Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Mohr test

I was thinking about the Bechdel Test today, and how in certain circles it's become shorthand for how to evaluate a given media product's treatment of female characters. The test:
1. It has to have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man.
This sounds simple -- but you'd be amazed. For instance, the film Nine, despite having nine women, does not pass. The Dark Knight does, barely. The novel Boneshaker, which I just reviewed, passes. The comic book Preacher (ugh) passes. None of the original Star Wars films pass. None of The Lord of the Rings trilogy pass, in either film or book form.

Now, try to think of a single movie, novel, comic book, or TV show, even one, in which there are 1. Less than two men, 2. who never talk to each other, 3. about anything other than a woman.

The Bechedel test might seem simplistic: obviously a story can be female-negative but still pass these requirements, and vice versa. But it is a fast and easy way to evaluate a story's attitudes towards female presence, community, and independence.

And then I started thinking about A Single Man, that recent Oscar-bait movie starring Colin Firth as a gay man who's lost his partner to a car accident. Some members of the queer community flocked to the movie but I avoided it like the plague: I have no desire to watch yet another queer character (SPOILER ALERT) be sad and miserable and alone and then die at the end of the movie.

In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of one movie or TV show in which an openly-queer (or even just heavily-subtexted queer) character has a happy ending, or at least doesn't frickin' DIE. The only one that comes to mind is the movie Shelter. Jury's still out on Kurt Hummel of the TV show Glee.

So I'm thinking that we need a Bechdel test for queer characters. (Really, we need one for characters of color, too, but I would not at all presume to make one. I am not the moral authority of racial issues, dear God.) The test would go something like this:

1. If there are ten characters in a story, then at least one of them is a queer person
2. Who is actually shown to be queer (they kiss someone of the same sex, or are mentioned as having a significant other, or anything that shows they're not a Will&Grace-neutered version of "gay")
3. And isn't thematically punished for being queer.

We'll call it the Mohr test, unless someone can think of something better.

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