Reëvaluating Showgirls

Reëvaluating Showgirls

Worst movie ever, or underrated treat?


matt-thinkingMatt: I like Showgirls. And I don’t mean I like it in the “so bad it’s good” way I like The Postman. I actually think Showgirls is a good movie. There, I said it.

Notice I didn’t say it was a GREAT movie. Certainly, it’s nobody’s favorite Paul Verhoeven flick (unless you grew up with a major crush on Jesse Spano). But you know what? I like it better than The Hollow Man.

Showgirls tells the story of Nomi Malone, a tough blond who hitchhikes into Vegas with nothing but a single suitcase (which immediately gets stolen). But she’s got two things nobody can take away: a great body, and a gift for dancing. Nomi starts out at the seediest strip club in town. But soon she breaks into the chorus of Goddess, a lavish stage show at a big casino. There, Nomi faces off with the queen bee, Cristal Connors, who either wants to befriend her, destroy her, or turn her into a sex toy.

Nomi may be a topless dancer, but she repeatedly insists she’s not a whore and she’ll never be like Cristal. But (surprise surprise) the higher she climbs, the more she becomes everything that once made her seethe. It’s a story as old as All About Eve, but with the sex jacked up to eleven. This is the most-expensive NC-17 rated film ever produced, and you will see more breasts than Frank Perdue.

It sounds fun, right? It IS fun, damnit. But for reasons I don’t fully understand, conventional wisdom firmly believes that this film is one of the worst of all time. It has an abysmal 14% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it won the un-coveted “Worst Movie of the Decade” award at the 2000 Razzie Awards. In fact, Showgirls has won more Razzies than any movie ever made. It’s a cinematic punching bag. And I don’t think it deserves it.

me, coy, editedAndré: I don’t think the movie’s quality was ever the serious objection.

matt-surprisedMatt: [spits Snapple all over his computer] Wait, what? Are you saying that people don’t think Showgirls is a bad movie after all?

André: Paul Verhoeven isn’t some kind of hack who never made a decent film. I don’t think anyone who could make a movie as beautiful and exciting as Basic Instinct should be called a “bad filmmaker.” I think he’s a talented satirist, and I’m not alone. As an idea, Showgirls is wonderful. A massive epic, full of dance numbers, comedy, thrills, love, about the things a poor woman has to do to make it in a world run by men and money.

Where it went wrong wasn’t the execution. I think critics were a little blindsided by the bizarre sex scenes and the idea of having a sympathetic female main character who wasn’t very smart. As much as I have a problem with some of the misogyny in the script, a lot of the reviews were even worse. Film critics can be incredibly stuffy and closed-minded, especially in America, and especially when it comes to sex. As far as critics go, Showgirls never had a chance.

matt-incredulousMatt: You talk about the “misogyny in the script,” but I’m not so convinced Showgirls is sexist. Sure, Nomi uses sex to get ahead, she’s moody and prone to histrionic fits of anger and resentment, she’s not the brightest neon sign on the strip, she lusts after Versace, and she spends a lot of the movie topless. But she’s also a very talented dancer, ambitious, hard-working, loyal to her friends, and refreshingly uninterested in love or romance. Nomi is a lot more complicated than the movie’s detractors admit.

For instance, there’s a great scene where Nomi goes to audition for Goddess. We know she’s incredibly excited for this–she’ll do anything for the part. But when the producer offers her ice and demands she get her nipples hard (it’s a topless show, after all), she calls him a dirty word and storms off the stage. That makes her the only girl in the audition who’s offended by this request. She’s also the only girl to get the part. In another scene, a bigwig at the casino tries to pressure her into having sex with a high roller. Once again, she storms out, while the other showgirl meekly agrees. Nomi would rather lose her job than cross that line.

Yes, there’s a scene later in the movie where she sleeps with Kyle MacLachlan, the Entertainment Director of the casino. But I don’t believe she does it to help her career. I think she does it to spite her female rival, who’s dating the guy. (Although come to think of it, that’s just as sexist, so maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up.)

45 Comments on “Reëvaluating Showgirls”

  1. Diana #

    1) “I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so. . .scared!” Sorry. I had to.

    2) Belinkie, I agree with your point about Black Book and Keetje Tippel, and moreover Verhoeven seems to really struggle with representing sexually empowered women. The question for me is often something along the lines of “Wait, is he saying that this is a solution or criticizing the system that promotes desperate and supremely screwed up actions such as these?” Ditto for the Sword and the Rose (thanks for that, Freud), and Basic Instinct. His women always seem to exist along a contiguous spectrum from “manipulative and aggressive in a world where they will otherwise be at the mercy of men (and that’s a complete and satisfactory resolution! Yay!)” to “manipulative and aggressive because they are just bugf***in’ key-ray-zay (and that’s just one of those things, sigh)”. I think the best example of this is Turkish Delight, where a woman seemingly betrays her true love to be a promiscuous, freaky-deeky sex puppet, then it turns out that the reason she did it was a malignant brain tumor that made her a nutbar. So she’s totally without autonomous thought or agency and on top of that it’s also implied that the only relevant motivation for a woman being sexually aggressive and exploratory is insanity by way of illness. Deadly illness. Forget about, for example, pleasure, curiosity, or boredom with her current sexual partner. It’s infuriating to my feminist sensibilities (or, you know, the idea that it’s kinda insulting to paint any group, plus or minus vagina-ownership, in such a manner?), but I’m never sure if he’s criticizing or condoning.


  2. Martin #

    I haven’t seen Showgirls, but one could argue similarly for Starship Troopers – there’s a fascist bent to the world that’s never specifically mentioned or criticised overtly by Paul Verhoeven, even when the effects of it are pretty brutal on the main characters.

    Even then it was clearer it was satire (compared to what I know of Showgirls), despite the sincerity of the book.


  3. Amelie #

    It’s typical for exotic dancers to have long finger nails. It’s also typical for them to put on a lesbian act for men. So, there you go: long fingernails despite the lesbian love. Also, the sexuality of straight women is largely inspired by the desire of men, so this can make lesbian sex the desire of straight women just as it is the desire of straight men. Besides, the kind of lesbianism that was being depicted was the sort of queen bee sexual bullying stuff that many high school girls can attest to. I’m glad they showed it.

    Nomi’s talent and loyalty are not the things that would keep the film clear of sexism. It’s not anti-feminist to like fine clothes or to dance poorly. The one truly sexist thing about the film is the bloody gang rape, which both of you failed to mention, I presume because it was actually disturbing (fingernails, designers clothes, and misplaced lesbianism: not so much).


  4. Amelie #

    P.S. The gang rape turned an otherwise playful Showgirls into something of a snuff film.


  5. fenzel #

    “P.S. The gang rape turned an otherwise playful Showgirls into something of a snuff film.”

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”


  6. Amelie #

    What word? snuff? I used it exactly once. Also, I used it loosely on purpose. Sorry.


  7. Amelie #

    I know what it means. My point was just that I suspect the brutal rape scene was as much for viewer titillation as was the lesbian kiss. Its gratuitous presence in the film (and the little concern over it) is far more disturbing in terms of women’s rights than the alleged misrepresentation of lesbian relations.


  8. fenzel OTI Staff #

    I didn’t want to misquote Mr. Montoya :-)

    It’s just important to maintain the line here between reality and fiction. It is important to remember that pretend rape, while dangerous and morally problematic, is not nearly as dangerous or morally problematic as real rape, and that the events of Showgirls did not happen in real life.

    Also, I like being contrary in comment threads.


  9. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Amelie –

    Okay, I may regret asking this question, but I’m curious: how is the gang rape scene sexist?

    I don’t see how it’s “gratuitous” – it’s the crucial moment that shows Nomi just how evil the system she’s a part of is. I don’t see how it’s “titillating” – it’s shocking and hard to watch, and it’s supposed to be. And how does the movie pay “little concern” over it? There’s two scenes in the hospital that show just how hurt Molly is, and Nomi gives up her entire career to take vigilante justice on her behalf.

    I’m not necessarily defending the scene (yet). I just want to hear what you find so offensive.

    – Matt


  10. Amelie #

    Fenzel: I know that it wasn’t real rape and I know that fake rape isn’t as bad as real rape. Rather, what I’m suspicious of here is the representation and viewing of rape at all.
    Belinkie: the movie (and every television crime drama) show us over and over again (in graphic detail) that rape is wrong, first by horrifically depicting the act (then close-ups of the female cadaver) and then justifying the whole cinematic ordeal by showing us justice. I don’t buy it.


  11. fenzel #


    Should we limit the depiction of events in fiction to those things that are morally acceptable when they happen in real life?

    Is it bad to imitate for performance something that would be bad if you really did it?

    (I mean, I only chimed in here because I wanted to pipe in that in snuff films, urban legends or no, the subject actually dies for reals, which makes them to me one of the most abhorrent things out there in the world, to the extent that they are out there in the world at all. But this is an interesting question.)


  12. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Amelie – So your position, if I understand it correctly, is that rape should NEVER be depicted in movies or television. That seems extreme to me. I’m a man of course, and I can’t claim to be an expert on gender issues. But I understand that rape is about the subjugation of a female body to male desire, and by depicting it, you’re offering the male viewers a chance to live out that experience. The camera becomes the rapist, right?

    I see the argument. And I agree with you that some television procedurals love to trot out the sexiest corpse they can find.

    That being said: Showgirls is a movie ABOUT the female body being presented for the male gaze. After two hours of showing these elaborate strip-teases, having Molly’s clothes literally RIPPED off seems like an appropriately subversive touch.

    You’re going to have to work harder to convince me that the movie crossed a line.

    – Matt


  13. stokes OTI Staff #

    There are a couple of particularly of ugly things about that sequence.

    1: It blames the victim, at least partially. I’m not saying the rapists don’t come off as monsters, but it’s one of those situations where the main character does A, and the supporting character does B, and as a result B gets raped. That’ll teach her to idolize a musician.

    2: It’s there solely to provide Nomi with character development. And this I think is what people mean when they call it gratuitous: you get the feeling that Eszterhaz was chugging along, and thought, “Well, at some point she has to get totally fed up with this. How can we accomplish that? I know, let’s introduce some random character and have him do something terrible to a friend of hers.” This is sloppy writing, first of all, and the fact that the something terrible is rape makes it particularly ugly.

    But like I suggested in my post on Monday, I think Verhoeven went out of his way to make the sequence as problematic as he possibly could.


  14. Amelie #

    Of course I didn’t say that rape should never be depicted. I’m just sick of it being used as often as it is. Just because the rapists are shown as the bad guys and our protagonists are provided with due vengeance, doesn’t make it all a-okay. I’m not suggesting that viewers enjoy the scene. Like you said, it’s very hard to watch. But we obviously DO enjoy watching it on some level because its shown to us all the bloody time. It gets the ratings.
    Its part in Showgirls feels like a cheap trick, and to what end I’m not sure. Nomi’s friend has to be gang raped and collapse, bloodied, in a crowd in order for Nomi to realize that she doesn’t like her line of work after all? Seriously? For that matter, in recognizing Nomi’s fear of crossing the line from dance integrity to whoredom, we must first believe that for a woman to have sex without love or to have sex for money is wrong. I agree with Andre: that premise is where the movie is most sexist.


  15. Amelie #

    Matt: so the movie is “about the female body being presented for the male gaze”. Thing is, I don’t there is anything wrong with that. Molly having her clothes “literally ripped off” is neither here nor there in my mind. Rape has nothing to do with strip-tease. You say that the rape scene was a “subversive touch”. But we don’t share the same idea of what it is here that needs to be subverted. Until then, we won’t be able to agree on the rape scene.


  16. Diana #

    I would question the use of “male desire” as the thing to which the female body is subjugated — rape is about power and violence, not sex, so the desire issue is somewhat to the side of the discussion, or at least ripe for misreading (as I have maybe done here).

    I think that rape can and should be depicted in the arts because the arts are a commentary on life, and rape, like death, famine, war, ignorance, and hatred, is a part of existence, but I take issue with the frequency of its depiction and the way it becomes a source of entertainment so frequently, especially in cop shows. A friend and I were recently joking that there should be a Law and Order SVU drinking game where every time the words “vaginal bruising,” “just a child!” “history of sexual abuse,” “ligatures” or “polaroids” are uttered you have to take a shot. That we could reduce an entire series to a set of buzzwords such as these so easily is disturbing to me, because what does it say when people are like “I can’t wait for my nightly SVU fix” and 60% of the show’s content is about women and the terrible thing that happens to them? Doesn’t this mean that on a certain level we are *happy* to be *entertained* by depictions of rape, violence, etc. towards women and children? I’m as guilty as the next viewer on these grounds — that is I watch shows like this to be, yes, entertained (albeit badly — does Benson have, like, a *fourth* facial expression we’re going to see before the show is canceled? Is that really electric violin music again?) — but it makes me uncomfortable that this is true.


  17. Diana #

    (Just to clarify, I should probably note that by “part of existence” I mean that it’s a part of our flawed existence to date, and until we are able to eradicate a host of other pretty entrenched human evils, we’d be naive to expect that to change, as sad as it is to admit that. I did not mean “rape is part of life, get over it!”)


  18. Amelie #



  19. callot #

    I don’t think we’ll get a chance in the future to discuss the misogyny in Shakespeare, as that would be regularthinking it instead of overthinking it. I will just say that Taming of the Shrew is more troubling to me than Showgirls is. Nomi at least refuses to apologize at the end, unlike Kate. For me, Taming of the Shrew is the most misogynist story ever told.

    It is interesting that Showgirls follows the five-act structure of Shakespeare instead of the usual three-act structure movies have.
    1. Nomi arrives, is robbed, vomits in parking lot.
    2. Time passes, Nomi is now a stripper, visits Cristal’s show, gets arrested, gets audition.
    3. Nomi becomes a Showgirl, fights with Cristal, rejects Asian Businessman, “I’m not a whore!”
    4. Nomi sleeps with Kyle MacLachlan, pushes Cristal down stairs, becomes star of the show, rape scene.
    5. Nomi gets revenge, reconciles with Cristal, leaves Las Vegas.

    The five-act structure is better for epics, because it allows space for the character arc and the plot arc to unfold separately. Within any three contiguous acts, we can see a particular change occur. In theory, the movie could end at the end of the third act, with Nomi’s meeting with her “mother” and “father” on stage at the Starlight. The movie continues because the plot didn’t really begin until the beginning of the third act, and needed two more acts to resolve itself.

    Nomi’s movie:
    Act One – Nomi arrives, gets swindled. “You’re going to have to sell it some time!”
    Act Two – Nomi is a stripper, says she’s a real dancer, fights to get a shot.
    Act Three – Nomi becomes a Showgirl, rejects whoredom, happy ending.

    Las Vegas’ movie:
    Act Three – A former stripper becomes a Showgirl, fights with other Showgirls, wants to be the star.
    Act Four – She cripples the star and sleeps with her boyfriend to take her place, alienating her friends and causing great guilt.
    Act Five – She redeems herself by sacrificing her success to revenge her friend, realizing that self-respect is more important than ambition.

    If there’s a third movie that occurs in Acts Two through Four, I think it would be Cristal’s movie, since she seems to be more active in driving the plot for that part of the movie. She pulls Nomi out of obscurity, she tries to manipulate Nomi, Nomi defeats her. Cristal’s plot is a straight-up tragedy that serves to warn Nomi against Cristal’s values.


  20. Gab #

    I haven’t seen the movie, but my general opinion on rape in film (or even in books) is similar to Amelie and Diana’s. When it is done as a last-ditch effort to give a character some growth or as a contrived source of mystery and tragedy, it’s not okay. But I feel this way about any “traumatic” experience for a character, any contrived explanation for a character’s trajectory (whether the event be from their past and thus explaining their actions, or it occurs in the film and they drastically change directions as a result). It’s lazy and sexist to use rape as a motivator without truly contextualizing it, just as it’s lazy and undermining the human psyche to use getting stuck in a closet as a toddler as an explanation for why someone became an axe-murderer.

    I do feel like I should say *something* else because I grew up in Vegas, though. There are myriad forms of (s)exploitation in the town, especially of women and children. [My favorite (read: the one that makes me taste the most bile) is the little girls on the sidewalk of the Strip passing out leaflets advertising adult escort services. They usually don’t even speak English and are accompanied by their parents.] But I don’t think being involved in that industry inherently makes the woman a moral failure. I knew a couple girls that were strippers once they were old enough (or they faked their age…) to save up for college because it can make a girl a lot of money- and isn’t that what the woman in the first season of The West Wing (I just started watching the show) was doing, working as a call-girl to pay for law school (kind of ironic, though, breaking the law to pay for law school…)? It isn’t necessarily because there was a moral failure, nor is it always because she was damaged somehow psychologically as a way of explaining away that choice (like the woman with the tumor Diana mentioned or, as the woman in the West Wing says, because she had some “tragic” past, which the woman in the show, gasp, didn’t!).

    The problem with exotic dancing (and prostitution) is how the display leads to the expectation that the woman is also willing to have sex whenever and wherever because she is a raging nymphomaniac, that she joined the industry to satisfy her desire for sex. But that’s unrealistic, and, further, sexual desire isn’t immoral in itself for ANYone, man or woman alike. Rape is rape, though, and I don’t care if the woman had been hired for a private lapdance or had already had sex with him for money: if she says no, that’s it. And strippers and prostitutes are victimized far more than “regular” women; and their cases are documented even less frequently because of the misogynistic “she was asking for it” mentality of society as a whole. A stripper getting raped in a private room is no less morally repugnant than a woman getting assaulted in a guy’s car after a date, but while both may be treated as if it was to some extent their own fault, the stripper is going to get it a lot worse. So to bring it back to the movie, it would be realistic to portray a woman being propositioned again and again, even to portray rape, because that is, unfortunately, what happens; but it would not be going about it right if it did not make it apparent that those things are a problem with society. Any “problem film” (to use your language, Andre, which I liked, hence the almost-plagiarism) runs this line, of depicting “status quo as-is and that’s okay” versus “status quo as-is and that’s NOT okay.” But I think stuff like rape and hate crimes are harder to deal with and portray in a movie that is aware it is wrong because there is so much *justification* for it out there- she was wearing a short skirt and batting her eyelashes; he was a dirty f*g that was hitting on me; etc. But I’m getting tangential again…

    But I think it should be noted that there are a few shows with male dancers in Vegas. (I’ve seen one. Does that make me morally reprehensible? To some, I suppose it would. But that’s a different discussion, yeah?) And I don’t think anybody would ever proposition those men with the same expectations they would a female dancer, nor would they automatically proclaim these men as “bad” people. I think this says as much about general societal views as it does Vegas culture, though, and runs with what I said before: if a woman is a stripper, it’s because she’s a sex-crazed, moral failure, while if a man is doing it, it’s just a job; if it’s a woman, she’d be more than willing to have sex with you if you ask (and if she says no, she’s lying), while if it’s a man, you would be totally out of line (and YOU would be the “bad” person) to ask, let alone insist, to have sex with him, how dare you even suggest it? This could also come from the patriarchal norms that keep women in subordination: a man is capable of displaying himself without worry or judgement because men are “supposed to” be the aggressors, while a woman cannot display, (and of course never assert) herself without being dirty or in the wrong because women are supposed to be submissive.

    ::end rants::


  21. fenzel #

    With all due respect, Andre, if you think Taming of the Shrew is the most misogynistic story ever told, you must not have read very many stories.

    Like, I have personally heard stories told by random dudes in places like locker rooms or bars that are more misogynistic than the taming of the shrew.

    The Bible has at least a dozen stories in it that are more misogynistic than Taming of the Shrew – Samson and Delilah comes to mind, or anything with Jezebel, or the book of Tobit.

    Heck, the B plot of _16 Candles_ is more misogynistic than taming of the shrew (the one where an underage Anthony Michael Hall rapes the drunk popular girl in the back seat of her car and she falls in love with him).

    I mean, I understand the urge to not unconditionally praise everything written by great writers, and of course Taming of the Shrew is uncomfortably sexist, but it’s not irredeemable to the extent that some some stories are irredeemable, and even if you see it as totally sinister, it is still miles behind, say “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Snoop Dogg, which in itself isn’t even the most misogynistic rap song out there.

    I mean, there are a lot of dudes who _really_ hate women _a lot_. Shakespeare doesn’t even play in their league, even if you assume the worst from everything he writes.


  22. callot #

    The reason I feel that Taming of the Shrew is the most misogynist story is that Shakespeare is incredibly successful in establishing his misogynist universe. Like I say in the article about Showgirls, it’s not the plot that’s misogynist, it’s the universe the plot implies. Snoop is not as successful a misogynist as Shakespeare because Snoop, whatever he’s doing, is only ever rhyming about Snoop. There’s a degree to which Snoop allows women to define their own universe, because he doesn’t contemplate them. For Snoop, “bitches ain’t shit.” For Shakespeare, bitches are indeed a huge part of human life, deserving of consideration at the level of death (Hamlet), the soul (the Scottish Play) and love (half the plays). And the conclusion that Shakespeare comes to, having given women their day in court? Women are vile, stupid, cruel, petty and in “need” of slavery as a path for personal salvation. Taming of the Shrew is the Mein Kampf of misogyny. Orders of magnitude worse than the most objectionable misogyny in anything in the Bible, which doesn’t ever explain WHY women are to be treated like cattle.

    Also, the Bible is much too complicated and contradictory to be called misogynist or feminist as a text. As bizarre as it sounds to say this, the Bible isn’t very good propaganda. People have often compared the Bible to the works of Shakespeare in terms of their capacity to reflect something about humanity as a whole. I think the Bible has such a long compositional history, with so many authors and revisions, combining history with myth with law with philosophy with poetry, that it can’t really be said to have a point of view. It is the ultimate post-modern text. Just taken as a document of the hegemonic views of the past, you could even say it’s feminist, since it clearly documents the outright slavery of women.

    The only thing I can think of that might challenge Taming of the Shrew for the title of “Most Misogynist” would be another Shakespeare play: Hamlet. In Hamlet, Shakespeare lays out his comprehensive view of the nature of existence, and the part women play? Victims, schemers and scenery. Ophelia is all the more humiliating as an example of the terrible Shakespearean woman because she is so boring and simple and bad compared to Hamlet. As Hamlet rises to stand for all mankind, the shadow cast by Hamlet over Ophelia comes to darken all women.

    Not all of Shakespeare’s women are this objectionable, of course. Constance, in King John, might even be the best part for a women until Miss Julie. Her grief, her ambition, her hatred rival Shakespeare’s best male characters. Still, what is Constance’s defining characteristic? Her love for her son, Arthur. Even Constance, this monument to humanity, cannot have an inner life apart from the existence of a man. When her son dies, she dies of grief, her life force extinguished miraculously, like Amidala in Revenge of the Sith. When Romeo dies of grief, he has to take his own life through action, but Constance can just *expire*. She doesn’t even get to die onstage. A MAN tells the audience that she has died.

    It makes me angry just to think about it.


  23. fenzel #

    I dunno man, Samson and Delilah is not that complicated. Beautiful and independently thinking women should not be trusted, because they will rob your great heroes of their strength and sell your race into slavery. Pretty simple, and much worse than TotS, and women by the hundreds of millions have chanted it as the word of God for millenia.

    The Bible is not just one story, it’s a lot of stories.

    I would say the fact that TotS is believable by both men and women and speaks to an experience that seems genuinely human makes it far less misogynistic than a story that insists women are not fully human and should be treated like chattle.

    This argument is a little “emo-kid,” in that it seems as if you’re saying the story must be worse than ones that are obviously worse than it because of how much people connect with it and like it, and yet it still doesn’t say what you think it should say.

    And I’m sorry, but the Hamlet argument is garbage. Ophelia is a compelling, but minor character Hamlet is notable in that the women are barely in it in the first place. A play about self-absorbed men talking about themselves and killing each other can not hope to truly play in the big leagues of women-hating literature.


  24. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    The most classic of all blunders is: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But only slightly less well-known is this: “Never argue with someone who is offended by a rape scene.” There’s just no way to change anyone’s mind, and lots of ways to come off as an insensitive enabler.

    Everyone in this thread seems to agree that SOME depictions of rape are okay. So this debate is really about what criteria a rape scene must meet to be acceptable, which is maybe the least fun conversation ever. I’m going to skip it entirely, and just address a couple specific points.

    @Amelie – Rape has a LOT to do with strip tease. Showgirls is a world in which ALL women are just sex objects (to the men, not to the filmmaker). Nomi exploits this for money and power. But when a culture reduces women to blowup dolls, it has horrible consequences. Even if you think the act of rape is completely unrelated to all those men paying to watch women strip, I certainly think the casino’s RESPONSE to the rape (ignoring it) speaks volumes about where women stand in that town.

    And I stand by the comment about it being subversive. Verhoeven is very good at subtlely criticizing his viewers. I think part of the cleverness of Starship Troopers is that a lot of the audience is rooting for these marines, without understanding that they’re wearing Nazi uniforms. Showgirls is a movie where a lot of the audience probably came to see boobs. When Verhoeven surprises them with a brutal gang rape, it’s almost like he’s saying, “You like to leer at women? Well this is the other side of the same coin.”

    I feel like the movie would have been more sexist WITHOUT the rape. To show this place where women are totally objectified, and NOT show the consequences of that mindset, seems more problematic.

    @Diana – Just because SVU is popular doesn’t mean people are pro-rape, anymore than the popularity of regular Law and Order means that people are pro-murder. Rape outrages people and makes them want justice on a deep level. That’s what makes the show effective – you’re pissed off by the crime, and you’ve got to watch to see if they get the bastard. If it was about tax fraud, you’d say “Meh.”

    You COULD argue that it’s wrong for NBC to make money on depictions of rape. But then isn’t it also wrong for them to make money off of depictions of murder? Shouldn’t we just burn down the whole Thriller section of the bookstore?

    @Callot – Bloom would argue that Taming of the Shrew is TOTALLY not misogynistic, but I never really bought that. But doesn’t the man get a pass because of evolving views on sexual equality? Shouldn’t we judge him based on whether he was sexist by the standards of the time? And hey, didn’t he ALSO write some of the greatest female roles in history?

    @Gab – Wait, it almost sounds like you’re agreeing that the rape scene is appropriate for the movie, because that stuff really happens in Vegas. I certainly think the movie makes it clear that this is a problem with society, and I think it’s contextualized and relevant to the subject material. You with me, G-Dog?


  25. callot #

    The Bible isn’t “a lot of stories.” It’s not some anthology, God’s Best Short Stories (5000 BC – 100 AD). It’s intended to be God’s infallible instructions to mankind on his will for their lives. Taking one story out of context makes as little sense as selectively enforcing only the second half of the second amendment to the Constitution. There are parts that make women seem evil and there are parts that celebrate women for being brave, intelligent and virtuous. As much as the Bible explicitly calls women slaves, it also calls SLAVES slaves. How can it be a unified misogynist narrative when it is so explicitly in favor of individual responsibility?

    I know that people (including women) like Taming of the Shrew. My friend Maura just directed a production at the University of Pennsylvania (hi Maura!). It’s probably because Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language. People like good writing. Like I said about Showgirls, quality is no defense. It can be a convincing, entertaining, thought-provoking play and still be deeply misogynist.

    Hamlet is a string of philosophical essays arranged around a revenge plot. It’s the most popular and studied play ever written, and is conspicuous among Shakespeare’s plays for containing the most coherent and comprehensive study of any subject, which is all the more significant for that subject being humanity. There may be things in Hamlet that are insignificant, but women are not among them. Ophelia and Gertrude, the virgin and the whore, are the most distilled representation of Shakespeare’s understanding of women. And Shakespeare has such little regard for women that he makes Ophelia insane and Gertrude a murderer without justifying either.


  26. fenzel #

    You are incorrect about the bible, Andre. The bible is an anthology of important religious stories selected by clergy for a specific authoritative text, first for the history culture and belief system of the Jewish religion, then for Christianity.

    The idea that it is an anthology is reinforced by the fact that it has different books in it with different names that have different characters and were written at different times by different people in different places. Also that on numerous occasions it has different versions of the same story written, again, by different people at different times.

    It is also reinforced by the fact that you can buy different versions of it that include or exclude different stories based on editorial preference.

    This by itself does not make it any less holy or divinely inspired.

    But even if it were a cogent work written all at once, do you really deny that “Samson and delilah” works as a standalone story? Do you really think Daniel in the Lion’s Den is the same story as Moses and the Burning Bush?

    Your Hamlet paragraph doesn’t make any sense to me. So, it has an insane woman and a murderous women in it, and a lot of people like it and it’s generally thought to be pretty good and has a very broad focus. It’s “important,” so you attack it, because it earns ideological capital to do so. I still fail to see how Hamlet either speaks from or inspires a greater degree of hatred toward women than a play that, oh I dunno, has as one of its major or minor subjects the hatred of women, or, I dunno, has a woman in it who is hateful or deserving of hatred, neither of which is really true of Ophelia or Gertude. Pity, sure, disgust, sure, regret, sure, but Hamlet doesn’t hate them, and neither do we. Not like we all hate Claudius.

    _Goldeneye_ also has a main character who is a woman who is crazy and murderous. Is it more or less misogynistic than Hamlet? Than Shrew?

    I feel like you’re making these comparative statements based on a very small subset of literature – like, you’re comparing Hamlet only to The Great Gatsby and Their Eyes Were Watching God and not your broader experience with the stories people tell in their everyday lives and the great mass of the historical and contemporary libraries of literature.

    And I also don’t buy the whole “it’s the world it implies” argument. _Beloved_ implies a world that is pretty racist. That doesn’t mean it’s a racist book.


  27. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Fenzel – Okay, clearly Shakespeare is not the most sexist writer in the history of writers. But to be fair, I don’t think that’s what Andre meant. I think he meant the most sexist “important” writer. So let me ask you this: who’s the most sexist writer in the Western Canon?

    I haven’t read Milton in a long time, but isn’t he a strong candidate? He makes it very clear that women should obey their husbands, because they are inferior and weak. He makes it very clear that women are responsible for the Fall of Man (this is from the Bible, of course, but Milton is really SELLING it). And I believe we know for a fact that Milton really had a sexist axe to grind, because of his miserable marriage.

    Once again, I haven’t studied Milton in years and years, and I apologize if I’m misrepresenting the man.


  28. callot #

    It doesn’t matter WHY the Bible was written. It has an intent in its structure, a formal intent, that has a direct impact on the content. Whatever intent the mythical authors had only matters to them, and they’re dead.

    And you couldn’t exactly pick up a variety of versions at the corner store for the thousands of years that its content actually mattered in the world. If you have a market choice between versions of the Bible, it’s no longer the Bible. The Bible is the word of God, however the system of power in your vicinity decides it. When you put different versions on the same footing, you make them all vanish as instruments of central authority.

    The thing that robs the Bible of its divine inspiration is the fact that there’s no God and it’s silly to pretend that there is (for whatever reason). We don’t pretend that Hamlet was real, so let’s try to keep the “divine inspiration” talk to a minimum.

    It doesn’t matter whether Hamlet hates Gertrude or Ophelia or anyone else. You and Belinkie keep assuming that the values of the characters are somehow the values of the work. The text of “Hamlet” includes a world, and that world is different from our world in that the women in it are completely lacking in humanity.

    Ophelia is not an “insane woman” as you call her. She is a female character who goes mad for no good reason. Compare Ophelia to Hamlet: both lose a father to murder. Does Hamlet turn into a moron and jump in a lake? No. Hamlet starts to see ghosts, he sees everyone he knows get murdered, and YET he keeps a steady head, even thinking a little too clearly for his own good. Ophelia, meanwhile, immediately becomes incomprehensible the moment her father dies. Laertes loses the exact same father as Ophelia, but does he turn into a drooling doofus? No.

    Gertrude is not a “murderous woman.” We never get *one clue* why she goes along with Claudius’ murder plot. In fact, we learn from the bedroom scene that she STILL LOVES HER DEAD HUSBAND! So why did she conspire to kill the King, her husband, the man she loves? Because it was necessary for the plot. Shakespeare never bothers to explain why she does what is probably the most difficult thing any character has to do in the whole play: cold-blooded murder of a loved one. She just *does* it. She’s not a murderous woman. She’s a monster.

    Those are the two choices for a woman in Hamlet’s world: you’re either an idiot child or a monster who ruins the lives of men. And whether or not this is a reflection of the misogyny existing on a larger level in Elizabethan England, it is misogyny. We don’t say something like “The Jew of Malta is not antisemitic,” because that would be absurd. Yet we’re willing to apologize for the most horrifying misogyny because…why? Why are you willing to maintain this mystifying double standard?

    Beloved implies a world that is racist, and shows that racism as the root of human suffering. That gives the impression that it is not, in fact, a racist book. How exactly do you misunderstand my argument that propaganda promotes a world view?


  29. Matthew Wrather #

    OK, OTI writers. Calm down. We are known for our wry good humor. There’s too much ideology in this comment thread, and political or theoretical commitments are blinding us to seeing things as they are.

    The result is a kind of procrustean, hazy, intellectually lazy generality (“The Bible is…” “Shakespeare is…”) that is ideologically motivated and not the result of careful analysis of specifics.

    Schopenhauer would be proud:

    I however am not.


  30. stokes OTI Staff #

    Wow, is this actually a flame war? I guess our little website is all grown up. :)

    @Callot: you seem to be offering a bizarrely circumscribed set of responses to the bible. Either we see the bible as the revealed word of god, every particle of which is divinely inspired (meaning that the agency behind it is god), or we see it as a body of folklore (meaning that there is no agency behind it). It’s true that many people at various times have seen it as one or the other of these things. But the process by which the Bible was created is actually pretty transparent. I mean, the Council of Nicea really happened. We have a pretty good idea of the people who were there, we know what books they left in the bible and which ones they left out. And we can speak in a pretty informed way about what their intentions were. Obviously “eliminate everything that isn’t divinely inspired” was on their agenda, but the book that comes out of Nicea is a lot more ideologically coherent than the one that went into it.

    You’re also suggesting that we have to give equal weight to each word of the bible. And I don’t think that anyone, whether they’re a believer or not, has EVER done this. Any reader, for instance, will give more weight to the story of Samson and Delila than they will give to the endless chains of begats, for instance. And regardless of what the official church position is at any given time, people are going to give different weight to the Sermon on the Mount (ostensibly written by Christ as moral instruction) and, say, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, which is ostensibly written by Paul as, essentially, legal instruction. So in practice, it is an anthology, and there is nothing incoherent about talking about the misogyny (or lack thereof) of one of its component parts.

    Also, claiming that Shakespeare makes Gertrude a murderer without providing a motivation is kind of a stretch, because nothing in the text of the play confirms that she had anything to do with Claudius’ plot. Sure, you can read that into it – and I’m not suggesting that it’s even a stretch – but if you can fit murderous action between the lines, you can fit motivation between the lines as well. You’re making a good case overall, but condemning Shakespeare for a characterization that he never wrote doesn’t do much to strengthen it.

    And if you think Shakespeare is the most misogynist writer of all time, you should get to know a certain gentleman named Dave Sim. I’m not arguing against you on the small point, mind you: the way that women are portrayed in Hamlet is not okay. But the most misogynist? Really? Really?

    Oh, and just as a parting shot, people do claim that “The Merchant of Venice is not antisemitic” all the damn time.

    But @Fenzel – you are coming perilously close to claiming that there’s nothing sexist about writing a story where all the men are deep and compelling characters, and all the women are window dressing and/or charicatures. Hamlet does imply a universe in which women never do anything notable. (The most they can aspire to be is a bargaining chip that will inspire Men to kill eachother.) And that is misogynistic. I feel like you’re letting your love of a good fight get the best of you: do you want to argue that Hamlet is not the most misogynist work out there, or that it’s not misogynist at all?


  31. stokes OTI Staff #

    (Where by Council of Nicea I pretty clearly mean Synod of Hippo. Same basic point.)


  32. Genevieve #

    @Callot – OK, there’s a lot of awesome debate going on here, and I see no real point in jumping in on the Shakespeare’s sexism arguments (for the record, I pretty much side w/ Stokes in that, well yeah, he’s misogynist but he’s hardly the worst there is.)

    However, I REALLY feel the need to say something about this:

    “Hamlet starts to see ghosts, he sees everyone he knows get murdered, and YET he keeps a steady head, even thinking a little too clearly for his own good.”

    Did we read the same play? In the Hamlet I read, he slowly goes more and more batshit, achieving the clarity of purpose available only to those who have truly rounded the bend. In the Hamlet I read, his friends are so worried about him that he sends them away. In the Hamlet I read, he does nothing but plot revenge (and be emo) until it utterly consumes him.

    At no point does he keep “a steady head.”

    In fact, the comparison of how Hamlet and Ophelia deal with their similar griefs is pretty much on par with how most modern people understand women and men to react to extreme mental and emotional stress: women turn it inward (eating disorders, suicide) and men turn it outward (violence.) These are generalizations, of course. However, it just sits really wrong with me for you to claim that it’s an example of Shakespeare’s misogyny that Ophelia and Hamlet are both driven mad, just because they express it differently. You (not Shakespeare) seem to be viewing Ophelia as weak because she takes her own life rather than lashing out at others or seeking vengeance.


  33. Tom P #

    So, you’re using a comedy as the most misogynistic work of all time? Do you also use Naked Gun to study the LAPD’s standard operating procedure on what to do if a baseball player attempts to assassinate a visiting head of state?

    Also, is everything ever written in which a woman is the bad guy misogynistic? Does that mean every story with a bad guy, by definition, is either misogynistic or misandric? Someone looks bad in every story. Always.


  34. callot #

    Stokes, I think you’re giving too much agency to the people who were being ordered around by the church before the 18th century. It doesn’t really matter what story some field hand things is more important if the central religious authority is enforcing a particular doctrine. The text of the Bible is itself unimportant until public education gives more people the capacity to read.

    We have the benefit now of studying the Bible as a relatively harmless historical document, but there was a period of about 1000 years after the fall of Rome where it could have been a collection of pie recipes and most people wouldn’t have known the difference.


  35. Mike #

    Matt how do i get in contact with you for a potential project?



  36. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Mike – At the top of the page is a “Contact Us” link. You’ll find our email addresses there.


  37. Amelie #

    I don’t like censorship, so they can show rape as often and as explicitly as they like. I also don’t think that strip-tease (or prostitution, for that matter) is wrong. Your argument presupposes that it is wrong of women to dance for male pleasure outside of love or marriage. I, for one, like to look good for men. But rape is not the next logical step.


  38. Matthew Wrather #

    Again, Andre, you’re painting with too broad a brush. There is not a thousand year period in human history when people (which people? where?) were universally stupid and easily hoodwinked.

    But now we’re way off topic. This is why this site needs discussion forums. Jeez. Who the hell is in charge around here?


  39. callot #

    I think Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and every other post-structuralist would disagree with you about people being manipulated for most of history.


  40. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Amelie – I’m not saying that striptease is wrong. I am saying that when women are judged ONLY by their worth as sex objects, then yeah, that creates an environment in which men feel entitled to their bodies.

    – Matt


  41. Diana #

    Belinkie, I’m not saying that SVU condones rape or that its viewers are pro-rape, and I don’t think any of the words in my original comment indicated that, but what I do think is that it’s not just about the “get the bastard” mentality. There is a reason they go into detail and it’s not just so that we can be extra glad when a guilty verdict comes in. Ditto for violent crime novels and related stuff, and while yes, I certainly could say we should burn down that section of the book store, I don’t remember doing it or thinking it. So to summarize my position as potentially saying we should burn all crime novels is a bit of a leap, don’t you think? It’s just problematic — not amoral, not a sign that all viewers/readers/consumers of such media are bad. That’s why I was careful to implicate myself in the group I was describing. And yes, I feel this same sense of moral ickiness w/r/t murder and other depictions of violent, amoral acts. Like how we (or at least I, and I would assume all of us who posted on Verhoeven) get a sense of satisfaction from watching gory movies. But that’s part of why such art and media are worthy of scrutiny.

    I agree with your point about objectification of women and male awareness of body/sexuality. But again, rape is not about sex, it’s about power and violence (in fact it’s now widely defined as a “weapon of war” by the WHO, UNFPA, and other global health and humanitarian organizations). And it’s also very important that we don’t give anyone a pass for being in a situation where they were “forced” to think of their dongs and then it was somehow “more likely” that they would work themselves into some frenzy that culminated in rape. This is what soldiers in the DRC say after raping 14 year olds with machetes. Like actually — I had to write a case study on it. Wild dogs we are not, and any “frenzied sexual state” arguments are demeaning both to women who have been assaulted and men who are trying to achieve a nuanced understanding of human sexuality. Thus: linkage, sure. Sufficient linkage? HELL no.

    Remember, too, that this is sticky territory in terms of legal/advocacy progress: while I know you were not making the “she was asking for it” argument, and I would not accuse you of doing so, tracing cause to the activities of the rape survivor in any way is a really fraught direction to go in. After all, it was only maybe 15 years ago — maybe, and that’s a generous estimate — that “she was wearing something that made her boobs obvious, thus my client is in no way culpable” was still a largely effective method to use with juries in sexual assault cases in the US.

    So sure, stripping may assist men in maintaining and justifying the really messed up ideas about woman they bring to the situation, but it is not enough to put any new ones in their heads — and definitely not enough to inspire rape.


  42. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Diana –

    I didn’t mean to misrepresent your SVU comments – I was just sort of playing devil’s advocate. You say that TV shows that depict rape make you uncomfortable, and I sort of assumed you were saying that these shows were doing something inappropriate. But on review, you were just saying that they made you uncomfortable. I apologize for misconstruing.

    HOWEVER, I’m pretty sure Amelie DID argue that SVU was morally wrong and sexist. That was way up near the top of this epic comment thread.

    Moving on: I guess I’m not completely buying that rape isn’t about sex. Yes, absolutely it’s about power and violence, but can’t it ALSO be about sex? Actually, more to the point, I’m not sure I buy ANY blanket statement about what rape is “about.” I think rape, like murder, can be committed for a very broad range of reasons. You allude to the use of rape in ethnic cleansing, but surely you’re not suggesting that ALL rape is a “weapon of war”? Obviously you know more about this stuff then I do, but I’ve got to say, “Rape has nothing to do with sex” doesn’t feel like a true statement to me.

    Now, let me see if I can refocus this on Showgirls. This debate began when Amelie said that the rape scene was “sexist” and “gratuitous.” I responded that it didn’t seem gratuitous to me, because the whole movie is about women presenting themselves as sex objects. The rape scene, to me, shows the dangers of that. You, in turn, see that as dangerously close to blaming the victim. Just because women strip and give lapdances does not mean anyone is justified in raping them. Of course I COMPLETELY agree with you. I only meant that giving lapdances raises the probability that you will be sexually assaulted:
    However, Molly ISN’T a stripper, which complicates my argument.

    My goal here has been to argue that there is nothing “sexist” about the rape scene. So let me test an entirely new argument on you. Forget the idea that the rape is somehow a product of all the stripping. What if the whole POINT is really to show the casino’s reaction to it (nothing)? At the beginning of the film, Nomi sees Cristal Connors and envies her. She’s the toast of Vegas. She SEEMS powerful and respected, right? But the rape reveals the truth to Nomi – women aren’t respected in Vegas, one little bit. It’s a boys club, and she doesn’t have one iota of power. And what good is being the toast of Vegas if she can’t do anything to help her friend?

    Whew, I’m exhausted. Could you sort of remind me what your position is, re:Showgirls? Do you hate the movie? Do you object to the rape scene? Would it still be sexist if a women had written the script?

    – Matt


  43. Gab #

    @Belinkie: Well I can’t say 100% for certain if I’m with you or not because I haven’t seen the movie myself. As such, I can’t make a valid opinion about Showgirls in particular (I really *should* see it, now, eh? This is why I read those Meyer books!!!!!!). However, I can pontificate about how rape as a means of character motivation and for that lone purpose is not okay, but if it is contextualized properly and also making it clear that rape itself is NOT OKAY, then yes, I’m alright with it being in a movie. I may not like seeing it, it may make me uncomfortable and angry, but not at the movie so much as what the movie is making a statement about. Word, M-Dog ;)


  44. Diana #

    Thanks Belinkie — I hope I didn’t jump down your throat. Um, my position on Showgirls is that I don’t particularly enjoy watching it sober, (my position when not sober falls somewhere between “meh” and “boobies!”), but I do believe it’s a really interesting movie to analyze because it’s very much what I’ve come to think of as a quintessential [American] Verhoeven movie after writing about Basic Instinct and reading the other posts and discussions. What’s quintessential Verhoeven? A movie that presents a critical caricature of a world or system that is already deeply problematic, and through this narrative hyperbole sets the thing being criticized into relief, where we can then gawk at it an have all sorts of uncomfortable/fascinated/grossed out/entertained feelings. This is a device that’s often used in contemporary/postmodern literature, also — essentially cut your reader off from the predictable world and entrap your reader with a handful of extremely exaggerated features or problems of that world in order to force an existential/moral/ethical/spiritual moment of resolution (see Simic’s The World Doesn’t End, Ball’s March Book, Robinson’s The Life of a Hunter for examples of this device in poetry). So in a way he’s a very high-brow artist working in a traditionally low-brow medium (meaning schlocky/melodramatic movies, not the whole of film), which is pretty cool and unique. I would never go on a date with the man, but his movies, Showgirls included, are at the very least historically and culturally important, and force difficult questions on their viewers.


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