Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Ghost of Lilly Kane

(found via WFA)

ms_ntropy asks an interesting question about my favorite recently cancelled show:

Is Lilly Kane (Veronica Mars) a [Women in Refrigerator]*?


I would argue mostly no, because

1) Lilly is always a person to us.

We learn a lot about Lilly after her death. (Technically, everything we learn about Lilly we learn after she has died.) And we learn this because of Veronica's investigation. In searching for Lilly's killer, Veronica never treats her dead friend as a symbol; Veronica is very much focused on finding Lilly's killer, not on taking revenge on the person who took her friend from her. And no matter what she finds out about her friend - who was very real and very flawed - Veronica still views her as a friend. This is true even of Lilly's boyfriends and brother, the former of which had a tendency to put her on a pedestal.

and most importantly:

2) Lilly has agency.

Even aside from the question of whether Lilly's ghost is really Lilly, Lilly was killed because she was important, not because Veronica or someone else was. Lilly was the one with connections and knowledge and power. Lilly was killed to stop Lilly, not to send a message to Veronica. Plus, Lilly's death resulted in lasting changes to Lilly's entire world, not just Veronica, and not just Veronica's world.

The problem with WiR, after all, isn't that women get hurt or killed, it's why women get hurt and killed and how often women get hurt and killed and how little we know about them other than that they get hurt and killed. A lot of the complaints about Tygra and Big Barda are not so much that they were hurt/killed, it's that didn't fight back, which makes them seem to be secondary characters rather than superheroes - ie, it treats them like people we know little about. The rest of them seems to be more just general disgust at this happening yet again. Plus, added ire for the possible allusion to WiR in leaving Big Barda on the kitchen floor.

*ms_ntropy actually asks if she is a "Person in Refrigerator" after also asking why WiR is restricted to male protagonists. Not that I don't think that's a good question, I just think that it's a bit silly to ignore the gender implications of stuffing women in refrigerators, especially considering what recently happened to Big Barda. More importantly, Lily's not the protagonist, so why use gender neutral language for non-protagonists if you aren't questioning limiting the discussion to female victims?

9 comments:

Lisa said...

Dana on The L Word was fridged, though. She was a great character who was killed off for the effect.

Emburii said...

But was Dana targeted to give a man yet another reason to do something noble, or to cheaply pump to cred of some villian ( a la the Hood beating up Tigra)?

The phrase is specifically women in refrigerators because it usually turns women into just another excuse to focus on the man. That's why the trope is so irritating, because it's sexist, sometimes even done deliberately so. To rail against 'people in refrigerators' for the same reason ignores part of the background and reason for the original phrase.

Mickle said...

Well, I think it's important to rail against both.

People in Peril for no other reason than to give another character a plot point is pretty much always lazy writing. If we know nothing else about the person other than that they are a catalyst for one single person, that makes even the protagonist in question less multi-dimensional than they could be as well...which makes the themes weaker....and so on and so forth. (I mean, really, what exactly does "I love my wife/girlfriend that much!" actually tell us about a character?)

But, yes, WiR is something beyond that because the tendency to make the "person" a "woman", the "peril" gendered, and the protagonist a man, adds a whole lot of sexism that is part of a destructive cultural narrative.

This is part of why I like Criminal Minds. The entire formula for the show is that there are several People in Peril each episode that the BAU team must try to save. But the show itself is saved from this being a boring formula by humanizing the people in peril (as much as can be expected in 45 minutes) and by having the Unsub's issues reflect whatever personal problems the team may be facing. This gives both the villain and the people in peril purpose beyond creating plot for the main characters, even if our focus isalways on the main characters.

They also avoid WiR by having a (relatively) diverse cast, and by portraying crimes that are realistic - at least in terms of how the victims act. The women who are grabbed (and it isn't always women) aren't idiots who pick up hitchhikers, sluts who pass out in public, etc. Neither are they always innocent suburban housewives/girl scouts. They are normal people who do normal things and react to things like being approached by a lost child in a store, or being flattered by an adult, in normal ways.

bellatrys said...

Thank you for reminding that I need to do my "Blaze of Glory" post and list, in rx to this ongoing bleat "but you just want nothing Bad to EVAR happen to a female chara, and that's bad from a dramatic perspective plus it's Reverse Sexism! (o fetch for me my smelling salts)"

I just thought of another couple of gals for that list yesterday, but damn it's a short one compared to the Fridge-filling.

bellatrys said...

As far as women killed/hurt to motivate other women, let alone men killed to motivate heroines - I honestly can't think of any aside from on Xena.

Not without going as far afield as late 19th-c opera, at least. Which was itself a controversial, topical, and low-class pop art form, back in those days...

Lisa said...

Emburii has a good point. I guess Dana doesn't count as a WiR, because they did it for the effect, but not to inspire another character through the tragedy.

But Tara, on Buffy... I love Joss Whedon, but that was a clear case of fridging. She was killed for the sole purpose of setting Willow off into a mad frenzy.

Mickle said...

"... let alone men killed to motivate heroines..."

The only one that I can think of off the top of my head is Danny, Sidney's fiance, on Alias. Which is why I tend to call the few guys that are killed off in order to give women motivation "bloody bathtubs."

Re: Tara

She's another character that I feel kinda mixed about, but lean more towards WiR than I do with Lilly. I'm not sure that she was killed off to give Willow motivation. I am sure, however, that she was killed because

1) Whedon wanted there to be lasting consequences to Warren's villainy. Just having him kill his girlfriend and annoy Buffy would make that season's Big Bad not so big and bad.

2) Whedon thinks that happy couples are boring. (He's actually said this several times before.) So he needed to break Willow and Tara up in a way that would be believable - and not make us hate ether character. Now, he'd done this several times before already, but I think that was rather the point, he'd used up a lot of excuses already. And, of course, you can't kill off Willow.

Has Whedon ever said which idea came first, Evil Willow or Tara's death?

In any case, I think the one reason why I want to give Whedon a bit more leeway is because while Tara was killed because someone else was important to the villain - not because she, herself was important to the villain - it is a variation on the theme, rather than straight from the playbook. Warren was very much trying to make a WiR/Bloody Bathtub.....to motivate Buffy. But it wasn't Buffy that he hurt the most by killing Tara, it was Willow. So even though it's still using a dead girlfriend killed by a villain in order to hurt someone other than the person who died, it sends a slightly different message. Warren's actions have consequences other than what he intended, which isn't really true of textbook WiR.

Lisa said...

Actually, Warren wasn't trying to motivate Buffy. He was trying to kill her. Killing Tara was a complete accident on his part.

Mickle said...

me -> dork

What I meant to say was that he was trying to hurt Buffy, not Willow. And that his actions had different consequences from what he intended.

A lot of WiR/Bloody Bathtubs are meant to set up "you touched my stuff!" style revenge stories. Willow's revenge story was at least very obviously about grief and not at all "how dare you!"