springbreakers

When I saw Spring Breakers last week, I came out feeling two distinct things: 1.) That is was the most thorough indictment of the American dream since The Great Gatsby, and 2.) That despite the film being rather un-subtle about explicating its themes, a whole bunch of people weren’t going to get it, and that was going to annoy the hell out of me. Unsurprisingly, some reviewers did get it while others didn’t, at all. But the person who got it the least might be Heather Long, the author of this trollsome article in The Guardian called “Spring Breakers isn’t just a terrible movie, it reinforces rape culture.”

In it, she argues that Spring Breakers contributes to rape culture because it is “90 minutes of reinforcement of the party girl image, the kind of bad girl who’s ‘just asking for it.'” She cites as evidence the fact that girls are shown partying, Cotti (Rachel Korine)’s weird sexual power play with some frat dudes (in which she calls one guy “a little bitch” and is actually the one with all the power), the fact that the film’s protagonists are obsessed with sex and taking their clothes off, and the scene where people are doing coke off of topless women.

Does she seriously think Harmony Korine wants us to think these things are awesome? From the film’s first shot of fist-pumping college kids, I have never seen a beach party look more like a Boschian nightmare. He even adds in some context clues, like Skrillex, the music of people you don’t want to be around. Any time blaring dub step is playing in an art film, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that we are supposed to look askance at what is happening. It’s not “promoting rape culture” to hold a mirror up to it and show how messed up it is.

I actually think the film does some really interesting things with gender dynamics; from the moment Candy (Ashley Benson) and Britt (Vanessa Hudgens) force Alien (James Franco) to perform fellatio on a gun, they invert the power relations that exist between men and women in patriarchal society. Just like when they rob the Chicken Shack, they are copying things they’ve seen men do in movies and on the internet. They are still trapped in the same paradigm, of course, they’re just taking on a different role it, because this culture (American) is so ingrained in their minds that they can’t imagine a world in which nobody gets exploited. You are either fucking someone over, or being fucked. Given the options, which would you choose?

This ethos extends to the sex scenes, which are not supposed to be sexy, unless money makes your pussy wet, too. Raised in an environment where people (women especially) are just more commodified objects like guns and grillz, the girls are attracted not to men as human beings or even as phalluses, really (despite their love of drawing dicks during history class) but to money and power, which they state explicitly. They want to be near those things, and they want to wield them themselves. It’s no coincidence, then, that during Alien’s Gatsby-like exhortations to “look at all this shit,” they giggle and coo like they’re engaging in foreplay. When capital reigns supreme, it inevitably subsumes all natural impulses.

There’s a lot more I could say about the film’s darkly accurate reflection of American life, but that’s a conversation for another day. Spring Breakers‘ gender dynamics, of which rape culture is a portion, are themselves a part of the larger critique the film invites viewers to form. But rather than doing all the work for us, Harmony Korine throws out these themes and lets the viewer connect the dots for him or herself. It’s one of the reasons Korine’s films are so much fun to watch and think about. But unfortunately, it also leaves a lot of room for people to wildly misinterpret them, no matter how many un-subtle hints he gives us.

Photo: IMDB