Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Dangerous Curves

Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Dangerous Curves
    Book Description:

    Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Cultureaddresses the conflicted meanings associated with the figure of the action heroine as she has evolved in various media forms since the late 1980s. Jeffrey A. Brown discusses this immensely popular character type as an example of, and challenge to, existing theories about gender as a performance identity. Her assumption of heroic masculine traits combined with her sexualized physical depiction demonstrates the ambiguous nature of traditional gender expectations and indicates a growing awareness of more aggressive and violent roles for women.

    The excessive sexual fetishism of action heroines is a central theme throughout. The topic is analyzed as an insight into the transgressive image of the dominatrix, as a refection of the shift in popular feminism from second-wave politics to third-wave and post-feminist pleasures, and as a form of patriarchal backlash that facilitates a masculine fantasy of controlling strong female characters. Brown interprets the action heroine as a representation of changing gender dynamics that balances the sexual objectification of women with progressive models of female strength. While the primary focus of this study is the action heroine as represented in Hollywood film and television, the book also includes the action heroine's emergence in contemporary popular literature, comic books, cartoons, and video games.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-715-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
    (pp. 3-19)

    For over forty years James Bond has reigned as the quintessential action hero. Whether it is the original Ian Fleming novels, the twenty-plus feature films (the most successful movie franchise of all time), the affiliated merchandise, the comic-strip incarnations, or even the video games, James Bond is a worldwide phenomenon and the prototype for modern heroes. As the promotional tag line for the Bond collectible videos declares: “Bond is theoriginalaction hero.” It doesn’t seem to matter if he is embodied by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, or Daniel Craig . . . Bond...

  4. 1 GENDER AND THE ACTION HEROINE Hardbodies and the Point of No Return
    (pp. 20-42)

    As one of the most dominant genres of popular cinema since the early 1980s, the action film has done much to construct the body of the male hero as spectacle. The well-displayed muscles of such heroic icons as Sylvester Stallone and Jean Claude Van Damme have worked within a narrative space that presents masculinity as an excessive, almost hysterical, performance. Indeed, the spectacle of the muscular male body has become the genre’s central trademark, a feature that allowed Arnold Schwarzenegger to catapult from professional body builder to at one point the highest-paid movie star on the planet.

    With their obvious...

  5. 2 GENDER, SEXUALITY, AND TOUGHNESS The Bad Girls of Action Film and Comic Books
    (pp. 43-62)

    Year magazine’s review of the filmThe Transporter(2002) opens with the declaration that “director, writer and producer Luc Besson knows better than most how to make a beautiful woman even more beautiful: arm her to the teeth” (Dawson 2002: 27). This peculiar observation about a filmmaker best known for putting big guns in the hands of wide-eyed waifs in movies such asLa Femme Nikita(1990),The Professional(1994), andThe Fifth Element(1997) elucidates the problematic reception of tough women in action movies. When women are portrayed as tough in contemporary film, are they being allowed access to...

    (pp. 63-92)

    During its first season the TV seriesAlias(2001–2006) enjoyed critical success, attracting a strong cult following. The lavishly produced show about a beautiful graduate student, Sydney Bristow, who leads a secret double life as a super spy for a clandestine organization, took longer to catch on with the mainstream audience however. In an effort to promoteAliasto the wider viewing public, ABC ran a striking advertisement in the popular press that captured many of the show’s key ingredients. “She’s not just a secret agent,” the copy teased beneath a blue-tinted close-up of star Jennifer Garner in a...

  7. 4 “PLAY WITH ME” Sexy Cyborgs, Game Girls, and Digital Babes
    (pp. 93-119)

    Of the myriad ways action heroines are fetishized in popular culture, one of the most telling is the manner in which this type of female character is figured in relation to technology. In general, images of women in western culture have been so thoroughly fetishized that it has become an unquestioned norm. Almost every depiction of women in the media transforms them into living dolls. The standard glamorous presentation of actresses and models with perfect faces and hair, thin bodies and augmented breasts, sexy clothing, and provocative poses reinforces the standard objectification of women for male pleasure at every turn....

  8. 5 IF LOOKS COULD KILL Power, Revenge, and Stripper Movies
    (pp. 120-140)

    There is an ancient legend of the infamous “Dance of Desire” performed by Ishtar, the Sumerian goddess of love, sex, and war. As a reward for successful battles and generous patronage at her temples (where sacred cult prostitution was practiced), Ishtar would, on exceptionally great occasions, take human form as the most beautiful young woman in all the land. In this guise she would perform her dance of desire for a select audience of sacred kings and the most powerful warriors. Accompanied by music heretofore heard only by the gods, Ishtar would twirl and float with such grace that each...

  9. 6 “SHE CAN DO ANYTHING!” The Action Heroine and the Modern (Post-Feminist) Girl
    (pp. 141-167)

    Over the last fifteen years the television landscape has undergone dramatic changes. Most notably the increased number of channels available through basic cable packages and premium digital and satellite services has culminated in specialty channels and an increased need for content. The phenomenal success of such youth-oriented networks in the United States as Nickelodeon, The Cartoon Network, and The Disney Channel is credited with ushering in a new age of serial animation more sophisticated and diverse than ever before.

    As a result of this boom, and in an effort to reach as many young viewers as possible, many popular girl...

  10. 7 “EXOTIC BEAUTIES” Ethnicity and Comic Book Superheroines
    (pp. 168-184)

    I have been an avid fan of superhero comic books my entire life, so it came as no surprise to anyone who knew me when I wroteBlack Superheroes, Milestone Comics and Their Fans(2001) in order to explore the intersections of masculinity, ethnicity, fandom, and spandex-clad superheroes. That book focused on the presentation of African American heroes created by the then fledgling Milestone Media Inc. and how fans interpreted the characters and issues of masculinity according to genre conventions and conceptions of ethnicity. Because superhero comics have always been primarily about men and created for men, it seemed natural...

    (pp. 185-207)

    As several of the preceding chapters have outlined, the diverse lineage of the action heroine unites and builds upon a variety of fetishistic representations of women. Narratively and visually the contemporary heroine intersects with conventions derived from (but not limited to) such diverse sources as 1970s jiggle-television, 1980s hard-bodied heroines, female detectives, femme fatales, video games, comic books, and pornography. Yet, perhaps the most significant influence on modern action heroines is not the larger, male-dominated action genre but her origins within late twentieth-century horror films.

    In particular the character of the Final Girl that Clover so influentially identifies as the...

    (pp. 208-232)

    One of the most anticipated new television series of 2007 was NBC’s updated version of theBionic Woman. Starring Michelle Ryan in the titular role as Jaime Sommers, a cybernetically enhanced bartender-cum-secret-agentaction heroine. The newBionic Womantouches on many of the important action heroine themes explored in earlier chapters. As a darker revisioning of the original 1970s series starring Lindsay Wagner, the remake is a direct descendant of second-wave-era feminism’s popular media representation: Sommers is presented as a primarily gynoid character constructed Pygmalion-like by her scientist/fiancé. The series’ creation is credited in the press to producer David Eick, also...

    (pp. 233-246)

    Live-action superhero movies came into their own in the early 2000s, thanks in large part to the incredible advances made in CGI technology, which allowed an almost seamless merger of special effects, digital characters, and living actors. The phenomenal big-screen success of films based on such recognizable comic book properties as Spider-Man, The X-Men, Batman, Daredevil, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Superman has inspired Hollywood studios to rush dozens of adaptations into production. Other big name characters like Green Lantern and The Flash will soon be released. Even lesser known comic book series have become extremely profitable movies, including...

    (pp. 247-256)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 257-269)