At last, a reason to have a Kickstarter: I’d like to raise however much it takes to make Caitlin Flanagan and Ariel Levy sit side-by-side watching Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. This, of course, is the four-star film – I thought so, anyway – that makes anarchist sex-havers out of Disney Channel princesses Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and more. No spoilers, but let’s just say the real meaning of irony is reclaimed by setting a mad sex and gun drama to a Britney Spears slow jam.
Flanagan is the author of this year’s Girl Land, a non-fiction nostalgia trip through presexualized feminity. She has infamously written of the “teenage oral-sex craze,” the horrors of “hookup culture,” the vast danger of an Internet connection in your daughter’s bedroom.
Levy, in 2007, wrote Female Chauvinist Pigs about the postsexual revolutionary rise of “raunch culture.” I enjoyed less her premise, which is that women’s self-pornification isn’t truly liberating, than her defence of it.
“Every time I go on the radio I’m asked, aren’t women making a living doing this?” she told The Socialist Review. “Isn’t there a lot of money to made out of this? I say, so what? [Money isn’t] the last word.”
No, it shouldn’t be. But it is. This TIFF, I’ve been struck by the number of films I’ve seen in which girls use their own sexuality, and the welcome complexity of ways they do it. There’s the Canadian flick My Awkward Sexual Adventure, in which Emily Hampshire is a wise-ass stripper. In the soapy, sixties-feminist Ginger and Rosa, the latter’s discovery and love of sex drives the whole plot, and in the forties avant-garde On the Road, Kristen Stewart plays a Marylou as free-loving as the men. The thriller Byzantium has Gemma Arterton working the double night shift as both vampire and whore, while in Laurent Cantet’s faithful adaptation of Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, the patriarchy-busting heroines turn tricks so tricky they get paid without actually playing. But no film takes pleasure to the extremes of power like Spring Breakers.
Korine’s shockbuster is going to get attention mostly for its leads, but the perverse casting is better than the acting. Disney Channel fantasies meet their late-capitalist fate in Florida? Brilliant. To me, the fact that Hudgens et al. play, or are, teenagers – as are the leads in many of the just-mentioned films – matters nothing. We know that teenagers have sex, and not more sex than they had a decade ago, Flanagan’s book and MTV’s fall schedule notwithstanding. We know that a lot of teenagers are females.
It’s more important that we know girls participate in a culture that asks them to look desirable, but not act on their own desires. Remember how long Britney Spears was a “virgin;” witness now the hysterical shaming of “trampire” Kristen. Wait for the moral orange alert when Selena Gomez fans (or, more accurately, their dads) watch Spring Breakers.
And it’s important to consider why girls have sex – beyond the best reason, which is to get sex. For these new characters, though, getting a man or getting money from men are the main motivations. They’re incompatible: To get money, in our world, is to gain power. To love is to surrender power, or share it.
Love. Or money. You can’t have it both ways, so that old movie chestnut, “the hooker with a heart of gold,” should be taken rather more literally.
“You love to attack the powerful and protect the weak,” says Sam Riley to Arterton at Byzantium’s end. Ditto Foxfire’s prole heroines, who work their illicit magic like a band of merry maids without a Robin Hood. And as wildly different from Foxfire, and from pretty much every film, as Spring Breakers is, it rushes to much the same conclusion: A man, a patriarch, is murdered for money.
One of the very best moments in Spring Breakers comes when the girls turn their guns on the super-G who supplied them, played by James Franco. “We could shoot you right now,” says one, then makes him fellate the fatal ends of two revolvers. (He complies. Later, now that they have power – and not just firepower – of their own, they will be free to say they love him.)
In these films, the Twilight-era reactionary hysteria about girls and promiscuity has met its match. Yes, sex can be dangerous. But when it’s a weapon in feminist class war, it is mostly, finally, dangerous to men.