan's Labyrinth combines many of the tropes from the ancient myths. The main character, Ofelia, is a 12-year old girl who travels with her pregnant mother to the country headquarters (the mill) of Ofelia's new step-father, a captain in Franco's army who commands a base of men who are seeking to root out and destroy the band of guerilla fighters who hide in the wooded hills that surround the headquarters.

Ofelia refuses to call the captain "father," a disobedience that annoys her mother, but that also contains within it a larger struggle: the refusal of the feminine to obey, be disciplined, by the masculine.

Almost as soon as she arrives, Ofelia is befriended by the magical creatures that have inhabited the woods for eons. A fairy leads her to a faun, and it is the faun who charges Ofelia with the completion of three tasks, before the waxing moon is full. The tasks are terrifying, and as is the case in all such myths, require great ingenuity and courage on the part of its heroine. And, of course, the food-rationed child is tempted, while in the underworld, by luscious food. There's a pomegranate, of course, but I won't spoil it by telling you whether she partakes of the food that did in Persephone.

Running alongside the mythical story is what is happening in the battle between the Fascists and the rebels. Mercedes is the captain's housekeeper, and she efficiently directs the day-to-day operations of running a large household full of important men, while leading a secret life that disrupts the Fascist work and aids those in the woods who seek to free Spain of the tyranny of Franco.

The third major female character is Carmen, Ofelia's mother, who has been made sick by the carrying of the Captain's child. The pregnancy is draining her of everything, and the metaphor of a Female Spain, having been penetrated and impregnated by Fascism and thus sickening and dying, is personified in Carmen, who is kept constantly drugged and bedridden in order to be able to give birth to a healthy son.

And yet, it is Carmen, in a moment of wellness made possible by her daughter's heroics, who says some of the film's most memorable and heart-breaking lines. She tells her daughter that adults cannot believe in magic, that Ofelia must give up her magical thinking, because everyone has to deal with reality, even if that reality is ugly. The message is clear: the Fascists are in power, and it is we who must accede to their demands. I was reminded of Thucydides' History of the Pelopponesian War when he wrote that "the powerful extract what they can, while the weak grant what they must."

But, in Pan's Labyrinth, the weak have another power at their disposal. It is the same power that the weak—and especially women—have been associated with in those cultures in which the state (whether as represented by a monocultural church, or, as in the case with Fascism, the ultra-rational state) has attempted to take all power from the people. Magic. The manipulation of a magical realm to attempt to effect change in the real world. And it is not accidental that the person who is invested with this power is a girl.

For me, Pan's Labyrinth was about watching the feminine archetype of nurturer, possessor of secret knowledge, and wise warrior goddess in battle with the rational, brutal, and psychically wounded masculine archetype.

The further you venture into the labyrinth, the less clear it becomes where evil ends and justice begins. And yet, the one true thing I held onto is that Ofelia, with all her flaws and fears, is the heroine that I would want to be.

The Feminist Blogosphere Vs. Bill Donohue

I have sat with this for days now, trying to bring to fruition in language the tremendous anger, sadness, and yes—fear—that flooded me last week as I watched Amanda and Melissa become the targets of Christofascists' attacks. (For tremendous work on the topic, please see Liza's posts, including a full roundup of links to the feminist blogosphere's reaction.) I choose my words carefully, and when the urge comes upon me to let loose a string of expletives—necessary language for me sometimes, the ur language that boils forth from an angry soul—I try to tamp it down. I want to be heard.

One thing I do know. Jesus did not say: "Shut Your Pie Hole."

But Paul did: In I Corinthians, 14:34-35, he writes, Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.
And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

Women, you see, are to be seen and not heard. But it was Paul who said that, Paul who took on the mantle of interpreting he who had already spoken. Paul put words in the mouth of the dead and called it church law.

"But," you say, "Look around. There are plenty of women out there speaking, writing, making noise. They are not told to shut up."
Oh, but my friends, they are. Last week, the John Edwards for President campaign was asked to fire two of its voices because those voices--with their consistent calls for women's equality; their sometimes sarcastic, angry venting against the injustices perpetuated against women using language that offended because it was considered profane; with their ceaseless calls for gender equality that sometimes, in rage, they thought might only happen when women were freed of the shackles of religions that keep them perpetually pregnant and slaves to their own reproductive systems--those voices, the Edwards campaign was told, were offensive.
Leading that charge was William Donohue, President of the Catholic League, who had no problem telling women to shut the fuck up. He has claimed a membership of 350,000, and using the hammer he thought such membership entitled him to swing, he went after the uppity women. And it's not just Amanda and Melissa. It's Rosie. And Joy. And Barbara. And Mara. And Brenda.

from the "Tucker" show on Wednesday, February 7, 2007, was chilling. This exchange, in which Donohue brags about silencing women and Tucker Carlson cheers him on was nauseating.

DONOHUE: Well, (INAUDIBLE) in 2004 worked for the Kerry/Edwards campaign. I found about her background and they had to silence her. Then they got Brenda Bartel Peterson (ph) to quit or be fired because of her background. What I‘m saying is this, these people are somewhat clueless. They are somewhat naive. They need to find out who is working for them.
You know, you‘ve got to vet these people. You need to have a gate keeper. Apparently they don‘t have one.
CARLSON: I have the feeling they‘re going to have one from now on.
DONOHUE: I hope the Republicans and the Democrats are all watching this carefully, because there‘s a lot of Bill Donohues out there which are watching this.
(quotations from the transcript are sic.)

(By the way, the "Inaudible" from the transcript is not inaudible at all. You can watch the video below the fold. I heard the name the first time Donohue said it. It's
. And you should definitely look up her story.)

The entire video interview between Tucker and Bill is deeply disturbing. Why? Well, read through the transcript and see if there are men mentioned who need to be silenced. Silenced. Don't you love that word? What does it bring to mind? Muzzles? Ball gags? Women should be seen and not heard; isn't this one of the principal messages of conservative Catholicism, fundamentalist Protestantism, fundamentalist Islam, fundamentalist Judaism? Shouldn't we all just shut the fuck up?

But Donohue messed with the wrong people. As soon as word got out that Amanda and Melissa had been attacked, the forces of the feminist blogosphere flexed its muscle and pushed back. And, as it turns out, we have at least two million voices—and growing—with which to counter the forces of misogyny.

My guess is, as this campaign season moves forward and the blogosphere plays a significant role in analyzing, persuading, cajoling, advocating, and venting—serving as a conduit between voters and the candidates who seek to represent them—we will see more of the Bill Donohue-type attacks on the left. What people write on their blogs will be read, archived, brought out at opportune moments to try to embarrass or, as Donohue hoped, silence us. But you know what? Fuck 'em. Fuck 'em all.

I speak only for myself, but I speak as a member of a network that I watched counter the ravings of a lunatic (and his nodding, guffawing puppet, Tucker). But as an individual I say this. I will not be silent. I will not be cowed. I am not a member of the Christian Church, and whatever woman-hating Paul said does not apply to me. It does not apply to the feminist blogosphere. We will not be moved. We will not be silent.
Just fucking deal with it.