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I've Got a Little List

Back to some things we were talking about a while ago, John Scalzi, on his in his AMC column, asks Does Your Favorite Sci-fi Movie Do Right by Its Female Characters? Actually, that headline is not the column; the column is more interesting: he asks if 14 of the most popular Science Fiction movies from 2005-2009 pass or fail the Bechtel Test. One passes it easily, nine utterly fail, and he gives four technical passes or fails.

The reason I find this interesting is that, once again, it isn’t necessarily the case that each of those movies would have been improved had it passed the test. It is the case that the experience of moviegoers would have been improved had more of them passed the test. It’s a cumulative problem. The point is not whether any individual movie passes or fails (although of course there are many movies that would be improved vastly if the moviemakers weren’t blinded by sexism), the point is that in the aggregate, there is an experience being transmitted, and it ain’t a good one.

Of course, there are plenty of movies that do pass the Bechtel Test, but I don’t think he’s cherry-picking here. I think he’s reflecting a list of popular movies. Some fellow who is now eighteen, who has been a fan of science fiction movies during his teenage years, will likely have seen—what—all fourteen of those movies? Hell, I’ve seen five of them. This fellow probably sees, oh, twenty-five movies a year; during his teenage years he will see two hundred movies or so. How many of them will fail the Bechtel Test. A hundred? A hundred and thirty? When he starts to make movies of his own, when he starts to imagine movies of his own, does that not have an effect?

The point here is not, by the way, to excoriate moviemakers, or movie audiences for that matter, who have certainly shown that (in the aggregate again) they are perfectly willing to go and see movie after movie that fails the Bechtel Test. Your Humble Blogger’s point is to note that this kind of thing, what John Scalzi is doing here, and the note from Benjamin Rosenbaum on Identity and Othering in “The Ant King and Other Stories” and all that quantitative analysis and nineteenth century positivism, this kind of thing really is a valuable tool for thinking and viewing the world.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Your editor called, and points out that it's Bechdel with a D.

If she calls back, tell her she's fired.


Vacancy: blog editor. Must be willing to call me first before alerting irilyth to any embarrassing mistakes on the Tohu Bohu.

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