Saturday, October 29, 2016

Misogyny compels thee!

When I was eight, The Exorcist came out in theaters in Reno, Nevada. The book had been floating around (no, not levitating) a few years prior. I remember my teenage neighbor showing me the passage of the book where little Regan masturbates with a cross. I couldn't comprehend it at the time but when I hit puberty I thought: a cross, really? It's telling that a man wrote this book and this was the worst thing he could think of happening ... to an object that hangs on a wall.

Years later, when I was in high school (after becoming well versed in masturbation), I finally saw the movie on cable TV. After years of exaggerated publicity it was a letdown. I don't know what I was expecting but a basic horror movie with dark lighting and a moody soundtrack just couldn't live up to all that hype. The scene where Regan is bowing down before the hazy green demon? I'd seen better special effects on Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

I now see The Exorcist for what it was: fear of a teenage girl's sexuality.

Correction: terror of female sexuality.

How many demonic possession films have been made since? Twenty at least. How many of these feature pubescent boys as the main possessed person? Almost none.

As recently as last year, a horror movie set in 1700's New England came out where the rosy-cheeked Puritan girl at the end not only has sex with Satan (who is dressed as Pirates of the Caribbean Jack Sparrow, go figure), she literally flies afterward. Flying being a clunky metaphor for orgasm. She also has to help kill her entire family. The bias is clear: female sexuality isn't just something to be feared, it drives people to murder.

In demonic possession films the victim is always female because teenage girls are terrifying. And the exorcist is always a man because he represents the dominant paradigm: white, male and heterosexual (yet weirdly celibate and supposedly immune to the girl's sexuality).

In yoga this is Seated Twisting Triangle pose.

There has never been a horror movie where a possessed male victim writhes and howls sexually while tied to a bed as a female exorcist watches. This is because male sexuality isn't feared: it's humorous, it's mocked, it's every day. Female sexuality is covert. Until the likes of Broad City, it was hidden, ignored or dismissed. All the way into the new millennium scientists and social commentators were questioning why women even had orgasms. What was the point? Female sexuality is that unnecessary to the patriarchy.

Possessed female characters in horror films are always restrained because their sexuality must be. Between being tied to a bed, "burned" with crucifixes and holy water and flat-out punched (see: Cinemax's Outcast) what happens to them isn't just sadomasochism, it's full on assault. And the assailant, the exorcist, is the hero! Violence against women is re-envisioned as religious suffering.

So it was with trepidation that I watched the first couple of episodes of FOX's The Exorcist. Once again a teenage girl is getting backhanded by grown men in uniforms. Uniforms which today are more likely to get them compared to pedophiles than angels.

Surprisingly, so far the show has not fallen straight into this misogynistic trope. I mean, it has Geena Davis in it.

Mind you, the trope is still there. The possessed, Casey, is harassed on a subway and nearly raped. In response, she lets the demon possess her and reek unholy vengeance on the slimy sports fan who gropes her. Go Team Demon! But afterward, Casey is so overwhelmed by her new found dark power that she wets herself. This is keeping with the scene in the original Exorcist where little Regan pees herself after mockingly telling a guest "you're going to die." Peeing is a metaphor for menstruation, the undeniable red flag of a woman's virility and sexual maturity. But it's also a sexual fetish for the Male Gaze, see: golden showers.

The patriarchy still needs to rein in Casey's sexuality via burning her with a curling iron but thankfully, the plot is not true and straight. It's serpentine and that's good. Father Marcus is so mistreated by the juggernaut of Catholicism, you wonder why he even bothers to do good. Casey's older sister might be a lesbian, a lipstick one at that, and that's something she could be ex-communicated for. Remember what Monty Python taught us: God loves every sperm.

The third episode introduced a whole bunch of new characters and I pray we'll see more of them. There's a bad-ass nun who performs exorcisms and encourages Marcus to get in touch with his feminine side. Hallelujah! And there's a New Age tour guide couple, Cherry and Lester Rego, who steal the show with their unflappable humor when dealing with homeless Father Marcus. Yes, the Church so mistreats him, the poor guy doesn't even have a place to sleep.

In the latest episode, were given all the tie-ins to the original film's myth arc. Casey's mother, Angela, is really little Regan all grown up. The ending is a nice kick in the nuts of the possession trope with Sharon Gless filling in for Ellen Burstyn as grown-up Regan's mother. But instead of Burstyn's shrill panic, Regan's Mom is now a potent force, a re-envisioned matriarch hiding under the cloak of the patriarchy. She looks completely masculine in the closing scene under the obligatory flickering street light.

I was ready to dismiss this show and it's tired old box of misogyny until this. Now I think I'll sit in the back of the Rego's bus and let the tour unfold. And I'll save my questions for the end of the ride.

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