Friday, January 13, 2012

The Iron Lady furore

There’s been lots of debates out there in the world of London-based media commentators about the new film The Iron Lady, the Thatcher biopic staring Meryl Streep. And I find myself increasingly frustrated by a tired and clichéd journalism surrounding it.

I should point out before you read this that I haven’t seen the film (more on that later) but that I don’t think that invalidates anything below.

Meryl Streep has a history of playing the roles of strong women in films to promote her own particular brand of middle class feminism (The Devil Wears Prada is the ultimate ode to this). Now there’s nothing wrong with taking roles that challenge gender stereotypes but it is Streep’s rejection of class distinction that makes her characters a problem. So her character in TDWP is a cruel women who is only cruel because she has to be a boss in a man’s world – so you supposed to hate her, sympathise with her and then let bygones be bygones with her. Watching that film makes me think the workers she continually abuses should get a good union rep – that is, the film misses the main point that it’s not that she’s a woman boss that’s a problem, it’s that she’s a shit, bullying boss.

Seemingly, The Iron Lady is like this. Thatcher is portrayed as an indomitable, ambitious woman who has to get nasty in order to get ahead in a world dominated by stuffy, upper class men (at least they got the Tories to a T). Her nastiness isn’t her fault – she has to do it to get ahead. This of course ignores the fact that the main problem with Thatcher was that she was a class-based crusader out to smash working class organisations.

This sanitised, personality focussed view (that has shoe-horned Thatcher into a Hollywood cliché) means that the actual affects of Thatcher’s actions are so unimportant they don’t register. So there is no real screen time for miners or trade unionists, Argentineans or Irish political prisoners, unemployed people and inner city youngsters. There is just Meryl Streep taking on the bad men.

All these have the real affect of rehabilitating Thatcher. And that is why the film pisses me off. By removing Thatcher’s victims and ‘sexing up’ her Biography to fit the conventional Hollywood hard-but-vulnerable woman-in-a-man’s-world story, the film consciously or unconsciously seeks to justify her unjustifiable actions.

That is why swooning articles over the quality of Meryl Streep’s acting really miss the point. She might be brilliant but the fact is that the film is still inaccurate drivel and the person it portrays is still a rightly hated figure. Just because art is technically good, doesn’t mean it is worthy of consumption – the actual affect of this art in the real world is still the most important factor in deciding whether to go and see this film.

So stay away and go and watch Shame instead this weekend.

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