Thursday, August 12, 2010

Movies: Slasher stats.

The intersection of sex, violence, and gender is something of a black hole for critics of the slasher flick: an infinitely dense conceptual point that, sooner or later, exerts a pull on whatever is said about the subgenre. You don't have to look further than the "final girl" concept - minted in 1992, this much criticized idea remains the chief currency of slasher debates - to see all these obsessions at play. However, the final girl concept, and nearly all other criticism of the subgenre, is maddeningly vague. Opponents of the concept have pointed out that you can only apply the archetype after abstracting the films it purportedly described to the point of absurdity. Others question the mechanics of identification at the idea's core: the final girl seems to assume that everybody in the audience reacts the same to a film, switching allegiances at all the right points, all in psychic lockstep with their fellow film-goers.

This vagueness hold true for several other much-discussed aspects of the subgenre. The often invoked, rarely described "formula" that slashers purportedly follow is another example. Ask people for a rundown of the formula and you'll get something that almost never applies fully to any given film in your subset. Lone killer? Not Texas Chainsaw. Minority victims go first? Doesn't hold for Nightmare on Elm Street. Lone female survivor? More often not the case. I await the day when somebody does the basic work of actually trying to define and apply the formula to see if this bit of horror-fan folklore actually holds true.

I bring this up to make the case that Sex and Violence in the Slasher Horror Film: A Content Analysis of Gender Differences in the Depiction of Violence, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, would be of interest even if all it did was approach the subgenre without preconceived notions and a level of methodological rigor. But, aside from the notably quantitative approach, the results are interesting.

Researcher Andrew Welsh surveyed 50 different slasher flicks, from the subgenre's start to modern iterations, in order to discover gender-based variations in depictions of violence and sex. His conclusion:

Findings suggested that there are several significant gender differences in the nature of violent presentations found in slasher films. In general, female characters were more likely to be victims of less serious and graphic forms of violence, but were also significantly more likely to be victimized in scenes involving a concomitant presentation of sex and violence.

Specifically, male characters were most often the victims of extreme violence. However, the duration of the violence shown was shorter than the duration of violence in similar scenes involving female victims. Slasher cinema likes getting rid of its men fast and messy, but it likes to linger on female suffering. Slasher cinema also tends to juxtapose these images of female suffering with sexual imagery. This rarely ever happens to men in the subgenre.


Jenn said...

When I was in graduate school, I thought Carol J. Clover's concept of the Final Girl was the most innovative thing I had ever heard of and touted it in my thesis, amongst other place. But those were opportunistic times and I seem to find myself trying to eschew the concept more and more.

Very interesting study. Perhaps Clover's inspiring work on the subject needs a new edition...

Sasquatchan said...

I did not RTFA. Did they at least follow through on the "do not say 'I'll be right back'" rule ? or "He's not really dead" rule ? Of if the survivor girl from one always dies in the sequel or not ?

Gene Phillips said...

There are a few flicks that linger on male suffering, though I'm not sure whether they'd be considered in the "mainstream" of slashers. I'm thinking of THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. And there are a handful of non-slasher thrillers that follow the pattern of stalking serial victims where males are the main targets. I'll check out the study sometime, though.