Star Trek Into Misogynistic Darkness?

My wife and I like movies. We rent some, Netflix others, and spend a decent amount of time at the theaters over the summer. One constant we’ve come to take for granted across various genres and ratings is some level of “gratuitous” sexuality. To be clear, this isn’t necessarily limited to full-on nudity, or pointless sex scenes, but can be as tame as a ridiculously dressed character. For instance, I’d be surprised to learn if most female police detectives or lab techs always wear the plunging neck-lines on the job that they do in most films. Just sayin’. Still, half of the time it’s so ludicrous that we just end up laughing at the crass obviousness of what the writers and directors are doing. We’ve sort of resigned ourselves to the fact that this is just the way Hollywood sells it product.

It was rather unsurprising for us, then, during a scene from  Star Trek: Into Darkness, when–for mostly no reason–Dr. Marcus (Alice Eve) is seen by Captain Kirk in her underwear as she changes into a protective spacesuit. In prior Star Trek incarnations Marcus’ character has a romance and love-child with Kirk, so apparently this was a set-up to a possible future romance. Of course, it did nothing for the plot that a flirtatious two-line dialogue couldn’t have accomplished, but hey, who needs an excuse for a half-naked lady to show up on-screen? Apparently they expected our suspension of disbelief to extend beyond warp-drives. Being that it was a summer blockbuster, we just rolled our eyes and enjoyed the rest of the film which, with the exception of one other brief, slightly more plausible, bra and panties situation (using the term ‘plausible’ loosely because it implied a tryst with alien twins), was chaste enough (and a blast!)

That’s why it was so refreshing to read about one director actually acknowledging his mistake on this score. After coming under some criticism over the scene, Co-writer/Producer Damon Lindelof actually apologized via Twitter about the short, but amazingly unnecessary bra and panties scene in the recent installment of the franchise:

I copped to the fact that we should have done a better job of not being gratuitous in our representation of a barely clothed actress.

— Damon Lindelof (@DamonLindelof) May 20, 2013

He went on to write that they would try to be more thoughtful about that in the future, but not before defensively pointing out that it wasn’t intended to be misogynistic as they also had Kirk shirtless and in underwear in both films. There were hints that something like this was coming when in an interview the previous week, he was confronted with the question and said:

Why is Alice Eve in her underwear, gratuitously and unnecessarily, without any real effort made as to why in God’s name she would undress in that circumstance? Well there’s a very good answer for that. But I’m not telling you what it is. Because … uh… MYSTERY?

Nice try, buddy. In any case, this gives us an opportunity to make few rather unremarkable, but appropriate observations. In the first place, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that the scene had to go through multiple levels of editing and production to make it into the movie at all. This wasn’t simply a slip of the pen, but rather a scene deemed worthy, not only of including in the movie, but being highlighted in the previews. Apparently nobody in all the string of producers, directors, editors, screen-writers, etc. thought “Eh, you know, this might be a little too unnecessarily sexualized.”

I bring this up because it’s very easy to forget by way of resignation that this is part of the DNA of Hollywood’s culture. As old-school, reactionary, or fundamentalistic as it might sound, we cannot simply be passive consumers of culture. Every piece of cultural production is telling us a story about the nature of the good life when it comes to money, power, and, in this case, sex, that is capturing our affections and subtly shaping our thoughts and desires. It’s not only that our desires are being drawn on, but actually formed. Culture is a school, educating us through memetic reproduction on what is proper to value, feel, and emulate.

Christians need to wake up and not simply walk about in culture like “sleep-walkers” unaware of the stories which they are being invited to inhabit. What vision of the good life are we buying into? What narratives and metaphors have we adopted? Which works and worlds dominate our imagination? The various little texts provided by marketers and other meaning-makers in pop culture, or the works and world of God as found in his Text? In scenes like that, and thousands of others, women are taught, “This is what you should want to be. It doesn’t matter that Dr. Marcus is a genius or has developed a good, moral character, she looks like that in black underwear.” Men, “That is what you want. Any female form that deviates too widely from the one we constantly re-present to you is lacking and falls short. Be dissatisfied.” For those of us naïve enough to think this sort of thing doesn’t affect us simply because it doesn’t provoke an immediate erotic response, that’s likely more of a testimony to the long-term desensitizing effects of living in a pornographic culture. 

Which brings me to another point worth noting: misogyny isn’t always intentional. This is something I’ve been picking up from my feminist friends. I don’t have to be trying to demean or denigrate women in order to do it. I just have treat them in a demeaning fashion–for instance, sexually objectifying them for the male gaze. Also, just to clarify, objectifying men doesn’t make up for objectifying women; Kirk’s abs and underpants don’t function as an atonement offering. Better to strive not to objectify either.

Finally, repentance is a good thing; humbly reconsidering and turning from your ways is the hard but necessary work needed both for personal as well as cultural righteousness. As much as I might be beating up on the scene, or critiquing Lindelof’s underpants defense, I’m genuinely grateful that he at least tried own up to it and wrote “I take responsibility and will be more mindful in the future.” I mean, it’s kind of tepid, but it’s a start. Let’s hope that in the future, he really does produce “fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8)

About Derek Rishmawy

Derek Rishmawy is the Director of College and Young Adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, CA, serving college kids for the gospel. He’s been graciously adopted by the Triune God. That God has also seen fit to bless him with lovely wife named McKenna. He got his B.A. in Philosophy at UCI and his M.A. in Theological Studies (Biblical Studies) at APU. His passions are theology, the church, some philosophy, cultural criticism, and theology. He has been published at the Gospel Coalition, Mere Orthodoxy, and Out of Ur blog. He writes regularly at his Reformedish blog. You can connect on Facebook and can also follow him on Twitter at @DZRishmawy.

  • Brett

    It doesn’t affect your critique, but I believe her attire was green.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tyrone.barnes.77 Tyrone Barnes

    I hope it is clear that what is being condemned here is not simply nudity, but misogyny. Schindler’s List and The Mission are two films that both contain drawn out depictions of full-frontal nudity (both male and female), but neither can reasonably be considered “pornographic” or “misogynistic”. The purpose of the nudity in Schindler’s List is not to titillate, but to incite pity and horror of the actions conducted by the Nazi party during the Holocaust. The nudity in The Mission is ethnographic, done to accurately represent a particular culture. Nudity and even sexuality are both very useful tools for the creative visual storyteller, and when used tactfully and responsibly can even become something meritorious. But when it is simply thrown in for its own sake for no dramatically or artistically justifiable reason, as was the case in Star Trek: Into Darkness (which, I agree, was otherwise a remarkable film), it becomes wasteful and schlocky pandering.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    Very helpful comment.

  • Esther Starr

    This is hilarious. First this movie gets criticized for being racist, now misogynistic. I guess I just think it’s funny because every single person involved with the film is doubtless a flaming left-winger. Pass the popcorn! But here’s a serious question worth considering: To what extent do you think the culture of feminism has actually WORSENED the problem of objectifying women? It seems like when you take a proper view of both masculinity and femininity out of the picture, you’re left with objectified women and men who are either brutish or effeminate. For example, look at Beyonce’s half-time performance. Feminists loved it because to them it represented “woman power.” And yet it was just about as hyper-sexualized and objectifying as you could get! One would like to think that a movement supposedly dedicated to preserving female dignity would recognize that praising hyper-sexualized female figures is counter-productive. But very often, we see that it’s not so.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    I agree, the ironies do abound. There was actually an excellent piece in the Huffington Post about the Beyonce effect on esconcing a hypersexualized Beyonce as the icon of female power. It’s worth looking up.

  • tanyam

    Loved this. But then I have to ask, why does the author’s bio say he is “a blessed husband of a lovely lady.” This sounds like evangelical Christian misogyny-lite.

    I know, I know, it doesn’t sound terrible. But women have been getting the “lady” treatment for centuries. We weren’t “lady-like” when we wore jeans, we aren’t always”lady-like” when we speak our minds. And why are we always “lovely,” when men want to praise us — and less often “brilliant,” or “clever” or “hilarious” or “formidable.” Count me as one of those women who is tired of being a “lovely lady,” Or maybe never was one. (It wasn’t in keeping with my “captain of the women’s rugby-team” persona.) And its often another stereotype, the beautiful wife of the cool young pastor.

    So I’d love to read, “the blessed husband of a remarkable woman named McKenna.” It says absolutely nothing about her appearance, or even distantly about her manners

  • Esther Starr

    “Misogyny-lite”? Really? I’ll just say that as a woman with some masculine qualities who’s not shy about speaking her mind, I don’t find it even remotely offensive. Maybe this idea is “dated,” but it’s generally considered normal to take it as a compliment when men tell you you’re beautiful! Besides, there’s a great gulf fixed between chivalrously expressing admiration for your “lovely lady” (as opposed to your “smoking hawt wife,” which I do find tacky), and the truly sexist spirit so delightfully skewered in parody videos like these:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjxY9rZwNGU

  • http://twitter.com/GeeksOfChrist Mickey Haist Jr

    Don’t forget the two cat-ladies that shared Kirk’s bed!

  • Esther Starr

    I found that especially distasteful because the movie was aimed at young teenagers, and the idea of a “three-some” is, let’s just say, not appropriate for that audience.

  • http://twitter.com/GeeksOfChrist Mickey Haist Jr

    Kirk has always been portrayed as a “ladies man,” but Shatner somehow conveyed that his Kirk was interested in many individual women, not just having as much and as weird sex as he can possibly have. I’m not saying Shatner’s Kirk was some kind of stand-up guy in his regard for women, but he played it as a guy who easily fell in love. Whereas, Pine plays Kirk as a sleazeball.

    Then again, Pine’s Kirk hasn’t yet committed the worst offense of all…and Shatner’s did. (See ‘The Enemy Within.’)

  • Esther Starr

    I don’t know, it seems like the original Kirk was implied to have his share of casual sex as well. Just an all-round tomcat. But nowadays that’s not enough, we’ve got to push the envelope even more.

    Sorry, been a while since I watched that episode… to what are you referring? If you mean homosexuality I don’t remember getting that from that episode.

  • http://twitter.com/GeeksOfChrist Mickey Haist Jr

    He raped Yeoman Rand.

  • Esther Starr

    Oh, THAT! Or technically, attempted rape. Well, that was the evil Captain Kirk so it doesn’t count.

  • http://twitter.com/GeeksOfChrist Mickey Haist Jr

    Not really…It WAS the evil Kirk, but the whole point of that dumb episode was that he needed that maniacal rapist to continue to be a part of him. “He’s like an animal. A thoughtless, brutal animal. And yet it’s me. Me!”

    So those desires are a part of Kirk and, as that episode suggested, are required to give him power.

    As misogynistic as two clips from STID may have been, they don’t come close to the crap from those very early episodes of the show. Kirk’s sex drive tamed over the next two years of the show and throughout the movies to let him become the guy I described: a commitment-phobe who falls in love easily.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    While my wife is physically-lovely, I actually am referring to her “lovely” character. She’s a delight who does speak her mind, have thoughts of her own, just graduated with her MA in education, etc. I think you might be reading into this a bit much.

  • tanyam

    Yes, I expected as much. All I’m trying to say is that language matters. “Lovely lady” has connotations. History. And those connotations matter to our collective understanding of gender and place. If I said my husband was a an “attractive dude” would you imagine a short, stocky, 60 year old accountant? Would your mind picture “attractive” to be descriptive of his intellect or humor?

  • Esther Starr

    Well, I’d put that down to the popularity of Freudian psychologizing and our culture’s obsession with connecting anything and everything to sex. Of course, that goes back even before Star Trek TOS. (Witness Olivier’s incestuous reading of _Hamlet_.)

  • http://twitter.com/GeeksOfChrist Mickey Haist Jr

    Indeed.

    Suddenly the underwear girl doesn’t seem so terrible!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=139400316 Alan Noble

    #StarWars

  • http://twitter.com/GeeksOfChrist Mickey Haist Jr

    Does this mean you hope JJ’s Star Wars aren’t similarly racist and misogynistic?

  • Esther Starr

    “Remarkable”? Not the first word that sprang to mind for me at the end of that film (maybe “derivative,” “tired,” “shallow”), but okay. :)

  • Susan Gerard

    interestingly, this would easily have fit into Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, where men and women had overcome the gender issues we have today, somewhat like the shower room scenes in Battlestar Galactica. Unfortunately it was the only remnant of Roddenberry’s vision of humanity’s future left in this insipid film.

  • Felix

    Aside from the nudity being unnecessary, the fact that it’s a focusing on her body that tips the audience off to a potential romance bothers me. Not only would a flirtatious two-liner communicated just as much, but it would’ve communicated that relationships are built on more than just physical attraction.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Smith-Dean/100002283513024 Smith Dean

    There is no misogyny.

    Ergo, nothing to condemn.

    Grow up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Smith-Dean/100002283513024 Smith Dean

    Yes, JJ Abrahams obvious and direct portrayal of Black people in positions of authority, and an obviously multicultural patois of characters is ‘so racist’.

    Your a sad loser.

    Seriously.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Smith-Dean/100002283513024 Smith Dean

    There’s nothing wrong with the statement ‘a blessed husband of a lovely lady’ and there’s certainly nothing ‘evangelical about it’.

    Seriously, grow up, get a life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Smith-Dean/100002283513024 Smith Dean

    As a virgin, and a man in whom women have not interest, it’s understandable that you intellectualize your jealousy into such tripe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Smith-Dean/100002283513024 Smith Dean

    It’s a cheap bit of T&A for the pop-corn flick.

    Nothing at all to see here, go home.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    Good point. Nevermind.

  • Hypocrites

    XD, a member of one of the most misogynistic religions in the world seeing misogyny where there is none.

    Boobs in a movie? Misogyny! christards oppressing women for centuries? Deus Vult!