I listened to a recent “Fresh Air” podcast wherein Terry Gross interviews two Hollywood dudes who had something to do with making “Toy Story 3.” The Hollywood dudes start talking about “getting to the emotional truth of the characters.” I have, with my usual painstaking attention to detail, transcribed the portion of the interview in which they reveal how they went about getting to the “emotional truth” of a Ken doll character.
Hollywood Dude #1: I don’t know if you had any Ken dolls when you were growing up; I certainly didn’t. But my friends’ little sisters did and we made endless fun of Ken. Ken’s just a-a-a whipping boy […] We thought, well what does it feel like to be a guy who’s a girl’s toy? You’re a guy, but you’re only played with by little girls. And then further, he’s just an accessory to Barbie. You know he doesn’t carry equal weight to, with Barbie, he’s really no more important than a pair of shoes or a belt or a purse to her, and we knew that he would have to have a complex.
Hollywood Dude #2: Yeah, no, I mean, that’s one of the things that’s such a pleasure working on a film like this is that you go, OK, what, you know, what are gonna be the issues of a character like Ken, like what’s gonna be the thing that like keeps him awake at night, you know, and, so, you know, immediately you come into the fact that maybe he’s a little bit insecure about the fact that-that-that he’s-he’s, you know, a girl’s toy and maybe he’s in denial of that.”
Immediately one is struck by the empathy shown poor Ken by the Hollywood dudes. Through his degraded status as a “whipping boy” toy whose lot in life is to be “only” played with by little girls, Ken accrues pathos. The subtext — that little girls are low prestige toy owners and confer shame upon any “male” toy forced to associate with them — reveals that the Hollywood dudes have thoroughly assimilated the message that female children are of lower status than male children, and actually do have cooties.
Another hilarious facet of Hollywood dudes’ remarks is their cogent assessment of the condition of existing solely as an accessory. It is obvious to them that relegating a sentient being to the role of one-dimensional second banana degrades that sentient being, which sentient being would then logically suffer psychological damage as a result (Ken’s “complex”). Yet it eludes them that this is precisely the condition they have imposed on the female characters in their own film, much less that it’s the condition overwhelmingly imposed on female characters in most other films, as well as the condition imposed on all actual live women. Does Mrs Potato Head lie awake at night pondering the horror of existing only as an afterthought to, and entirely in terms of, Mr Potato Head? Not in “Toy Story 3!”
In other words, the Hollywood dudes have perfectly illustrated the point of view of the entitled default human: men are men, and women are toys.
Boy Story, bolding mine
I haven’t seen Toy Story 3, so I can’t comment on it. However I was struck by the Hollywood Guys seeing Ken as pitiable because he has to undergo the humiliation of being played with by icky girls.
The thing that really bothers me about how Pixar approached Ken—aside from, you know, the GIRLS ARE GROSS and LOLOLOL FEMININE GUYS AMIRITE? things—is that if all that were stripped away, you’d have a story about an emotional, fashion-conscious dude who falls desperately in love with an intelligent, aggressive woman; his character arc is ultimately about their relationship, but her arc is about fighting injustice. That isn’t something you see often in fiction, and I hate that they marred it with all this disgusting sexist crap. Pixar, you guys.
When someone with the status of Kobe Bryant, arguably the best basketball player in a generation, hurls that antigay slur at a referee or anyone else — let’s call it the F-word — he is telling boys, men and anyone watching that when you are frustrated, when you are as angry as can be, the best way to demean and denigrate a person, even one in a position of power, is to make it clear that you think he is not a real man, but something less.
…Right now in America young people are being killed and killing themselves simply because of the words and behaviors they are subjected to for being perceived as lesbian or gay, or frankly just different. This is not an indictment of the individuals suffocated by their mistreatment, it is an indication of the power of that word, and others like it, to brutalize and dehumanize. This F-word, which so many people seem to think is no big deal, is the postscript to too many of those lives cut short.
As for the original apology, I am amazed that people still think apologizing in such a way as to make it clear that it was the victims who misunderstood is acceptable. I had hoped that the sorry-if-you-are-oversensitive school of apology would by now have been thoroughly discredited.
Many people balk when L.G.B.T. people, even black ones, suggest that the power and vitriol behind another awful slur — the N-word — is no different from the word used by Kobe. I make no attempt at an analogy between the historical civil rights struggle for blacks in the United States with the current human rights struggle for L.G.B.T. people, but I can say that I am frequently called both, and the indignation, anger and at times resignation that course through my body are no greater or less for either. I know with both words the intent is to let me know that no matter how big, how accomplished, philanthropic or wise I may become, to them I am not even human.
I am tired of people having this debate about the relative impact of pejorative words on their target minority group. If injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, then the relative power of an antigay gay slur is irrelevant, it is simply a threat to human dignity, and that should appall us all. Former NBA player JOHN AMAECHI, who is gay, writing in today’s New York Times, taking L.A. Laker Kobe Bryant to task for his non-apology over using a gay slur; Amaechi is also urging Bryant to not appeal the $100,000 fine levied against him by the NBA.