Friday, July 11, 2014

Feminist Friday: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an actor, screenwriter, and film director. He also runs an open collaborative production company called HitRecord. He is a self-proclaimed feminist and uses his position in the cultural spotlight to draw attention to some of the problematic areas in our culture including the role the media plays in sexism.

One of Gordon-Levitt's most famous recent roles was in 2009's (500) Days of Summer. He played the main character, Tom, who falls in love with Zooey Deschanel's character, Summer. Her character is a manic pixie dream girl and Tom sort of thinks she will change his life and places a lot of pressure on their relationship. I think the general response to the movie was a lot of people sympathizing with and romanticizing the character of Tom, and vilifying the character of Summer.

Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer
In this 2012 interview with Playboy, Gordon-Levitt said, "The (500) Days of Summer attitude of “He wants you so bad” seems attractive to some women and men, especially younger ones, but I would encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is. He develops a mildly delusional obsession over a girl onto whom he projects all these fantasies. He thinks she’ll give his life meaning because he doesn't care about much else going on in his life. A lot of boys and girls think their lives will have meaning if they find a partner who wants nothing else in life but them. That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person."

With that quotation he basically dismantles the concept of the manic pixie dream girl and explains to his fans that it's not a healthy way to view other people or relationships. Good job, Jo!

Gordon-Levitt made his directorial debut with the 2013 film Don Jon, which he wrote and starred in. In the film the character of Don Jon places a lot of value on his physical appearance, his car, his apartment, and the appearances of the men and women he surrounds himself with. He is a product of a patriarchal society that has taught him to objectify people and place importance on material things and surface-level perceptions. He is also addicted to pornography. He falls for a woman named Barbara (played by Scarlett Johannson) who is very similar to him in that she strongly believes in stereotypical gender roles (she gets upset when Don wants to vaccum his own apartment), values appearances and material possessions. She is addicted to romantic comedies.
The film is a satire and attempts to use humour and exaggeration to illustrate the problems in the ways these characters view the world and each other, and the way the media (whether it's porn, rom coms, commercials, ads, etc.) influences how we view gender roles and relationships.

Earlier this year on Ellen, Gordon-Levitt said of the film, "it's about a guy who really sees the whole world, and especially women, as just things, more than know, objects for his consumption. And that was something that my mom would always point out to my brother and me: that our culture does often portray women objects. For example we would always watch Laker games as a family...and my mom would always point out every time the cheerleaders would come on: okay, so look, here's the story that gets told. The men get to be these heroic, skilled athletes, and the women just get to be pretty...She wanted my brother and I to be aware of it because we see these images on TV and in movies and in magazines all the time and if we don't stop and think about it, it just sort of seeps into your brain and that becomes the way we perceive reality."

It's true that the media affects people's subconscious and determines the way we think. When people are not taught to question the messages they are seeing and think critically, and those messages place certain groups of people in power or only portray certain groups of people while excluding others, it leads to a culture that accepts inequality as the norm.

Gordon-Levitt and Johansson in Don Jon
On casting Scarlett Johansson for the role of Barbara, in this interview he said, "I think it was really appealing to her that this was a movie that was making fun of how we as a culture objectify people, especially women, because she's obviously a woman that is severely objectified all the time. Here's a person who is really smart, she's really talented, she's done all sorts of great things, and yet, what do most people talk about? Her outer appearance. But there's so much more to her than that - why is that what we always talk about? But, it is. I think it was really appealing to her to sort of make fun of that and play a character who's actually buying into that and sort of leveraging her conventional beauty for her own agenda and sort of getting to poke fun at a character like that."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt uses his celebrity voice and his job as a story-teller in a positive way to promote equality, to cause people to question their own beliefs and ways of thinking, and to point out the problems in our society in a thought-provoking and entertaining way. In promoting his art he spreads the word about feminism and what it's really about, taking away some of the stigma attached to the word.

In that same interview with Ellen, he told her, "I do call myself a feminist. Absolutely! It's worth paying attention to the roles that are sort of dictated to us and that we don't have to fit into those roles. We can be anybody we wanna be."

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