Is the Hitman: Absolution trailer misogynistic or just tacky?
Disguised as nuns, a group of female assassins emerge from a school bus and march purposefully toward a hotel. As they proceed, they begin to strip away their disguises (like Neo in The Matrix as he heads toward the security terminal with a trenchcoat full of automatic weapons) to reveal their garb underneath: skin-tight leather skirts and torn fishnet stockings. They reveal more, though: tattooes, rocket launchers, gleaming pistols... These women are clearly a force with which to be reckoned, though their intent is not immediately clear.
As the group nears the hotel, the leader lifts a rocket launcher and unleashes a single shot. It flies forward, collides with the hotel and suddenly the building is engulfed in flame. As the not-quite-nuns survey the damage with apparent satisfaction, the first of them fall, cut down behind by a new assassin in a tuxedo. The well-dressed man works his way violently through the group, conducting a variety of kills and dodging knife attacks, using the body of one assassin as a shield as another tries to pump the male assassin full of lead.
When the trailer concludes, the female assassins lie dead in a circle on the ground and the male assassin respectfully closes the eyes of the last assassin he killed. The hotel is still in flames and innocent people have presumably lost their lives, but the assassin gang has been efficiently dispatched.
So begins the trailer for Hitman: Absolution, the upcoming new entry in the series from Square-Enix and IO Interactive. It's a violent trailer for the sake of violence, not entirely faithful to what fans of the games expect from the title, flashy and full of the sort of camera shots that always exist in this sort of trailer. You know the type because you've seen a similar scenario play out in plenty of movie scenes: a lone hero (sometimes Jason Statham and sometimes not) goes up against a villainous gang and slow-motion battles his way through a fight he shouldn't possibly win, only to emerge the victor. So why is the trailer drawing so much ire from people who see fit to comment on Twitter and a variety of game sites? Why are they not content to merely dismiss it as tacky--which it is--and discuss other things?
The answer to that question appears to be quite simple: in the trailer, women get beat up. Knock men around all you like, but you just don't beat up on women. That's misogyny.
Except we all live in a real world, not some sort of fantasy world where women can do no wrong even in video games. The women in this trailer certainly did some wrong--and quite capably--when they launched a rocket shell at a hotel. That wasn't very nice. It was downright nasty. How, then, is it "misogyny" if Agent 47 takes out that group of assassins? Must it necessarily be misogyny any time a male and a female fight or attempt to kill one another, or might there be other factors? As extenuating circumstances go, a hotel lobby full of charred tourists surely at least registers on the scale.
The video's detractors will hasten to point out that the female assassins have been sexualized. There, at least, they have a point. Before the women in the trailer start slaughtering innocents, they exist purely to provide sex appeal (and a slight sense of menace, as Agent 47 suits up for combat but not in time to completely prevent tragedy). Because the lady assassins are beautiful, some people make the illogical leap that this trailer is trying to portray violence against women as laudable behavior.
There's just that one tiny little problem: the nuns aren't portrayed as genuine nuns, or even just sexy women with questionable fashion taste and an affinity for guns. They're murderers and that's a label that transcends gender. When Agent 47 kills them (which also makes him a murderer, but that was in the game's title and hardly a revelation), he's not doing it because they had the nerve to look good in leather. He's killing them to stop them from committing future atrocities. That's part of what makes him a compelling protagonist: not some anti-female creed.
Now, someone else may come along and say "But there are slow-motion shots of Agent 47 punching these women in the face. You see bloodied and broken noses and the violence is all glorified and these women, they look sexy!" That's all true, but all of that--with the probable exception of the "sexy" part--would have also been true if the assassins were males. That's just how trailers like this are put together. It's a convention, whether the enemies are male or female.
Is the real message that the trailer's most vocal detractors hope to communicate that female characters are not allowed to be dealt with violently the way their male counterparts are? Or is the message that it's okay to take them out violently, when warranted, but not if they're pretty? That much is unclear.
The trailer was clearly put together to get the viewer's pulse pounding, and just as clearly, it was made primarily to cater to young males who are fascinated by the notion that a female can be a lethal assassin. That's not misogyny; it's shallow entertainment and part of the reason people like Lucy Liu have careers.
As a culture, we need to stop throwing the "misogyny" label around any time we don't like something that involves unpleasant interaction between men and women. Sometimes one person can have an unsatisfactory interaction with someone of the opposite sex and it wasn't anything more than uncomfortable. The word "misogyny" loses some of its significance every time someone misapplies it, and it's a word that needs to retain proper import because true misogyny is a horrible thing when it actually applies. There are many ways that men can display misogyny and they need to be called out when they do it. A trailer where a male assassin beats up some sexy female assassins isn't misogyny, though. It's tacky.
By the way, the above is another trailer for the same game, released back in 2011. If there's an actual case to be made for misogyny in Hitman trailers, surely it would be better applied here? The lady's taking a shower and now it appears that she'll soon become a corpse. What was her crime?