Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Final Girl

One of the blogs I follow on Twitter is GeekTyrant, and I stumbled on a term there today that I had to read more about -- "the final girl." I wound up on Wikipedia, and will just copy-and-paste the good stuff for you to read and consider -- all about horror films and gender roles and feminism, especially in the writings of Carole Clover.

... the final girl is typically sexually unavailable or virginal, avoiding the vices of the victims (sex, narcotic usage, etc.). She sometimes has a unisex name (e.g. Teddy, Billie, Georgie, Sidney).

... audience identification is unstable and fluid across gender lines, particularly in the case of the slasher film. During the final girl’s confrontation with the killer ... she becomes masculinized through "phallic appropriation" by taking up a weapon, such as a knife or chainsaw, against the killer. Conversely ... the villain of slasher films is often a male whose masculinity, and sexuality more generally, are in crisis. Examples would include Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, or Billy and Stu from Wes Craven's satirical horror film Scream. Clover points to this gender fluidity as demonstrating the impact of feminism in popular culture.

The phenomenon of the male audience having to identify with a young female character in an ostensibly male-oriented genre, usually associated with sadistic voyeurism, raises interesting questions about the nature of slasher films and their relationship with feminism. Clover argues that for a film to be successful, although the Final Girl is masculinized, it is necessary for this surviving character to be female, because she must experience abject terror, and many viewers would reject a film that showed abject terror on the part of a male. The terror has a purpose, in that the female is 'purged' if she survives, of undesirable characteristics, such as relentless pursuit of pleasure in her own right. An interesting feature of the genre is the 'punishment' of beauty and sexual availability.

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