Last night was one for retro-relaxation. After spending the day tying up loose ends on various projects – and getting excited about the issue of Early American Studies that I’m a co-guest editor for – I went home to my Corkonian flat, caught the tail end of The Spy Who Loved Me and put on Back to the Future while making dinner. Now, I love James Bond, but in order to watch any of the older stuff, and a good portion of the newer movies, I have to suppress the desire to yell at the t.v. about sexism. Part of watching Bond movies is knowing, and to some degree accepting, that the women will be at best one-dimensional, that there will be at least one point when Bond demands, and promptly receives romantic attention from some woman just ’cause he’s Bond, and that I will probably come to the conclusion, at the end of the movie, that the writers/directors/other people associated with making it did not have much regard for women.
This is the Bond contract. I do not have a similar mental arrangement with the Back to the Future trilogy, because most of what have retained from watching the movies as a kid is something like: time travel is cool! Christopher Lloyd is cooky! Hoverboards! But watching last night I was kind of shocked by the degree to which the first movie, at least, turns on a unilateral idea of what gendered relationships ought look like. In the first, less desirable reality the McFly family is lower-middle class, the mother drinks and is (horrors!) not thin, the sister can’t get a boyfriend, and the father is a doormat for The Bully. We learn that the backstory behind this scenario is that the dad (George) fell out of a tree while spying on naked girls, and that the mom (Loraine) rescues him, decides she loves him, and marries him. After Marty goes back in time and convinces his dad to be more assertive, which includes rescuing Loraine from attempted rape at the hands of Biff (The Bully), and forcibly removing Loraine from the arms of another man at the dance, the future is better, shinier, richer, and for Loraine, thinner. So, a message to take home from Back to the Future: passive man+assertive woman=world in which men are crippled by insecurity and walked all over by everyone, including the women in the family. Assertive man+passive woman=world where the family is rich, the kids are successful, the mom is thin and the sister has lots of dates.
These aren’t surprising gender roles, but a bit dissapointing given my memory of the movie as one of almost universal coolness. Perhaps the time machine and time traveling dog clouded my recollections.