i'm seeing black swan tonight. not gonna lie; i'm pretty excited about this. i like to read reviews of movies that pique my interest, usually from the new york times or the washington post. when a smart publication raves about a movie, it makes me that much more excited to see it (and conversely, when a movie gets panned in that kind of review, it disappoints me that i was even interested in the first place).
but the one theme i keep noticing about this movie is the heavy emphasis all the articles place about the self-injury that runs like a river through the whole thing, apparently. look, folks, this is a movie about the upper echelon of professional ballet. it may look pretty, but that is a brutal, harsh, cutthroat and, yes, painful world. hell, when we were teenagers dancing for fun, we used to have a saying: "the more it hurts, the more you smile." (some of us know this well, don't we? one word: mazurka.) so multiply that by about a million once you get to the top of the top. competitors in physical disciplines hurt themselves. we talk about how honorable football players are when they sacrifice mobility for the final fifty years of their lives to be successful in their twenties. but it's funny how the discourse on ballerinas has such a psychodramatic twist, eh? no one calls what defensive tackles do to themselves "self-mutilation," but doesn't it end the same?
now, in the case of the movie, it's clear that this is supposed to be a descent-into-madness thing. i get it. but the whole women and self-injury thing has me thinking. men, when things go sideways in their lives, always get portrayed as lashing out at others. you know the image: dad loses his job at the plant, gets drunk and beats mom into oblivion. but when a woman is hurting, she's always shown as taking it out on herself. papa roach notwithstanding (and i apologize for even bringing that song up), men are not often cutters. women are. why?
i think it's cultural. we're trained to view aggression and anger as male emotions, and thus only men are "allowed" to express them freely. we all know the cultural vocabulary for angry women: ball-busters. bra-burners. (for the LAST time, NO ONE BURNED BRAS. can someone PLEASE teach sarah palin et al to READ?) bitches. words i won't even use that slur women both straight and gay. so what do we do? women swallow anger. we tamp down rage, frustration, disappointment. finally, though, you can't swallow any more; it's coming out one way or another. and all too often, it comes out with the swift, savage pull of a blade across our own skin. the pain, the blood, the action itself brings a form of release, the only way to manifest the darkest recesses without running up against taboos bigger than ourselves.
we've come a long way, baby, as the old cigarette ads used to say. (and the fact that i remember when cigarette ads provided pop-culture memes shows that i'm getting old.) but we haven't come far enough to allow women to just be mad in public. the whole "mama grizzly" thing back in '08 wasn't real anger; it was a stylized temper fit designed to market an ideology. you ever see those women do anything from a place of rage? nope. that's because it's not allowed. if we really want to claim a victory for fairness for everyone, we can make it okay for every person to be healthily angry in the way he or she sees fit. that way, we can eliminate this whole sad cycle of lashing out, either at ourselves or others. maybe then it won't be an issue anymore.