"Wouldn't Do That In Real Life" and "X As They Are"
A few days ago a tweet emerged from a writer about the Netflix show The Witcher. It went like this
"To be fair, in context, I was saying women couldn't sword-fight with men trained for battle. My larger point was that by depicting women doing things they wouldn't do in real life, writers kowtow to feminists by turning women into fake men and don't depict women as they are."
If people have had, by an establishment interested in maintaining it's power, a pattern of behaviour imposed on them in countries across the globe for thousands of years should we continue doing so in stories? Absolutely not. We need to write stories that celebrates liberation of by gone social understandings. We need to write stories that set people free from the limitations they see themselves in. We need stories that empower people and not reinforce their worst fears of how they're seen in the world. We need characters that look like everyone behaving in a manner that empowers them so young people can grow up empowered to fight the society that stops their persuit of happiness. We need to pack in the notion of "X as they are" and "X wouldn't do X in real life" because people do fucking loads of mad shit. Constantly. And it all makes sense. More importantly; it doesn't matter what people do.. It's the signficance of the actions in stories that's important.
Important to say here that dramatising the "realistic" obstacles that people face day to day and writing empowering stories aren't mutually exclusive. It's about how characters deal with shit. It's the "wouldn't do in real life" that bothers me an "X as they are". What are we saying? In reality men consider suicide frequently and don't tell anyone. It's my view that a story about a man going through this, finding a reason to live, and finding help is more useful than a story of a man killing themselves because it empowers other men to ask for help. The story of a man killing himself might go some way to acknowledging men aren't alone but it doesn't empower them to do anything neccessarily - we are sheep people - we need trailblazers to change as a society.
Artists have the responsibility of starting conversations with the nation about the kind of world we'd like to live in. A large part of that is about how human beings see themselves in massively populist pieces. So thinking of "fake men" in, my old stomping ground, Game Of Thrones we see a giant lady who is loved for her bravery, her swodsmanship, her passion... Is she a fake man? Or is she a strong woman? We see a person of short stature that nearly rules the world because of their cunning... Is he a fake tall person? Or is he using his strengths? We see a fat coward become a lover and a healer... Is he a fake hero? Or is he just a person doing stuff? In other words we celebrate people for what they can be despite what their circumstance is... We see a celebration of humans and not a limitation of possibilities through circumstances. Not everyone is pretending to be a "man". Most of us are just people complete with weaknesses and strengths. And, as Artists, what we chose as those weaknesses and strengths are a comment on the world as it is and of the world as we'd like to see it.
We, as Artists in the popular medium, have to celebrate possibilities of bodies, minds and souls and not limit them because of what we think they are. "depicting women as they are" is absolutely pointless (especially coming from a man)... Depicting humans as a myriad of possibilities sets us all free from the stigma that society implies on us. We need to see more women sword fighting, more men crying, more fat people banging, more Asian lovers.. more everything because it's what wants to be in the world, is in the world, and can be more present in the world. Art holds back self esteem and societal progression when it doesn't aim for freedom.
Historical accuracy is an interesting thing to get into as well; a few years ago the director Trevor Nunn got into a lot of trouble for white casting Henry V (I think) and saying it was historically acuratte... Now this is interesting because I have no fucking idea how many of our brothers and sisters with non-white skin fought in the battle of Agincourt but really... Does it matter? I mean when race, or gender, or bodies aren't a critical element of the story why not reflect our society on stage? Why are we even having a conversation about "accuracy" who cares about accuracy? If we're being pedantic - Henry V probably isn't a floppy little no mark from Sussex and didn't go to RADA. If we're being pedantic then we can that The French Lady probably wasn't didn't go to St Edwards in Oxford and then LAMDA and spent months hamming their way through a french accent. If we can believe that some pompus prick (not a reference to the Nunn production I didn't see it) is the KING why can't believe that some non-white skinned people, women, or bodies that aren't like the typical RADA grad, are lords or soldiers or whatever... Historical accuracy is inexusable in stories that aren't about racial tension. Stories that exist in the past do more than illuminate what the past is they also illuminate what kind of world we live in today.
Stories aren't about reality. They don't exist to be accurate about the world we're in (I mean they can but that Ken Loach stuff is a minority)... Stories exist to illuminate the truth of the world we live in and nudge it into a world we'd like to. We need to think of stories in these terms and not get bogged down in details as to if women can use swords (btw they can).